As of writing there is roughly 250 days until the 22nd February is upon us. More precisely 252 days, 18 hours, 52 minutes and 27 seconds.
This date probably seems somewhat inauspicious to most but for those with something resembling memory you’ll know that this was the opening date of the 2018 CrossFit Open. That gives us only 36 weeks to prepare. In the grand scheme of things this is no time at all.
If you really want to improve your CrossFit and make a competitive run and the Open then it’s time to start considering how you’re going to train to prepare your body for it. As I’m sure you know that there is a manifold number of ways to get to any destination, but I want to give you some thing actionable that you can put into practice to help yourself out.
Have a structure that lends itself to success.
Programming within a structure that gives you the direction to have a winning performance is the biggest part of making Open prep easy. Making the right decision is hard when you have to think about what to do all the time. If you have a structure which guides you and tells you what decisions to make over and over again then the process becomes simple and you can practically fall towards success.
This is fairly useless without guidance upon how to set said structure up.
You don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been (Assessment and Testing; Weeks 1 and 2)
This means testing and assessment. You need to know where you’re strong, you need to know more where you’re weak. More importantly you need to test what’s important to CrossFit (which is pretty much everything) or at the very least figure out what the key performance indicators in CrossFit for you are.
A non-exclusive list of what you might want to test look something like:
- Low threshold movement quality
- Low threshold fatigued movement quality
- High Threshold movement quality
- Aerobic Capacity
- Aerobic Power
- Lactic Capacity
- Lactic Power
- Alactic Capacity
- Alactic Power
- Heart Rate Recovery
- Postural Analysis
Once you have all this tested (and maybe a few other things) you should have a better idea of where you’re starting.
If it’s not broke don’t fix it
(Introduction Block: Exploration of Individual Time to Adaptation)
I was doing my client calls today and I was lucky enough to speak to three of the strongest people in the world in their respective sports:
Travis Ortmayer, Hikaru Komiyawa, and Katrishia Lee.
Travis is, literally, one of the Worlds Strongest Men (you know the ones you watch on TV at Christmas) and professional strongman. Hikaru and Kat are but International Elite Powerlifters. They are however very different athletes. Travis is something of a lightweight in WSM at 6 foot 4 and, currently, 315 pound (22 and a half stone or 143 kilo) but he is also pushing the envelope age wise (also worth noting a male of western Bavarian heritage). Roo and Kat are both sub 56kg and 5 foot on a good day and of Japanese and Korean backgrounds respectively. You could not think of a more different trio of people. It should seem self-evident that Travis should work the same way as the girl (even putting aside the sports differences).
It’s way simpler even than gender differences. The whole point of any kind of training is to challenge the body to adapt to a stimulus. Too much or too little of a stimulus and we don’t adapt or may even have a negative change. On top of this each person takes a different amount of time to before a given stimulus, of exercise protocol, stops eliciting a change in the body. For example, there would have been a time when you were a baby that walking would build and strengthen muscle. Now you’ve walked so much that it’d very unlikely that just walking would build muscle.
To go back to our diversity trio Travis has to change his exercise selection every 3 weeks, if he spends more time on it he doesn’t see any greater benefit. Hikaru however takes 9 weeks to cease adaptation. Kat, as similar as she seems to Roo takes only 5 weeks to stop seeing improvement from one thing. Let’s compare Hikaru to Travis, if Roo relied of just assuming Travis’ program was right she would miss out of 6 weeks (!) of improvements she could see. Likewise, if Travis tried Roo’s programming he would stop seeing improvement after 3 weeks and potentially waste 6 weeks he could be spending doing something else that would bring improvement.
The same lies both ways for Kat although she isn’t closer to the norm (4 to 6 weeks) but then if you look at the actual amount of work Kat does she keeps improving under a total stimulus that’d crush a less genetically gifted person. This point being that it’s not just how many weeks you do the program for before you stop seeing improvements but also how often you do each exercise and exercise “family”. Kat has about between 12 and 15 “exposures” to a movement, I’ll let you figure out how often that means she is doing each lift.
With all that prelude, now it comes to the implications to your training. If you know and test how long it takes you to can makes the most of every single on of these short 36 weeks count. You won’t have wasted weeks or even wasted days. Every week will be one week closer to your best CrossFit Open performance.
A castle is only as strong as it’s foundation
(Forge Block: Building the engine and structure that you need to perform)
The Open is, for most, the pinnacle of their CrossFit life each year. It’s the time of the year where performance matters the most and isn’t just a case of recording a benchmark to judge or measure themselves by.
