The 2016 Crossfit Games Open has gone and for many this means the end of the competitive season. Which raises the question- “Now what?”. For those who haven’t qualified for Regionals the start of the offseason is a prime time to reassess training priorities and determine what characteristics need to be developed moving forward. The Open is a great test of sport specific performance, which tells us how we stack up relative to the field, what movement combinations pose a limitation, and how well we can perform in a mixed modal strength/ energy system based test. But, for these very reasons the Open workouts are not good tests to model our subsequent, limitation based, training sessions after.
For example, lets take Open WOD 16.3- A 7 Minute AMRAP of 10 power snatches (75/55#) and 3 bar muscle-ups…
Relative to the athletes capability, and where their limitations lie, this could be a test of speed-strength endurance, postural endurance, grip endurance, intensive gymnastic pulling endurance, and so on. Also of note is the fact that these limitations do not occur in isolation, and there will be varying contributions of aerobic/ anaerobic metabolism between athletes, which makes it difficult to interpret the results and determine what qualities need to be improved upon in training. Which raises another question- what principals need to be in place when creating a battery of tests?
Principals of Testing:
In order to create a sound battery of tests we must adhere to the principals of validity, reliability, and generalizability. All of which serve as the backbone of qualitative research. Validity refers to the “appropriateness” of the data relative to what we are trying to test. Despite the fact that many use tests such as a 10 minute assault bike for max cals, or 2k row for time, to assess aerobic endurance they are not valid tests for this training quality. In fact, it’s quite possible that an athlete can perform exceptionally well on this type of test, despite a low level or basic endurance development, by compensating with a high degree of anaerobic power endurance and a willingness to suffer. A valid test for this training quality is one that limits an anaerobic energy system contribution and extends a longer time domain. Such as a 60 minute row for max distance. Reliability refers to the replicability of both the test and its results, which due to the nature of physical testing is the most difficult to grasp. For our intents and purpose reliability will mean that a given test will elicit the same quality in a given athlete over time. Ie- if an athlete improves on 30 front squat for time @75% (assuming their 1RM doesn’t change) we know they improved their intensive squatting endurance versus improving upon a workout like “Fran” which could be due to improved gymnastic pulling endurance, extensive squatting endurance or anaerobic power endurance. This is critical as it tells is if we’ve created the desired adaptations with training and have improved the qualities we sought after. The last principal of testing we must take into account is generalizability, which refers to the ability to extrapolate the data obtained from one athlete to another. For example, if I beat you by six minutes in “Murph” does that mean I have better aerobic endurance, or could it simply be attributed to better local muscular endurance on pushups for example? Whereas if we both go head to head on a 30 minute row for max distance (assuming local muscular endurance isn’t a limitation/ we both have exposure to the machine) we can say I have better aerobic threshold development. As such, the later example is generalizable, meaning it tests the same quality in the majority of athletes who perform the test, whereas the former is not. Which allows us to create standardized norms for tests such that we can compare one athlete to another. For this reason it is also advisable that we use cyclical modalities, with lower skill and local muscular endurance demands, when performing ES based tests.
Now that we've discussed the principals of testing its time to delve into the subtypes of tests we use within the assessment phase. This list is by no means all inclusive, nor do we use all of these on every athlete, but it will give a birds eye view of how we approach the assessment process for competitive Crossfit™ athletes. At this point it should also be noted that the structure, and format, of the testing phase will differ relative to the athletes fitness goals or competitive endeavors.
1. Movement Assessment: There are various schools of thought on movement including FMS, PRI, DNS, FRC and many others. Rather than prescribing to one, or another, we incorporate elements of each discipline into our movement screening process. The purpose of the movement screen is to identify structural imbalances, tissue restrictions, and faulty movement patterns with the goal of improving longevity in the sport.
2. Energy system profile: The sport of fitness requires a broad spectrum of energy system development. Because of this it is important that we not only asses the development of each energy system on an absolute scale (ie- global comparisons), but also the relative development of one energy system compared to another. A full spectrum energy system profile includes the following assessments: maximal sprint speed, anaerobic power, anaerobic power endurance, maximal aerobic endurance, anaerobic threshold, aerobic power, basic endurance, and an incremental max heart rate step test. Not only will this battery of tests tell you what qualities need to be improved upon moving forward, but it will also give insight as to what types of training protocols an athlete will best reposed to.
3a. Maximal Power Profile: The maximal power profile includes tests of absolute strength (ex- 1RM Back Squat), strength speed (1RM Snatch), speed strength (5 Power Snatch @30% for time) , and absolute speed (max height BJ). Similar to the energy system profile it’s important to look at both global comparisons for each training quality as well as the relationship between them. This tells us where an athlete needs to improve on the strength curve and what qualities they need to prioritize in training. Note- you can find more information of TTT’s strength characteristics in the following blog post titled, “Step Your Squat Game Up”.
3b. Maximal Power Endurance Profile: The purpose of the max power endurance profile is to assess an athletes capacity in each of the maximal power categories. These include tests of absolute strength endurance, strength speed endurance, speed strength endurance, absolute speed endurance, and local muscular endurance.
