What are you training for?

Hey John,

My name is Dan and I've CrossFitting for going on two years now. I'm 28 yrs/old, 6'2", 195lbs (very lean). I get on average four workouts a week in with a strong emphasis on power. I have had limited gains in terms of becoming more powerful. My football total and CFT has gone up in that time frame but I feel that my lack of power inhibits my performance on a lot of WODs. (After all, I feel like I'm the tall skinny kid who can't lift a lot.) My first thought was I was not adhering to a weighed and measured diet. So with that in mind I went with a strict with a Zone/Paleo diet of 19 blocks a day. I end up weighing 175lbs and losing a ton of power off my lifts. I usually keep my choices Paleo consistent, I just don't measure that much.

Finally getting to the point, should I be eating more? More monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats? Increase blocks in general? More protein?

My overall goal is to increase muscle without sacrificing endurance. Any and all advice is much appreciated. I understand you are very busy, so thank you for time and assistance.



Dan ~

Thanks for writing in, as your question is not uncommon. I think you need to step back and take a look at your specific goals. Once we nail those down we should be able to find a plan that works for you.

A few things struck me in your question, so lets start there. The first thing you tell me is, you have been doing CrossFit for 2 years. CrossFit is a training program predicated on increased work capacity. Their wheelhouse is muscular endurance and movements to failure. It is very hard to build explosive athletes when the majority of training lays in testing lactic acid threshold and destruction of your body. Check out the network of CrossFitters on Facebook on any given day and read their training comments...“Totally, destroyed myself today. Awesome!”.

The next thing you tell me is you are very lean. From my experience, lean is just a cool way to say you are skinny. If you have low body fat and a ton of lean body mass words like jacked and rocked up find there way into the mix.

In the next sentence, you confirm you are skinny and not as strong as you wish. But you know this and in an effort to increase your strength and explosive ability you go on a strict Zone/Paleo diet of roughly 1900 calories.

1900 calories?! That is less than 10 calories per pound of body weight. We know if you are doing anything that includes metabolic conditioning you need at least 15-17 calories just to maintain your size.

Just for reference, my girlfriend is 123 lbs, trains 5 days a week and squats over 2 x body weight and she eats around 1800 calories.

Your starvation strategy results in a 20 lbs weight loss and a loss of strength and power.


And your next question is...should you eat more?

Then finally, we get to your goals of gaining muscle without losing endurance.

1. Yes...eat more. The only thing I want you to count is protein; at least one gram per pound of body weight.
2. If you want an easy to remember way to measure your food…count it in pounds. “How many pounds of meat did I eat today?”. Simple.
3. If your current training program is not making you stronger and more explosive, then find a new training program. Start by taking a look at how explosive strong athletes train. Everyone wants to look like a 100-meter sprinter or Olympic weightlifter, but his or her training program looks nothing like an Olympic weightlifter or sprinter. Those athlete’s training programs are full of heavy weights, explosive movements, long rest periods and a ton of max efforts, whether it be in the weight room or on the track. Most athletes’ physical appearance is a result of years of training for their sport. If you want to look like a marathon runner, starting running marathons. If you want to look like a body builder, then check out Muscle & Fitness and get a fanny pack.


If your goal is to get stronger, stop counting and start eating, as you are wasting valuable time that could be put into food prep or the consuming of calories. If you want to gain muscle, stop stripping it down with workouts that destroy your body and cripple your CNS. If you want to get stronger, then you are going to have to lift heavy weights. I never got strong, lifting light weights, no matter how much volume I threw into the mix. If you want to be strong, find strong training partners. Strength is contagious; if you start training with strong people, you will get stronger through osmosis. Most people in the CF community like to train alone, as CrossFit is a solemn sport. Just the individual, a clock and maybe a barbell. Most people train in garage by themselves. I watch at my own gym daily, before the workout the community is extremely friendly and supportive, but once someone screams "3...2...1..." everyone enters their pain cave and looks for their power animal to help them. When you lift heavy weights you need training partners. Partners to coach, spot and scream encouragement or remind you when you are being a bitch. Workout partners are a great barometer for your level of commitment.


