You’ve read 10 Tips For Success For the CrossFit Newbie. You know Why You Need to Get Stronger, and How To Keep a Workout Log. You work out consistently week after week, month after month. But now you’ve started to slow down. You used to PR every time you touched a barbell or did a benchmark workout. Now your training may feel stagnant and uninspired. It could be burnout from overtraining, or maybe it’s because you spend more time making sure your knee-high socks match your trendy t-shirt than you actually spend working out. But in reality, it’s most likely that you need to take an individualized approach and begin to cycle your training. This is called periodization. Strap in, kids. It’s time to step up your pimp game and take a focused approach to The Fitness.
It Doesn’t Matter Who We Are… What Matters Is Our Plan
The overarching goal of CrossFit is to train General Physical Preparedness (GPP). If you follow any CrossFit affiliate’s programming you will achieve GPP just by showing up on a consistent basis. In order to go from good to great, and consistently perform each workout as RX’d, you need to do more than just show up. You need to block out portions of the year to set and achieve specific goals that will move you closer to becoming a beast.
It’s a phrase used over and over again from the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, to Ben Franklin and Ralph Waldo Emerson, all the way up to an inscription in Latin over the Oracle’s door in The Matrix. Whoa. It’s an introspective proverb of self-knowledge. You have to truly know yourself before you can make any real progress in anything. Who knows you better than you? You know what you’re good at and what you suck at. Make a list of the areas you need to focus on. If your list simply says: “Everything,” have someone slap you in the face, hard. Then write down STRENGTH and GYMNASTICS in big bold letters and start there. Until you can put up legitimate times/scores in the classic CrossFit workouts, you don’t need to worry about snatching your bodyweight.
A Stimulus Plan Everyone Can Get Behind
Let’s begin with a basic approach to understanding a CrossFit workout. The classic CrossFit benchmark WODs (aka The Girls) are a good place to start. The RX’d weights used in these workouts are meant to be moderate at best. This means that the weight used should be no more than 65% of your one-rep max for each particular movement. For example, in the workout Diane (21-15-9 Deadlift [225/155] & Handstand Pushups) you would want to have a one-rep max deadlift of at least 350 lbs for a male and 240 lbs for a female.
Now, you may say that your one-rep max isn’t quite at those numbers but that you can still do the RX’d weights for this particular workout without a problem. But the problem is that you’re not hitting the intended stimulus for this workout. Imagine how much higher your power output would be if you could complete this workout several minutes faster because the weight was appropriate to your individual strength levels. Remember, this is a strength endurance and conditioning workout, not a strength workout. There’s a difference.
Each workout has an intended training stimulus. Five sets of a heavy back squat with 3 minutes rest between sets is going to be a completely different stimulus on the body than running a mile.
Cycling Your Training (aka Periodization)
It’s time to level up your fitness. Think of your training like a video game and you are the main character of the game. Based on your past experience, your character enters the game with preset levels in various areas of fitness: Strength, Cardiovascular Endurance, Mobility, Gymnastics, and Strength Endurance. The range of these levels goes from 0-100. The goal is to earn points to push all of those various areas closer to 100. If you focus on all of these areas at once, you’ll slowly add points across the board. But if you were to focus the majority of your training on one area, you could make a 20-point jump in that particular area in a short period of time. Then switch your focus to another area and make a 20-point jump there. The gains will come quicker in this focused approach rather than evenly distributing your focus across all areas by doling out a few points here and a few points there.
If you are going to continually make progress, you’ll need to cycle your training. What that means is you block out 4-8 week chunks to focus on an individual area. Let’s say you take 6 weeks to get stronger in the primary barbell lifts (back squat, bench press, deadlift and strict press). This will also mean dialing back the total number and duration of metcons you do each week to allow for proper recovery. After 6 weeks you set new PRs in all of these lifts and now you carry those strength gains back to metcon town to move yourself closer to RX or improve on your past performances.
The goal in this next period would be to at the very least maintain these strength gains, and hopefully make slight increases in your strength while improving your metcon times/scores and working on a few skill-based movements. This is a very basic approach to periodization but one that you could keep going back and forth between for a long time. This approach will gradually move you closer to RX and eventually past it.
Knowing When to Deload
Who needs to deload their training? Anyone who wants to make continuous progress. Taking a Deload Week once every 4 to 6 weeks is smart training. You can’t compete every day. That’s just silly. If you find you’re peeling yourself off the floor, seeing stars, and looking like Ashy Larry after every single workout, you definitely need to back it off. If you’re someone who has trouble with consistently getting to the gym three days a week, then a deload week is not necessary. Get consistent in your training first.
If you’ve already got the consistency dialed in and are starting to teeter on overtraining, then once every 4 to 6 weeks take a week and cut all of your workouts in half. Use 50% of the weight you would normally use and do a drastically scaled version of the metcon. Give yourself an easy week and use this time to focus on skill work at a low volume and intensity. It will help you in the long run physically, mentally and hormonally, and will allow you to avoid overtraining, injuries, and to continually make progress. Don’t believe me? I find your lack of faith disturbing.
If your eyes haven’t glazed over by now, and you don’t have a puddle of drool forming on the collar of your shirt, map out your goals for the next 1, 3, and 6 months. Start with the end in mind and work backwards from there. Train hard. Train Smart. Then get out of the gym and go be an interesting human being.