All Articles – Page 2 – Legion Strength & Conditioning

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

After a long, tough workout, athletes often end up on their backs thinking something like, “I really need to improve my engine.”

Whether it’s an open workout like 19.1 with 15 minutes of rowing and wall balls, a 2000m row time trial, or a spicy 10 minute AMRAP of thrusters, double-unders, and box jumps, athletes often end up hunched over with their hands on their knees huffing and puffing.

But, it’s not as simple as doing more longer workouts, more tough ten minute AMRAPs, or more rowing and biking intervals.

Building an engine in a complicated mixed modal environment requires some assessment and some planning since there’s a lot of different traits and capacities that can result in athletes either thriving or struggling in conditioning workouts.

Some athletes are great across the board and seem to do well in anything that involves working out for more than a few minutes while being out of breath.

Others are fantastic at cyclical conditioning pieces like rowing, biking and running, but struggle to put it together when they have to do multiple different movements in a session.

Others are great at high turnover pieces made up of things like light dumbbell snatches and burpee box jump overs, but seem to fall apart when they have to do something more difficult and grindy like a heavy deadlift or sandbag over shoulder.

We can get fooled by looking at the best of the best, since they seem to be able to do any and every type of workout with success, and they often credit their engine to the work they put in on the erg or the assault bike, or they claim that they just do difficult “CrossFit workouts” to improve their conditioning.

While they may be correct in describing their own training, it’s often much more complicated for folks who aren’t quite as adaptable and who may have significant weak points despite doing well on some types of conditioning work.

So, how should we think about “building an engine” for a CrossFit athlete?

We should start with an assessment to figure out what we need to work on.

Then, based upon that, we can start to train in order to build an aerobic base, make different kinds of skills more sustainable in a fatigued environment, then put it all together when we are going to be tested.

Testing Pieces to Understand where your Conditioning Needs Work

Getting an idea of where you sit in a variety of different conditioning tests with different characteristics is crucial to developing a plan to improve.

As I’ve become more experienced, I’ve become less and less enamored with the exact specifics of testing data since I think the tests are noisy and they tend to stress athletes out, but having an idea of what kinds of workouts you do well on and what kinds of workouts you struggle on is a necessary starting point.

Here’s a few different types of tests on which we have a lot of data points, which enables some comparison between athletes.

It’s important to have a general idea of where you sit on a variety of cyclical benchmarks – although, past a certain point, improving cyclical numbers often doesn’t result in improvement in mixed testing.

We can also consider the relative pace that you’re able to hold for shorter timeframes versus longer timeframes.

Everyone will obviously have some level of drop-off in testing as the timeframe or distance increases, but there is a clearly a spectrum in terms of athletes who have similar paces for all timeframes (and often struggle to achieve very high power outputs) and athletes who have a larger drop-off as the timeframe is extended (and who often struggle with more endurance-based activities).

As you may have guessed, it’s usually better to be in the “same pace” camp for CrossFitters.

Cyclical Benchmarks

500m row
•Elite Scores:
Male: Under 1:24
Female: Under 1:30
•Advanced Scores:
Male: Under 1:30
Female: Under 1:40

2000m row
•Elite Scores:
Male: Under 6:45
Female: Under 7:00
•Advanced Scores:
Male: Under 7:00
Female: Under 7:30

5000m row
•Elite Scores:
Male: Under 18:30
Female: Under 20:00
•Advanced Scores:
Male: Under 20:00
Female: Under 22:00

60 min row
•Elite Scores:
Male: Over 15,600 meters
Female: Over 14,400 meters
•Advanced Scores:
Male: Over 15,000 meters
Female: Over 13,800 meters

10 min AMRAP assault bike calories
•Elite Scores:
Male: Over 200 calories
Female: Over 150 calories
•Advanced Scores:
Male: Over 180 calories
Female: Over 130 calories

30 min AMRAP assault bike calories
•Elite Scores:
Male: Over 500 calories
Female: Over 400 calories
•Advanced Scores:
Male: Over 450 calories
Female: Over 360 calories

