Podcast – Legion Strength & Conditioning

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.

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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.

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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.

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