Written by Brandon Lilly
Oh shit, there he goes… He’s putting the Cube into the stratosphere and losing his hardcore edge. Screw that. What I am doing is addressing an issue within Crossfit that I see, and I am trying to relay a practical resolution and understanding to a common problem within the world of Crossfitters. As much as strength has become a huge factor within the competitive aspect of Crossfit, we have to maintain, and understand that pure strength is not, and should not be at the absolute forefront of any Crossfit training program. Strength should be a harmonious piece to a larger puzzle that builds the perfect Crossfit Athlete, or in other words Rich Froning. I kid, I kid, but seriously.
Let me start this off by saying that what I am going to share is my findings, through application in gyms that have produced results. I have witnessed “Powerlifting Certifications” for Crossfit, I have also witnessed people with these certifications try to go out and repeat, or put into action a “powerlifting program” and it is disastrous. You may be asking “Brandon, you yourself are a powerlifter, with a powerlifting method, so how can you help without contradicting yourself?” Well, the Cube Method was designed around my pride within the gym. I wanted to be a guy that could be doing shoulder work, and another gym member could challenge me to squats for reps, for time, or for weight, and I could walk straight over to the bar and hold my own. I like testing myself, and getting out of my comfort zone, and being the best that I can be at any given lift, at any given time, on a moments notice. While I chase 1 rep max strength on the platform, I value all types of strength. Sound familiar? As a Crossfit athlete would you rather be able to deadlift 600 lbs. for a single? Or, do 500 lbs. for a set of 5 reps, then turn around and Clean 275 lbs.? I am trying to help you see that the “powerlifts” can help you in your journey, but you need to remember that you are not a powerlifter unless you are competing as a powerlifter.
One demonstration I have seen is that you can take a lifter, have them stop the weightlifting movements, introduce them to powerlifting movements, and then return them to weightlifting movements and you will see a huge benefit… True. Why? Because barbell movements make you strong as shit, and most Crossfitters are weak. This is not an insult, just a statement that helps you understand that by making yourself stronger in any way, will affect your strength positively. Example, I have not done a strict barbell curl in 6 years or more and in the gym the other day I was challenged to curl 185 lbs. for reps. Keep in mind I do 4-6 sets of biceps a week. That is all. So I pick up the 185 lbs. in my hand, and it feels light, comfortable, and I begin to curl. By the end I had done 10 very easy, very strict reps, and 3 reps with little struggle but my form broke from what I would call “strict”. This is just a result of me being strong. Realize that if you build your deadlift, and squat this will positively effect the Clean, and Jerk, as well as the Snatch, but if you become to individualized then you will regress in the weightlifting movements. I for example routinely deadlift over 800 lbs. in competition, and while I can “brute” through 300+ lbs. on the C+J, and the Snatch neither would count in competition, nor are they functional. Remember the time and focus it takes to perfect those lifts so make sure you dedicate to the Olympic lifts. Now that everyone understands we want to be strong, but don’t need to have Herculean strength lets look at a way to implement the Cube Method into Crossfit. The reason these ideas work so well is that they were written for raw (lifters that lift unequipped) lifters, and adapted for geared lifters, not the other way around:
The basis for the Cube Method came from my transition from geared lifter, to training, and competing raw. I wanted to identify issues within my training, and narrow down the pieces of the puzzle that I believed would benefit me the most in this path:
Piece one of the puzzle was muscle hypertrophy as a goal Piece two was rep work. My time in Ohio was spent chasing the ever important 1 Rep Max, and I seldom ever did reps over a triple. I had gotten damn strong doing sets of 6, 8, 10, and 15’s before, so I needed to get back to that. Piece three was heavy training. I had to come up with a systematic approach to training heavy without going backwards, and also find a way to lift the heaviest weight possible on meet day. The final piece was explosive power. I noticed that when I had trained with just a barbell I was damn strong, and very damn fast. I had used bands a lot, and chains even more, and I had slowed down. That’s not to say those tools don’t work, I had just never utilized them properly, so I wanted to start over with just a bar, then add in the extra tools as I saw fit.
The Cube Method is somewhat of a throwback and I appreciate it every time I hear it referred to as “old school”. The reason the Cube will work is because it is very basic but can be applied to all levels. The “secret” is the rotation of the lifts and the waves involved.
