I have and will continue to update this resource with effective CrossFit strength programs, CrossFit squat programs, and other effective training programs to supplement your CrossFit training. If you have done a program that you found effective and deserves recognition, email me the program and your results!

If only reaching your fitness goals were this easy:

  1. Show up to CrossFit class.
  2. Work hard for an hour.
  3. Walk out with a 6-pack resembling the back of a ninja turtle, a 500-pound back squat, and a sub 5:00 mile.

In reality, if you have a specific goal a general physical preparedness (GPP) program such as CrossFit might help you achieve it, but it is not guaranteed.

In addition to good ol’ fashioned hard work, it takes specific supplemental training or biasing your training program towards the movements, intensity levels, and time domains that you want to improve.

If you suck at muscle ups, the one time per month they show up in your gym’s programming is not enough for you to develop proficiency. You need a more immersive focus.

Below is a living, growing list of programs that I have personally vetted and found to be effective when combined with a solid GPP foundation.

How to Find the Right Program

I organized the list by program type:

  1. Mass gain for CrossFit
  2. Strength training for CrossFit
  3. Squat programs for CrossFit
  4. Skill training for CrossFit.

Most of these programs were written to be standalone programs, but I know most CrossFitters cannot resist the urge to jump into at least a few group classes per week! Do not make a rookie mistake and add one of these programs to your current exercise routine without subtracting something first.

More work isn’t always better and is not always the fastest path to progress. You only have a finite amount of energy, and you should be focusing it rather than spreading it thin.

So, to integrate one of these programs into your routine cut the number of days you attend CrossFit class.

For example, if you do the 4-day per week Smolov Squat program because you want to add 100 pounds to your squat, and you already attend CrossFit class 5 days per week, cut the CrossFit to 2 days per week maximum and focus on the squats! It is a brutal program and if done properly you should not want to do much extra training.

Just to get it through your skull… DO NOT ADD THESE PROGRAMS, integrate them!

Mass Gain Programs for CrossFit

Mass Made Simple

This program claims to add 15+ pounds of muscle in 6 weeks. This is a twice per week protocol created by the famous strength coach, Dan John. The training volume is VERY high, and the 2 training days are brutal. They will test you mentally as well as physically. I do not suggest adding much if any, extra training when you commit to this program.

David Paradiso, the owner of Paradiso CrossFit, made a serious transformation using this protocol. You can read about David’s experience here. You should also read Dan John’s article about the program here, and you can purchase the “Mass Made Simple A Six-Week Journey into Bulking” on kindle or hard copy here for about $10.

Mass Made Simple Lite (Added 4/19/17)

This is a 3-day program by coach Dan John, and I have put a few clients through it with stellar results. Although it’s not as taxing as Mass Made Simple’s intense barbell complexes, this program is a great way to get comfortable with dumbbells while adding mass.

If you run Mass Made Simple lite, do all of the pressing/pulling movements with dumbbells. This will get you comfortable with dumbbells for the CrossFit Open!

This program is great for beginners, and the loading/intensity isn’t so high that you can’t still hop in for a few Crossfit classes. It is arguably my favorite strength program for CrossFit.

PHUL (Added 4/19/17)

I have had a number of clients who do the PHUL (Power/Hypertrophy, Upper/Lower) program and add a significant amount of muscle in 12-weeks. As long as you are eating enough to put on muscle, you can experience mass gain with CrossFit and a strength program.

PHUL is a great complement to CrossFit conditioning, but it does require some equipment that you might not find at your typical CrossFit box (ex. leg press, cable machine).

PHUL template is a great strength program for CrossFit

If you’re interested in running this program, I created a training template that includes programmed deload weeks. You can download it HERE.

Occam’s Protocol

This mass gain program claims to put 10-15 pounds of muscle on in 4 weeks with 30 minutes in the gym each session.

The simple 30 day Occam’s protocol can be found for free here.

