Programming for the CrossFit Games Athlete pt. 1.5

Jordan Feigenbaum
November 16, 2012
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Table of Contents

    Just a little pre-weekend update before I head down to Atlanta to hang out with the Starting Strength crew and help out at Rip’s seminar being held at AK CrossFit. Should be a good time, but I wanted to get into how I would go about identifying goals and programming them for the specific blocks in the macrocycle.

    In part one of this series, we broke up the training into four phases:

    1. November 14-Dec 31= Block 1 (Preparation Phase)
    2. Jan 1- February 14= Block 2 (Pre-Season Phase)
    3. February 14- End of Competition (In-Season Phase)
    4. End of Competition- Resumption of Preparation Phase (Off-Season)

    These blocks, or mesocycles, could potentially be further broken down into microcycles if one really wanted to geek out on this stuff. It’s been my experience, however, that trying to get overcomplicated with the programming before having any data or feedback from the athlete is a recipe for two things: wasting time (yours and the athlete’s) and over training. I prefer to identify the main goals of each block and then program accordingly, with the weeks further away being programmed more vaguely and the more immediate weeks being more detailed. I do this because I utilize feedback and data from the athlete to program each successive week. Ultimately, the over-arching goal(s) for the training blocks guide the programming.

    When I sat down and started looking at the needs analysis of my athlete for the CrossFit Games I immediately started thinking about using the first block, The Preparation Phase, to primarily increase strength levels, improve high-yield skills, and maintain a good level of conditioning through dedicated GPP (general physical preparedness) work. It’s important to consider the compatibility of the attributes you’re trying to emphasize during a particular block of training. For instance, the goals of increasing strength and endurance are not compatible for an advanced-level athlete (strength or endurance). Neither strength or endurance gains would be very significant if the athlete made it through the block unscathed via an overuse injury or performance drop-off. A more complementary set of goals would be something like strength and hypertrophy, strength maintenance and conditioning, etc. Much of this information has been distilled down from past coaches’ experience, exercise science texts, and other resources laying out popular methods of periodization. At any rate, despite what some will tell you, a lot of this is just educated guess work based on both anecdotal and scientific evidence. It is very important, however, to take into consideration the tolerable work load of the athlete and how they’re responding to the training. If performance is trending downwards then either the work load is too much, causing overtraining-like symptoms, or the work load is not sufficient to cause the desired adaptation (increases in strength, work capacity, power, etc.), causing de-training like symptoms. This is why feedback from the athlete is so critical!

    As mentioned above, the preparation phase will focus primarily on strength increases, dedicated skill work, and maintaining a good base of conditioning through GPP work. This is appropriate for my athlete who has a high level of conditioning currently, yet is lacking a little bit in the strength area. If the reverse were true, someone with freaky strength but a lack of conditioning, perhaps this block would be strength maintenance and conditioning-focused instead. The preparation phases’ programming will be focused around the Olympic lifts, the squat, deadlift, press, and bench press. Each of these lifts will appear frequently and start on a brief linear progression before transitioning to a peaking cycle where intensity and volume will be inversely correlated. The linear progression will allow the athlete to acquire some volume with the lifts to become more efficient and also quickly increase their strength. Next, the peaking cycle allows the athlete to handle heavier loads for a few weeks in order to push strength and power levels to the absolute maximum. This of course, will be followed by a deload week, which will then lead into the next training block. Strength work will consist gradually decreasing volume and increasing volume as the block goes along. Each workout will have the rough template of:

    1. Olympic/Power variant: ex. Snatch x 2 x 6 (all exercises written as “reps” x “sets”) @ RPE 8*
    2. Strength: Press x 5 x 5 @RPE 8
    3. Assistance: Ring rows x max reps x 3 , close grip bench x 5 x 3 @ RPE 8
    4. WOD (skill based): AMRAP in 6 minutes of: 50 unbroken double unders, 15 butterfly pull ups (unbroken)**
    5. GPP: 5 x 500m rower intervals w/ 1:3 work to rest ratio (1:38-1:43 pace minimum)

    *RPE scale is used to “auto-regulate” the effort of the athlete. Some athletes, especially those used to hard training will go into the gym and “overshoot” the required effort for the day. This causes problems in subsequent training efforts due to lack of recovery. Using an RPE scale allows for the athlete to modulate the efforts based on feelings for that particular day while still accomplishing the overall goals for the day. Here is my interpretation of the RPE scale:

    RPE1-5: easy, recovery style work. 5-10 reps left in the tank.

    RPE 6-7: Moderately hard, but still 3-5 reps left in the tank.

    RPE 8: Hard, but not a limit effort, 2 reps left in the tank.

    RPE 9: Very hard, near a limit effort, 1 possible rep left in the tank (maybe with compromised form)

    RPE 10: A limit effort for the day (may or may not be a true 1RM). No reps left in the tank.

    **only unbroken sets count towards the “round” total. This is used to develop the capacity and skill set needed for fast “cycle” time of these commonly seen elements in competition workouts. This also limits the amount of rounds, reps, and overall volume that the athlete can do in a given workout, thereby facilitating recovery.

    Block 2, the pre-season phase, will see a transition to more strength maintenance and a heavier emphasis on sport-specific conditioning work. Given these priorities, strength work will primarily be limited to singles, doubles, and triples, and have an overall time-cap on how long during each session the athlete is allowed to work on the lift(s) programmed on the day. More time, however, will be dedicated to metabolic conditioning resembling typical CrossFit workouts, i.e. those combining elements of weightlifting, powerlifting, gymnastics, and monostructural conditioning. Some days will include multiple workouts as the schedule allows and some infrequent Open, Regional, or Games-type days will be included to test the athlete to see where they’re at and give them the confidence and mental toughness needed to be successful for the upcoming in-season block and competitions. Each training day would be based off the following example template:

    1. Strength/Power- Clean and Jerk x 1 x 5 @ RPE 9
    2. Front Squat x 3 x 1 @ RPE 9
    3. WOD: 5 rounds of the following: 10 R-arm 2 pood KB snatch, 10 swings (2 pood), 10 pistols L leg, 10 L-arm 2 pood snatch, 10 swings (2 pood), 10 pistols R leg
    4. Cool Down/Endurance: Row 2k @ RPE 7

    These workouts are just examples of what I think will be in the template as of today. As I get more information I will refine the programming and share what I’m working on with you. I’ll also discuss more RPE stuff, programming for WOD’s over the course of a training block, and legitimate strength programming. Hope all of you have a good weekend and I’ll be back here Monday!

    Jordan Feigenbaum
    Jordan Feigenbaum
    Jordan Feigenbaum, owner of Barbell Medicine, has an academic background including a Bachelor of Science in Biology, Master of Science in Anatomy and Physiology, and Doctor of Medicine. Jordan also holds accreditations from many professional training organizations including the American College of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Association, USA Weightlifting, CrossFit, and is a former Starting Strength coach and staff member. He’s been coaching folks from all over the world  for over a decade through Barbell Medicine. As a competitive powerlifter, Jordan has competition best lifts of a 640lb squat, 430lb bench press, 275lb overhead press, and 725lb deadlift as a 198lb raw lifter.

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