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Ring Muscle-Up

Is it possible to do a post or a podcast on masters athletes without saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?” I wouldn’t know, since we definitely busted out that hackneyed bromide a few times during this episode.

Nevertheless, there’s still some solid info in here on understanding how to think about volume and intensity for masters athletes – as well as understanding the process of skill acquisition.

If you’re a masters athlete, both your “biological age” and your “training age” will impact your ability to handle and adapt to training volume, so it’s key that you have an understanding of both.

And, while we do expect masters athletes to often adapt more slowly to training physiological traits like aerobic capacity, strength and muscle endurance, we often underrate the ability of masters athletes to acquire and refine new skills.

Check out the full conversation with Jon, Luke and Todd to learn:

  • Why some masters athletes can still experience “newbie gains”
  • How masters athletes should prioritize their training programs – and how many things a masters athlete should work on at once during a training cycle
  • Why people underrate the ability of masters athletes to acquire new skills – and the mistake that most athletes make when trying to refine or develop their skills

Listen below – or on the podcast player of your choice.

Listen Here

Show Notes:

  • [0:12] Understanding the difference between “biological age” and “training age” – and how the difference between those can dictate how much volume and intensity a masters athlete should have in their training.
  • [4:40] Athletes with higher “training age” (more experience in the gym) as well as higher “biological age” will adapt more slowly to training. Athletes with high biological age but low training age can still experience “newbie gains” and get better quite quickly.
  • [9:05] Masters athletes often have much more stress and responsibility outside of the gym – in addition to a slower rate of adaptation. Because of this, masters athletes need to be clearer in their training priorities, whereas younger athletes can often work on everything at once.
  • [15:17] Don’t fast track introducing higher volume and higher intensity training programs for masters athletes. And – how to retrain faulty movement patterns that have been ingrained through potentially decades of compensatory movement.
  • [23:20] Jon’s magical thinking detour into using visualization and PVC pipes to replace heavy squatting sessions.
  • [27:42] Masters athletes can still acquire skills through deliberate practice and technique work – often at a similar rate to younger athletes. However, very few people have the “skill of acquiring skills,” and masters athletes often have less unstructured time in their schedules to engage in the practice and play necessary for skill development.

In our previous installment in this series, we laid out some archetypes for athletes looking to improve their conditioning and build their engine. We also included some tests and assessments that you can use to figure out where your biggest weaknesses are. It’s not enough to just know that you “need to work on your engine” – you can be much more granular and figure out if you need to work on your capacity in general, your ability in mixed work, or your ability in cyclical work.

It’s also not enough to simply hammer yourself with the “weakness work.” If you struggle with barbell cycling, you won’t necessarily get better just by doing DT every other week.

In this article, we will give some more tactical and tangible recommendations for building your engine. We will include both weekly training templates for different types of athletes, as well as breakdowns of specific sessions and progressions.

We will also give specific training recommendations for each of the archetypes of athletes that we discussed in our previous article on building your engine. They are:

For Athletes Lacking Capacity Across the Board

These athletes tend to either be beginners or intermediates who just need to get more training experience under their belts, people who are very far on the “explosive” end of the spectrum who seem to be built to sprint, jump and throw rather than grinding it out on an assault bike for 30 minutes.

Beginner/Intermediate Progression

Many of these athletes are just starting to take their training more seriously. They may have recently decided that they would like to do more serious training than what is offered in standard group fitness classes, or they may have recently made the transition from another sport into CrossFit.

The goal for these folks is to simultaneously build an aerobic based while also creating some exposure to intense mixed modal work – and to learn what it means to hold a “sustainable” pace in a variety of contexts.

These athletes also likely need to gain exposure to strength training, gymnastics work, and varied mixed modal scenarios.

Since they are relative beginners, they will be able to progress in multiple areas at once simply by getting touches on each area in their training.

However, we don’t want to teach these athletes bad habits in pacing or energy systems utilization early in their training, nor do we want to “skip steps” in their development and just hammer them with high intensity conditioning.

We want to focus on building volume and developing capacity in a way that sets these athletes up for long-term success. We are concerned with their abilities in 1-2 years – not their abilities in 3-6 months.

