Crossfit is a GPP program at its core, General Physical Preparedness for the unknown and unknowable. This means we choose exercises that will give us the most bang for your buck, the most functional for life and we perform them at high intensities. A program that increases you work capacity across broad times and modal domains. While routine is the enemy variance is king, there is still a elegant science to the balance of programming to be “fit” in all 10 general and physical skills. All of us have some skills we our more fit in than others. And in retrospect, most of us have 1 or 2 skills that we severely lack in. Its always a good idea to try and work on these weaknesses or “work what we suck at” as its often coined, as a supplement to our gpp programing. Notice I said a supplement, not a temporary replacement. Often this gets mixed around and we begin to lead towards a “biased” system.
The moment we start to put more effort and focus to one particular skill, we start to lose focus or performance in another. A obvious example of this would be that of the athlete who decided that his strength and power was lacking so he began a biased weightlifting program, and to support the heavy high volume lifting he also increases caloric intake. After 12 weeks the athletes 1rm back squat has increased by 15%, an awesome accomplishment. But as he returns to a gpp style training he notices that while his strength has increased, his athletic performance has not. The biased program has him lacking in coordination and agility from lack of variance in movement. His speed has improved getting out of the bottom of the squat but his new lack of flexibility hinders his ability to utilize his gait and open up. The lack of kinesthetic awareness with the new level of bodyweight has thrown off his balance making bodyweight movements such as handstand pushups, muscle-ups, pistols, and even burpees difficult and the extra 15-20lbs doesn’t make them any easier. And the most obvious loss of performance comes in the form of cardiorespiratory and muscular endurance. He no longer has the ability to finish the 5k run with out several stops to walk and even a pure glycotic intense workout like “grace” even though is a weightlifting workout, would leave him floored and probably unable to finish after a extended lay off from this style of training. In the process for this athlete to regain all these other 9 skills to there previous level, he would sacrifice most of the gains that were made in the biased program to begin with. What a brutal cycle and what seems to be a waste of about 8 months of training. While this seems to be the most common example I hear of, it could work in a million other combinations. We can be “biased” towards anything and the moment we are we become a fringe athlete. 1 step forward and 2 steps back will eventually lead to some burn out somewhere.
“Fringe Athletes” (taken from Gregg Glassman’s CrossFit Article “foundations“)
“There is a near universal misconception that long distance athletes are fitter that their short distance counterparts. The triathlete, cyclist, and marathoner are often regarded as among the fittest athletes on earth. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The endurance athlete has trained long past any cardiovascular health benefit and has lost ground in strength, speed, and power, typically does nothing for coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy and possesses little more than average flexibility. This is hardly the stuff of elite athleticism. The CrossFit athlete, remember, has trained and practiced for optimal physical competence in all ten physical skills (cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, flexibility, strength, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy). The excessive aerobic volume of the endurance athlete’s training has cost him in speed, power, and strength to the point where his athletic competency has been compromised. No triathlete is in ideal shape to wrestle, box, pole-vault, sprint, play any ball sport, fight fires, or do police work. Each of these requires a fitness level far beyond the needs of the endurance athlete. None of this suggests that being a marathoner, triathlete or other endurance athlete is a bad thing; just don’t believe that training as a long distance athlete gives you the fitness that is prerequisite to many sports. CrossFit considers the Sumo Wrestler, triathlete, marathoner, and power lifter to be “fringe athletes” in that their fitness demands are so specialized as to be inconsistent with the adaptations that give maximum competency at all physical challenges. Elite strength and conditioning is a compromise between each of the ten physical adaptations. Endurance athletes do not balance that compromise.”
Our Program balances these skills evenly over time while still seeming random in the sense that reps, sets, and exercises can be rotated endlessly. We approach every warmup set and rep as a chance to improve something. Often there will be a theme in the warmups that last 4-6 weeks. For example, last month we were focused on some gymnastics movements for hip flexibility, developing our l-sit, and working into handstands without walking. Sure these skills take longer the a month to develop, but we focused on them and we can now mix them in periodically. On top of constant rotating exercises is the balance of training all 3 major energy systems. I wont spend too much time on this subject in this blog but just know that we have a an-aerobic or short burst system that less then 20 seconds, think 1rm and 100 meter sprints. Glycotic system which is between 20 second- 2 minutes, think “fran” or “grace”. and our aerobic or oxidative system which is anything over 2:00, usually a long slow distance exercise like a 5k run, 10k row, 10 mile bike, etc. Could also be a wod like “murph” or even “cindy”. We use all 3 in conjunction with one being more dominate at certain times. We balance between all of these energy systems in conjunction with each other every week. Since heavy weightlifting is often the most enjoyed and therefore the most biased programed modality I will start with how we should be approaching these different heavy wods we incorporate at Basin CrossFit.
