Fitness

A System for Developing Competitive Crossfitters, Part 3


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I Make Mistakes So You Don’t Have To

Part 1 of this series

Part 2 of this series

Watching my athletes compete in the NorCal Regional was an exercise in cognitive dissonance.

For their part, all I felt was pride. The TrapZillas went out there and performed to the absolute extent of their capacity. They left it all on the floor, and I couldn’t be any happier with the effort they put forth.

For my part, I had a long list of things I had done wrong by the morning of the final day.

I don’t know that I’ve found all of the gaps yet, seen all the things I could have done better. But I think I’ve latched onto some of the most important ones. The following is a list of what they are, and how I intend to go about improving them.

1) Not treating gymnastics with the reverence it deserves.

Although CrossFit is a sport of weightlifting, gymnastics, and monostructural movements, the fact is that in competition, weightlifting and gymnastics have historically been the separators in final placement. Gymnastics is of particular importance for females. In the 2012 CrossFit Games, six of the top ten girls, and all of the top three, had a gymnastics background.

Intellectually, I understood this. In practice, I only applied it to weightlifting. Call it confirmation bias. Weightlifting is my favorite, and I would spend countless hours watching weightlifting video, talking to weightlifting coaches, and coaching my athletes on the snatch and clean & jerk. What I failed to understand that I needed to pay the same level of attention to the bodyweight components of the sport. It was not enough to simply make sure we were training muscle-ups and handstand pushups with a certain regularity. I needed to treat them exactly as I treat the lifts: using means and methods to develop strength, mechanics, and capacity, rather than arbitrarily meeting a preset frequency without actually putting any deep thought into the movements themselves. Going into the 2014 season, I plan to change this. My athletes will be spending a lot more time doing strength work (developing strict, weighted, and increased ROM versions of movements like pullups, dips, muscle-ups, and HSPU,) mechanics (using skills and drills to develop movement patterns,) and capacity (volume sessions based on tests like max kipping pullups in 3 minutes or max unbroken kipping pullups.)

2) Avoiding high volume training for too much of the season.

In the off season, I encourage my athletes to compete in weightlifting. As such, I avoided cranking the volume up until after the American Open in early December. I didn’t REALLY push it until the 6 weeks leading up to Regionals. I was worried about the dreaded “overtraining,” and about negatively impacting my athletes peak power production. I was also trying to account for the fact that my athletes have “lives.”

This was a mistake. Between watching the way my athletes responded to the high volume training during and after the Open (for example, right after Open WOD 13.3 the team had to do timed sets on snatch and clean & jerk, and nearly all of them hit BIG PRs on one or both lifts) and taking a closer look at how top athletes are training, I realized that high level CrossFit athletes can’t just handle high volume – they thrive on it. Their bodies may hurt, they may be stiff and need to warm-up more than usual, but in the end, less is not more. More is more. More is better. More wins.

3) Being too tentative about deadlifts

The deadlift is one of those things that is almost definitely going to come up in competition, and quite likely fairly heavy. In 2011, and again in 2013,  one of the workouts at Regionals was 21-15-9 of deadlifts and box jumps, with the deadlifts at 315 pounds for guys and 205 pounds for girls. No joke for 45 fast reps. In 2012, they stepped it up a notch, with an event including three rounds of seven reps at 345 for guys and 225 for girls.

My athletes have made consistent PRs in their deadlift with virtually no direct training, thanks to a whole lot of weightlifting and squats. They also hit PRs in workouts with high rep deadlifts. So what’s the problem?

After those PRs, they would simply be more smoked and for longer than they should be. CrossFit athletes can take a lot of punishment, if you let them adapt to it. In the coming season, we will do high rep deadlifts with significantly higher frequency, and maybe even throw in a cycle of some heavier pulling.

4) Not enough aerobic work.

A powerlifter once suggested to me that CrossFit is to strength sports what the marathon is to track & field. Though this may be a bit of an oversimplification, it is an interesting, and at least somewhat accurate analogy. Whether we like it or not, CrossFit is an aerobic sport, and aerobic capacity must be trained to be developed, no matter what the internet tells you. This is especially true for males. Where gymnastics tends to be the divider at the top levels for females, it seems to be aerobic capacity for males. This year, I’m going to quit worrying so much about the so-called rules of building strength, muscle, and power, and make sure my athletes are getting adequate amounts of aerobic development, both in CrossFit workouts and pure aerobic work like running, rowing, and the hateful Airdyne.

5) Not doing enough about my athletes mental state

I’ve learned a lot about how one’s mental state affects training in the last few years. I’ve worked very hard to put it into practice myself. And in the last few months, I tried to encourage my athletes to train the same way, with a calm, “show up and do work” demeanor. It became a bit of a running joke with our crew – “That squat was so stoic.” But I really believe it is a massive difference maker to be able to walk into each day’s training and be emotionally divorced from that day’s results. It stems from a deep understanding that training is a process, and what happens today is only one very small piece of what will eventually happen in competition.

The challenge is getting other people to understand that, believe it, and act like it. I’m not sure it can be done. It might be something athletes need to figure out on their own, as I had to, slowly and painfully, by fucking up and getting burnt out, repeatedly. But I’m going to try my damnedest to find a way to teach it, so that my athletes can avoid my mistakes.

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