Here’s an example template for this type of athlete:

Monday
Clean, technique
+
Back squat, intense
+
Long aerobic, cyclical-based

Tuesday
Gymnastics, skill
+
Upper body push/pull, intense
+
Gymnastics, volume accumulation

Wednesday
Snatch, technique
+
Snatch, pulls
+
Lower body accessory
+
Mixed intervals, sustainable

Thursday
Active recovery

Friday
Power clean, intense
+
Gymnastics, strength
+
Grinder conditioning w/ carries, sleds, etc.

Saturday
Cyclical, aerobic
+
Mixed, intervals
+
Cyclical, aerobic
+
Core

Note that we are spending a lot of time on skill with this athlete in both weightlifting and gymnastics – and most of their conditioning is going to come in varied interval scenarios with a focus on developing sustainability.

All of the conditioning work should be designed such that the athlete is able to maintain paces and develop an intuition about their abilities in different types of workouts.

Powerful Athlete Progression

This type of athlete has often developed many compensation strategies to get through longer workouts. In order to progress, they will typically need to slow down quite a bit in and rebuild their capacity to be based upon sustainable effort rather than flaming out and suffering through workouts.

Creating sustainability for this type of athlete can be very tricky, since – especially if they have been doing CrossFit for awhile – they have often learned some pretty solid strategies to get through workouts based upon their ability to generate power and handle discomfort.

Athletes like this will often have performances that are “all over the place” – they will put up some very impressive scores for certain types of conditioning workouts, but they will completely meltdown if they are given the wrong combination of movements or if they pace incorrectly.

Based upon this, we will want to limit their exposure to areas where they can “be explosive” and focus instead on adding as much volume of sustainable work as possible to their template.

Monday
Easy cyclial
+
Clean, technique
+
Grinder
+
Long aerobic, cyclical-based

Tuesday
Gymnastics, skill
+
Gymnastics, EMOM
+
Cyclical + Gymnastics, intervals
+
Core

Wednesday
Snatch, technique
+
Snatch, pulls
+
Lower body accessory
+
Cyclical + mixed intervals, sustainable

Thursday
Active recovery

Friday
Cyclical, varied paces
+
Power clean, EMOM
+
Grinder conditioning w/ carries, sleds, etc.
+
Cyclical, varied paces

Saturday
Cyclical, aerobic
+
Mixed, intervals
+
Cyclical, aerobic
+
Core

In coaching this athlete, we will need to focus on teaching them how to “hold back” and find paces that seem almost “too easy” in order to build up capacity. We can also run into psychological issues as these athletes often identify as being strong, quick and powerful – and we will often need to let some of those characteristics slip in order to create improvement.

In order to teach sustainability, we will often need to bring these athletes back a few steps and teach them to work consistently at a lower rate of perceived exertion.

We can also add volume to the training session – especially at moderate effort – to force them to stay aerobic in mixed scenarios.

Here’s an example of a possible session for a Saturday in the above template.

10 min @ 75%:
3 min assault bike
2 min step-ups, alternating (24″/20″)
+
(Short rest)
+
20 min @ consistent splits:
21 row calories w/ damper @ 1
15 wall balls (14/10)
9 burpee box jumps, no pus-up (20″/16″)
+
(Short rest)
+
10 min @ 75%:
3 min assault bike
2 min KB farmer’s walk (light)

Training notes:
•Purposefully using less than typical “Rx” weights for the conditioning piece allows for more control over pacing and avoids redlining

Using lighter weights and forcing consistent split times will allow these athletes to move consistently in mixed scenarios for 20 minutes without having to “suffer through” training sessions. This may not seem hard enough for these athletes, but – if they can learn what it feels like to move sustainably – they will ideally be able increase the difficulty of the work that they can do without redlining through consistent training.

In the above template, we also mention “grinder” workouts. These are a crucial training tool for folks who are quite powerful, since it allows them to continue practicing doing “CrossFit” – but – through the design of the workout – we can force pacing and ideally prevent athletes from going out too hot and blowing up.

In grinder workouts, we use movement combinations that don’t allow for fast turnover or high cycle time, and instead force athletes into pacing their sets and “chipping away” at difficult movements.

