Thursday, March 26, 2015

Tales from the front - The Crossfit Open and thoughts on how to attack a met-con

"Failure is the foundation of success, and the means by which it is achieved"

Lao Tsu

This is absolutely one of my most favorite times of the year. Yes, March is my birthday month, but it also includes the start of the Classics race season for the pro peloton with Milan San Remo, and of course, its the start of the road to the Crossfit Games with the Crossfit Open. This year, I decided to take on the Open with some friends and athletes from INTENT. Its been an eye opening experience that has shown me holes in my fitness and a new way of competing that I have never experienced in all my years of endurance sports. I have found it so enlightening and educational that I would challenge all endurance athletes who have mixed feelings about functional fitness to give the Open a shot. It will give you a new level of respect for the people who do compete in events like the Open or the Games, not to mention, show you "fit" you really are, or aren't.

Now, I know what some of you endurance junkies are thinking - "why should I try this? What does it matter to me?" Well, before you go bragging about how many miles you've tacked on this week, while nursing some injury and feeling burnt out, maybe, just maybe, you'll realize that fitness means more than simply riding, running or swimming long distances. That there is a real need to incorporate strength and conditioning to your endurance training. Because, if you are watching closely, those top level functional fitness athletes, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people who do functional fitness every day, aren't simply getting fitter, they are moving better, living healthier and, wait for it - not getting injured or burned out. Yeah, I know, there are injuries from functional fitness. I am aware of the statistics. However, the amount of injuries from functional fitness isn't even in the stratosphere of the number of injuries linked to running, or multisport, where over-training, and lack of skill work is a recipe for disaster.

Although I would love to go on about the benefits of functional fitness, especially for endurance athletes, one thing that I have realized as a coach and athlete while competing in the Open as well programming compound pieces at INTENT, is the need to have a plan or understanding how to approach them. Its amazing how even seasoned athletes look at a compound piece and are baffled as to how to pace the work. So, I thought this would be a great opportunity to explain how to not only pace these workouts but get the most out of them.

Compound pieces come in different flavors - AMRAP's - or As Many Rounds As Possible, in a certain period of time - i.e. - 10 min AMRAP, or Rounds of work - i.e. 5 rounds of "xyz" for time, or Chippers - i.e. 50 KB swings, 40 pull ups, 30 front squats, 20 box jumps, 10 burpees for time. Some compound pieces have time caps where the clock can "save you" while others are for time, meaning, you keep working until every rep is done. In an AMRAP, you must keep working until the designated time period is up. In workouts that are for time - your pace dictates how long the workout will be. Whether the piece is time capped or not, regardless of what movements are programmed in the compound piece, this post is designed to provide a road map to attack compound pieces of 3 different time domains.

First up - a workout that is 7  minutes or less. For most people, especially those new to functional fitness, think of a workout that is either an 7 min AMRAP, or a 21-15-9 of 2 to 3 different movements for time. When it comes to pace - first, acknowledge the movements in the workout that you are good at, and ones that give you fits. Know that you will need to expend a bit more energy on the stuff you suck at, and use the movements in your wheelhouse to recover, and make up some time. But your overall pace is this - start at 95% of your maximum effort and get to 100% rather quickly, and stick it. Its 7 minutes or less of work, yes it will suck, but you will survive. So, prepare to suffer, but know it will be over fairly quick. The goal is to learn to stay above threshold, in a very uncomfortable place for short periods in an effort to up your pain tolerance as well as improve power and speed. Embrace the suck, go for redline.

Once workouts get past the 7-8 minute range, you need to pace a bit smarter - meaning, you need a bit more strategy. Workouts that tend towards the 10-12 minute range require you start out  bit slower, dosing out your effort with more caution. With that said, the first rule still applies - assess the work - what's in your wheelhouse, and what isn't, knowing where you will lose time, and where you will make up time. Then, you want to dial back your effort to about 90% at the start, be at 95% of max effort at the half way point, and then the last 3rd of the workout, your effort should be at max. Again, this isn't  sprint, but its not a marathon, so for the endurance athletes out there, think of how you would approach a 5k. Start out hard, but not at 100%, then build to that max effort. Bottom line - this hurts, but it should be more controlled.

Which leaves us with the 3rd and for most people, the least favorite, the long compound. Meaning workouts that are over the 15 minute mark and can approach the 40-45 minute range. For you functional fitness athletes, think anything from "Cindy" to "Chelsea" to "Murph". For those who don't know those workouts, here's how to approach these pieces. First rule still applies. (See above). Second rule, and this is super critical - use your brain. Assess the work, be honest with yourself, and be prepared to dig in. If the workout is long, worst thing you can do is to go in blind, just hoping that everything will be ok. As someone who has done that, let me say, bad move. There is nothing worse than looking at a white board with a lot of work, and knowing that you have flamed out in the first 3 minutes, hands on your knees, gasping for air. So, start out at 80-85% and slowly increase your effort. If its a long AMRAP - see if you can get in more rounds in the second half of the workout than the first. If its rounds for time, see if you can negative split each round. But start slower and then ramp up finishing at 100%. Think more of how you would approach a 10k or half marathon. You know going out too hard in a 10k means that the last 5 miles of the race are going to SUCK. So I refer you to rule number 2. Use that bad boy. Its not just 12 lbs of  grey matter sitting on your shoulders.

Now, couple of other crucial tips - when you are assessing the workout, there will be prescribed weights or specific metrics to use. This is where the honest internal conversation needs to take place, and the ego needs to be duct tapped shut. Note - I am NOT suggesting going too light or basically not challenging yourself in a workout. Example - if you know you can do dumbbell thrusters at 25 lbs per arm, don't grab the 10lbs simply so you can have the fastest time. You have cheated yourself, the workout, and everyone in the class. I'm not suggesting half- assing. And I've seen it more often than I would like to remember. You know who you are, so this is your warning, I'm on to you, so knock it off.

However, the flip side applies too. If the workout calls for 185 lb deadlifts, and you have to do 50 of them, and your 1 rep max is 185, maybe its not the best idea to strap that bar with 185 and spend the next 20 minutes on 1 piece of the workout, just so you can say "F ya man, I rx'd that workout!!!" That's assuming you haven't torched your low back in the process. So, don't be "that guy/girl" and check your ego at the door.

Most important, and I can't stress this enough, never dog a workout. You might think no one is paying attention, but people are, mainly coaches. Not to mention, other people in class who are busting their asses, sweating like hookers in church, watching you dab your temples sipping on your water as you finish 10 minutes ahead of everyone else. That's a sign that you let fear dictate your effort level. And with that attitude, you will never get the full benefit of the workout, meaning you will not progress with your fitness at the rate that you should.

If you are new to these workouts - START SLOW. Focus on movement over speed and weight. This is true for everyone, but particularly for people new to this style of training. I don't care if you are a sub 10 hour Ironman, this isn't a multisport race. This is completely different. So go slow. Again, check your ego at the door.

Final note- have fun. Classes like this are small, and your classmates are there to encourage you. You are a small tribe, so use each other as support. Lean on each other when things get tough. I know that for those of you who train at INTENT understand this so keep that in mind when you are getting ready for class. And smile, because, well, why the hell not? Its supposed to be fun.

Stay strong,