Tim Ferris's Four Hour Body has great Mass Gain programs for crossfit

I first discovered this protocol in Tim Ferris’s book The 4 Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman. The 4 Hour Body is a useful and easy-to-digest resource that contains a number of simple, yet effective programs for leaning out, gaining mass, and more. I highly suggest having a copy on your bookshelf.

 

CrossFit Strength Programs for Beginners

StrongLifts 5×5

Stronglifts 5×5 is incredibly simple and undoubtedly effective. It is a perfect beginner protocol requiring 3 workouts per week that will alternate between 5 different movements:

  1. Squat
  2. Deadlift
  3. Bench press
  4. Overhead press
  5. Barbell row.

The spreadsheet on their website will calculate the weights you should use for every set during the 12-week program. You can find the program and all its details here.

Starting Strength

Starting Strength is one of the best strength programs for crossfit

This is the famous beginner’s barbell program by living legend Mark Rippetoe. I have had non-CrossFit clients use this weightlifting program because of its simplicity and effectiveness.

One client used Starting Strength, improved his nutrition, and lost a whopping 20-pounds of fat while improving his strength. Not that fat loss is the desired outcome of a strength program, but it is a welcome side effect!

You can buy the best-selling book Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training for about $20 on Amazon or pick up a used copy. You can also check with your local gym to see if they have a copy in their library.

Wendler 5/3/1

This is one of the most common CrossFit strength programs, and chances are your gym has programmed it before. Theoretically, you could add 100 pounds to your lower body lifts and 50 pounds to your upper body lifts in a year using this program.

I have plenty of personal experience with this program. So, I will share my insights below. They won’t make sense unless you understand the program and philosophy, so Read this article by the Jim Wendler, the program’s creator, first.

An Important note on 5/3/1

I have programmed 5/3/1 for CrossFit gyms and find that most beginners do well IF they have the mental toughness. The key to this program is to fight through the set to failure. Most beginners are too afraid to do this and stop short of their true potential.

I’ve seen athletes easily stand up from the 6th rep on a 5+ set and attempt to rack the bar before failure. I have coaxed 4+ more reps out of people. You need mental toughness and the willingness to fight with a barbell until true exhaustion for the program to work.

When 5/3/1 is mixed with CrossFit, I have seen advanced athletes take steps back or plateau.

Nailing the Overhead Press Program

This program took me from a questionable 180-pound strict press to an easy 190 pounds in 6-weeks. I used it as supplemental training to the Olympic Lifting program I was performing.

I have also used JUST the overhead pressing portion of the program, without the assistance work with clients. The results were always good, including one case where the athlete improved their press by 15 pounds.

With the client who improved by 15lbs, we didn’t follow the exact assistance work protocol but did include the 350 method incline press and biased their CrossFit metcons to have a lot of pressing volume. They were also squatting regularly (a key to strength for CrossFit!).

Intermediate and Advanced CrossFit Strength Programs

Athlete strength training for crossfit

Texas Method

The Texas Method is the next step after a beginner’s training program such as Starting Strength, StrongLifts 5×5 or Wendler. It is a highly effective program that will help you fight for the incremental gains that occur after the massive returns you see as a newbie.

Cluster Training (Added 4/19/17)

Cluster training is perfect if you’ve hit a plateau on your current strength program for CrossFit. Cluster training is a well-researched and effective method to add variety and improve strength and power. I personally love cluster training because you can be apply it to just about any strength movement.

If you are looking to shake things up, check out this article about how to utilize cluster training. See if it helps you break through a previous ceiling on any movement from squatting to pressing.

Squat Programs for CrossFit

man performing crossfit squat program

Hatch Squat Cycle

Do you want to add 20-30 pounds to your squat with an easy-to-follow program? This is the program for you IF you are an experienced lifter with good squat mechanics. The volume is heavy and you will back squat AND front squat. There is a Hatch calculator that makes following the program simple. This can definitely be a supplemental strength program. I have also heard of people using the program for pressing subbing bench press for back squats and overhead press for front squats.