Heavy days are often wrote out as a group of individual numbers separated by a dash. For example, 5-5-5-5-5. Each number represents a attempt at the specified number. While it easy to say 5 x 5, this is not the mindset to approach these workout. Often in a linear style program 5 x 5 would be at a set % or weight for that day and time in the program. The 5-5-5-5-5 model is 5 ATTEMPTS that the most weight you can do for each set at that number of reps. This is known as a max effort. If you got 300lbs on your first set and think you can do more, then go for it. If you only get 4 then thats your score for that attempt. Think about why you failed, decide if you can overcome it, if so go again, if not adjust the weight and go again. If you are fatigued in the later sets and have to lower the weigh to complete the amount of reps, that is fine. Know that you did it right, and gave a true Max effort into each of those 5 attempts of 5. If this is truly done in a max effort attempt there will be no desire to do more work, as you should be exhausted. It is important to pay attention to the warmup and wod prep on these days. First we must be warm and loose to effectively tap into our strength potential in a safe environment but the wod prep has several warmup sets that is important for motor and muscle group recruitment as well as prepping the CNS to lift heavy. It is not uncommon to have done 6-7 heavy sets building to your first real rep attempt. When you feel you are at your strongest, then you begin to count your attempts.
Another common theme for heavy days is a EMOM, every minute on the minute. This is a method of interval training, meaning you have scheduled rests in the workout. In this case you rest in the amount of time left in the minute after the exercise(s) are completed. This can go either way of energy systems, depending on exercise selection. If it is a strength day, know that there is no messing around. Hit that lift at the top of the minute and then rest for 40-50 seconds. You will find with some practice it is very accomplishable to hit between 85-90% of your max within a 10 minute 1-rep emom. Another common exercise selection for emoms is to alternate a lift with a bodyweight movement. Again, these days are meant to make you better and stronger at the movement. So lightweight lifts and banded pullups are not going to get you anywhere, they are to light to cause a strength stimulus, the reps are to low for muscular endurance, and the rest keeps your from training any cardio respiratory endurance. Basically your wasting your time and lack of effort. Load that bar up with some weight and start working some strict pullups or negatives until you can do them. EMOMS are not scored in a sense of reps or time, while they could be scored as weight. They are often not thought of as competition setting, a chance to improve that movement either through strength or skill while keeping a elevated heart rate is the best way to approach these.
Each day our wods are broke up into 3 different workout levels. RX+, rx, & fitness. These are guidelines for recommended weight and reps to get the desired stimulus of that workout with comparable scores. Rx+ and Rx are generally the same except for a few things. RX+ is often heavier on the weight, higher on the reps, and occasionally the skill level will be slightly harder. For example rx+ might have strict muscle ups + 1 dip, where rx is just a muscle up. Fitness is the same workout based on energy system and movements but has taken all the high skilled exercises out and eliminated a prescribed weight. This is usually for the athlete that is new to crossfit or a good reference to anyone needing to scale the workout for that day due to injury or any kind of disability. Sure you can mix up the exercises between the 3 levels if needed, but keep in mind, the movement that your scaling is a glaring weakness in your fitness. For example:
rx+ rx fitness
thrusters (115/95) (95/65) Barbell weight
pullups (c2b) (kipping/butterfly) ring rows
You may be tempted to do rx+ weight because your strong and want “rx+”, but you can only ring row because you haven’t developed the strength and skill to do pullups. This would allow you to finish the workout with rx+ weight and get a good “sweat” but it would do little in improving your fitness. 45 thrusters at 115 is way easier with ring rows supporting 1/2 your bodyweight then it is with 45 kipping pullups where you explosively pull your entire bodyweight up and chin over the bar, even though your “strong” your not putting out near as much power between the two movements as the guy doing the rx weight with full pullups. Second you would benefit more by saving some shoulder strength in the lift by using the rx thruster weight and then spend your most focus and energy attempting pullups in smaller sets of as little as 1 or 2. Read more about how to identify and train your weaknesses using the crossfit benchmarks here. The coach will always explain the reasoning or the “why” of the workout, use this to choose the appropriate skill level. Also use the wod prep sets to decide what weight you will need to use to get the desired stimulus.