1 mile run
•Elite Scores:
Under 5:30
•Advanced Scores:
Under 6:00

3000m run
•Elite Scores:
Under 12:00
•Advanced Scores:
Under 13:30

High Turnover Mixed Pieces

15 min AMRAP:
19 row calories
19 wall balls
•The combination of a cyclical activity with a moderate sized set of wall balls shows what kind of pace and cycle times athletes can maintain without running into situations where they are having to take big rests between sets. Plus, there’s a lot of data points on this test to compare against.
•Elite Scores:
Male: Over 9.5 rounds
Female: Over 8.5 rounds
•Advanced Scores:
Male: Over 8.5 rounds
Female: Over 7.5 rounds

10 rounds for time:
4 burpees
6 wall balls
8 KB swings (70/53)
•Differences in capacity on this tend to come down to cycle time and transition time, especially since the sets are small enough that most athletes should not be running into significant muscle endurance limitations.
•Elite Scores:
Under 8:30
•Advanced Scores:
Under 10:00

For time:
75 DB snatches, alternating (50/35)
75 burpee box jump overs (24/20)
75 DB snatches, alternating (50/35)
•By restructuring 17.1 into more of a “chipper,” we can get a feel for how athletes respond to large sets of single movements. We find that some athletes struggle much more when they have to do the same movement over and over – as opposed to be being able to switch back and forth between different activities. Most people will be slower on this than they will be on 17.1, but we can still benchmark relative to the total time it takes them to complete 150 dumbbell snatches and 75 burpee box jump overs.
•Elite Scores:
Under 12:00
•Advanced Scores:
Under 14:00

Longer Piece with Long Stretches of One Movement

For time:
2000m row
500 double-unders
3 mile assault bike
•This tests not just sustainable pace in a cyclical modality, but whether you are able to get through a big chunk of a high skill movement under fatigue. Some folks will do well in purely cyclical tests, but lose coordination and muscle endurance capacity once they’ve accumulated nearly any amount of fatigue.
•Elite Scores:
Male: Under 23 minutes
Female: Under 25 minutes
•Advanced Scores:
Male: Under 25 minutes
Female: Under 28 minutes

Long, Grindy Mixed Work

40 double DB front squats (50/hand – 35/hand)
3 miles assault bike
40 double DB box step-overs (50/hand to 24” – 35/hand to 20”)
2 miles assault bike
20 double DB front squats (50/hand – 35/hand)
1 mile assault bike
20 double DB box step-overs (50/hand to 24” – 35/hand to 20”)
•The cycle time on double DB front squats and double DB box step overs tends to be fairly slow – especially when approaching big sets of each movement. This is a test of the ability to “grind” at a steady pace rather than to move quickly and switch back and forth between different exercises.
•Elite & Advanced Scores
Need more data!

“Regionals 18.5”
For time:
50 handstand push-ups
50 toes-to-bar
50 assault bike calories
50 DB box step-overs (70/hand to 24” – 50/hand to 20”)
50’ front rack + overhead DB lunge, right (70/hand – 50/hand)
50’ front rack + overhead DB lunge, left (70/hand – 50/hand)
Under 17 minutes
Under 22 minutes

Long, high turnover

5 rounds for time:
1000m row
15 pull-ups
15 thrusters (75/55)
15 burpees
•Elite Scores:
Male: Under 30 minutes
Female: Under 35 minutes
•Advanced Scores:
Male: Under 35 minutes
Female: Under 40 minutes

20 min AMRAP:
16/12 row calories
8 bar-facing burpees
•Elite Scores:
14+ rounds
•Advanced Scores:
12-13 rounds

20 minute AMRAP
11 kettlebell swings (53/35)
11 box jumps, step down (24″/20″)
200m run
11 burpees
11 wall balls (20 to 10’/14 to 9′)
•Elite Scores:
6+ rounds
•Advanced Scores:
12-13 rounds
5+ rounds

Simple Work/Rest Scenarios

EMOM 30:
1st: 15 row calories
2nd: 15 burpees
•We can benchmark this as a simple “can you complete this amount of work in the allotted time” tester – and we can also compare relative paces throughout. Forced work and rest scenarios like this can show that some folks are able to recover from “hard work” very quickly in just a few seconds, and are seemingly able to recharge and keep going indefinitely while others dig deeper and deeper as they go on something like this.
•Elite Scores:
Male: Complete the work with sustainable effort throughout
Female: Complete the work
•Advanced Scores:
Male: Complete the work but slow down and suffer throughout
Female: Complete the work with 12 row calories

“Death by…”
1st: 1 burpee + AMRAP rowing meters in remaining time
2nd: 2 burpees + AMRAP rowing meters in remaining time
3rd: 3 burpees + AMRAP rowing meters in remaining time

Continue until failure to complete burpees in allotted time.
•Record both burpees completed and meters rowed.
•This is both a test of capacity and of strategy. You want to maximize the amount of burpees that you’re able to get since that also maximizes the opportunity that you have to row for meters. But, if you push too hard on the rowing in order to get more meters in, the burpees can very quickly fall apart.

