There comes a point in almost every CrossFit training career in which strength is the limiting factor in performance. You can have fantastic metabolic conditioning, a good aerobic base and a solid understanding of the required skills, but if you’re not strong enough to be competitive you’ll never be the best athlete that you can be. This article breaks down the 4 best strength exercises for Crossfit, suggests some sets and reps, and explains how they’ll improve your game.

Let’s get started, shall we?


Competitive CrossFit has a fascination with the deadlift. Deadlift ladders, deadlift AMRAPS, deadlift circuits, team deadlifts (as shown in the video above) you name it, it’s been in a CrossFit workout at one point or another.

2020’s games workout 3 had two rounds of 21,15,9 with 225lb and 315lb for male athletes and 155lb and 205lb for female athletes.

That’s a lot of weight for a lot of reps, and if you’re a guy whose best deadlift is 315lb (140kg) then it’s pretty safe to say that you have zero chance of completing it.

Even the scaled version of the workouts required 135lb/185lb (men) and 95lb/135lb (women). Those weights, 80 and 60kg in metric, are no joke for 21 reps.

To put it simply, if you want to rank higher in competitions, you need to be able to deadlift more weight.

I would recommend including deadlifts once per week, with something like 3 sets of 5 reps, increasing in weight every set.

Front Squats

person performing front squat

Although front squats themselves don’t make that many appearances, they are a big component of exercises such as thrusters and cleans, both of which are frequently used in competitions.

2020’s workout 4 had a set of 5 cleans at 205lb (men) or 135lb (women)

2019’s workout 2 peaked with a set of 7 cleans at 315lb (men) or 205lb (women) under extreme fatigue.

Plus 2019’s workout 5 asked for 33-27-21-15-9 reps for time of 65-lb. thrusters (women) or 95lb (men). That’s 105 total reps. If your maximum front squat isn’t three or four times those weights there’s just no realistic way of completing the workout.

I would recommend adding 3 sets of 3 reps onto your workout after you’ve finished your thrusters or cleans. If you’re not doing thrusters or cleans that week, perform 5 sets of 3 reps in the front squat towards the beginning of your workout.

Handstand Press-Ups

Handstand press up

Want to take a guess how many of the last 5 years of games required handstand press-ups? The correct answer is all of them.

2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 all included AT LEAST one workout that demanded dozens of handstand push-ups. (even the scaled versions require them)

So if you can’t perform handstand push-ups for reps you’re almost by definition excluded from competing at that level.

*I also have a sneaking suspicion that this is done deliberately to protect the poster boy/poster girl ‘aesthetic’ of CrossFit; because you have to be incredibly lean to successfully perform the movement, it essentially prevents larger-sized athletes from being seen on camera at the higher levels. But that’s a discussion for another day.

I recommend adding handstand press-ups into your training twice per week. In one session I would focus on performing strict handstand press-ups for multiple sets of lower reps, for example, 6 sets of 4 strict. Then in the other session, I would focus on using kipping technique to maximise your repetitions in one or two big sets.


Person performing pull up

Last but not least comes pull-ups, which are often overlooked because they’re considered an ‘easier’ exercise, and a staple of competitions. This is so much the case that along with their cousin the muscle-up they often appear in multiple games workouts within the same year, i.e. 2016, 2019.

I would recommend adding pull-ups into your training 2 to 3 times per week. In one session I would focus on strict pullups for multiple sets of lower reps, for example, 5 sets of 6-8 reps (using weight if needed). Whilst in another session I would focus on either maximal rep kipping pulls or high rep muscle-ups.

Don’t be that guy or girl who loses because you under-estimated the pull-up!

Want a Crossfit Strength Programme Custom Built For Your Needs?

Crossfit Strength Custom Programme

Learning all about strength training concepts is great, but if putting it all together into a crossFit programme yourself seems like a bit of a hassle, then I’ve got you covered.

I’ve put together a custom programme writing option, where you can ask me to build you a training programme from scratch, specifically for your needs.

I’ll also combine this with a monthly check-in so that you can review progress, ask questions and provide feedback. You can learn more about custom programming here.

Summary – The Best Strength Training Exercises For Crossfit

So, in total, you’ll want to be performing…

  • 3 sets of 5 deadlifts once per week,
  • 3 to 5 sets of front squats once or twice per week,
  • 2-6 sets of varying reps of handstand press-ups twice per week
  • And 2-6 sets of varying reps of pull-ups two or three times per week.

All in all that’s not a tonne of work. You can pretty easily thread those into a CrossFit programme that also includes a good selection of metcons, aerobic work and technical practice.

Just make sure that the strength exercises get done every single week as a priority, and you’ll be pulling ahead of your competition in no time.

And as always, if you’re looking for a coach to help you put together a strength-focused crossfit programme, you can book a quick chat with me right here.

‘Til Next Time