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A System For Developing Competitive CrossFitters, Part II: Building The Machine


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In part I, I put forth a general philosophy for the training of competitive CrossFitters. Movements are ranked by tier, dependent on three main criteria: their ability to carry over to other movements, the likelihood of their appearance in CrossFit contests, and the need to train those movements specifically in order to improve at them. We also discussed a simple timeline, breaking the athletes year into three parts: the off season, pre season, and competition season.

In this installment, I want to talk a bit more practically about things. However, before we move on, I need to clear up  an important misconception that seems to have arisen from Part I: I am not going to write you a program.

There will be no sets and reps. I am not going to talk about designing the perfect couplet or triplet. If that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t find it here, and more importantly, you are missing the point. What I am espousing is a philosophy, a lense through which to view the process of developing CrossFit athletes. If you don’t realize that you need to train the clean & jerk for 1 rep, 5 reps, and 30 reps, you haven’t figured out what CrossFit is about yet, and this article will be of little use to you.

The closest I will get to this is showing you the template I use to schedule my athletes training during the pre season and competition season.

I want you to understand this: nothing is set in stone. Nothing here is perfect, and writing a program for you to use, or for you to use with your athletes, would be a disservice to you or your athletes, because I do not know you or your athletes. We’ve never met. I don’t know what you’re good at, what you’re bad at, or what motivates you. More importantly, you need to understand that good training is an organic process. Apart from some fairly basic principles, everything is – and must be – flexible.

There are no rules. You’d better get comfortable with that.

Scheduling

Before you read any further, read what I just wrote about rules again. Got it? Good. This is just the template I use, to more easily organize the daily, weekly, monthly process of programming. It doesn’t actually matter all that much what days things happen, so long as they happen. With that said, the template we typically follow is laid out here. I follow the same rough schedule during off season, pre season, and competition season, but the nature of the workouts themselves will change dependent on the athletes needs and phase of training.

 

Monday: Snatch and/or C&J, back squat, conditioning

Tuesday: Overhead/pressing strength, gymnastics work, conditioning

Wednesday: Snatch and/or C&J, front squat, conditioning

Thursday: Active recovery

Friday: Snatch and/or C&J, conditioning (2 pieces)

Saturday: Back squat, conditioning (2 pieces)

 

Nothing particularly fancy, but I’ll talk a bit about the rationale behind the schedule and the way I program each item.

Snatch/C&J: This indicates heavy work. It does not cover the use of the lifts in conditioning sessions, which could happen any day because you know, constantly varied and stuff. During both offseason and preseason, it is generally fairly high volume. Typically I will pick a variation and stick with it for 4 weeks or so. Some of my favorites include paused snatches/clean & jerks, snatches/cleans from a deficit, and timed sets (typically 15-20 reps on :60 for the snatch, 10-15 reps on :90 for the clean & jerk.) I work in power variations, but sometimes switch them out for the full lifts for less skilled athletes (this is my philosophy with my weightlifters as well.) Sometimes we will train the clean and jerk separately, but not very often. If we do, I’ll typically work the jerk in on Tuesday in place of the overhead strength/pressing work we would typically do.

During the competition season, there is more variety in the schedule, but for the most part we still stick to this template for the lifts. However, there is a lot more work with heavy lifts in the context of CrossFit style workouts. We are in the middle of preparation for NorCal Regionals right now – here are two examples of workouts we’ve done in the last few weeks utilizing heavy snatches and clean & jerks:

AMRAP 10 minutes:

2 snatches, 85% (must be full snatch)

8 burpees (land on 45# bumper plate)

 

3 rounds, individually timed:

2 clean & jerks, 85%

Sprint 400m

Full recovery between rounds

Squatting: If you’ve read my article “Squat Development For Weightlifting,” you will find the following information familiar: for most of the year, we back squat for volume on Monday, front squat on Wednesday, and attempt to set new PRs on the back squat on Saturday. Typically I will start the volume at 3×5, gradually progress to 4×4, 5×3, and maybe 6×2. In the meantime we will push the 5RM on Saturday, switch to 3RM when it seems like most of my athletes won’t make another PR on the 5 rep (at this time, I usually give them the option of 3RM or 5RM), and occasionally test a 1RM. For the front squat, we usually stick to heavy triples, be they 5×3, 3×3, ascending, or a 3RM with drop sets. We test the max single front squat more regularly than the top single back squat because 1) I think the top set of 5 is more useful in the back squat, whereas the top single is more useful in the front squat and 2) I think a 1RM front squat is less stressful than a 1RM back squat.