What type of athlete are you?

Based upon where you sit on a handful of these tests, you can ideally put yourself into a bucket in terms of your “mixed capacity” (meaning your ability on workouts that involve multiple different modalities) and your “cyclical capacity” (meaning your ability on tests that only involve running, biking, rowing, etc.)

Mixed Work vs Cyclical Work 2x2

Bucket #1: Lacking Capacity in General

In this bucket, your cyclical benchmarks, your mixed benchmarks, your long benchmarks and your short benchmarks are all lacking relative to the level that you would like to compete at.

This is often the case for folks who are relative beginners and need to spend more time training to build their capacity – as well as for people who tend to be “strength and power” athletes who struggle with any sort of sustainable activity.

Bucket #2: Good in Cyclical Capacity, Lacking in Mixed Capacity

This bucket is often the most complicated bucket to be in – and where most “pretty good” competitors will fall. This requires some more analysis to figure out what’s going on, since all kinds of different movements and movement combinations can cause confusing and complicated fatigue scenarios for different individuals.

People in this bucket often struggle more with “muscle endurance” than they do with capacity.

So, they need to learn to do muscle endurance activities in a sustainable way.

Athletes in this bucket will often find that certain combinations of movements allow them to perform very well, but other combinations or styles of workouts result in them locking up, falling apart, and struggling to maintain their pace.

In order to improve the sustainability of mixed work for these individuals, they need to start in scenarios in which they are able to maintain their paces without “blowing up” or “having their shoulders lock up,” etc.

Then, from there, they need to progress the difficulty and the messiness of the scenarios in which they are able to sustain mixed work.

For example, an athlete in this bucket may be able to do something like the below with consistent paces and good recovery:

5 rounds @ 85-90% effort:
15 assault bike calories
12 chest-to-bar pull-ups
9 kipping handstand push-ups
-Rest 2 min

However, they might fall apart when asked to do something like this:
10 min AMRAP:
3-6-9-12…chest-to-bar pull-ups
3-6-9-12…thrusters (115)
3-6-9-12…assault bike calories

This athlete needs to progress their ability to do muscle endurance activities into more complicated and chaotic scenarios where there is potentially significant interference between movements and more accumulated fatigue.

We will cover more ideas surrounding training progression in the next part in this series.

Bucket #3: Good in Mixed Capacity, Lacking in Cyclical Capacity

This is the bucket for someone who is often much better at “CrossFit” than it seems like they should be based upon their scores in cyclical tests.

This bucket also often creates confusion for people who look at the scores at the CrossFit Games or Sanctionals and see some pretty terrible output from folks on things like rowing, running and biking.

These people are often muscle endurance all stars – meaning that they are able to do a lot of different types of contractions in a lot of different scenarios without hitting muscle endurance fatigue. And, when they do hit muscle endurance fatigue, they are often able to take a quick break and get right back to work.

When these people compete in an event that isn’t limited by muscle endurance for most people or that requires steady, consistent output in a cyclical modality, they can struggle a surprising amount compared to their performance in more classic “CrossFit” style pieces.

Sometimes, this is partially-based upon limb length and body size.

A 5’7” male with super short arms and legs may be fantastic on squatting and burpees based upon his range of motion, but will potentially struggle to get enough leverage and torque on things like the erg and the Assault Bike.

Still, over athletes thrive in muscle endurance-based scenarios, but struggle to maintain steady output. They are good at switching between exercises or “chipping away” at large sets, but are not as good at moving consistently in a cyclical environment.

There are likely differences in terms of how the body creates and utilizes energy and oxygen in steady movement scenarios vs mixed scenarios, so these folks can often benefit from focusing on improving their pacing and their capacity in cyclical modalities.

That said, they can often “get away” with relatively poor cyclical capacity based upon the structure of most tests. If they are trying to win a Sanctioned Event, they will probably need to improve in long, single modality tests since those are often part of the programming menu. However, if they are just looking to do reasonably well in the Open and do some local competitions, they are rarely going to be tested in something like a long run, a long row or a long swim.

