Do I need to be in Shape?

Going through both CrossFit Football site, SoCal/Balboa and your new FAQ Talk to me Johnnie site and I notice a consistent message of strength, power and speed.  I recently went to a Starting Strength Seminar and came away from it with a newfound respect for strength as the basis for all athletics.  My question relates to strength as an underlying prerequisite for further progression on CrossFit Football or even as a precursor for any development as an athlete.  Should a person focus on getting stronger and commit to a straight strength program before looking at launching into CFFB/CF programs?  By getting stronger and developing strength, I mean achieving the greatest potential strength from linear progression as possible, then moving onto intermediate lifting and milking it till gains stop and certain strength levels have been achieved?  And during this time one should limit metabolic/high intensity conditioning?  I realize it depends on the end goals but the impression I have is that since strength is the basis of all athletics, get strong before doing anything else?!

Great sites, keep the knowledge flowing!



CrossFit Football puts a big premium on being strong. It makes everything in sport much easier and just seems to work better. The training is going to heavy and intense and the only way you will be able to reap the benefits is if you are strong. Strength translates to sprinting, change of direction and the ability to endure the job.

Football is an interesting sport in that it takes a blend of speed, strength, power and agility to be successful. You can be lacking in certain areas and over-developed in others and bridge the gap for time, but at some point, your weaknesses will be exposed and you will lose.

My goal is to Forge Powerful Athletes and by definition an athlete is a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility or stamina. The word athlete comes from the Latin for Athleta or the Greek Athletes, which is someone that contends for a prize.

So our goal is to create a blending of strength, speed and stamina that will allow someone to excel on the field. At the CrossFit Football Seminar, I define Power as "Strength Displayed Dynamically" but in simple terms, power is the ability to generate force quickly; it is defined mathematically as force x velocity.

To be an athlete and be successful at sport someone has to not only be strong but to be able to display that strength quickly and then be able to replicate it over and over again over the course of the game or competiton. The only way this is possible is if there is a certain level of conditioning.

By example, if you are so gassed that you can only give one or two good plays and we have a 3 hour game with 70+ plays then what good are you? Not very.

But what if your goal is not to be athletic and you just want to be strong and move heavy weight from point A to point B? Do you still need metabolic conditioning to get strong?

Yes. The Russians understood the value of GPP and Louis Simmons, from Westside Barbell, harps on it like my mom nagging me to study for my LSAT.

Louie writes in an article titled, General Physical Preparedness, “General physical preparedness (GPP) is a term that refers to a degree of fitness, which is an extension of absolute strength…But before you can pursue an increase in volume by way of special exercises, you must be in excellent shape. General physical preparedness raises your ability to do more work by special means…While his GPP work consists of weightless drills, such as jumping jacks, line hops, mountain climbers, and shuffle splits, it perfects running and jumping skills in addition to lateral speed. As John simply puts it, ‘I have never met a North American Athlete, from the major team sports, that the inclusion of this work will not cause a remarkable change in their optimum performance. Simply, without this solid base, substantial gains are limited and success is restricted to those more genetically gifted’…”

The way I have always understood GPP is, increased general physical preparedness and improving metabolic conditioning will allow one to train more often, recover more quickly between workouts and the ability to increase training volume. And without a solid conditioning base substantial gains are limited to the genetically gifted. I first learned this in college when my strength coach, Todd Rice, kept yelling about increasing our GPP, Russian training manuals and the Bulgarians. He showed us videos of Bulgarian Olympic lifters smoking cigarettes while doing box jumps.

Now where does this leave us? With the blending of strength, power and stamina. Developing a program that does not allow need for better conditioning to destroy strength gains, but a program that blends the two and creates a symbiotic relationship between strength and conditioning...getting someone in the shape needed to survive the training and handle the volume needed to be successful. And not creating a program that is so physically crippling to your CNS that strength gains are near impossible.

The end goal is a smart balanced program that allows an athlete to get stronger, faster with increased stamina that can be translated on to the field, pitch, ice or track.

Here is another interesting fact, no matter how much I ran, changed direction or conditioned in the off-season, the only way I got into shape to play football was by playing football. But by blending GPP and strength it gave me the tools to take to the field. The strength and speed will allow you to compete and the GPP will allow you to handle the training volumes, avoid over-use injuries and give you a level of conditioning to move from GPP to SPP or specific physical preparedness.

And what is SPP?

This is the specific physical skills needed to advance in the sport. Two in particular are dynamic strength, which we know is having the ability to move weight with maximum force and technique. Competent technique is needed to be competitive at any sport.

Kansas City Chiefs v Chicago Bears
Lets face it…absolute strength is rarely used in power sports, with the exception of Powerlifting. 99% of sport is played in the realm of dynamic strength or power. You blend dynamic strength, technique, agility, coordination, reaction and stamina and you have the makings of an athlete.