Here are some examples:

Grinder with Isometric Holds

15 min AMRAP:
400m run
100′ D-ball Zercher carry (150/100)
Accumulate 90s wall sit at parallel
400m run
100′ D-ball Zercher carry (150/100)
Accumulate 90s stir-the-pot

Training notes:
•The isometric holds will require pacing of the effort on the run.
•While this session can be made “difficult,” it’s unlikely that you will end up rolling on the ground after something like this

“CrossFit-esque” Grinder

For time:
21 double KB deadlifts (88/hand – 62/hand)
12 wall climbs
9 burpee bar muscle-ups
15 double KB deadlifts
9 wall climbs
7 burpee bar muscle-ups
9 double KB deadlifts
6 wall climbs
5 burpee bar muscle-ups

Training notes:
•This session is more “CrossFit” in design – although the movements do not allow for fast cycle time and require pacing.

Depending on the stage of the season, the level of the athlete, and their psychological need to do difficult “CrossFit” workouts, we can include more training pieces like the first one that look like a challenging, competition workout but force pacing.

Or, if we are looking for more work that has less of a central nervous system challenge, we can use things like isometric holds to and grinder effort carries.

For Athletes who are Good with Mixed Work but Struggle with Cyclical Work

Most people can probably imagine an athlete who will absolutely crush when doing a combination of strict handstand push-ups, double-unders and moderate weight power cleans, but can’t seem to maintain a solid pace on a 2000m row or a 10 minute assault bike test.

These athletes are often small relative to the field, and – based upon bodyweight and limb length – they struggle to create enough power and torque on cyclical pieces.

Just as a male athlete who is 6’3” and 235# with long arms may struggle on burpees relative to a smaller athlete, someone who is not built with the levers and the mass to move well on the assault bike or the erg may always be playing catch up on workouts that heavily utilize those machines.

However, it’s not always just a body type and body size issue.

Some athletes also seem to be elite in terms of moving through muscle endurance or battery-based scenarios, but struggle when they are in a situation where the limiting factor has more to do with maintaining a steady rate of contractions and power output rather than quickly recovering from a challenging set of ring muscle-ups.

For these folks, they need to be able to increase the pace at which they can move sustainably at high effort, since they are already good at doing something challenging and quickly recovering.

Their training should focus on varied pacing scenarios with both mixed and cyclical pieces that require them to keep moving throughout – rather than working in quick bursts of muscle endurance or strength endurance.

Monday
Clean, technique
+
Alactic intervals cyclical and/or sled-based
+
Long aerobic, cyclical-based

Tuesday
Gymnastics, skill
+
Upper body push/pull, intense
+
Running, intervals

Wednesday
Snatch, technique
+
Snatch, pulls
+
Lower body accessory
+
Cyclical + mixed intervals, sustainable

Thursday
Active recovery

Friday
Power clean, intense
+
Cyclical, varied paces
+
Grinder conditioning w/ carries, sleds, etc.
+
Cyclical, varied paces

Saturday
Cyclical, aerobic
+
Mixed, intervals
+
Cyclical, aerobic
+
Core

In comparing the above template to the “sprinter” archetype, we can see that we are including more cyclical conditioning pieces, and we are also less concerned with “dampening” the athlete before allowing them to do heavy work on things like squatting or weightlifting.

There are quite a few similarities in designing training for these types of athletes, though.

For Athletes who are Good with Cyclical Work but Struggle with Mixed Work

This type of athlete is the most complex athlete to work with, since they likely have very specific things that seem unreasonably challenging for them – especially when compared to their scores across all conditioning scenarios.

Typically, these athletes present with good overall capacity based upon their cyclical numbers and certain types of mixed tests, but they will have a lot of problems with mixed tests that don’t play to their strengths.

These athletes tend to need to work on either:

  • Barbell cycling repeatability (something like Double DT)
  • Gymnastics repeatability (something like 14.2 or 19.3)
  • High turnover mixed work (something like 19.1 or 18.1)

To develop repeatability in a movement, we need to find a volume and intensity that allows for sustainability, then progress into more volume and more chaotic scenarios.

For example, we can start working on strict handstand push-up repeatability in an EMOM with controlled reps that allows for consistency, then progress through more challenging scenarios until we end up with something like 19.3 that includes a large set of strict handstand push-ups under fatigue followed by handstand walking.