Smolov Junior/Senior

This program claims to add 100+ pounds to your squat if you follow it for 13 weeks. I added 30 pounds to my back squat after finishing a Smolov Junior cycle (only 6 weeks). Within a month of finishing the program, I hit a 405 back squat for the first time at a local competition, which is 40 pounds more than when I started the Smolov!

I don’t have experience with the full Smolov Senior program, but I hear it is a brutal program that has such high volume and heavy lifting it turns you into a bulletproof squatting machine.

There is also a Smolov pressing program which I do not have experience with, but because of my success with the squat program am happy to recommend. Let me know if you’ve done it and what the results were!

20 Rep Squat Program for CrossFit (Added 4/19/17)

This legendary squat program was designed to be done 4 days per week and coupled with GOMAD (Gallon Of Milk A Day). If you’ve ever done this program, you know how brutal that actually is!

I usually have people do 20 reps twice per week when I use this squat program for CrossFit. Simply warm up with a few sets of 10 and 5, and then do one set at 20 reps.

Start at 60% of your 1-rep max on session 1, take at least 3 days rest between squat days. Every day that you squat, add 5lbs to the bar. When you can no longer complete 20-reps, the program is complete.”That’s it.”

I have had clients who make it up to 85-90% of their old one-rep max and then PR by 40lbs. It’s that effective!

Russian Squat Program (Added 4/19/17)

I will admit that I have never personally done this program. However, I have had nutrition clients who complete this program and their leg/hip muscles explode when they get a DXA scan done after running the program and eating well. So, I have added this to the list of my favorite squat programs for CrossFit!

HERE is a calculator to customize your own Russian Squat Program.

Skill Acquisition Programs

Total Immersion Swimming

Swimming is a good complement to a strength program for crossfit

Another Tim Ferriss recommendation. I watched the Tim Ferriss Experiment episode on swimming and took from it what I could. I also have a friend who owns the TI DVDs and after the first few lessons, I progressed quickly. I started out feeling like I was going to drown, and was soon completely relaxed in the pool!

You can find the DVD Total Immersion Swimming: Perpetual Motion Freestyle in Ten Lessons on Amazon for about $30. You can also find a total immersion coach near you if 1-on-1 learning is more your thing!

GymnasticBodies

I personally followed Gymnastic Bodies foundations course and saw massive improvements in my weightlifting, rock climbing, and obviously, gymnastic movements in CrossFit.

It is a slow, incremental, often boring, but HIGHLY effective program. I took a crack at it years ago solo but fell off the wagon. Adding a training partner and an accountability group makes long-term adherence to the plan far easier.

Aerobic Capacity

Aerobic Capacity is the programming from coach Chris Hinshaw who works with many  CrossFit Games athletes, including CrossFit Games Champions Katrin Davidsdottir and Mat Fraser to help them improve both their running skill and aerobic capacity.

PCF University Handstand Course (Added 4/19/17)

This is a progressive and easy-to-follow program that will help you develop the skill, core stability, and mobility necessary to do a handstand in free space. I’ve seen this program work for dozens of people in as little as 6-weeks!

Check it out here, there is a free mini-course if you don’t want to pay for the full thing.

Learn how to do a handstand for crossfit

ROMWOD (Added 4/19/17)

Flexibility is a skill. Relaxing your muscles is a skill. ROMWOD provides daily 15-40 minute guided stretching videos. I have made ROMWOD a regular habit and it has massively improved my mobility. Unlike a yoga class, ROMwod is geared towards CrossFit and Strength athletes, and has you holding stretches much longer than you would on your own!

I’ve talked about it before on my newsletter. I aim to do it once per week, which is still effective, and usually, end up following it 3-5 days per week!

Fighter Pull-Up Program (Added 4/19/17)

Ladies doing fighter pull up, a great strength program for crossfit
The fighter pull up program will help you get your first strict pull up, help you improve your strict pull-up capacity, or even improve your strength in the weighted pull-up!

I have seen it be insanely effective as a complement to CrossFit training. I would recommend avoiding kipping pull ups, or class workouts with pull-ups while following this program.

Do you have a program that you think deserves to be on this list? Email me the program and your results to have it added!