New to Wendler? “How” and “Why” it works!

Wendler – More “How” and Some “Why”

JFP_Slideshow_CFIL_StandUp2Cancer_20141123_5More “how.”  The algorithm for your Wendler sets is pretty simple, but it can be hard to keep track of – especially at 6 a.m.  Joe D. introduced the concept of using technology to make the Wendler portion of your life easier here.  Let me offer another tool – a Google Docs spreadsheet you can take a copy from here, which you can access on your phone via the Google Docs and Google Drive apps.  Plug your 1RM into the boxes on the right side, watch your programmed lifts for the month propagate down the left side, and lift away.  You still have to do plate math, but I believe in all of you.

Some “why.”  If you want to really dive into this, buy Jim Wendler’s book here or on Amazon.  But here’s my short version:

1. Getting strong makes everything easier.  The official CrossFit prescription is “constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement.”  Purists frown on programming that has a consistent strength building component like Wendler because it’s not “constantly varied.”  They “believe that preparation for random physical challenges—i.e., unknown and unknowable events—is at odds with fixed, predictable, and routine regimens.”  And while that tension is a real one, I believe that it’s a hell of a lot easier to deal with the unknown and unknowable if you’ve built a solid baseline of strength to support your efforts.  Thrusters get a lot easier when your squat improves.  A set of 25 kettlebell swings isn’t nearly as tiring once your deadlift goes up.  Handstands and handstand
pushups are less intimidating when your press is improving.  Everything is easier when you’re stronger.

2. Wendler is a straightforward way to get strong.  Your body changes in response to external stimuli.  Relevant to this discussion, your body will build muscle, strengthen tendons, increase bone density, and a bunch of other positive stuff in response to your demand that it lift increasingly heavy stuff.  The Wendler program has you lifting increasingly heavy stuff in small cycles (each lift in a given set increases by 5-10%) and large cycles (weights go up by a small increment every four weeks), and gives you time to reap the benefits of those gains before increasing the intensity of the stimuli (deload week).  The Wendler format takes all the guesswork out of the process – you know which lift to do, how much to put on the bar, and how many reps before you even walk in the door to the box.  No thought required – which is nice.

(Side note:   There are other popular strength programs out there, and innumerable web pages devoted to discussions of whether Wendler 5/3/1, StrongLifts 5×5, or Westside is the best program for beginners/power lifters/CrossFitters/[insert category here].  Answer?  All three are great.  Pick one and start lifting.)

Slow and steady wins the race.  None of us are professional athletes.  Nobody should be in a screaming rush to hit an arbitrary lift goal – it’s feels awesome to hit that bodyweight front squat for the first time, but maybe not so awesome if you injure yourself on an attempt because you ramped up faster than your body could adapt.  The particular beauty of Wendler is that it dictates a slow and steady progression – and it almost doesn’t matter where you start.  Don’t know your actual 1RM?  No worries – estimate it off your 3RM or 5RM using this calculator (or the one in the spreadsheet I linked above), cut 10% off (or plug it into your spreadsheet), and start lifting as prescribed.  If you set it too low, no worries – you’re going up by 5-10 pounds next month anyway.  If you set it too high (i.e., you’re barely getting 1 rep in on the 1+ days) cut another 10-15% off your 1RM and keep lifting.  Your body will respond to the increasing stimulus and you’ll be hitting lifts you thought were beyond your capabilities in a surprisingly short amount of time. Wendler is simple and will make you strong, which will make everything else easier.  Go lift.

–Coach Nick

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