Here’s an example showing a theoretical progression (that would probably occur over months) for both handstand push-ups and chest-to-bar pull-ups.

Tightly controlled interval work with minimal interference

EMOM 10:
1st: 30s assault bike @ high effort
2nd: 4-8 unbroken handstand push-ups + 4-8 unbroken chest-to-bar pull-ups

Training notes:
•Tightly controlled sets with minimal fatigue accumulation

Intervals with aerobic fatigue and some mixed work (Minimal interference)

4 rounds–
2 min assault bike @ 85%
-Into
2 min AMRAP:
3 handstand push-ups
6 air squats
3 chest-to-bar pull-ups
6 air squats
-Rest 2 min

Training notes:
•Aerobic fatigue and some mixed work – however, there is still minimal interference between movements.

Mixed intervals with sustainable sets and some interference

5 rounds:
15 wall balls (20/14)
9 handstand push-ups
15 wall balls
9 chest-to-bar pull-ups
-Rest 3 min

Training notes:
•All mixed intervals with some interference between movements.
•Sets should be sustainable

AMRAP with sustainable sets

10 min AMRAP:
5 handstand push-ups
10 Russian KB swings (70/53)
15 box jumps, step down (24″/20″)
5 chest-to-bar pull-ups
10 Russian KB swings
15 box jumps, step down

Training notes:
•AMRAP structure rather than interval structure
•Small, sustainable sets

Chaotic scenario with large sets and lots of interference:

For time:
50 thrusters (95/65)
50 chest-to-bar pull-ups
50 burpee box jumps (24″/20″)
50 handstand push-ups

Training notes:
•Movements use similar muscle groups and interfere with each other
•Large sets will require fractioning from the start

At each stage of progression, we will want to see the athlete completing the volume of work that we expect them to encounter in whatever competitive scenario they are shooting to participate in (the Open, class workouts, local competitions, Sanctionals, whatever). And, we will want them to demonstrate that they are able to complete that volume with consistent, repeatable sets and without breakdown in technique or pacing.

We can create a similar structure for cycling moderate weight barbells.

Paced, sustainable intervals with aerobic fatigue

5 rounds @ escalating pace per round:
20 assault bike calories
15 power snatches (75/55)
-Rest 2-3 min

Training notes:
•Aerobic fatigue from cyclical work
•Paced sustainable intervals

Cyclical and mixed intervals

5 rounds:
1 min assault bike @ escalating pace
1 min bar-facing burpees
1 min hang power cleans (135/95)
•Done in unbroken sets of 5.
-Rest 2-3 min

Training notes:
•Cyclical and mixed fatigue leading into barbell cycling
•Unbroken requirement forces pacing and also increases difficulty

AMRAP with cyclical work and increasing sets

10 min AMRAP:
5-10-15…row calories
3-6-9-…front squats (135/95)
5-10-15…row calories
3-6-9…shoulder-to-overhead (135/95)

Training notes:
•AMRAP rather than intervals
•Cyclical pieces allow for pacing
•Increasing volume per set becomes more challenging

For time mixed piece with interference

For time:
15 burpee box jumps (24″/20″)
12 deadlifts (155/105)
9 hang power cleans
6 shoulder-to-overhead

Training notes:
•Variation of DT that adds more volume and more fatigue – and takes the workout outside of the “sprint” time domain
•There will be some interference between the burpee box jumps and barbell cycling.

We can craft similar progressions for just about any movement or combination of movements that gives athletes trouble.

Say that you are pretty good with ring muscle-ups in most situations. And that you are pretty good at moderate load weightlifting in conditioning scenarios. But you notice that you start to fall apart when you have to do squat cleans or squat snatches paired with ring muscle-ups.

You can very easily craft a similar progression based upon the pairing of those movements and progress it from a controlled, sustainable state into a messy, fatigued state.

For improving capacity in high turnover scenarios, we will typically want to teach the athlete how to pace by using cyclical pieces as an opportunity to control their effort, then move into scenarios where we are pulling out the cyclical work and using only mixed modal scenarios.

Here’s an example of a session with varied pacing and a high turnover mixed piece.