Bucket #4: Good in Both Mixed and Cyclical Capacity

These folks are usually the elite and are often good at everything.

The training for these people can often involve a lot of different stuff thrown together, since they are able to perform well and adapt to almost any scenario.

They can do a bunch of different “metcons” and pace appropriately and complete all the work without gassing out.

They can throw in additional rowing and running intervals several times per week because they have significant capacity in these modalities and are able to adapt to the additional training.

Copying the training of these kinds of athletes if you are not one of them can lead to some pretty messy outcomes, since – if you are not able to pace appropriately and make all kinds of different training scenarios sustainable – you may end up running yourself into the ground with training.

Just because these folks are seemingly “good at everything,” it doesn’t mean that they don’t have some specific movement patterns or combinations of movements that they struggle with.

Based upon this, they will also need to work on making those things that they struggle with sustainable across a broad variety of scenarios. They will just have more leeway in terms of the type of training that they can do to stimulate progress.

The next article in this series will dig into some more specific ideas for training each type of athlete.

Katie Doing Thrusters
Some athletes love doing hard training and rolling around on the ground after a nasty conditioning workout. We will call this “unsustainable training” – meaning that there was attrition in the paces throughout and that the athlete would not have been able to continue to sustain the pace that they were moving at.

Other athletes love being cerebral and paced out with everything they do – nailing their split times, holding an exact rpm on the assault bike, and showing steady progression over time. We will call this “sustainable training” – meaning that the athlete could have kept going at the same pace if their training session were longer.

Which is better?

Like most things, a combination of both sustainable and unsustainable training is necessary for the progression of a CrossFitter.

Sustainable training builds volume and allows you to do more work longer without going to the well every time you need to move fast.

Unsustainable training sharpens the competitive sword and prepares you to suffer and be uncomfortable in a competitive setting.

Smart athletes and coaches blend the two throughout a training season and focus on the areas that need the most improvements at the right time.

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

  • How to understand whether the pace you are going is truly sustainable – not just within a specific interval but within the set of total intervals that you’re doing, including theoretical additional intervals that may or may not actually be part of your training session
  • How to build a conditioning based and knowledge in yourself – so that you know when to take a risk and push harder and when to back off and stick to your plan
  • How to build up the self-knowledge so that you intuitively know which paces are sustainable and which aren’t – even on movement combinations you haven’t seen before.

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

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Ethan on the Assault Bike

One of the most common complaints that we hear from athletes is that they need to improve their “engine.”

There’s been a sea change over the last few years and – despite the fact that heavy lifting is infinitely more Instagrammable than rowing intervals – more and more people are recognizing that improving their conditioning is one of the most important things that they can do to improve their performance.

But, it can be confusing as to what aspects of conditioning really matter, and it’s not always clear why some athletes do great on certain types of workouts (things like a 2k row time trial, a long workout with a heavy barbell, and something with squat snatches and muscle-ups) but can’t seem to put it together when the workout is more simple grunt work (like wall balls, rowing and burpee box jump overs).

There are many different characteristics that go into performing well on conditioning workouts, and understanding how to think about training to improve your conditioning is full of nuance and complexity – especially if you’re not someone who is freakishly talented and can just get better at everything all at once by doing a constantly changing and chaotic training program.

In this episode of the podcast, we attempt to break down the different types of workouts that people think of as “engine-based” and give some thoughts as to how to approach training and how to understand the different fatigue mechanisms at play.

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

  • Why some athletes excel at all types of conditioning workouts – and why others are great when it comes to biking, rowing and running but struggle with things like double-unders, thrusters and box jumps
  • How training the aerobic system carries over to performance in mixed modal sport – and why just doing 30s on/30s off on the assault bike isn’t enough to make you better at “CrossFit”
  • Why fatigue signals from your body can be confusing – and why feeling like you’re out of breath during conditioning workouts isn’t always an indicator that you need to improve your aerobic system

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

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Ethan on the Assault Bike

“Is it cool if I do additional aerobic work?”

As coaches who generally love us some aerobic work, we’re generally onboard with athletes getting in a bunch of sustainable, well-paced training.

We also often have folks asking if they can do “too much cardio” – between their high intensity conditioning, riding their bikes for commuting, and adding in supplemental aerobic training sessions.

As you’ve come to expect, there’s no simple answer to this question, but there are some things to think about when considering adding additional aerobic training to your program.

