Podcast – Legion Strength & Conditioning

When figuring out pacing for a workout, there’s a few common ways that athletes calculate what they can expect to accomplish.

The first (and most common) is to pace off of someone else who you know is typically around the same fitness level – maybe plus or minus a few reps or rounds.

The second is to do a round at a moderate effort then adjust the pace up or down from there.

While these are both reasonable strategies and can give an idea of what is realistic, it’s also important to be able to calculate an expected pace from “first principles” so-to-speak.

Doing this is a skill just like any other, and requires knowing a few tricks: how long do certain movements take, how long do transitions typically take, how often can you expect to lift a heavy barbell, and how much can you expect to slow down during a workout?

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

  • How long common movements take – like wall balls, dumbbell snatches, and burpees
  • How to think about pacing heavy barbells
  • How to factor in rest and fatigue when calculating your paces for workouts

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

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Show Notes:

  • [00:15] The 2 most common strategies that people use when approaching workouts: pacing off of their own first round and pacing off of someone who tends to be at a similar capacity. How can we use basic rep math to get an outside perspective on how long our rounds should take?
  • [13:10] How do we account for fatigue accumulating as we work? And how do we deal with barbell-based movements like heavy squat cleans when estimating time?
  • [25:09] Cyclical pieces like rowing and biking give us a monitor – but how do we know what paces we should attempt to hold?

Some athletes are able to get pretty good at CrossFit pretty fast.

But, these athletes often find themselves hitting glass ceilings in their performance.

Even though they are able to do most of the gymnastics movements, hit decent weights, and grit through conditioning workouts, they plateau earlier than they think they should.

What’s going on here?

Often, these athletes have skipped steps in their development and are able to compensate their way through training.

To improve long-term, these folks need to be willing to go backwards in their training and rebuild. This can be a huge ego hit, and – to be frank – not everyone is mature enough to do it.

But, if we’re serious about getting better over time, that’s often what we have to do.

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

  • The surprising ways that athletes learn to compensate – and it’s not just about mobility and technique
  • Why backing off on conditioning is actually much better for building an engine – and why too much effort is a bad thing
  • The psychology of taking a step backward in order to take two steps forward – and why it’s so hard for us to do

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

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Show Notes:

  • [00:15] Some athletes are able to get pretty good at CrossFit pretty fast. But, what are some surprising ways that these athletes find glass ceilings on their performance?
  • [7:41] People think of “compensation” as a bad thing, but better athletes are often better at compensating. Compensation isn’t just about lifting technique – how do some elite athletes compensate in their conditioning work?
  • [17:41] Why taking a step back threatens athletes’ egos – and why the measurable aspect of CrossFit has a dark side that can have a negative impact on performance.

Pacing is important in just about any workout, but it’s particularly crucial when there’s a heavy barbell looming.

If you don’t have a good understanding of how quickly you can move with different weights in conditioning workouts, and if you don’t understand how long you need to rest between heavier attempts, you can end up getting chewed up pretty badly on these kinds of workouts – even if you’re strong enough to move the weight.

On this episode of the podcast, we go over some key things to think about when pacing yourself on “heavy metcons” (or battery-based workouts), as well as some key things to think about when training to get better at this type of workout.

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

  • How to develop the metronome-like pacing that you see elite athletes holding when doing barbell-based conditioning work
  • Why getting stronger works for some athletes to improve their ability to do “heavy metcons” but not others
  • Why being naturally stronger and more powerful can be a detriment to your ability to lift a heavy barbell under fatigue.

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

Listen Here

Show Notes:

  • [00:15] How to pace for battery workouts or “heavy metcons” – and how to get better at them.
  • [06:53] What do you need to think about to improve your battery? Hint: It’s not just about getting stronger. And, how should people who tend to be more explosive train their battery?
  • [13:15] Why experience is one of the best teachers for pacing in “heavy” workouts – and how to train so that you can learn as much as possible.
  • [20:39] Is there a difference between women and men in ability to do heavy weights in conditioning workouts?
  • [25:16] How do tests of strength usually appear in CrossFit competitions? And – what should people do in their training sessions or in their next “heavy metcon” to get better?

Most people approach their workouts with some sort of plan – but that doesn’t mean that they’re able to execute on it. In this podcast, we are going to go over the main things that athletes need to be thinking about when they’re thinking about how they’re going to split up their reps in workouts.

It’s not as simple as just making a spreadsheet and having a perfect fractioning strategy.

Instead, athletes need to be able to make a plan based upon their current capacity, the interference between movements in the workout, and their expected level of metabolic fatigue. Then, athletes need to be able to adjust on the fly during their session based upon how they’re actually feeling since sticking to a plan that is unraveling is a surefire way to completely fall apart during a workout.

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.

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

  • The 3 things that athletes need to consider when making a plan for splitting up their reps in a workout
  • How to use training as an opportunity to learn about your capacity in different scenarios
  • How to find the right balance between sticking to a plan and “pushing through” and calling an audible and adjusting on the fly

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

Listen Here

Show Notes:

  • [00:17] Most people have some sort of plan going into a workout, but what are the 3 things you should be thinking about when coming up with a strategy?
  • [07:33] The best time to learn what works best for you is during training. Here’s what you need to focus on.
  • [17:10] How does overall metabolic fatigue impact fractioning strategies? And how do you know when you’re going to redline?
  • [21:29] What is the balance between sticking to your plan – and being adaptable and adjusting on the fly?

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.