In regard to creating a program structure this mans everything that isn’t the open (i.e. the next 36 weeks) is a chance to build up the capacity to work at a higher level in the open. In the context of CrossFit working at a higher level often means in a higher amount of force output in a given time. The problem, or at least potential problem, here becomes that training consistently becomes trying to display peak output rather than working to develop peak output.
If you take the below graph we are looking at a theoretical work output (just using Arbitrary Units for power output) against Heart Rate. Bearing in mind this is just an example to demonstrate the importance of building general aerobic work capacity base and that red indicates reaching past anaerobic threshold (where the performance stops being aerobic and becomes unsustainable) look at “what the “pre-training” curve tells us.
- Anerobic threshold occurs at 150 beats per minute and at 60 Arbitrary Units of power.
- Work below 150bpm and 60AU is sustainable
- Work Above 150bpm and 60AU is unsustainable
Now let’s consider briefly how aerobic training works:
If we are smart and precise about how we combine the different ways we approach aerobic training there is a ton of different variables we can manipulate to keep improving our work capacity even after 2 years of consistent training (Fig 2. is modified from the work of Saltin, B et al.)
The result of this smart and precise approach to aerobic work capacity is shown in the the “post-training” curve in Fig. 1. If we follow the same process as with the “pre-training” curve and look at what it tells us:
- Anerobic threshold occurs at roughly 160 beats per minute and at 90 Arbitrary Units of power.
- Work below 160bpm and 90AU is sustainable
- Work Above 160bpm and 90AU is unsustainable
Please remember these are just example numbers and not wouldn’t necessarily mean a 50% increase in power output at threshold. But, if you look at the cumulative effects of all the different systemic adaptations of smart aerobic training a 50% increases over a 6 to 12 (up to 24+) month period isn’t unreasonable.
On top of building this general capacity to perform work time the “Forging” blocks are the ideal time to start building structural integrity and resilience. I’ve written a short amount upon the importance of structural integrity already but to quickly sumarise: Unless you have the muscle mass and strength to hold a position statically you have no busines trying to lift near maximal weights dynamically. This time away from the open is best used to development size, mid-range strength, and movement skills so when it comes to the point swhere you want to sharpen yourself and abuild to a peak performance you are capable of, not only, much more but doing that heavier and higher level work in a safer and more efficient way.
Hitting a target consistently means a lot of reloading
(Tempering Block: Re-sensitising to the primary training stimulus)
As mentioned earlier each individual has a certain amount of time or exposures to a training stimulus before they stop having a positive change. Once this adaptation window is closed the body needs a chance to re-sensitise to the training stimulus.
In this case it is a very positive opportunity for you to practice more some of the more esoteric aspects of CrossFit. When we’re looking what we should do whilst re-sensitising to the main training goals it’s everything different; a chance to brush up on multi-planar movements, dedicate more time and recovery to skill-based exercises like weightlifting and gymnastics, maybe even have a foray into more game-based training. In short, you’re doing things that will undoubtably benefit your main Forge blocks but are different enough that they won’t challenge the same systems in the same way.
Please don’t let the briefness of this summary detract from the importance of each Tempering Block. This is still training for the open. Just because you might be training at a slightly reduced intensity or volume it doesn’t mean that you’re not working towards something or progressing towards a serious goal.
Refining the process
(Sharpening Block: Maximal Strength, Power, Lactic and Alactic Capacity and Power)
This is where you get to see the reward for the patience and perseverance you’ve put in. When the time is appropriate and you’re ready move into learning to display everything you’ve been working for. This might only happen 2 times in the 36 weeks and then again in the direct lead up to the open.
It’s where you’ll focus on the hard work; maximal strength, maximal power, short duration capacity work at high intensity. It’s intensity driven and therefore recovery demanding. You need to coordinate the drive to go heavy and the mental resilience to keep learning how to work within your new work output capacity.
When you switch into the higher threshold work the adaptations that your asking your body to adapt to switch from being structural to being neural. Without going too in depth it turns into coordinating and using what you’ve built more efficiently.
On paper this block is the most fun, in reality it’s the hard work and grind that sets you up to peak. The downside is that after the session being “tired” turns into being “fatigued”. Think of this a soft and hard tiredness. When you’re “tired” the chances are you’re starting to move fairly quickly into a state where you can recover, when fatigue hits it’s you digging yourself into “recovery hole“ and you then need to be actively working to fill in that hole with recovery work and extra.
You have all the info now to build your own plan to get the best possible physical preparation for next years CrossFit open or critique the any program that you’re doing so you can understand the reasoning and purpose around what you’re doing.
If you do have any questions on any of the above please just drop me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
If this way of coaching makes sense and you want to prepare for the open with me keep you eye’s open for the my Open Prep Class where you’ll go through all of the above from an in depth assessment all the way through individualised programming within the classes.