In a previous article titled, “Now What? The End of the 2016 Open…”, I laid out the principals of athlete assessment and broke down each individual testing subtype. In this piece I’m going to further extrapolate on some of those concepts and discuss the application of information gained through testing and how it leads to the individualization of training prescriptions. Before moving forward I advise you read the aforementioned article as it will lay the foundations for what i’m about to discuss.
Many athletes view themselves in a dualistic manner, abiding by some binary classification, such as powerful or enduring, strong or fast, slow twitch or fast twitch, and so on. In actuality athletes fall on a continuum and adherence to these rigid classification systems do more harm than good. The models depicted in the strength and conditioning literature are based on statistical averages and not an individual athletes biological systems, which are why they work for some and not others. A common fault among coaches is that they try to make athletes fit their rigid training models and prescribe these protocols that should “in theory” elicit a given adaptation. While this may work for the most gifted athletes, or those whose physiologies are congruent with their protocols, it will yield subpar results for others. Those who don’t fit this profile may simply assume they don’t have the genetics to elicit a given adaptation, when in reality they just need to take a different path to get there. Training induced adaption isn’t about conversion, or trying to change the athlete’s makeup. After all, we cannot fight mother nature. Instead we need to maximize an athlete’s ability and augment what they already possess.
In the last article I gave a birds eye view of how I approach the assessment process for competitive Crossfit™ athletes by laying out the general purpose of each test and it’s overall function in a sport specific testing phase. Rather than rehashing that information I'm going to further discuss the information gleaned from a subset of testing classifications and how it allows me to individualize an athletes subsequent training.
Cyclical Energy System Testing: The sport of fitness required a broad spectrum of energy system development. Because of this it’s important that we not only asses the development of each quality of a global scale (how it stacks up relative to the field of competitors), but also the relative development of one energy system compared to another. A full spectrum cyclical 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.
First we need to determine if an athlete has the requisite foundation of energy system development for the sport, which we can achieve through global comparison (ie- how do they stack up to the field on a given test). If they have the requisite foundation we then need to determine what prevents them from expressing their capacity in a mixed modal setting. If they lack the requisite foundation, or have global limitations, we need to determine how to develop their capacity based on their individual physiology. Which we can achieve through the use of speed preservation tests designed to reveal where an athlete falls on the fiber type spectrum.
The way the test works is by taking an athletes 1k, 2k, 3k, and 5k Row PRs and finding the following ratios between them (Similarly we can view the relationship between their maximal sprint speed, 2k Row/10 Min Assault Bike, and 30 Min Row/ Assault Bike for max distance or cals) ….
1. 2,000m : 5,000m
2. 1,000m : 2,000m
3. 2,000m : 3,000m
4. 3,000m : 5,000m
In order to calculate these ratios you will need to use the following equation:
(PR Pace of distance #1) / (PR pace of distance #2) = ____ x100 *Unit of pace = seconds.
So, for example…..
An athlete that has a 1k PR of 3:00 (1:30/500m or 90 seconds/500m) and a 2k PR of 7:00 (1:45/500m or 105 seconds/500m). You would calculate their speed preservation for testing #2 as follows… (90 seconds) / (105 seconds) = .857 x100 = 85.7%
Once you calculate the ratios for all four tests you can compare them to the following “athlete class-action types’. While their specific speed preservation %’s may not match any of the avatars exactly, it should be clear where they fall on the spectrum. So, for example an athlete with the following numbers (85%, 90%, 89%, 95%) will fall between type “A” and type “B”.
Mixed Modal Energy System Testing: Mixed Modal tests can be broken into one of three categories: aerobic power, anaerobic power, or combination tests. When assessing these tests I look at both the athlete’s absolute score for global comparison as well as it’s relationship to their cyclical energy system tests. This allows me to determine A) If the athlete is able to express their capacity in a mixed modal setting, B) what their sport specific limitations are, and C) what biological adaptations they need to elicit to improve their sport specific performance.
Maximal Power Testing: A full maximal power profile includes absolute strength, strength speed, speed strength, and absolute speed. Below i’m going to explain the implications of the two former qualities. When assessing an athletes absolute strength and strength speed, I first aim to determine whether they are “strong enough” for the sport. Additionally, I will asses an athletes structural balance points, maximal power endurance (see #4), and whether they are stronger than they are fast or vice versa (which has implications for the prioritization of their maximal power training).
Maximal Power Endurance Testing: The purpose of the maximal 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. Additionally, outside of their sport specific functions, these tests will help me determine what types of strength and energy system protocols will work best for a given athlete. First, I assess each characteristic on a global scale to determine if it is a priority for the sport, then I will assess the relationship between each characteristic to determine whether or not an athlete needs to prioritize maximal power or maximal power endurance in order to determine their individual limitation. Lastly, I will use their relative absolute strength, and strength speed, endurance scores to determine their neuromuscular efficiency and fiber type, both of which will be indicative of the types of protocols required to improve their maximal power.
Limitation Based Training- A Tale of Two Athletes:
After running an athlete through a full assessment I ask myself the following questions:
1. Who is the athlete ?
2. What are their global sport specific limitations ?
3. What biological adaptations do we need to target to improve their sport specific limitation ?
4. How do we elicit that biological adaptation relative to their physiology (ie- augmenting what they have versus changing who they are) ?
In order to exemplify these principals i’ll depict how different athletes will require different training protocols to improve on a given test.
1. Test #1: 10 Minute Assault Bike For max cals
Athlete #1- Requires maximal sprint speed development while simultaneously maintaining the ability to preserve speed (Anaerobic power development + VO2/ basic endurance support)
Athlete #2- Requires maximal sprint speed maintenance and preservation of speed at Vo2 efforts (Basic endurance development + Maximal aerobic endurance development)
Athlete #3- Requires maximal sprint speed development and anaerobic threshold development while maintain maximal speed preservation (anaerobic power + anaerobic threshold development)
2. Test #2: Back Squat 1RM
Athlete #1: Requires “standard" strength protocols depicted in the literate.
Athlete #2- Requires strength-speed development in conjunction with absolute strength endurance, and extensive squatting endurance, training.
While the demands of a given sport dictate the qualities an athlete must possess, the route each athlete takes to get there should reflect their individual physiology. Additionally, our aim as coaches should not be to change who the athlete is, in an attempt to help them excel in their chosen sport, but to capitalize on what attributes the already possess. In the sport of Crossfit™ this principal is critical as there are a myriad of training qualities an athlete needs to develop, and even more combinations of biological adaptations that can yield a given result. Rather than trying to fit our athletes into a box, and make them fit a given model, we should adapt the model to our athletes and create a roadmap of adaptions we need to elicit for them to succeed and how we can achieve that based on how their unique physiology operates.