Here we go again boys and girls! Part 6 of our CrossFit series is here. In today’s post we will be looking at the various types of training CrossFit uses and how to implement them into your training. This is a long one but it is definitely well worth the read. Be sure to come back next week where we will look at how all of the below types of training should be ranked according to the Hierarchy of Development. Then we will delve deeper into the base and peak of that developmental pyramid by looking at Nutrition (Base) and Sport (Peak).
If you need to catch up you can find parts 1-5 below.
Read Part 1 – What is Fitness and Who is Fit? here
Read Part 2 – CrossFit’s 1st Fitness Standard here
Read Part 3 – CrossFit’s 2nd Fitness Standard here
Read Part 4 – CrossFit’s 3rd Fitness Standard here
Read Part 5 – The Continuum here
Part 6 – Implementation (By Greg Glassman, CrossFit Journal, OCT 2002)
Our fitness, being “CrossFit,” comes through molding men and women that are equal parts gymnast, Olympic weightlifter and multi-modal sprinter or “sprintathlete.” Develop the capacity of a novice 800-meter track athlete, gymnast and weightlifter and you will be fitter than any world-class runner, gymnast or weightlifter. Let us look at how CrossFit incorporates metabolic conditioning (“cardio”), gymnastics and weightlifting to forge the world’s fittest men and women.
Metabolic Conditioning, or “Cardio”
Biking, running, swimming, rowing, speed skating and cross-country skiing are collectively known as “metabolic conditioning.” In the common vernacular they are referred to as “cardio.” CrossFit’s third fitness model, the one that deals with metabolic pathways, contains the seeds of the CrossFit “cardio” prescription. To understand the CrossFit approach to “cardio” we need first to briefly cover the nature and interaction of the three major pathways.
Of the three metabolic pathways the first two, the phosphagen and the glycolytic, are “anaerobic,” and the third, the oxidative, is “aerobic.” We needn’t belabor the biochemical significance of aerobic and anaerobic systems; suffice it to say that understanding the nature and interaction of anaerobic exercise and aerobic exercise is vital to understanding conditioning. Just remember that efforts at moderate to high power and lasting less than several minutes are anaerobic and efforts at low power and lasting in excess of several minutes are aerobic. As an example, the sprints at 100, 200, 400, and 800 meters are largely anaerobic, and events such as 1,500 meters, the mile, 2,000 meters and 3,000 meters are largely aerobic.
Aerobic training benefits cardiovascular function and decreases body fat—all good. Aerobic conditioning allows us to engage in low-power extended efforts efficiently (cardio/respiratory endurance and stamina). This is critical to many sports. Athletes engaged in sports or training where a preponderance of the training load is spent in aerobic efforts witness decreases in muscle mass, strength, speed and power. It is not uncommon to find marathoners with a vertical leap of only several inches! Furthermore, aerobic activity has a pronounced tendency to decrease anaerobic capacity. This does not bode well for most athletes or those interested in elite fitness.
Anaerobic activity also benefits cardiovascular function and decreases body fat! In fact, anaerobic exercise is superior to aerobic exercise for fat loss! Anaerobic activity is, however, unique in its capacity to dramatically improve power, speed, strength and muscle mass. Anaerobic conditioning allows us to exert tremendous forces over brief time intervals. One aspect of anaerobic conditioning that bears great consideration is that anaerobic conditioning will not adversely affect aerobic capacity. In fact, properly structured, anaerobic activity can be used to develop a very high level of aerobic fitness without the muscle wasting consistent with high volumes of aerobic exercise! The method by which we use anaerobic efforts to develop aerobic conditioning is “interval training.”
Basketball, football, gymnastics, boxing, track events under one mile, soccer, swimming events under 400 meters, volleyball, wrestling and weightlifting are all sports that require the vast majority of training time spent in anaerobic activity. Long-distance and ultra-endurance running, cross-country skiing, and 1,500+ meter swimming are all sports that require aerobic training at levels that produce results unacceptable to other athletes or the individual concerned with total conditioning and optimal health.
We strongly recommend that you attend a track meet of nationally or internationally competitive athletes. Pay close attention to the physiques of the athletes competing at 100, 200, 400 and 800 meters and the milers. The difference you are sure to notice is a direct result of training at those distances.
