“Stick to the basics and when you feel you’ve mastered them it’s time to start all over again, begin anew – again with the basics – this time paying closer attention.” – Greg Glassman
In today’s day and age of functional fitness training, programs catering to “competitive” athletes are in no short supply. A simple google search can pull upwards of 100 individual blog pages showcasing some of the most progressive minds in training applications to date.
However, what happens when your average, even advanced, fitness athletes stumble upon these sites in hopes of placing their current fitness level on par with the best in the world?
Let’s back track just a bit…
In today’s fitness arena, athletes that would be considered “elite” throw around big weight, move really fast and push well beyond their mental barriers. These elite athletes showcase Sub 2:30 “Frans”, 15-minute “Filthy Fifty” times, squat upwards of 450# and can snatch 275+ pounds. These athletes have not only found mastery of their engines (their cardiovascular aptitude), but they also have an extremely advanced grasp of weightlifting and gymnastics movements. Workouts like “30 Muscle Ups for Time” turn into 2 minute anaerobic bouts when the average athlete would look at it as a skill session.
To place these athletes into a “competitive” program would be akin to the advanced athletes within our affiliate performing a workout in the gym as prescribed. Why? Because to challenge them means to up the standards a bit.
Now, visualize a “great” athlete at your affiliate. They can bust out a 2:50 Fran, go Sub 1:40 on “Grace” and can rep 225# Snatches for sets of 3-5. These advanced athletes show great aptitude for handling the program and as a coach, you feel that your gym’s programming is not challenging them enough.
So what is the answer? Do you start programming two workouts a day in order to increase their engine? Do you place them in a corner during class times and tell them to follow one of the “elite” coach’s programming?
Answer: C – None of the Above.
A 2:50 “Fran” is great. 99% of CF athletes would kill for that time. However, as a coach, you must ask yourself, “What is keeping them from a 2:20 ‘Fran?’”
Most of the time, it is not their motor or their strength (two commonly chosen areas that are “easy” to assign extra work to). Athletes that possess the capacity to go sub 3 minutes on 21-15-9 thrusters and pull ups probably also have the physical capacity to perform the workout even faster. However, there is likely one thing that is holding them back: their movement.
An athlete’s “threshold” is the point in which their movement turns from “great” to “ok.” Once the threshold has been met, the movement becomes less than perfect and efficient form + technique are no longer present. This would be why a very strong athlete can muscle through a 2:50 Fran, but ask him to go any faster and he falls apart, or even worse, simply can not finish.
For the sake of the argument, let’s say that the athlete is flawless in his 95# thrusters, but his pull-ups get a bit shaky when asked to move cycle them very quickly in unbroken sets. It may not necessarily be his lack of strength to perform the movement, but a lack of kinesthetic awareness having been built surrounding the movement performed at an upmost level of intensity.
Now, let’s say we have this athlete follow a “competitive” program that not only asks for high repetitions multiple times per week of pull-ups (let’s say 50-80 per workout), let’s say they are asked to be “chest-to-bar” during practically even bout. Do to the athlete’s inability to perform standard pull-ups at a rapid rate below his current threshold level, we can expect the more difficult “chest-to-bar” variation to become even more apparently disconnected. In short, the athlete’s threshold for the movement is going to be moved lower than that of his standard pull-up, forcing the athlete to move more slowly through the repetitions in an effort to maintain adequate energy levels.
“Be inspired by Intensity, not volume” – Greg Glassman
Fast forward to 3 months down the line: It’s a friday afternoon, and you are retesting “Fran.” Not only has the athlete been performing a LOT of pull-ups, they have been “chest-to-bar” for the most part. A s coach, you are convinced that by upping the difficulty in training, the standard 45 pull-ups in “Fran” will be a piece of cake. On top of that, the athlete has been doing thrusters at 135# at least 3 times per month, so the 95 should be easy as well.
As your athlete finishes their last pull-up, you look at the clock and it reads 3:35. Not only had he gotten slower overall, but you were forced to que his movement as well as his intensity level more this time around.
What the heck happened?
The truth of the matter is that your athlete was no longer following a program that was 1. within his limits, nor was it 2. geared for him weaknesses.
Instead of placing the athlete into a program that focus on heavier weight and increased ranges of motion, the athlete should have taken a step back, and worked on his intensity threshold training – ie. mastering the basic pull-up and performing it under extremely high levels of intensity.
One plan of plausible attack would have been to force him into learning how to control his body routinely through sets of 10-20 traditional pull-ups (*cough cough* “Tabata” interval training perhaps). This would have given him a better grasp of how to maintain solid positioning throughout both higher volume, unbroken sets, as well as with a high level of intensity.
Ok, that might help answer the Pull-Up questions, but what about the thrusters? 95 pounds should have been light!
Sure, your athlete may have gotten stronger in terms of max muscular contractile potential, but how efficient was he now at performing larger sets of unbroken thrusters? Instead of training his body to handle the control and time under load necessary for 21/15/9 unbroken reps (25-40 seconds), his body had adapted to handling 6-10 reps (12-20 seconds). Yes he was increasing his overall strength, but neglecting lighter weight repetitions caused a decrease in his muscular endurance overall.
Ironically, forcing your athlete to take a step back and work on the fundamental movements even more routinely than the advanced movements an approach to help make your BEST athletes even better; it is the same approach to helping your novice athletes move better, adapt to higher intensity sessions and progress within your affiliate.
“The needs of your grandmother and the Olympic athlete differ by degree, not kind” – CrossFit, Inc.
…back to reality now…
Yes, this may be a fictitious scenario, however, it is one that is seen quite frequently within the affiliate atmosphere. Before we attempt to make an athlete better through increasing demands, we must force the athlete to master the original stimulus.
‘You can’t make a old house withstand a hurricane without, first, reinforcing the roof.”
The same rings true for your athletes. Before you can make an athlete stronger or faster, you must make sure that their movement is not what is holding them back.