On this method you will notice a variety of rep ranges, exercises, and an intense focus on realizing that a training cycle is supposed to build you up and prepare you for one day: Meet Day. On this method Meet Day will become something sacred to you. It should, that is the only place the lifts count. In a day and age of immediate social media networking anyone can become what I like to call a “YouTube Superhero”. These are guys that PR every workout and somehow never produce at meets. On my method you may be the guy that showcases solid training in your videos or logs, but nothing over the top, and then BOOM a meet full of PR’s. You decide where your biggest lifts matter, and if it isn’t on the platform, and you need an ego boost every time you walk in the gym, then I apologize… This method is not for you. This type of training will kick your ass, and humble you. But like an unpolished stone along the way you will see the reps and sets are getting easier and easier until you walk under the bar for your opening squat and destroy it… MEET DAY IS KING!!
Cube Method Philosophy
Every single powerlifter has one common goal in mind. That is to become the best that they can be. Some will strive to be the best in their gym, the best at a meet, state, country, or World, but all that means is we have a desire to improve. If you don’t want to get better then I don’t understand why you chose powerlifting, as it is incredibly difficult, and I’m not sure why you are reading this article. I believe that each powerlifter has a deeper connection with themselves than the average person on the street. I believe that we have a driving force inside of us that will not let us be “normal”. I believe if times were different we would be the ones waging wars on the battlefield, we would be the warriors that rise up, and fight. Why do I say this? Because this sport has cost me dearly, but I can’t turn it off. It is a refusal to be complacent, or average. If I didn’t have this sport I can almost guarantee you I would be in prison for beating the shit out of someone daily. Nothing fulfills me like heavy weight. The fire within me is not something I learned, or can teach you. The fire is either there or it’s not.
On the platform we have to perform the three classic lifts: the Squat, Bench, and Deadlift. On the Cube we will attack them intelligently, but we will also bring back into the fold a much over looked lift, the Military Press. Ideas I like to adhere to:
The only PR’s that matter are those on the platform, and for those of you that don’t compete the PR’s at the end of the cycle is what we train for. You may not hit a PR for 9 weeks, but when you test them on week 10 you should blow your old PR’s away. Now, for those of you freaking out right now you will have chances to PR before then, but you need to buy into the fact that a 5 lbs. PR today is ok, but I want a 20 lbs. PR later, so don’t let your short term training diminish your long term results. Stop one set early. We all know the feeling of defeat when you are in the gym, you hit a good lift, then the next jump is iffy, we take it anyway and miss. We WILL NO LONGER MISS WEIGHTS. Make a plan, stick to it, hurt feelings. I haven’t missed a weight because of strength in over 15 months. I might miss on a technical failure, but if that is the case I can reset and immediately do the weight. Check your ego at the door. Your rep and explosive day are just as important as your Max day because they are what lead to successful PR’s, take them seriously, attack the weights each time you are in the gym.
On the Cube Method you will train three or four days per week, I prefer four. It is a 10 week cycle. Upon completion of the cycle you should either do a meet, or a “mock meet” in your gym to establish new PR’s. Base your next 10 week cycle off of your new PR’s. Why a mock meet? Sometimes this sport can take a toll financially, so to avoid the hassle, and expense of a meet pick a Saturday at the end of your cycle and go into the gym just like it is a meet. Perform your best, and build from there. Believe me, psychological conditioning is every bit as important as the physical side of training. My waves are 3 weeks for squat bench and deadlift and they are modeled like this.
Week 1-Heavy Work Day, Explosive Work Day, Rep Work Day, Body Day
Week 2-Explosive Work Day, Rep Work Day, Heavy Work Day, Body Day
Week 3-Rep Work Day, Heavy Work Day, Explosive Work Day, Body Day
Week 4-Recycle the Wave
I called it “Cube Training” as when it’s mapped out it looks like a “Cube”. I never lift heavy on two lifts within a week. If I deadlift heavy training, my bench is explosive training, and my squat is for repetitions, and as the weeks rotate the “Work Days” are rotated also. Keep in mind that if we are constantly “testing” a lift, we cannot appropriately “build” a lift. At some point the body will reject the training and injury, or burnout will occur. On my method you are constantly stopping early, or training sub-maximally which creates the “dog on a leash” effect that I like to refer to. Think about holding back for 10 weeks, and holding back, and holding back, and then on meet day you are let off the chain. That is when you attack the platform with renewed ferocity, and I swear the PR’s will come.
