What Is Strength Underneath The Curve?

Here we are on hump day of testing week and a question that regularly comes up has once again crossed our coach’s path numerous times:

“Why can I lift my 90% for 5 reps but my 1 Rep max only went up 5 pounds?”

I totally get it! You put in all this work and you are feeling so much stronger while producing numbers leading up to testing week that have all signs pointing to a huge PR! But then…you don’t PR or you just squeeze out a 5 pound PR on your deadlift. 

“What Gives?”

Well there are a couple things:

  • The strength gains you become accustomed to in the first year of your training are always gonna be significantly larger than your 2nd year and beyond!
    • Sadly strength is logarithmic and the ceiling we start bumping up against is made up of the size and composition of our muscles, lifestyle, and length of our levers!
  • Even so, you are born and raised with some natural biases in your muscle composition.
    • Some of us naturally have more muscle mass and of that muscle mass it is comprised of different blends of 1, 2a, and 2b muscle fibers!
      • Type 1: Long Distance Fibers, used to move your skeleton over long distances.
      • Type 2a: Thick Muscle Fibers, designed to help you perform strength work repeatedly.
      • Type 2b: Thicc Muscle Fibers, that are short lived in terms of production. These are the fibers used to help you jump, sprint, and all other rapid dynamic movements!
  • When we bump up against that that ceiling, your lifestyle factors become increasingly important to your gains.
    • Not sleeping enough?
      • You won’t have enough time to build back the muscle you’re tearing down.
    • Not eating enough?
      • Your body doesn’t have the fuel to repair and build the muscle it needs to for adaption to higher loads.
    • Working too much?
      • There are so many stress hormones in your body it is probably affecting everything else in your life and those stress hormones will make your body prioritize other processes over rebuilding your muscle.
        • That being said, being stressed for a competition has some iffy data on improvement in performance for the meet you’re stressed out about so…yay?

“But, I’m Not Stressed! I Improve my 3 Rep and 5 Rep Lifts All The Time! That 1 Rep Max Just Moves Slowly!!!!”

Then that middle bullet is gonna be what we are working with here, and believe it or not, it’s a good thing!

A 1 Rep Max is an awesome measure of how strong our type 2 muscle fibers are. The problem with them scientifically is that they tend to favor athletes who have a high composition of 2b Muscle Fibers (the “power” fiber that is used to produce a lot of force in a very short amount of time). While these athletes might need to be at the lower ends of our ranges for lifts throughout the cycle, they are a beast in slumber just waiting for that 1 rep max to pop up. When it does, their muscles just rock that barbell set after set and hit a 1 rep max that is 10% higher than their 2 rep max!

While you, the athlete who is struggling with hitting larger relative 1 rep maxes, can take what would be a tough 2 reps for them and rock it for 5! This happens because you have a higher composition of the flip side of the type 2 muscle fiber family, the mighty 2a! While the sleeping beast type 2b athlete waits to attack heavy 1 rep maxes, you tend to look at workouts like DT and Diane and lift shockingly high numbers compared to your 1 rep max (and thus probably hit athlete level a little bit faster than most). Simply put, your muscle fibers like to move weight repeatedly while the 2bEASTS can put it all into 1 lift and have a tough time repeating the effort.

Can I Train This Out?

Yup! Well… to an extent.

CrossFit is all about working on weaknesses. Good at weightlifting but, don’t have that first pull-up? Spend a couple of weeks focusing on that pull-up to get it close to the level of your lifting. Can’t deadlift your bodyweight, but have 5 ring muscle-ups? Time to load up on protein and start embracing those barbell-heavy days. 

These tactics work and they teach your body to adapt to new requirements for energy usage and muscle building. Wanna get a higher 1 Rep max? Train small sets of that troubled lift at high weight! 

The thing is though, you will also have that natural bias and ceiling to production from your muscles. 

Case and point from the CrossFit Games, Katrin Davidsdottir. Also known as “The Sled Dog” she is a 2 times CrossFit Games Champion. A CrossFit Games Champion who won in years that did not have a 1 rep max lift. Rather they had lifting ladders that played into the strength of a 2a dominant athlete that could hit higher percentage weights again and again (her former coach Ben Bergeron is also quoted as saying she can hit 8 reps at 90% but 2 Reps @ 95%, hinting at this strength along with the nickname). 

The person who lost to her 2 years in a row, Tia Claire Toomey, is a BEAST and just needed to train that out. Along with a mindset shift and higher physical ceiling, she now dominates year after year (with 1 rep maxes being firmly back in place on a year-to-year basis as well). 

Good news from this? Those are elite athletes. Your ceiling is still quite high if you’re reading this and your goal isn’t to compete. So, if you want to change your strengths or work on weaknesses a little bit more? All it takes is just talking with a coach (:

If you aren’t a Vegvisir Athlete and want to become one, CLICK HERE to set up a free consultation with one of our coaches!

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