How to Build Your Engine: Training Your Weaknesses – Legion Strength & Conditioning

How to Build Your Engine: Training Your Weaknesses

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

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

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

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

For Athletes Lacking Capacity Across the Board

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

Beginner/Intermediate Progression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday
Active recovery

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

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

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

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

Powerful Athlete Progression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday
Active recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some examples:

Grinder with Isometric Holds

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

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

“CrossFit-esque” Grinder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday
Active recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These athletes tend to need to work on either:

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

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

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

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

Tightly controlled interval work with minimal interference

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

Training notes:
•Tightly controlled sets with minimal fatigue accumulation

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

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

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

Mixed intervals with sustainable sets and some interference

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

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

AMRAP with sustainable sets

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

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

Chaotic scenario with large sets and lots of interference:

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

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

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

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

Paced, sustainable intervals with aerobic fatigue

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

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

Cyclical and mixed intervals

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

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

AMRAP with cyclical work and increasing sets

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

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

For time mixed piece with interference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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