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Building Strength for CrossFit – Key Exercises

If you want to improve your CrossFit performance, building strength is essential. Today, we’ll go over key exercises that can help you build the strength required for CrossFit, ensuring you’re well-equipped to tackle any WOD (Workout of the Day) that comes your way.

After trying it myself, here’s a FREE STRENGTH TRAINING WORKOUT PLAN I created a year ago: Free Strength Training Workout Plan

First things first – why strength matters

Before we jump into the meat of the matter, let’s get one thing straight: strength is the cornerstone of CrossFit. Without a solid strength base, you’ll find it tough to keep up with the demands of daily workouts. It’s like trying to run before you can walk—a surefire recipe for a faceplant.

According to an NCBI studyCrossFit training is efficient for developing strength and endurance in both short-term and long-term programs.

1. Squats

Maximizing Strength with Squat Exercises

Squats are essential for building strong legs, improving flexibility, and maintaining balance. These qualities are important for improving CrossFit moves like snatches and box jumps.

Did you know? On average, 45.4% of an athlete’s squat workouts contain Back Squats, while 34.2% contain Front Squats, and only 20.4% contain other types of squats.

Front Squat

This exercise requires greater core engagement to stabilize the spine due to the load placement in front of the body, making it effective for core strength development.

  • With the barbell resting on your front shoulders, elbows high, perform a squat by lowering your body and keeping your back straight, then return to standing.

Back Squat

Back squats engage multiple muscle groups, including the quads, hamstrings, and glutes, providing a full lower-body workout and promoting overall muscle development. Honestly, it’s my favorite variation.

  • Position the barbell on your upper back, keeping your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  • Descend by bending your knees while maintaining a straight back, then push back up to the starting position.

Overhead Squat

This squat variant is designed to boost stability, strength, and mobility in the legs, shoulders, and back.

  • Holding a barbell overhead with a wide grip, squat down while keeping the weight stable above you, then rise back up.

2. Deadlifts

Deadlifts target multiple muscle groups, including the erector spine, glutes, and lower back, contributing to overall strength and muscle development.

Conventional Deadlift

Primarily augments posterior chain strength.

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, grip the barbell outside your knees, lift by straightening your legs, and stand up fully before lowering the bar back down.

Sumo Deadlift

Sumo deadlifts focus on the glutes and inner thighs.

  • With a wider stance and hands inside your knees, lift the bar by straightening your legs, and keeping your chest up.

Hex Bar Deadlift

By using a hexagonal bar, this variation diminishes lower back strain while concentrating on leg and back strength.

  • Step inside the hex bar, bend at your hips and knees to grab the handles, and stand up by extending your hips and knees.

3. Presses

Developing Shoulder Strength

Presses are indispensable for fortifying shoulder and arm strength and crucial for maintaining overhead stability.

Shoulder Press

This exercise increases upper body strength

  • Press a barbell overhead from shoulder height until your arms are fully extended, then lower it back down.

Push Press

Merges lower body momentum with upper body strength.

  • Begin with a slight knee bend, drive up with your legs to initiate the press, and extend your arms fully overhead.

Bench Press

Boosts chest and arm strength, laying a foundation for more effective push-ups and burpees.

  •  Lie back on a bench, press the barbell from chest height to full arm extension, and then lower it back down.

4. Pulls

Pull-focused exercises are vital for bolstering the strength of the back, shoulders, and arms, which in turn enhances pulling movements and grip endurance.


  • Perform by hanging from a bar with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width, then pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar, and lower back down slowly.

Dead Hangs

  • Aim to increase grip strength and shoulder stability by hanging from a pull-up bar with straight arms for as long as possible.

Barbell Rows

  • Strengthen the back for improved posture and lifting efficiency. Bend over at the waist, hold a barbell with both hands, pull it towards your lower chest, then lower it back down.

5. Olympic Lifts

Olympic lifts are pivotal for developing power, speed, and coordination, enhancing your CrossFit regimen significantly.


  • Requires lifting a barbell from the ground to overhead in one fluid motion, improving explosive power and full-body coordination.

Clean and Jerk

  • Begins with lifting the barbell to the shoulders (clean) and then thrusting it overhead (jerk), building immense strength and power, crucial for refining lifting techniques.
Note: Your body’s feedback is more reliable than any workout plan. If you’re feeling worn down or notice performance dips, it might be time to ease up. Conversely, feeling strong and energized? Maybe push a little harder.

6. Clean and Press

Mastering Clean and Press for CrossFit

This exercise targets your shoulders, arms, back, and legs, enhancing power and coordination.

  • Start with the barbell on the ground. Perform a clean by lifting the bar to your shoulders in one swift motion.
  • Then, press the bar overhead, extending your arms fully before lowering it back down.

7. Thrusters

Enhancing Thrust

Thrusters are effective for working the entire body and improving endurance, strength, and power.

  • Begin in a front squat position with the barbell at your shoulders.
  • Perform a front squat, and as you rise, transition into an overhead press.

8. Kettlebell Swings

This exercise strengthens the posterior chain, core, and shoulders, and improves explosive power.

  • With a kettlebell on the ground between your feet, hinge at your hips to grab the handle with both hands.
  • Swing the kettlebell back slightly and then forcefully extend your hips to swing it up to chest level or higher.

9. Farmer’s Walk

Enhancing CrossFit Performance with Farmer’s Walk

The farmer’s walk builds grip strength, core stability, and overall endurance.

  • Grab a heavy weight in each hand, such as kettlebells, dumbbells, or farmer’s walk handles.
  • Keep your back straight and shoulders back as you walk forward for a set distance or time.


How often should I include strength training exercises in my CrossFit routine?

Incorporate strength training exercises into your CrossFit routine 2-3 times per week. This frequency allows for adequate recovery and maximizes strength gains without interfering with other components of your CrossFit training.

Is there a recommended duration for rest between sets when focusing on strength training for CrossFit?

When targeting maximal strength gains, resting 2-5 minutes between sets is recommended. This rest period allows your muscles to recover enough to perform each set with maximum effort.

How should I adjust my diet to support strength building in CrossFit?

To support strength building, focus on a diet rich in protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Increasing your protein intake can aid in muscle repair and growth, while carbohydrates provide the energy needed for intensive training sessions. Staying hydrated and considering timing your meals for optimal performance and recovery are also crucial.

All in all…

Starting with CrossFit is like enrolling in a course where strength meets strategy, and perseverance is the final exam. It’s demanding, rewarding, and a bit addictive. Start with a solid foundation of strength, refine your technique, and always listen to your body.

Alesha Thornton

Hi, I'm Alesha, a CrossFit fitness trainer. My journey began 5 years ago when I decided to try CrossFit for the first time. It was challenging, exciting, and unlike anything I had ever done before. I remember how intimidating it can be to start, but I'm here to tell you that anyone can do it. It doesn't matter where you're starting from; what matters is where you want to go