Saturday, June 24, 2006

Step Up

There's a problem in Crossfit-land. We've taken our benchmark workouts as prescribed, and we've imposed them on every workout we do.

Fran is done with a 95 pound bar for men and a 65 pound bar for women.

Fight Gone Bad is done with a 95 pound bar for men and a 65 pound bar for women.

So, the next time we incorporate thrusters, push presses, or sumo deadlift high pulls into a workout, we'll use 95 pounds for the men and 65 pounds for the women. It makes sense on the surface--we'll train for our benchmarks. To become proficient at 95 pound thrusters, you should do 95 pound thrusters.

There is a huge flaw in this mode of thinking. It's akin to training for the mile by doing the 40 yard dash. It will only get you so far.

Fran and FGB are benchmarks. They are two of the contests by which we measure progress. If we're going to treat them like contests, I believe we should train for them like contests. We should exceed their demands.

If I want to do 95 pound thrusters well, I could train 95 pound thrusters. Or, I could train 100 pound thrusters, 110 pound thrusters, and 135 pound thrusters. The second option is more effective.

At some point, you reach the limits of your capacity. You can do 21 95-pound thrusters only so fast. You'll see this when you watch the superstars of Crossfit. One rep right after the other, unbroken sets, no rest between exercises, using the prescribed weight.

This is a plateau.

It's a plateau we'd all like to reach, but it represents the end of progress. It's the pinnacle of power output at a specific weight. The athlete cannot move any faster. To increase power output and maintain progress, the athlete has to up the weight.

Let's say I do 21 95-pound thrusters in 1:20, every time I do them. This time represents 100% of my capacity at 95 pounds.

Instead of sticking with 95 pounds, I up the weight to 110. I repeatedly do 110-pound thrusters, getting my time to 1:30. This is 100% of my capacity at 110.

Now, I go back to 95 pounds. Will my thrusters be faster?

They should be. 110 pounds in 1:30 equates to 95 pounds in 1:18.

110/1.5 minutes = 95/x minutes

73.33 = 95/x

x = 95/73.33
x = 1.29 minutes
x = 1:17:73

By doing thrusters at 110, you're increasing your ability to produce power. That increased ability translates to a lower time with 95 pounds.

I've been warned against complex mathematical proofs, and you're probably sick of power output calculations. I just erased the one I was going to show you. Suffice to say that increasing your ability to produce power reduces the time you need to move a load. In shorthand, you're stronger.

Don't settle for a fast time, and quit measuring yourself against the other people in the room. At some point you have to look inward, and measure your progress against yourself.

If your times are consistent and quick, it's time to up the weight. Push for new levels of power output. You won't be the fastest one in the room, but you'll be making progress. In the long-term, this is much more important.

Train beyond the benchmarks. When you get back to them, you'll blow them away. When you hit the top of the scoreboard, start over. There's no honor in being the best if you can be better.

Go faster!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jon, love your website and your post for Saturday the 24th.
I agree and have recently decided it is more about competing and challenging myself and not the others in the room. Part of the reason I tend to do some of the workouts on my own, instead of in the class setting.
Looking forward to reading some of your prior posts. Great to see you in Topsfield and hope to see you again soon.


6/25/2006 09:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like where you're going with your suggestion that people should keep adding challenges to avoid the plateau. I'd call it the dreaded plateau, but I doubt 99% of us think about that place very often. We'll worry about it when we get there; it's very far off.

I got your point. In the military, there are a select people whose scores are too high to measure by regular fitness tests such as the BPFA and PFT.
I've known some who worked ten years to reach that level, and others who never trained but somehow could run a three-minute mile - backwards. These are the people who gravitate towards a higher benchmark: special forces, a commission or Coy stores. Crossfit will go the same way. New benchmarks will emerge.
An aside worth mentioning here is that a lot of people do Crossfit to train for non-Crossfit benchmarks that award maximum scores for less than maximum conditioning - and those people might be more likely plateau. That isn't Crossfit's problem, though.

The thing about benchmarks is that they're just that. A common standard. They don't preclude people from using higher weights during their regular workouts. I'm glad to say that I've never heard anyone at Crossfit say, "keep that weight, it's the Fran weight." Any rational Crossfitter (Crossfitketeer?) will naturally increase the weight based on the progress their body makes - unfettered by considerations of JT and Daniel.

So, I agree with the slant of what you're saying, but Crossfit seems to be just the kind of regime that doesn't have a problem with self-limitation. I've never heard of people (at Crossfit Boston or on the Crossfit website) who train only for the benchmarks. Even if 50% of Crossfitters did as you said, that wouldn't be a problem with Crossfit - just the priorities of these individuals. I'm sure Coach and other voices of the official Crossfit would advise them to think differently.

The key for people who can ace these benchmarks is to develop higher benchmarks for them. And since Crossfit is a living, breathing thing, these benchmarks will make their way into canon.


PS: Here's a nice academic article on power output.

6/25/2006 09:47:00 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Gilson said...

Toby, that may be the most coherent thing you've ever said :) Thanks for the comment. I think you're dead-on.

Crossfit is the apex of creativity, progress, and athletic expression. I hope it will always be that way.

This article is a warning against complacency. We all need to be reminded sometimes, myself included.

Dawn, I'm glad you enjoy the site. It was great to work with you guys, and I'm looking forward to seeing you all at the Boston Cert, if not before.

To all: The facility and the coaching at Crossfit Topsfield was awesome. Stop by there if you get a chance--it's worth every minute.

94 Central St., Topsfield, MA

6/25/2006 10:23:00 PM  

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