“Looking Under the Hood”

Looking Under the Hood by Court Wing

When you begin training in CrossFit, it’s useful to be aware of certain factors that govern your programming and thus your progress in your strength and conditioning performance. If you look around you will see that that many boxes will divide their programming in a similar fashion: the “strength” portion of the WOD is often referred to as section A, while the “conditioning” portion is often referred to as section B. By no means are you limited to only two sections per daily WOD (many competitors follow programming that contains multiple sections per day to develop the higher capacity that is required for the high volume demands of competition). Sometimes there will only be a strength day, i.e. Back Squats 5×5 & warm-up, and other days might be reserved strictly for conditioning, a good example being the full 5 rounds of “Eva”.

In training, as in programming, the general idea is how to increase your strength in the lifts (lifting increasingly heavier weight) which should then carry over into increasing your capacity in conditioning (lifting more weight faster, for longer duration, doing more total reps, or any combination thereof). This is not to say that conditioning will magically grow by strength training alone (alas, it really doesn’t) but in terms of overall fitness qualities that will immediately impact all the others, once again strength and power have great carryover.

Regardless of which end of the spectrum in fitness you’re focussing on developing, the trick is how to avoid adaptation plateaus. In the beginning, an athlete new to CF will continue to get stronger nearly every time they lift, as their body responds to the stimulus of lifting heavier weights through a full range of motion, be it going from kneeling to a full pushup or a deep back squat with 10 more pounds than last time. But eventually this linear progression will peak and then changes have to occur in how one continues to train. There are many approaches to the theoretical top of the mountain, but in all of them, there are a couple of useful concepts and terms that make the route clearer.

When building a program and you are trying to determine how many sets and reps to use, there are three useful factors in consideration; volume, intensity, and density.

Volume is the total workload of one exercise in any given WOD, i.e. 5×5 back squats=25 BS, Fran has 21-15-9 thrusters=45 thrusters.

Intensity is the percentage of your single rep max or total rep max, i.e. 1RM OH Press is 135#, so 108# is an 80% intensity or if your unbroken pullup RM (rep max) is 50, 25 unbroken pullups represents a 50% intensity.

Density is the total workload completed in a given time; doing 3 power cleans every minute on the minute for say, 10 minutes (EMOTM) is a higher density than 3 power cleans every 2 minutes for 20 minutes. In a similar vein, doing Elizabeth in 7 minutes is denser than doing it in 9 since the volume for that workout is fixed.

As you look at your own training journal, our programming, or anyone’s for that matter, try to start seeing where these factors are improving and where they are becoming static in order to determine what your fitness goals are. Focus on improving one factor until it starts to peak or becomes static, then shift your focus on improving another one of those factors in kind. One of the great things about CF is much of this is inherent in just trying to get a PR in any given WOD, i.e. last time you got 11 rounds in Cindy, this time 14; congratulations, that’s an improvement in both your volume and density. If you did Cindy with for 10 rounds with kneeling pushups in the summer and now you do 10 rounds with full plank pushups, congrats again because you have made an improvement in your intensity. A 4×6 split squat that goes from 115# to 135# is also an improvement your intensity. This type of attention to your WODs will bring quick improvements and give you a greater sense of ownership in your training.

Next time we look under the hood, we’ll examine what metabolic and physiologic changes are occurring and how we are training to influence them to improve performance.