Last week, I was at Westside Barbell working to unfuck my own training and I had forgot what it was like to have training partners. A guy has 1000 lbs on the bar during a squat and their are 10+ guys standing a few inches from the lifter screaming encouragement and ready to help if he misses a lift. My entire NFL career I had that support system when training and it resulted in some very strong numbers.

You have to remember the athlete is a byproduct of their training. I did not walk into the gym or head to the grocery store to get bigger and stronger just to look cool. My strength and size was an adaptation of the training and eating to be successful playing in the NFL. It is very hard to play offensive line in the NFL if you are not at least 300 lbs and fairly strong. I found the stronger I got, the faster I could run, the harder I could punch and hit and the increased body mass was like armor to protect me.

What are you training for?

Posted in Diet, FAQ, Lifting Weights, Talk to Me Johnnie, The Power Athlete, Training | Tagged , , , , , , | 49 Comments

49 Responses to What are you training for?

  1. cleancoalburner

    Very good article as usual. Hit the nail on the head for tons of people whose training is not congruent with their goals. A lot of people don’t get the results from what they are doing, so they just do it harder and faster. Really they need to take a step back and decide if they are doing the right thing at all.

  2. Trose

    Unfucking believable John. You just answered my thoughts. I’m fucked right now, but I believe it is mostly due to my body being destroyed by playing my league right now. I have had no recovery or rest. All of my power is diminishing. I’m eating right Paleo/Dairy.
    I have to keep telling myself I’m training to be an athlete not a fitness model.

    Thanks as always.

    Trose – I have been working on stuff to help unfuck all of us. Keep an eye out for it.


  3. CRob

    Great post! Definitely some things I needed to hear.

  4. stan

    great food for thought. thanks john.

  5. Training without a goal makes me want to walk into traffic during rush hour. And I don’t mean “I want to look good at the beach when summer comes”. Solid goals…my most recent goals were to Bench 500/ Squat 600/ DL 700. I had to put on some body weight to it; there is no substitute for being strong.

    Concrete goals that have a clear defined date and objective. Enter a PL meet, compete in the next CF competition, Highland Games…something. Ambiguous goals like “get stronger”, “lean out” and “get in shape” suck.

    And we train to not suck.

  6. C. Lake

    What…It’s not cool to be rocked up? Rocks are pretty strong right???

    Great article John. Goals are set. Excited to get to work and reach them.

    Thanks for all.

  7. cgpilot

    Very timely & well put. We have collectively put ourselves in this CFFB Camp. I am honored to stand amoung you all and post my numbers. Your posts, numbers and exploits fuel the fire.

  8. Uncle Rico

    Another great post, John. CFFB, TTMJ and everyone’s blog posts are my therapy and my training team until I get to a place where other people are working on getting stronger. Thank you for the structure and drive that has carried me through major life changes, a tour in Afghanistan and a stressful overseas move. Lifting heavy weights does much more than make your body stronger.

  9. Chuck O

    Between yourself and Robb Wolf, i couldn’t ask for better people to “unfuck” my diet and training.


  10. Jaybird

    Damn Brother, spot on!

  11. SGT D

    Great article John! I came to the realization that I needed to define goals for myself after finding your program instead of just pinponging around the CrossFit world. I need to have this conversation with my soldiers who are hitting the gym without purpose. This is good shit that people need to read.

  12. cr

    How tall is your girlfriend?



  13. Luuk

    Wow, great article John!
    I am currently trying to unfuck myself, as you put it, could have been me this summer writing, crossfitting for 2 years, lean/skinny and when I tried the zone I almost vanished.

    I bunch of buddies have been asking me if I put on weight the last three months since my six pack is vanishing. Yes I have, 6 kgs and my squat and DL are up 35 and 45kg so I couldnt care less.
    And my WOD times are still improving.
    Thanks to the added strength, explosiveness and weight, I am turning into a Bad Motherf’cker in my martial arts practice aswell.

