In part 3, we took a more in-depth look at how the aerobic energy system affects the other energy systems in terms of the energy it makes (or doesn’t make) them produce. In short, the more horsepower the aerobic system has, which is the energy system that can go theoretically forever, the less your body has to rely on the lactic and alactic energy systems, which have a limited amount of time they can produce energy for.
In part 4, we’re going to look at how we might periodize a CrossFitter’s program to allow for skill and characteristic development.
So let’s say our athlete that we’re planning out programming for is at the beginning of their off-season. They just finished Regionals and didn’t qualify for the Games. Since they were a bit beat up from their intense training for the Open and Regionals, they took about a month off and are about ready to get back at it.
We’ve already established that aerobic capacity is important to increase in just about any athlete, especially CrossFitters. This will be one of the first characteristics we focus on. Again, having a well-developed aerobic system will aid in helping an athlete recover well between sets and sessions and will help take the load off the other energy systems when it comes to longer duration workouts.
We typically choose to train one or two characteristics at once because it isn’t so many characteristics that the body can’t adapt and really reach an exceptional level of fitness. We also leave some room to work on any skills that need to be developed. This is why we identify one other characteristic that we need to work towards at this stage of the program.
The other characteristic that we see so many CrossFitters need is maximum strength. Unless you’re back squatting near 500 lbs and deadlifting well beyond that (for males), you’re in the same boat. For our theoretical athlete, we’ll use the same scenario. At this point in their off-season, he’ll be working on maximum strength alongside aerobic capacity.
Now that we’ve established which characteristics we’re going to work on, we can set some ground rules for training these two together.
It isn’t typical to think about training to get stronger and better endurance at the same time. For a
CrossFitter, however, it’s something that needs to be done. The biggest thing that we pay attention to is the amount of time in between intense sessions.
The intense sessions are the ones that will really drive the body to adapt to a stimulus. Whether the most recent session was a hard strength session or a longer, aerobic capacity-focused session, we need to give it some time to adapt and recover. Usually around 24 hours between these very intense sessions is a good rule of thumb. This helps avoid the body getting ‘’confused’’ and trying to adapt to stimuli whose adaptations are typically thought of as opposites of each other.
Keeping this in mind, we can start to get creative with our training. I’m not going to list the various methods we can use to get an athlete stronger or increase their endurance, but just remember that there isn’t only one route. Using different methods keeps the athlete motivated in their training instead of allowing it to get stale, which will tend to lead an athlete towards overtraining.
This aerobic capacity and maximum strength focused training will take up a large part of the off-season’s training for a CrossFitter. These are two characteristics that severely limit the performance of an athlete in the long run. They also have the longest residual effects, meaning after we shift our focus away from them, they are the characteristics that will ‘’stick’’ the longest.
The adaptations for the lactic system typically don’t take as long to develop as aerobic capacity and maximum strength, so we don’t really hit this type of training extremely hard until it’s time to peak for a competition. Alongside these two characteristics, we also like to have athletes working on their skills year round as long as it doesn’t interfere with their other training.
These skills might involve kipping pullups, muscle ups, double unders or handstand pushups.
Anything that a CrossFitter needs to be good at that doesn’t directly interfere with their aerobic capacity and maximum strength adaptations. With this in mind, we also want to help protect the athlete’s joints. A lot of movements that CrossFit has their athlete’s do are very tough on the joints and, while they might be doing a large volume of them in competition, we don’t want to wreck their body in training before a competition even starts.
A few other thoughts on how a CrossFitter’s off-season should be structured during this period:
If we take a look at the guys (and girls) at the games, 99% of them are great at the Olympic lifts. This isn’t a mistake. Not only are the Snatch and Clean and Jerk a big part of a lot of the workouts in CrossFit, but the strength and explosiveness that training for them and doing them builds is extremely important for CrossFitters. For this reason, we tend to have our CrossFitters really focus on the Olympic lifts throughout their training.
While the overwhelming majority of our training in this stage is going to be focused on aerobic capacity and maximum strength development, it’s okay if we have a CrossFitter do a typical WoD once or twice a week. Doing something like this after a strength session won’t kill the adaptations that we’re going for and a lot of times it’s good for the athlete’s mentality. Doing this can also keep an athlete in somewhat of competition shape in case they want to do a few competitions throughout the year. When we run into trouble is when an athlete starts to want to do a WoD every single day. This can not only lead to overtraining but also interfere with the adaptations of what the main focus of their training is.
Starting off a CrossFitter’s off-season the right way will set him or her up to do big things later on whenever they want to be at their best. We start off by really dialing in their aerobic capacity and maximum strength. During this time, we keep hammering the skills and any other work that won’t interfere with the adaptations that we’re focusing on at the time.
While we try to keep the typical WoD out of it, having the athlete go through them every once in a while can have its benefits. The main focus is to keep sight of the long term goal and plan. This stage is setting the athlete up to maximize the characteristics that help the athlete peak for their main competition, namely Regionals or the Games.