500m row @ 75%
500m row @ gradually escalating pace
500m row @ 75%
500m row @ gradually escalating pace
+
(Rest 5 min)
+
10 min @ escalating pace per round:
12 assault bike calories
10 DB snatches, alternating (50/35)
8 toes-to-bar
+
(Rest 5 min)
+
500m row @ 75%
500m row @ gradually escalating pace
500m row @ 75%
500m row @ gradually escalating pace

Training notes:
•Paces should escalate gradually (not stepwise) to a high effort pace on the 500m rows
•Assault bike/snatch/toes-to-bar should be small enough sets that you are able to do all sets unbroken with quick transitions.

By adding the assault bike to the DB snatches and the toes-to-bar – as well as prescribing increasing pace per set – athletes can use the bike to dial themselves back and prevent redlining.

Athletes will also have to start slower than they think in order to escalate pace per rounds, which will give them an opportunity to learn how to modulate their effort not just on the assault bike, but also through controlling their cycle time on the snatches and their rest between movements.

For an Athlete who is Good in both Mixed and Cyclical Work

These are athletes are often the prototypical “elite CrossFitter.” These folks will often improve in all capacities (strength, muscle endurance, cyclical work, mixed modal conditioning, etc.) when they are exposed to chaotic training. These are the people who can do a strength cycle and a bunch of “tough metcons” – and set PRs on everything.

This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have a focus in their training or that they may not struggle with certain movements or combinations of movements – but they can likely do a lot of different types of training and get better across the board.

They can also often perform lots of complicated and messy training pieces that look a lot like a testing environment and improve their capacity based upon that.

This means that they are often able to train in something that looks like the sport that they are competing in all the time and get consistently better at everything – and they are often able to improve their skills in varied environments simply through exposure in a variety of different scenarios.

Be cautious of applying what works for this group to other types of athletes as you will often find that they stagnate or start to feel beat up or overtrained!

For these folks, they will often have specific movements, combinations of movements, or time domains that they need to work on. They can often get away with something that looks more like typical “weakness work” since they are adaptable to just about everything and can often get through most training properly through their intuitive understanding of pacing and their overall capacity.

This means that they can do just about any “competitive CrossFit” training program and add in some additional work on things that they struggle with (handstand walking under fatigue, heavy barbell repeatability, shorter time domain workouts) – and they will often see improvement in their specific weaknesses just by adding in some dedicated training time to them.

Based upon this, we’re not going to write out a template for this type of athlete. Just do a bunch of different stuff and spend some extra time on the things that you know that you struggle with – and you’ll probably just get better at everything 🙂

Ring Muscle-Up

When we talk about skill acquisition in CrossFit, we often think about things like “getting a muscle-up” or “improving double-under technique.”

These are all important aspects of improving your abilities in the sport, but there’s a huge difference between simply improving movement quality and improving the ability to do high repetitions when fatigued.

So, how do more standard models of skill acquisition apply to getting better at skills in CrossFit? How do we differentiate between the information related to improving skills in areas like music performance and chess to improving in individual sports like CrossFit?

Check out the full conversation with Jon, Luke and Todd to learn:

  • Why we can’t take concepts of skill acquisition developed for sports where you have an adversary (like soccer or basketball) or pursuits where the goal is flawless reproduction of a passage of music (like in classical performance) and apply them to a sport like CrossFit
  • How to think about how much improvement can be expected with improved technique – and how to set athletes up for success with their technique in the long term

Listen below – or on the podcast player of your choice.

Listen Here

Show Notes:

  • [0:16] The concept of skill acquisition in sport can mean different things depending on the characteristics of the sport. What does it mean in a sport like soccer or basketball where you have an adversary trying to stop or outwit you? What does it mean in individual sports like running or powerlifting? What does it mean in non-sporting scenarios like chess, music or computer programming? And, how do we differentiate between skills that can be learned vs “physical capacity?”
  • [11:26] Learning to react against others and execute on complex motor patterns when being “defended” or “attacked” is not the same thing as being able to have good technique under fatigue. And, in CrossFit, technique is usually not the separator between athletes. However, technique still matters – so how can we develop athletes from the start to have good technique?
  • [18:33] Will there come a point where we’ve started to see the maximum physical potential of CrossFit athletes so there’s no longer as much “surprise” in CrossFit Games events? Will the sport still be as exciting when people aren’t obviously getting better every single year?