The key to developing the cardiovascular system without an unacceptable loss of strength, speed and power is interval training. Interval training mixes bouts of work and rest in timed intervals. The table below gives guidelines for interval training. We can control the dominant metabolic pathway conditioned by varying the duration of the work and rest interval and number of repetitions. Note that the phosphagen pathway is the dominant pathway in intervals of 10-30 seconds of work followed by rest of 30-90 seconds (load:recovery 1:3) repeated 25-30 times. The glycolytic pathway is the dominant pathway in intervals of 30-120 seconds of work followed by rest of 60-240 seconds (load: recovery 1:2) repeated 10-20 times. And finally, the oxidative pathway is the dominant pathway in intervals of 120-300 seconds of work followed by rest of 120-300 seconds (load:recovery 1:1). The bulk of metabolic training should be interval training.
Representative guidelines for interval training.
Interval training need not be so structured or formal. One example would be to sprint between one set of telephone poles and jog between the next set, alternating in this manner for the duration of a run.
One example of an interval that CrossFit makes regular use of is the Tabata Interval, which is 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest repeated eight times. Dr. Izumi Tabata published research that demonstrated that this interval protocol produced remarkable increases in both anaerobic and aerobic capacity.
It is highly desirable to regularly experiment with interval patterns of varying combinations of rest, work and repetitions.
Some of the best resources on interval training come from Dr. Stephen Seiler. His articles on interval training and the time course of training adaptations contain the seeds of CrossFit’s heavy reliance on interval training. The article on the time course of training adaptations explains that there are three waves of adaptation to endurance training. The first wave is increased maximal oxygen consumption. The second is increased lactate threshold. The third is increased efficiency. In the CrossFit concept, we are interested in maximizing first-wave adaptations and procuring the second systemically through multiple modalities, including weight training, and avoiding completely third-wave adaptations. Second- and third-wave adaptations are highly specific to the activity in which they are developed and can be detrimental to the broad fitness that we advocate and develop.
A clear understanding of this material has prompted us to advocate regular high-intensity training in as many training modalities as possible through largely anaerobic efforts and intervals while deliberately and specifically avoiding the efficiency that accompanies mastery of a single modality. It is at first ironic that our interpretation of Dr. Seiler’s work was not his intention, but when our quest of optimal physical competence is viewed in light of Dr. Seiler’s more specific aim of maximizing endurance performance, our interpretation is powerful.
Dr. Seiler’s work, incidentally, makes clear the fallacy of assuming that endurance work is of greater benefit to the cardiovascular system than higher-intensity interval work. This is very important: With interval training we get all of the cardiovascular benefit of endurance work without the attendant loss of strength, speed and power.
Our use of the term “gymnastics” not only includes the traditional competitive sport that we have seen on TV but all activities like climbing, yoga, calisthenics and dance, where the aim is body control. It is within this realm of activities that we can develop extraordinary strength (especially upper body and trunk), flexibility, coordination, balance, agility and accuracy. In fact, the traditional gymnast has no peer in terms of development of these skills.
CrossFit uses short parallel bars, mats, still rings, pull-up and dip bars, and a climbing rope to implement our gymnastics training. The starting place for gymnastic competency lies with the well-known calisthenic movements: pull-ups, push-ups, dips and rope climbs. These movements need to form the core of your upper-body strength work. Set goals for achieving benchmarks such as 20, 25 and 30 pull-ups; 50, 75 and 100 push-ups; 20, 30, 40 and 50 dips; 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 consecutive trips up the rope without any use of the feet or legs.
At 15 pull-ups and dips each, it is time to start working regularly on a muscle-up. The muscle-up is moving from a hanging position below the rings to a supported position, arms extended, above the rings. It is a combination movement containing both a pull-up and a dip. Far from a contrivance, the muscle-up is hugely functional. With a muscle-up, you will be able to surmount any object on which you can get a finger hold—if you can touch it, you can get up on it. The value here for survival, police, firefighter and military use is impossible to overstate. Pull-ups and dips are the key to developing the muscle-up.
While developing your upper-body strength with the pull-ups, push-ups, dips and rope climbs, a large measure of balance and accuracy can be developed through mastering the handstand. Start with a headstand against the wall if you need to. Once reasonably comfortable with the inverted position of the headstand, you can practice kicking up to the handstand again against a wall. Later take the handstand to the short parallel bars or parallettes without the benefit of the wall. After you can hold a handstand for several minutes without benefit of the wall or a spotter, it is time to develop a pirouette. A pirouette is lifting one arm and turning on the supporting arm 90 degrees to regain the handstand, then repeating this with alternate arms until you have turned 180 degrees. This skill needs to be practiced until it can be done with little chance of falling from the handstand. Work in intervals of 90 degrees as benchmarks of your growth—90, 180, 270, 360, 450, 540, 630 and finally 720 degrees.
Walking on the hands is another fantastic tool for developing both the handstand and balance and accuracy. A football field or sidewalk is an excellent place to practice and measure your progress. You want to be able to walk 100 yards in the handstand without falling.