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

  • How to think about recovery work between harder sessions – and why your ability to recover more quickly can be one of the key differences in terms of getting better over time
  • Why doing additional cardio is a low priority for making body composition changes – and how people get themselves in trouble by trying to “make up for” indulgences by doing more conditioning work
  • How building an aerobic based can make your mixed modal training sessions more sustainable – and bridging the gap between easy aerobic training and more difficult, higher effort pieces
  • Listen below – or in the podcast player of your choice.

    Listen Here

Bryce Carlson DB Snatch

What does focusing on your mindset during training mean?

Does it mean falling into a “magical thinking” approach to training where, by simply “wanting it” enough, you are able to quickly climb the ranks and achieve your wildest dreams of fitness success?

Does it mean having a “growth mindset” where you view every setback as a challenge and believe that your capacity to improve forever is limited only by the hard work that you put in?

Not really. It’s no secret that we kind of hate magical thinking around here. And, while growth mindset has shown real effects in (replicated) studies, some of the more extreme interpretations of the phenomenon seem to toe the line of the kind of magical thinking that we don’t like a whole lot.

But, athletes must have intent when they train. They must understand exactly what they’re working on, and be relentlessly focused on observing their experience and learning both tacitly and explicitly how they can improve their pacing, their movement quality, their self-talk, etc. throughout their sessions.

Some athletes can have a somewhat entitled attitude based upon the amount of work that they put in to training. It’s not enough to simply put in the work to compete at a certain level or be adept at various challenging movements.

You must put in focused work, understand the difference between play, practice and competition, and develop the capacity for self-reflection that allows for constant improvement and learning from every session that you do.

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

  • The difference between play, practice and performance in training – and why having the wrong intent for your training session can derail your results
  • How to find the balance between giving prescription and intent from a coach vs allowing athletes to learn on their own – and how this may change quite a bit for the same athlete over time
  • The role of “deliberate practice” in mixed modal sport – and why there may be a difference between skill acquisition in music or chess vs the combined skill acquisition and physiological adaptation of fitness
  • Listen below – or in the podcast player of your choice.

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Marques Chaplin

A lot of people want to work on their strength. So, what do they do?

They Google something like “squat program” and come across a Smolov cycle, or a Hatch cycle – or they layer on a weightlifting program on top of their metcons and an additional running program that they found.

While it can be valuable to have dedicated time to work on strength, cyclical aerobic work and mixed modal conditioning pieces separately in a training plan, people can get themselves in trouble by simply stacking these programs on top of each other.

It’s not enough to just “get stronger” – that strength must integrate into your fitness if your goal is to be better at mixed modal sport.

Even for athletes who are well under the “strength threshold” necessary to compete at their desired level would do better to train multiple traits at once to allow the strength adaptation to occur in the context of a training program building multiple capacities of fitness at once.

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

  • The difference between block periodization and concurrent training – so you understand how to get stronger and better conditioned at the same time
  • Why training for powerlifting or weightlifting is different than training for CrossFit – and how to extract the principles of training for strength sports to getting stronger in CrossFit
  • How to think about total stress on your system – and how to best spend your “adaptation currency”

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

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Mark Stenberg

Athletes tend to get themselves in trouble in two opposite extremes when it comes to pacing.

They either become rigid and fixed on split times, rep counts, and exact rest intervals – or they allow “negotiations” to occur and they deviate from the planned stimulus of the day. And, many times, rigidity and overplanning leads to this kind of renegotiating behavior in athletes prone to streaks of perfectionism.

In training, the goal of specific pieces is not necessarily to hit exact split times in a workout – instead, the goal is to create a stimulus that pushes a certain type of adaptation. This could be easy recovery work, highly uncomfortable threshold training, sprint repeatability, or any number of other things.

Decide the “feeling” that a workout should have before you start, then adjust your pace up and down throughout to achieve your desired outcome. You can negotiate the pace that will best get you your desired outcome, but you shouldn’t be changing the overall goal of the training session once you start.

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

  • The difference between pacing to get your best possible score, pacing to get a desired stimulus in a training program and pacing to maximize learning – and why principles from one style of pacing may not be applicable to another
  • Why going faster in training is not always the best way to build the capacity to go faster in competition – and how to learn the specific gears in your engine
  • Why pacing on cyclical work is different than pacing in mixed modal work – and what strategies are best for each modality

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

Listen Here