Links, Resources and People Mentioned:

Mark Stenberg on the Assault Bike

Many CrossFit athletes live in a state of “perpetual peaking.” Meaning that they’re always doing training that leaves them on their backs at the end of sessions, always doing a bunch of butterfly chest-to-bar pull-ups every week, and always hitting heavy squat cleans while they’re super out of breath.

People often understand that they “should” have some sort of offseason – and that mixing in periods of less volume and less intensity throughout a training year can make them better over time.

However, with a confusing season of qualifiers, Sanctional events, and probably a few local throwdowns, it can be tough to figure out how often an athlete should “peak” in a year.

In other strength and endurance sports, it’s easier for an runner to sign up for a local 5k as a training run, or for a weightlifter to do a meet and shoot for about 85% of their max during their attempts.

In CrossFit, however, it’s much more challenging to just “jump in” on a competition – both because it can be unsafe to compete without accumulating enough volume of the movements that will be tested, and because CrossFit athletes seem to be particularly prone to comparing themselves to others and making value judgments on their self-worth based upon day-to-day variation in results.

Check out the full conversation with Jon, Todd and Luke to learn:

  • What do we actually mean when we talk about “peaking?” How should an athlete structure a peaking phase in their training?
  • What are the unique challenges of structuring an off-season for a CrossFit athlete? How can we have an off-season without losing the sport specific adaptations we need to compete?
  • How can athletes avoid comparing themselves to others when they let their peak fitness get a little bit soft during an off-season phase?

Listen Here

Show Notes:

  • [00:15] What does it mean to “peak”?
  • [07:55] How should we plan a season based upon a confusing schedule of qualifiers and Sanctionals? How often can we peak in a season? How should we structure an off-season – and what are the unique challenges of structuring a season in CrossFit compared to other strength and endurance sports?
  • [16:44] How to detach your identity from your performance so that you can stick to a larger plan for your season – rather than getting caught up in the hype and comparison of every qualifier that you do.
  • [25:18] How often should we touch on “sport specific training” throughout the season – even during a non-peaking phase? And, what is the role of “mental toughness” training in our sport?

April Payne Clean

Everyone knows that you can’t get super strong if you’re doing a bunch of conditioning. Right? Right?

We’ve seen conventional wisdom turned on its head through the results of CrossFit athletes getting really strong while doing obscene amounts of conditioning volume.

Athletes will do crazy things like set clean and jerk personal records at the end of a brutal workout – while not having trained specifically for heavy clean and jerks in months.

But, we admit that there does come a time in many athletes’ training plans when it’s time to buckle down and focus on getting stronger.

So, should we pull out conditioning during these times to maximize the amount of strength that we can gain?

It’s not that simple. In a sport like CrossFit, we often find that adaptations that we get by pulling everything apart and training specific pieces (ie gymnastics, weightlifting, running, etc.) don’t translate into improved performance in our sport.

Based upon that, our training protocols for getting strong in a way that actually makes us better at CrossFit need to be different than those that would be utilized for sports like powerlifting or weightlifting.

Check out the full conversation with Jon and Todd to learn:

  • Why getting stronger won’t necessarily make you better at “heavy barbell workouts”
  • How to think of strength work as general physical preparedness (rather than sport specific training), since strength is often only a minor part of an athlete’s score for most events
  • Whether athletes can actually get better at strength and conditioning at the same time – and what trade-offs there are when training both concurrently

Listen below – or on the podcast player of your choice.

Listen Here

Show Notes:

  • [0:12] Will conditioning limit your development of strength? Maybe. But removing conditioning from a competition program does not work well for CrossFit athletes. Even in fields such as weightlifting and powerlifting, where sufficient conditioning performance is not necessary to succeed, athletes are completing some form of regular conditioning.
  • [4:31] Athletes will often need to do a focused training cycle in order to gain muscle. However, it’s difficult to change body composition (by either adding muscle or losing fat) for most individuals. Having an off-season during a yearly training block can be a useful tool in putting on muscle while also allowing the body to take a break from stressful, high-intensity work.
  • [7:13] Certain populations (those who struggle to cycle moderate weight with consistency, those whose one-rep max limits them competitively) can benefit from strength-focused training. Most athletes still need to do a substantial volume of conditioning work in order to do well in CrossFit.
  • [16:00] Training both strength and conditioning at the same time builds robust adaptation. There may be trade-offs in terms of the amount of strength that you can build relative to your absolute potential, but the strength will carry over more to mixed modal sport if you are training conditioning simultaneously.
  • [21:52] The volume of movements like squatting done in conditioning workouts needs to be taken into account when programming strength development work.
  • [29:16] Having a plan for a “season” of training is essential. Coaches and athletes should have priorities, and structure training throughout a season to focus on developing those priorities.

