Optimizing Power Development for CrossFit WODs

©RXd Photography. Used with permission from RXd Photography.

CrossFit is a unique sport in that it requires the successful integration of multiple fitness components simultaneously, in which each needs to be extremely well developed for an individual to have any hope of competing at a high level.

First, CrossFit requires a high degree of movement competency. To be competitive, you need to be able to perform the movements required at a very high level – this is imperative as it not only reduces your risk of sustaining an injury significantly, but also improves your performance by reducing movement efficiency (and therefore reducing energy ‘leakage’).

Movement competency is improved by repetition. The more we perform a given movement (assuming we are doing so with good technique of course) the more competent and efficient we become at that movement.

Supplementary to movement competency, we need both a well-developed aerobic system and a well-developed anaerobic system. This ensures that we can maintain a high working intensity for a long duration, while also improving our recovery between exercises.

This is developed during our training, during high intensity WOD’s and other strenuous and demanding training sessions.

The third factor integral to performance, which we are going to speak about today, is power.

Power effectively describes our ability to produce force rapidly, and is demonstrated during Olympic lifts, jumping tasks, and larger compound movements such as squats and deadlifts. And in my experience, those CrossFit athletes who demonstrate the highest levels of power tend to be the most successful.

The more explosively we can perform a given lift, the less time we required to complete them – this immediately improves our WOD times by speeding up our performance. Secondly, this same explosive capacity results in less energy expenditure per lift (as we aren’t working as hard or as long to move a given weight), which obviously improves our ability to improve other endurance based tasks.

But developing power requires a little more thought than the previous two factors mentioned. It can’t be improved by merely going through our WODs, but rather requires specific and targeted training.

Strength Training for Power Development

While traditional strength training and CrossFit are often viewed at opposite ends of the training spectrum, this is not actually the case. Considering that during WOD performance we perform a number of general strength training movements, it is important that we train them heavy and train them regularly.

Moreover, by our increasing our maximal strength, we effectively increase the maximal amount of force we can produce. This, in effect, means that any exercise we perform at any absolute weight (whether it be 100 pounds or 300 pounds) becomes easier.

This becomes more important when we consider that role of strength in ability to express power. You see, power is ultimately our ability to produce force rapidly. By increasing our absolute force producing capacity, we increase our ceiling for power capacity – greatly improving our ability to develop power.

This can be accomplished by training compound lower body strength exercises such as squats and deadlifts using basic strength training schemes (4×5, 6×3 etc), at least twice per week.

And once we have a solid foundation of strength, it is time to start producing it rapidly.

Power Training for Power Development

This ability to produce force rapidly is known as Rate of Force Development (or RFD), and by increasing our RFD we can immediately improve ability to move weight quickly and explosively.

This can be done by adding explosive lower body movements into our training (ideally performed at the start of our training session). Our best options for this training effect would be jump variations (such as box jumps, broad jumps etc.), plyometric exercises (lateral bounds, tuck jumps etc.) and Olympic lifting variations (clean, hang snatch etc.).

These exercises use either our own bodyweight or lower relative loads as resistance, which greatly improve our ability to produce force rapidly (if we use too heavy load, we start developing strength and NOT power specifically). Additionally, the inclusion of plyometric exercises also improve our capacity to use the stretch shortening cycle (SSC).

It is important to note that these exercises should not be performed to failure as the intent is to move as quickly and as explosively as we possibly can. This is because fatigue inhibits our ability to produce force rapidly and, as such, it would also inhibit the specific training effect we are looking for when we include power based exercises into our training..

So these exercise should be performed before the strength component of the session and not until failure.

Putting it Together

So we know how important power development is for our successful performance and we also have a bit of an indication of the methods we can use to improve it. But we now need to put it all together in a way that allows us to also train for CrossFit performance simultaneously.

To do so, we should perform some key strength and power work before we commence our WOD. This ensures we can optimize both our strength and power development (in which we are not inhibited by fatigue), without impacting our WOD training too heavily.

With this in mind, and example session may look something like this:

Power Development
1: Box Jumps 3×3
2: Hang Power Cleans 3×4

Strength Development
3: Deadlift 4×3
4: Back Squat 3×3

*Followed by our WOD*

While this example is incredibly simple, it does provide a clear demonstration of how we can train for power and optimize power development without impacting our other aspects of performance.

Over time, this will yield large improvements in both our maximal strength and our rate of force development – of which the combined improvements of these two factors will lead to greatly improved WOD performance.

BIO: Matt Hunt, writer for ProteinPromo. With a master’s degree in exercise science Matt is an exercise scientist specialising in rehabilitation and athletic development. Training clients in a one-on-one setting has provided him with a practical understanding of the various aspects of the health and fitness industry.


Marandino, Roger. “Strength training for power.” NSCA’s Performance Training Journal 1.9 (2003): 15-20. Viewed at: http://myweb.wwu.edu/~chalmers/PDFs/Strength%20training%20for%20power.pdf

Kawamori, Naoki, and G. Gregory Haff. “The optimal training load for the development of muscular power.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 18.3 (2004): 675-684. Viewed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15320680

Editor’s note: The views expressed herein are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of The Barbell Spin.

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