Formally named “competitors” work, I have come to a few realizations. First, some people just want to work really hard and have no desire to compete in crossfit competitions. Second, some people need the extra work to build up weaknesses but have no desire to compete in crossfit competition. This is the real purpose of crossfit, to push ourselves mentally and physically and improve our health and wellness through fitness. So in regards to extra work, its for whoever wants to put in extra work. But it is not necessary. The extra work is a balanced program that works in conjunction with the regular program. You should never skip the regular training in order to do the extra work, doing so will create a imbalance in your training and lead towards biased thinking. It should always be used a supplement to the regular training.
You will notice a little more focus on heavy weightlifting and higher skilled gymnastic movements in the extra work. If these are weaknesses in your game then the more you could make sure to hit these extra workouts would help you in improving your fitness. The extra work should take no more then 30-45 minutes extra of your time. Sometimes there will be a 2 part workout, there may be a recommended time to perform them. For example: part 1 may be 5-5-5-5 of front squat to be done before joining a class, then the class wod would follow up with some more lightweight front squat or dynamic lower body work like box jumps to couple them nicely together. Then part 2 would be perhaps a emom of 10 pullups alternated with 10 wallballs. The recommendation gives you the order to perform for the best results, but it can be done in a different order to accommodate your personal schedule and still yield great results. Using this same extra work example a newer person could use just part of the workout to help them. Perhaps a new athlete has learned sound mechanics of weightlifting but strength levels are a weakness and they haven’t developed the work capacity to do ALL the extra work. No problem, cherry pick the extra work to fit your needs. As long as the focus is always on our GPP (the regular class)we can plug and play the extra stuff. This could easily go the other way where the athlete had not learned good mechanics of the lifts or positions yet, they would benefit greatly by a short EMOM of med-balls (aka really lightweight thrusters) and some type of pullup progression. It is my recommendation though, that you only use the extra work to make yourself better. While this is always true for all fitness programs at basin crossfit I feel the need to emphasize here that competition is not needed here, loss of technique in effort to improve intensity is not the objective. While the score is not our point I also recommend that you do not scale the metcon movements in the extra work. If there is a skill that requires you to scale then your time would be better spent working on progressions for that skill. Start with simply slowing it down and doing single repetitions, A simple google search will give you all kinds of ideas of where to get started and you can always learn more about crossfit at the CrossFit Journal. If you feel you need more coaching and understanding of movements then you can book a Personal Training session with me or any of our other coaches at Basin CrossFit where we can break down your movement faults and give you the tools and homework to fix it. I will be posting all workouts including extra work, one week in advance. This gives you a chance to see what workouts you need to make for your weaknesses and which days of extra work, you could even do the extra work on a different day. I urge you to not use this privilege for evil, do not cherry pick the gpp program. Try to come to a well rounded assortment of classes and don’t only come to the ones you think you will enjoy or do good at it. Come to them all. When you feel like you need more, add some extra work. And if you desire it, when your ready be a fire breathing badass and do all extra work and all wods.
Extra work can be done at any scheduled class time, but you must respect the class. Meaning the class will always have superiority towards space and equipment. Extra work is to be done somewhere out of the way and noise level and space must be appropropriate to the class, meaning no loud talking, screaming, or grunting and no wods/weightlifting in the center floor while the coach has the floor for speaking and presenting. When the music is up and work is being done you may follow, but again respect the class. The coach dictates the stereo and the clock. Use your own headphones and stopwatch if it doesn’t coincide with the class. Again, extra work is to be done at class time out of the way. You are not entitled to extra time to finish. If the extra work model does not fit your schedule, then you don’t need to be doing it. Finally you may decide that doing in a two a day style where you do part in the mornings and the rest later in the afternoon. If this fits in your schedule, it will be the best option giving you adequate recovery time and fuel (food) between these sessions.