Luke + Hajer + Traing

As has been the case throughout the entire 2019 season, there was much controversy surrounding the 2019 CrossFit Games.

Luke coached two national champions this year, so we get some “behind-the-scenes” insight from him – and learn about the process of having his coaches pass snipped when his athletes were cut.

We dig into the controversy surrounding the cuts and try to unpack the reason that people are so upset about them – as well as come up with some possible solutions to make the cuts more fair. And, we also discuss the necessity of creating an ecosystem for the sport of fitness as a whole that gives everyone competing a great experience – not just the folks standing on the podium at the end of the weekend.

Listen below – or on the podcast player of your choice.

Listen Here

Show Notes:

  • [0:20] Luke’s behind-the-scene takes from coaching some national champions at the Games – and having his coaches band snipped.
  • [5:30] How do you communicate with your athletes relative to the cuts? How do you speak to them so that they can go into an event with confidence and leave with their head held high – even if they’re cut early in the event.
  • [13:39] What are the positives and the negatives of the new structure with the cuts? How could the cuts be structured to make the competition more fair?
  • [23:35] The order of the events – and the optimal balance of luck and skill in sport.
  • [31:45] What happens to the folks who are not on the podium? What should their experience be?
  • [37:20] What should the CrossFit Games qualifying process look like for 2020?

MaryKay Dreisilker rowing

We all know the athlete who can squat a house, but looks absolutely terrible while doing it.

One knee caves in, their upper back rounds, and they get stuck seemingly forever just coming out of the hole.

Would this athlete be stronger if they fixed all of their movement issues? Would they be less likely to get injured?

Maybe – although it’s difficult to say since they’ve likely “greased the groove” so many times with their altered mechanics, that they’ve adapted both neurologically and physically to their specific patterning.

However, if that athlete had taken the time when they first started training to learn to move “correctly,” I’m much more confident that they would, in fact, be stronger and more resilient.

We don’t just compensate with ugly movement patterns, though. We can compensate in conditioning workouts as well.

When people start CrossFit, they often get better very quickly by doing a bunch of high-intensity mixed modal work.

Similarly, when we look at the training programs of advanced athletes, we often see an awful lot of high-intensity mixed modal work – and the best of the best are often still getting better at a frightening rate.

This can be misleading, though, to the huge pool of athletes who are “pretty good” at CrossFit, but still have significant struggles with things like longer workouts or hitting heavy weights or big sets of gymnastics under fatigue.

These athletes won’t always get better just by doing more workouts full of stuff that they struggle at. In fact, these athletes can develop compensatory strategies for getting through their conditioning workouts that limit their ability to get better over time – meaning that they “grease the groove” on going out too fast, getting tired, losing their technique on their pull-ups and their power cleans, and hanging on through grit and determination to suffer until the end of the workout.

This is not what we want to happen. Instead, we want athletes to learn how to do work sustainably so that they are able to build up their capacity over time and do more and more sets of challenging movements while fatigued.

Check out the full conversation with Jon, Luke and Todd to learn:

  • Why elite athletes need less “base building” – and what the consequences are of “skipping steps” in the intermediate phase of development
  • How to balance solid progression and long-term development with the chaotic requirements of CrossFit – so training isn’t boring and you don’t develop a bunch of fitness that doesn’t actually make you better
  • When athletes should stick to a specific plan for pacing and fractioning reps – and when they should go off of feel and learn what they are capable of

Listen below – or on the podcast player of your choice.

