Podcast – Legion Strength & Conditioning

In this podcast, we’re going to break down how to effectively design conditioning workouts so that you can actually get better at doing the things that you struggle with under fatigue.

We’ve seen a lot of athletes mix this up – either by always doing a bunch of crazy, chaotic stuff in their training, or by only following totally planned out, periodized structures based upon a specific plan for progression over time.

It turns out, they’re not “just metcons.” The way that conditioning work is structured can make a huge difference in terms of how you adapt to it over time.

Especially if you’re not a freakishly talented athlete who can seemingly do just a whole lot of anything and everything and consistently get better.

What should everyone else be doing? If we want to get better at pull-ups in metcons, do we just do a bunch of metcons with pull-ups in them and throw in some additional strict pull-ups?

If we want to get better at heavy squat cleans, do we do a weightlifting cycle and some EMOM weightlifting work?

It’s not always that simple.

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

  • The mistake that many athletes make when thinking about training for a competition vs training to get better at something.
  • They key to designing conditioning workouts that are appropriate for your skill level
  • Why some athletes can get better at CrossFit just by doing a strength cycle and focusing on “heavy metcons” – and why that’s a disaster for the wrong kind of athlete.

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

Listen Here

Show Notes:

  • [00:15] Conditioning workouts can have a different “feeling” and a different stimulus. Your conditioning workouts should have a goal, and shouldn’t be thrown together haphazardly.
  • [04:56] The mistake that many athletes make when thinking about training for a competition vs training to get better at something.
  • [12:03] Training isn’t linear – don’t expect to improve immediately from each training cycle.
  • [18:31] They key to designing conditioning workouts that are appropriate for your skill level
  • [25:25] Why some athletes can get better at CrossFit just by doing a strength cycle and focusing on “heavy metcons” – and why that’s a disaster for the wrong kind of athlete.

As athletes develop in the sport of CrossFit, there’s a few stages of “learning to pace” that they typically go through.

Many folks start off always pushing the intensity – attacking a workout just about as hard as they can, and barely holding on to the finish.

Then, at some point, they typically learn that they should have a plan, pull back on their pace on the assault bike, and understand what their split times are on conditioning pieces.

In this stage, many athletes also become focused on planning out all of their sessions and creating a mental “spreadsheet” of how things are going to go.

While better than having no plan and being totally reckless, the downsides here are that athletes typically become overly rigid and unadaptable – and they struggle when they are unable to stick with their plans.

In the highest order stage of pacing development, athletes are able to formulate a plan, but intuitively understand when to deviate from the plan – either to speed up, slow down, break early, push harder, or go faster than they intended in order to psychologically break a competitor.

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

  • Why the role of a coach isn’t just to write workouts, but to design scenarios that require athletes to learn about themselves and their effort through the process of training
  • Why the deep intuitive sense of pacing that elite athletes have developed causes them to explain their strategies in ways that can be confusing and inaccurate
  • When an athlete should work on learning to pull back – and when an athlete should work on learning to push harder

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

Listen Here

Show Notes:

  • [0:15] There’s a standard trajectory that many athletes follow while learning to pace: not having any strategy and going out too hot, then learning to plan and over-planning, then developing an intuition for how to react on the fly based upon how they’re feeling in a workout.
  • [3:52] Workouts are not “just work” – athletes should be trying to learn about their pacing strategy and their reaction to different scenarios (ie splits for each interval of a rowing workout, fractioning strategies for gymnastics, etc)
  • [8:31] Athletes tend to go through a phase of over-calculating pacing. At this stage, attempt to force adaption through strict structure; instead, there needs to be acceptance and understanding of the need to deviate from the ‘spreadsheet’ in certain situations.
  • [12:02] Elite athletes cannot always be trusted when explaining pacing since they have an overdeveloped intuitive capacity to make pacing decisions – and they often don’t even realize that they are using certain strategies.
  • [16:16] Athletes can often learn a lot about their ability to pace by working through very specific pacing scenarios (ie “Row 500m at 1:55 pace, then do 1 clean every 10s for 10 reps”)
  • [20:00] As athletes improve, they will need to increase their paces. Many athletes will settle into a specific range of paces or reps for certain workouts – without realizing that they’ve increased their capacity and need to start to push themselves harder.
  • [25:45] Pacing in a competitive scenario isn’t just about how you feel relative to the workout – it’s about how you feel relative to other competitors around you potentially going a lot faster than you.

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.

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.

Listen Here

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.

Listen Here

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.

Listen Here