Competency in the handstand readies the athlete for handstand presses. There is a family of presses that range from relatively easy ones that any beginning gymnast can perform to ones so difficult that only the best gymnasts competing at national levels can perform. Their hierarchy of difficulty is bent arm/bent body (hip)/bent leg; straight arm/bent body/bent leg; straight arm/bent body/straight leg; bent arm/straight body/straight leg; and finally the monster: straight arm/straight body/straight leg. It is not unusual to take 10 years to get these five presses!
The trunk flexion work in gymnastics is beyond anything you will see anywhere else. Even the beginning gymnastics trunk movements cripple bodybuilders, weightlifters and martial artists. The basic sit-up and L-hold are the staples. The L-hold is nothing more than holding your trunk straight while supported by locked arms with hands on a bench, the floor or parallel bars; the hips are kept at 90 degrees with legs straight out in front of you. You want to work toward a three-minute hold in benchmark increments of 30 seconds — 30, 60, 90, 120, 150 and 180 seconds. When you can hold an L for three minutes, all your old ab work will be silly easy.
We recommend Bob Anderson’s “Stretching.” This is a simple, no-nonsense approach to flexibility. The science of stretching is weakly developed and many athletes like gymnasts who demonstrate great flexibility receive no formal instruction. Just do it. Generally, you want to stretch in a warm-up to establish safe, effective range of motion for the ensuing activity and stretch during cool down to improve flexibility.
There is a lot of material to work with here. We highly recommend an adult gymnastics program if there is one in your area. Our friends at www.drillsandskills.com have enough material to keep you busy for years. This is among our favorite fitness sites.
Every workout should contain regular gymnastic/calisthenic movements that you have mastered and other elements under development. Much of the rudiments of gymnastics comes only with great effort and frustration—that is acceptable. The return is unprecedented and the most frustrating elements are most beneficial—long before you have developed even a modicum of competency.
“Weightlifting” as opposed to “weight lifting” or “weight training,” refers to the Olympic sport, which includes the clean and jerk and the snatch. Weightlifting, as it is often referred to, develops strength (especially in the hips), speed and power like no other training modality. It is little known that successful weightlifting requires substantial flexibility. Olympic weightlifters are as flexible as any athletes.
The benefits of weightlifting do not end with strength, speed, power and flexibility. The clean and jerk and the snatch both develop coordination, agility, accuracy and balance and to no small degree. Both of these lifts are as nuanced and challenging as any movement in all of sport. Moderate competency in the Olympic lifts confers added prowess to any sport.
The Olympic lifts are based on the deadlift, clean, squat and jerk. These movements are the starting point for any serious weight-training program. In fact, they should serve as the core of your resistance training throughout your life.
Why the deadlift, clean, squat and jerk? Because these movements elicit a profound neuroendocrine response; that is, they alter you hormonally and neurologically. The changes that occur through these movements are essential to athletic development. Most of the development that occurs as a result of exercise is systemic and a direct result of hormonal and neurological changes.
Curls, lateral raises, leg extensions, leg curls, flyes and other bodybuilding movements have no place in a serious strength-and-conditioning program primarily because they have a blunted neuroendocrine response. A distinctive feature of these relatively worthless movements is that they have no functional analog in everyday life and they work only one joint at a time. Compare this to the deadlift, clean, squat and jerk, which are functional and multi-joint movements.
Start your weightlifting career with the deadlift, clean, squat and jerk then introduce the clean and jerk and snatch. Much of the best weight-training material on the Internet is found on powerlifting sites. Powerlifting is the sport of three lifts: the bench press, squat and deadlift. Powerlifting is a superb start to a lifting program followed later by the more dynamic clean and the jerk and finally the clean and jerk and the snatch.
The movements that we are recommending are very demanding and very athletic. As a result, they have kept athletes interested and intrigued where the typical fare offered in most gyms (bodybuilding movements) typically bores athletes to distraction. Weightlifting is sport; weight training is not.
Our program includes not only weightlifting and powerlifting but also throwing work with medicine balls. The medicine-ball work we favor provides both physical training and general movement practice. We are huge fans of the Dynamax medicine ball and associated throwing exercises. The medicine-ball drills add another potent stimulus for strength, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy.
There is a medicine ball game known as Hoover-Ball. It is played with an 8-foot volleyball net and scored like tennis. This game burns three times more calories than tennis and is great fun. The history and rules of Hoover-Ball are available here.
Glassman, Greg. (2002, OCT). What is Fitness? The CrossFit Journal. Retrieved from: https://journal.crossfit.com/article/what-is-fitness