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Show Notes:

  • [00:18] Beginners often get a lot better quickly just by doing “CrossFit.” Similarly, advanced athletes have a large base of support so they need to do less base-building and accumulation and are able to adapt quickly to sport specific training. However, people in the middle can often develop compensatory strategies in their conditioning workouts if they do too much sport specific training without having built the base of support to do high intensity mixed work appropriately.
  • [09:07] There needs to be a balance between building up a base through appropriate principles of long-term development and having enough chaotic, sport-specific training so that individuals don’t get fit in ways that don’t translate over to their sport. There also needs to be an understanding of the psychology of athletes – while coaches can’t cater to athletes’ every whim, they do need to allow them autonomy and understand that long-term compliance is more important than the perfect program.
  • [17:49] Intermediate athletes often need more specificity in terms of prescription: split times, weights, fractioning strategies, etc. Advanced athletes will self-organize and do things “correctly,” so they need less specific guidance. However, too much direction from a coach can prevent athletes from learning how to pace workouts and make decisions on the fly based upon how they’re feeling.
  • [26:24] It’s much more interesting to see what someone has done to make steady improvements year-over-year rather than to see what someone has done who catapults quickly to the top of the sport. Steady progress likely shows an understanding of how to build sustainably and correct weaknesses over time, while extremely rapid progress likely shows more “talent” and gives less generalizable information.

Michael FitzGerald of Optimum Performance Training

At this point, many coaches and athletes understand that doing well in CrossFit® events requires freakish endurance. It’s not about how strong or how powerful you are – it’s about how well you can repeat efforts while you’re fatigued.

One of the best ways to improve repeatability is by training the aerobic system. But, how should that be done?

Is it just about spending some time biking, rowing and running? Should athletes be doing intervals?

How do we get the work that we do on something like the Assault Bike to actually translate into improvements during thrusters, burpees and double-unders?

Check out the full conversation with Michael to learn:

  • Why the aerobic system matters for development of CrossFit athletes
  • How aerobic training has evolved for CrossFitters over the years
  • Why just doing rowing intervals won’t necessarily make you better when you have to do thrusters and double-unders
  • How to structure intensity and volume of aerobic sessions to allow athletes to improve in multiple areas at once

Listen below – or on the podcast player of your choice.

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Taylor Rowing

How long can someone do CrossFit competitively?

How long does it take someone to go from starting in group classes to becoming a competitive CrossFit athlete capable of Rx-ing workouts and doing local competitions?

How should someone decide when they need to move outside of classes and follow either an individualized training program or a more competitive group program?

And, how should someone think about structuring their training now that they have opportunities to qualify and compete nearly every weekend with the upcoming Sanctionals schedule?

Check out the full conversation with Jon & Luke to learn:

  • The positives and negatives of group training vs individualized coaching for athletes looking to get started – and how to know when to consider transitioning to an individualized program
  • Common pitfalls that can get athletes in trouble as they try to figure out how often they can compete – and how to structure a season to avoid burning yourself out
  • Why the difference between the “haves” and the “have nots” may increase with the new structure of the Sanctionals season

Listen below – or on the podcast player of your choice.

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Kelly Toes-to-Bar

Many athletes want to improve at the types of conditioning workouts that make up things like the Open or the various online qualifiers for Sanctionals like Wodapalooza and The Granite Games.

These athletes don’t need to just improve their “engine,” though.

The limiting factor for most folks in these types of workouts isn’t necessarily that they run out of breath – it’s the muscle endurance required to do repeated contractions on movements like wall balls, toes-to-bar and burpees.

Improving muscle endurance in conditioning environments isn’t just as simple as doing a some band pull-aparts and dumbbell presses as a finisher at the end of a training day.

Instead, we need to understand what work an athlete can do in a sustainable environment, then learn how to progress that to more chaotic scenarios with more movement interference, more repetitions and more intensity.

Check out the full conversation with Jon and Todd to learn:

  • How to figure out how many repetitions of a given movement you should be shooting to include in your training – and how to think about progressing toward that number over the course of different training cycles
  • Why athletes must build a base of support in muscle endurance first – even athletes who need to improve their absolute strength to be able to do heavy squat cleans and muscle-ups in conditioning workouts often need to build up enough muscle endurance in order to do the training required to get strong enough to compete in their sport
  • The role of mindset in training weaknesses – and why going into training with a negative attitude about movements that you struggle with can impact your ability to progress long term

Listen below – or on the podcast player of your choice.

Listen Here