    But I don’t know, lean is really important =)

  14. Travis

    This is a good one. Power and strength while maintaining endurance is a strange goal. You won’t see a marathoner in a powerlifting meet and Louie Simmons isn’t running a marathon anytime soon. I have taken to this programming because as a chiropractor I am always telling my patients the most important thing you have is strength. That is what is keeping you independent and out of a nursing home or hospital. I am not sure where the quote came from but remember this, you can tell a man’s health by what he takes 2 at a time, pills or stairs.

    I have never heard that one…I will definitely use it going forward.


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  16. Badass post, John.


  17. C. Hilton

    Hell yes John! Thanks for the article…and I have to echo (in agreement) the importance of training with partners who have the same goals, and are just as committed to the goal as you are. I have had a difficult time finding others who have the same goals I do as it relates to power and know without a doubt that my progress would not be as crippled as it has had I found partners with identical goals. I can only imagine what your experience was like out at Westside as it relates comraderie and intensity. I don’t believe us little guys training out of our garages understand how insane those dudes are.

    To your other point of being f’d up…I recently finished following the Westside program for 6 mos. and in the end found myself beaten and bloodied with literally no hope that I would ever be fully recovered. My CNS was trashed, my body felt weaker than ever, and when I got under the bar it was all I could to muster the fight to move moderate weight. Obviously I was doing something wrong. Those guys train at or above 90% for the majority of the year! I needed more protein, and more rest (novel concepts). Also, I was doing much more assistance work than necessary and had no idea what I was setting myself up for. I’ve changed my approach, have rested a ton in the last month, and am training much more effectively…very little assistance work right now and only hitting the major lifts with some conditioning (GFY, GFY Crew, it’s conditioning nonetheless!). Just this week i’m starting to see that there may be hope after all. Thanks for your insight John, truly appreciated..also thanks for listening to my story..that was extremely therapeutic. Hahahaha.

    I understand your frustration. When I read the WSB information I was a bit confused as I thought I was missing something. Then Louie called one day to discuss his plan to certify his method, we got to talking and he invited me to come train. I had a ton of questions and wanted to understand what they did. After whole bunch of training days and 630 am breakfasts at Bob Evans, I felt I understood. The volume and percentages have to match the strength of the lifter. You have to assess each lifter and understand his weakness. Whether it be body parts lagging, lack of explosive strength or technique. Each guy is training differently, but training together. WSB as it is written w/o the 100+ of training time and Q&A with Louie is not as clear. And they are doing this as a full time job, which makes it a different animal when you have the singular focus of training.

    Don’t worry, it will becomne clear in the next few month.


  18. ShaneP

    Big John, great article. Something tells me that Bo Knows wasn’t counting his f-ing blocks of food intake when he was at Auburn. Thanks for the article and thanks for the love as always. ShaneP

  19. John-H

    Great article. After 3 years of Crossfit I realized I also needed some goals. It can be hard to nail those goals down when you just want to be better at Crossfit, but I gave it some thought this last year and figured some out. Some of these goals came from some of the top CrossFitter’s stats: almost all of them Squat 400# or more & Deadlift 500# or more. Some goals are skills that I am not good at: pistols, double-unders, etc.

    So, after last years sectionals I laid out a few strength goals: Squat 400#, DL 500#, Bench 400#, Clean & Jerk 275#, Snatch Body weight (205#), along with some bodyweight goals as mentioned above.

    Once I did that I had some direction. I cut back on Crossfit, lifted heavy, and ate a lot. All my lifts are up: squat- 365#, DL- 475#, Bench- 315#, blah, blah. And even though I am 15 lbs heavier, my Fran time is faster because 95# thrusters are much easier then they used to be.

    I have found it impossible to be great at everything all the time, so each year I chip away at some more: it will take me another year to make most of my strength goals, but I will get there because I know where I want to go.

    Thanks John for TTMJ- great post as a;ways.