4. Gymnastic profile: In order to excel in the sport of fitness athletes must posses the ability to tolerate a high volume of contractions in gymnastic based movements. However, there are pre-prequistes that an athlete needs to posses to ensure they can do so safely. Through the use of a basic gymnastic profile we can determine if an athlete has a requisite level of strength to perform dynamic movements under fatigue, as well as what their major limitations are on gymnastic based muscular endurance workouts. For example, a basic gymnastic pulling assessment, for an intermediate level Crossfit™ athlete, may include a 1RM weighted pullup, maximal isometric pull-up hold, max set of unbroken strict pull-ups, and fatigue based C2B pull-up density test.
5. Relative testing: The simplest way to explain a relative test is that the training characteristic the tests isolates is relative to the athlete it was written for (Ie- It will elicit a different response for different athletes). For example, lets take the following workout….
5 Rounds for Time:
10 Kipping Deficit HSPU (6”)
10 Deadlifts (275#)
50 Double Unders
Depending on the athlete this can be a test of intensive muscular endurance, aerobic power, or absolute strength endurance (ie- the characteristic is relative to the individual). The purpose of “relative tests” are to determine if an athlete improved upon a given training characteristic. For example- If I determine an athlete needs to improve their absolute strength endurance in a mixed modal setting I will design a test that I know elicits this response for them (it may not elicit this response for others). Then we can objectively determine if they improved upon that training characteristic down the line (ie- if they improve their score we know it is not due to another factor as we’ve isolated a single variable in the testing structure).
6. Sport Specific Testing: Sport specific tests can be broken into three predominant categories- aerobic power tests, anaerobic power tests, and combination tests. As previously mentioned, these are the most difficult to extrapolate data from; and their primary function within a testing phase is for global comparison (ie- how well the athlete stacks up relative to their peers). Examples of sport specific tests include benchmark works, Open workouts, Regional workouts, and Crossfit Games events. While sport specific tests may not be used to guide limitation based training structures it is critical that an athlete improve their performance in them over time. As such, it is important that they be included within offseason testing structures.
Sample Testing Week (1/3) For a Regional Level Crossfit Competitor:
Interpretation of Testing:
After putting an athlete through the aforementioned types of tests you must figure out how to prioritize the elements they need to improve upon. An easy, albeit oversimplified, way to conceptualize this is to create a hierarchy of importance for training characteristics. For example, if an athlete has an insufficient level of absolute strength, but fantastic muscular endurance relative to it, they must prioritize the former in order to better themselves as a Crossfit™ athlete (since absolute strength will serve as a foundation for the development of intensive/ extensive muscular endurance). Similarly, if an athlete has a high degree of absolute speed, but a low degree of absolute speed endurance they must develop the ability to preserve speed over time versus improving their maximal sprint speed, which you can determine with an anaerobic speed reserve test.
After you determine an athletes training priorities, and limitations, you can begin to formulate their training split. I typically select an athletes 3-4 top priorities, and 2-3 maintenance characteristics when designing a weekly layout. This allows us to drive up weak areas while maintaining, or improving upon, strengths (it’s easier to maintain a training quality with small volumes of work that to go through cycles of rebuilding down the line). Then I organize the week with the following in mind:
1. Athlete profile: beginner, intermediate, or advanced
2. Goal of cycle, time of year (relative to competition season), and recent training history
3. Ordering of training sessions: high neural demand, then high metabolic demand, and lastly low intensity work (minimize interference)
4. Respect the synergism between training qualities and consolidate stressors when possible
After laying out the week I then layout the format of each training session using the following approach:
1. What is the goal of this session ?
2. What adaptation am I trying to elicit, and how do I go about doing so for the given athlete ?
3. How will this session progress over the course of the cycle ?
4. What is the athletes rate of adaptation to this training quality?
Sample Training Split:
Athlete Profile- Intermediate athlete, low neuromuscular efficiency/ ST fiber dominant, high rate of adaptation to sub threshold aerobic work
Primary Training Priorities- Absolute strength, Intensive/ Extensive strength endurance, Multifaceted energy system base (anaerobic power/ basic endurance)
Secondary Training Priorities- Strength speed, aerobic threshold
Training Phase- Transformation/ Intensification
The Human Element:
We often disregard the impact that simple, easy to control, variables have on our training and our subsequent response to said training sessions (ie- our ability to adapt or lack thereof). These variables range from work stress, mood states, sleep quality/ quantity, nutrition quality/ quantity, and our mental frameworks. The list never ends and there are dozens of other “intangibles” that fall under this umbrella. I’m not advocating that you manipulate all of these variables, as there is a cost to benefit ratio involved, but there are many pieces of low hanging fruit that go ignored in the fitness realm at large that will have significant impacts if properly addressed. This is a massive topic in and of itself, that cannot be ignored, so rather than reducing it to a short paragraph i’ll save it for another article. Instead i’ll leave you with my general thoughts on the matter… I’m of the opinion that we, as coaches, should know how, and why, a given training variable influences training outcomes whether or not we choose to manipulate it; and if your goal, as an athlete, is to get a spot on the podium in a sport where one second dictates whether or not you succeed you should care about these little things as they add up over time.
While less quantifiable there are aspects like training environment and various attributes such as mindset, grit, and the ability to listen to one’s body that are important to success. However, possessing these attributes in isolation will not guarantee success without proper training volume, intensity, and loading over time. All of which provide a higher statistical likelihood of success, a lower risk of injury or overtraining, and a better chance of being prepared for a randomly selected workout. Additionally, the targeting of specific training characteristics is critical for long term athletic development. As such, a proper assessment is required for proper training.