After we cycle through this to the point where athletes are stagnating, I’ll work in a different program, mostly for some variety. At this time I may use something like Smolov Jr., or work on squat variations (paused squats are one of my favorites.) After that, we simply return to the meat and potatoes of our main squat program.

During the competition season, I treat the squats in much the same way as the snatch and clean & jerk. There are still three days of heavy squatting, but one of those days will typically utilize heavy squatting in a CrossFit workout. A couple examples from the past few weeks:

8 rounds for time:

3 front squats, 85% 3RM, must be unbroken

8 toes-to-bar, must be unbroken

 

5 rounds for time:

5 back squats, 80% 1RM

5 handstand pushups to challenging deficit

Overhead/Pressing Strength: The push press is the main movement I like to use for building upper body pressing strength. I work in bench press (I prefer close grip) and strict press further from the competition season. I typically stick to volume work – lots of heavy sets of 3 to 5 – with occasional 1-5RM for testing purposes. I very much view these lifts in the way a weightlifter would – as auxiliary work. The bench press because I doubt it will ever come up in a CrossFit competition, and the push/strict press because CrossFit competitions tend to prescribe shoulder-to-overhead without a specific movement, as this is the nature of the sport, and it is rare that push pressing, let alone pressing, will be the most effective method of getting the bar from the rack position to overhead. The only time it is the most effective way is during a workout with light enough weights that the shorter cycle time of push pressing is advantageous – these loads are low enough that an extra 10 pounds on an athletes max push press won’t make much of a difference.

At times and for some athletes, we may do heavy jerks from the blocks in place of push presses.

I’ll sometimes work in conditioning circuits with heavy push presses or bench presses. This is in the same style as the snatch, C&J, and squats, but I’ll do it fairly regularly outside of the competition season. A sample workout:

8 rounds for time:

3 push press, 85% 1RM

15 Russian kettlebell swings, 32kg/24kg

 

“Monterey”

5 rounds for total reps:

Max strict press, 135#/85#

Max L-Pullups

Rest between sets but do not rest between press/pullups. Any grip is allowed on the L-Pullups.

 

Conditioning: Sorry, no magic here. Mostly couplets and triplets, high intensity, focusing in on the 8-15 minute range. Running and rowing intervals are a fairly big part of our programming, especially during the off season, and longer efforts become a bigger part of training during the pre season and competition season, particularly as part of active recovery days. But the really important stuff is 100% pure CrossFit: thrusters and pullups and running and cleans and kettlebell swings and pushups and overhead squats and you get the picture. Keep the intensity high, vary the loads from very light to very heavy, and focus on the most crucial movements. And don’t forget about the Prowler, because your athletes already hate you, so you might as well make it worse. Some coaches structure their conditioning around their strength programming. I believe this is a mistake, as it limits the variety with which you can work.

Auxliary Movements: Of course we do auxiliary work. During the off season, we do all kinds of assistance exercises. These may vary from rows, several variations of strict and weighted pullups/chins, strict and weighted ring dips and bar dips, RDLs, walking lunges, to prehab work with bands and light weights. They may be done on their own, or as part of an untimed circuit with abdominal movements, low back strengthening exercises, skill practice or mobility drills. I really believe that when it comes to auxiliary work, the important thing is just getting it done.

Hopefully this has provided you with a clear look into the thought process behind my programming. Again, keep in mind that there is no equation, no brilliantly planned and executed madness to my method. The basic principles are what matter.

Individualization: You have to work on your weaknesses. By nature, this is an individual process, and beyond the scope of this article. The following is a very basic framework of how I individualize training for my competitive CrossFitters: I work with my athletes one-on-one throughout the year to make sure they’re regularly practicing skills they are deficient in. During the competition season, two days a week have specific weakness programming, and athletes are provided with skill circuits to perform daily, which change slightly week-to-week. These circuits are focused on improving proficiency in lacking areas and accumulating volume in commonly seen movements such as chest-to-bar pullups.

Part III will be released after NorCal Regionals.  We will take an in-depth look at what my athletes did during the competition season from the Open through Regionals, and what things I think I could have done better.

Jacob Tsypkin is a CrossFit and weightlifting coach, and the co-owner of CrossFit Monterey and the Monterey Bay Barbell Club in Monterey, CA.
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