Here’s the setup:
WEEK- 1 2 31 4 5 62 7 8 93 10
Deads- 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 x
Bench- 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 x
Squat- 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 x
Key- 1=End of Wave 1, 2=End of Wave 2, 3=End of Wave 3, , x=Meet Week
Sundays are always a bodybuilding day. Every Sunday I have three exercises that are never rotated. They are Military Press, Bicep Curls, and Calf Raises. From there I pick three weak bodyparts, and I choose one exercise for each. I vary my sets and reps depending on feel. If I am feeling beat up from the week I will do more sets (no more than 5 per bodypart, never less than 3 sets) with more reps (never more than 20, never less than 6 reps), if I feel fresh I do less sets with heavier weight for fewer reps.
A typical Sunday:
Military Press- 3 x 10 Bicep Curls w/EZ Curl Bar- 4 x 15 Calf Raises- 4 x 15
Weak Point Training
Leg Curls for Hamstrings- 5 x 20 Lat Pulldowns- 4 x 12 Pec Flyes w/Dumbbells- 3 x 12 Abs (Abs are done every training day)
The bodybuilding is a great day because it allows for a whole different style of training, as well as focusing only on hypertrophy, and forgetting about heavy weight. Take this day seriously, but be mindful to enjoy it. Understand that you are building your body to look like a lifter instead of a fat piece of shit which long ago became acceptable in our sport.
Now that you have somewhat of an idea about what the Cube Method originated from let me introduce you to one adaptation that has benefitted numerous Crossfit gyms in South Florida, and around the United States.
Maintaining our athletic goal by implementing the Cube into your CrossFit training, you will get stronger in all aspects of CrossFit, making your self a better all around athlete. At the Playground Gym- CrossFit Ft. Lauderdale they introduced strength based workouts started out about 5 years ago. Different programs have been in place producing results, however, none have been as successful as the Cube. Why? – because of everything you have read about strength in Crossfit is very different from the principles of the Cube.
Option 1 – Conventional Cube
Day 3-Squat Always train strength first.
Day 1- your CrossFit workouts should be structured around the main movement of your strength session. You want to primarily target the lower body with minimal body weight movements for the upper body such as push ups, pull ups, dips, etc. If you can, try to stay away from upper body all together for maximum results on Day 2. You can pretty much do any workout you want except try to sub out lower for upper. We always prefer 2 or 3 movements per workout on strength days. Light(ish) squats and deads are ok here. You can refer back to the previous section on conditioning for some workout options. Day 2- is your day to hit your press variations (strict/push/jerk) with conditioning. Feel free to mix in anything you want other than lower body. I would stay away from cleans, snatches, deadlifts, squats, box jumps, or any other strenuous lower body movements. You can mix in a light run or a row if you like, just keep the exertion on these moderate. Day 3- is your combo day. On this day feel free to do anything you want. Upper and lower can be combined because you will have two days off following this day. Go by how you feel. If you’re beat up in the chest or shoulders then obviously go lighter or maybe do more lower. This is your day to go for it. Just be smart. Days 4, & 5- These should be your bodybuilding, cardio, and core days. Although you should really do your core every day, really try to work it in on these two days if you haven’t been already. These two days you should also do focused work on form, technique, and any weaknesses you may have that you will not address on Days 1, 2, and 3. Weight should not exceed 30-40%. Again, be smart by keeping in mind what you just trained and what you are going to train tomorrow. Another important point to mention here is always keeping in mind the agenda of the day. If your goal is speed or rep work for the strength portion of the workout, do not max out by killing your self with super heavy weights during the workout. If you do that then you just defeated the purpose of the strength session. Be smart!
Option 2 – CrossFit Cube This program is going to differ from the program above by having a 2 week rotation. Here is how it looks:
Day 2-Press and Jerk Variations
Week 2 of the Cube will keep the same rotation as the Conventional Cube, giving you an opportunity to work speed, reps, and max effort on your Olympic Lifts. Week 3 goes back to power movements, Week 4 is Olympic Lifts, and so on. Once again, It is important to keep in mind the agenda of the day when you structure your CrossFit workouts. Bust your ass for 10 weeks (Original Cube) or 20 weeks (CrossFit Cube) depending on the programming you wish to follow, either way at the end of the cycle you will have improved your powerlifts, Olympic lifts, and you’ll be a much better Crossfitter for the hard work. This programming has produced results time, and time again, so give it a shot, and get back to the idea that the strongest, and the fastest doesn’t always mean the best Crossfitter, the most well rounded, and adapted means the best Crossfitter. Kill it!!