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  21. PaulieB

    HELL YEAH! Love the article Johnnie! I live in the middle of nowhere GA and sadly train alone; however since my novice numbers have started to increase over the past 3-4 months and get posted on the record board, people have started to ask me about fitness, leaning, and overall BS. Trying to speak to these people about developing strength and training for a goal is like banging my head against a wall, from now on I will refer them to this article.

  22. steve donelson

    I was having this conversation the other day with a guy in our gym after his workout. He was caught up on blocks, zone, protein and all the other stuff. A gentleman in his 60’s overheard us and said very politelly “you cant drive a railroad spike with a tack hammer!!” Just lift some heavy Fucking weight Pussy! It was so funny i didnt have an answer better than that!

  23. Vanessa

    Great one. I eat more than that guy, too! I love my powerlifting team, we keep each other going.

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  25. InviQtus

    Good stuff. +1 for the fight club reference.

    I love the crossfit stuff, but it has a lot of people chasing a slew of highly antagonistic goals all at once and not getting very far. Your point about getting clear on just what you are wanting to do with all this is spot on.

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  28. Thank God, Johnnie BOY is back from the dead and writing from his heart and talking like a BIG, mean, Liftin’ machine!

    Meatheads Unite

    Thank You, SIR!!!!

    Thought I lost ya there! ha ha

    PS: Dirty Jer-Z loves ya!

    Z ~ you are the man.


  29. Rob

    I have done crossfit, crossfit football , and sealfit. crossfit and sealfit were good……but only for the short term. After a few short months on these two i just became drained physically and emotionally. I also began to develop little nagging injuries, lost power and focus. The workouts are good but only for a finite period. They are not made to be performed day in and day out. Crossfit football absolutley beats the shit out of both programs. I did it for 6 months straight and it got me stronger, more powerful, and explosive than ive ever been in my life. The workouts are tough, but i never felt drained after it, i felt good. Best of all i NEVER developed any injuries the entire 6 months. I switched to sealfit after these 6 months and very soon after my mind and body went shutdown mode. This article was great for me to read because 2 weeks ago i just got back to c fit football and i feel great again.
    You say “what are you training for”. Well i personally dont play football but i live an active lifestyle. I golf, snowboard, bike, run, play bball, etc. Point is that whether you are training for a specific sport or not, this program is a good fit for anyone.

    Rob ~ thanks for the positive feedback. I think what makes CFFB different is we are always changing and improving the program as we do the training. Growing, testing and working along side the people following the site makes all the difference. Improving my knowledge and using myself as the barometer helps. That and the feedback I get from my friends doing the training helps to shape this daily.


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  32. Great article, I love this quote: “And we train to not suck.” …. I eat paleo + raw dairy with very little cheats.

    thanks, and again great post!

    Try adding in some raw cheese and yogurt. Not as much of an insulin spike as the raw milk, but the same protein. Chuck Norris has a theory if you substitute raw cheese and yogurt for some of the raw milk you might not put on all of the body fat usually associated with massive amounts of milk.

    Just a thought.


  33. Gregarious

    I love it when John references his girlfriends stats.

    Hard not to; she is bad ass.


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  40. Very good article. I still don’t get how people who are in their right minds can follow something like the Zone. To me the block prescriptions sound like starving everyone on purpose. And this is taling about non athletes. How can an athlete looking to performing better and getting stronger believe that 19 blocks will do him any good?
    T-Nation published a very cool piece by Rip on the same topic.
    Definetely worth reading, but this should go without mentioning for everything Rippetoe publishes.

    Kepp it up and stay strong!

  41. Clara

    Love the article ! It is possible to train for endurance and streght at the same time? I want to lift heavy but I also want to be able to finish the WOD .

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  48. xfithaboob

    Three years late to the party on this post. I’ve been an avid CFer since 2007. However at my peak I was doing CFFB when it first became available online. Shortly after I stopped cffb. My body shit the bed with CF only. Three years 4 major surgeries. Countless set backs, tried sealfit loved it but killed me. Now I have found myself back with CFFB and the power athlete. This is where I will stay.
    I turn 40 next month and my goal is to just be a strong athletic bad mutha fucka from here on out.

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