John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and creator of Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year starter in the National Football League and NFL veteran. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early and retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL and other professional and Olympic athletes. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete and the CrossFit Speciality Seminar: Sports Specific Application. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie or at Power Athlete.

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Posted in FAQ, Talk to Me Johnnie | Tagged , , , , | 26 Comments

26 Responses to Do I need to be in Shape?

  1. Outstanding Post. Could be in Sportivny Press or MILO.

  2. david

    John, your incite is spot on. Thanks for the great sites and keep quality information coming.

  3. Ryan

    This is one of the best answers to this question I have ever seen. Excellent work.

  4. Thank you for your support!

  5. Edward Arbeck

    Thanks for this! Been thinking of this quite a bit lately. You straightened out my question marks.

  6. Jeff Smith

    That was very well put. I think the programming is great for all sports, being stronger will improve all aspects of your game whatever it may be. Enjoying your blog John, keep it up.

  7. Matty

    Great one, Johnnie. I was thinking about Louis and Westside Barbell before I even finished reading Jason’s question.

    “Lets face it…absolute strength is rarely used in power sports, with the exception of Powerlifting. 99% of sport is played in the realm of dynamic strength or power. You blend dynamic strength, technique, agility, coordination, reaction and stamina and you have the makings of an athlete.”

    Thank you especially for this part. Just because you’re not the strongest in the weight room, doesn’t mean you can’t compete on the field. But it’s also not an excuse to skip the weights altogether either.

  8. Aaron Bell

    I liked how you mentioned that this type of training can translate into increased performance on the ICE. Ice Hockey doesn’t get much respect in the US I’m glad to see that isn’t the case here at TTMJ.

  9. Nicely done! Keep up the excellent work with CrossFit Football.

  10. Great post John. Loving the program!

  11. Edward Arbeck

    Also, compare Sean Sherk to BJ Penn in their last fight. Sean Sherk is much stronger with weights but lacked the agility and overall athleticism to put it to good use. What BJ Penn lacks in strength he makes up with timing, agility and skill. On the other hand he got his ass handed to him by Georges St Pierre because ther latter is so damn strong for his weight.

  12. Mike M

    As a former athlete turned attorney, I’m very concerned that you might actually be studying for the LSAT. I hope that’s not true.

  13. Wow John, you nailed that. A perfect roundup of the reasoning behind your programming. Keep it up.

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  16. “Strength translates to sprinting, change of direction and the ability to endure the job.”

    Thank you for saying this. I have trained members of the military for a couple years now and I stress this to every one of them that will listen, especially the “ability to endure the job”.

  17. RD Evans

    Thanks for this post, stuff I have been thinking about for a while in trying to decide what program would be best for me.

    Are you training any firemen, or are there any firefighters out there following crossfit football? Have you guys had success with the program and your improvement in firefighting activities?

  18. RD – Scan back through the football archives, 1.23.10, and you will find a picture of a group of fireman from the Elk City Fire Dept Team Guardian who won the Fire Fighters Combat Challenge and had great success using the program. If you are interested ask this type of question on the CFFB comments section and I am sure you will get some good responses. We have had great success with those in the LEO community thats work requires them to move heavy stuff real real fast. Good luck.

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  20. James Hardy

    Great post John, love this site. Absolutely superb stuff! Question: If the main purpose of football, and by implication Crossfit Football, programming is “speed, strength, power and agility”, does this mean that hypertrophy (growth) is in your view an incidental? Is it intended that this program creates growth any more than a flat out strength program with no GPP thrown in? Or does the combination of exercises you put together also encourage hypertrophy? Thanks! And when are you next in Australia? I was away working when you came down recently….

    If you scroll back a few posts, I did one called “Do I have to be in shape?”. The purpose of GPP is to create a base level of fitness allowing you to recover faster between workouts, stay healthy and avoid injury. We found when people are in better shape they can increase training volume & frequency and avoid getting hurt. Hypertrophy is a big part of CF Football. Trying to make a bigger athlete w/ bigger muscles translates into increased strength. We usually hit the major groups with reps between 1-3 & 5’s (1-3 w/ strength/power and 5’s w/ strength/hypertrophy) but the hypertrophy comes with the assistance work we do. Many times it is found in the GPP work we do; but more often than not it is done after our key lift in the strength work, ie. pull ups, db rows, dips, push ups, ect.

    And we coming back to OZ between Thanksgiving and New Years. Just spoke to Rookies about coming the Gold Coast. Hope to have it up soon.



  21. James Hardy

    Great response, thanks John. Look forward to meeting you at the next Aussie cert.

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  24. heavyhill

    Who is the guy in the white T-shirt weightlifting in the carpark?

    In this post?

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