Sunday, September 27, 2009

9/26 - Motivation

So I got caught in the gumption trap of trying to maintain focus and motivation. This is not at all a hard thing to do when you have very little else going on with your life. Compounded further is the fact that I am not getting the kind of feedback validation I need to help convince me that this project is worthwhile. I know it is. Although it may seem that I am posting and reposting some of the same stuff over and over again I know it is important to know the idea behind the workouts, the time domain the effort levels required for each activity. Blindly throwing yourself at the problem of fitness if a good thing, but what will really help you understand your body and your capability is understanding the purpose behind the workouts.

I want to talk about a few things this week. First and foremost is the idea of periodization and overload. While triathletes may be familiar with this concept I am finding a lot of crossfit athletes completely ignorant to the idea. They simply follow along with the mainsite wod. There is not a problem with this, in fact the mainsite wods are built in such a manner that the periodization is implicit in their design. I know I have been Alan absent this last week, but if you had been playing along with the you would have noticed a large portion of the last week's WOD's had a large strength emphasis and the week before there was a emphasis on MetCON with gymnastic movements.

In order to get the constantly varied functional movement that crossfit touts as the end all ad be all of fitness we must necessarily have these periods of emphasis on a certain skill or training modality. That is not to say that you should blow your load all over a different training modality each week. Moderation and recovery are as big a point in training as actually doing the work. Not all the efforts you make in the gym can be all out. In fact that end up being pretty detrimental to long range fitness and makes you much more susceptible to injury and overtraining.

So we need a definition to start this rant. Most useful for this weeks blog is going to be the definition of intensity. We will define intensity at work done at or near absolute work capacity, or for the layman doing things as hard or nearly as hard as you possibly can. Studies of periodization in professional athletes suggest that only 20% of your workouts should be at maximal intensity. Any more than this and you run the risk of putting yourself in an overtrained state. Over training is no Joke. It can take as little as two weeks but up to three months to completely recover from an overtrained state. With that much down time you are very likely to loose a lot of the fitness you have gained from these periods of increased intensity.

Intensity is an very important part of any training regiment. You must ensure that your Hard days are oh my god when will it stop hard and your easy days are spring breeze through a unicorn's bottom easy. This is very easy to regulate in athletes that train in one modality (i.e. running) by only programming two- three hard workouts in a week. However an athlete that must have competency in multiple domain may not be able to work all of his or her sports in those two or three workouts. This holds true in the crossfit training regiment as well.

If we look at the theoretical pyramid of fitness illustrated at the top of the page (I seriously wish I could do inline images....Maybe I can) we see that there are a number of emphasises that lead to physical mastery. Having 4 physical disciplines to be proficient in means that you will be unable to bring the intensity necessary to show progress in each discipline each week. Thus the idea of periodization is further motivated.

Another idea that emerges from this pyramid is that of supportive conditioning and strength work. This idea is the basis behind the strength biased crossfit formula. That is to say that biasing programming towards the more basal strength aspect of crossfit will have a trickle down, or in the case of the pyramid trickle up effect. I believe this to be completely true. If your are able to generate more raw power then simpler less taxing movements will take less away from your energy reserves and you will literally be able to muscle your way through a number of workouts. This extrapolates out to very good effect with short domain activities, which for the sake of this argument we will limit to 20 minutes. We choose this domain as numerous crossfit journal articles point to the fact that energy systems start to change around this time domain and what should have been a high intensity workout turns into a muscular endurance test.

Now a quick digression to my training. I am an ultramarathoner and as such my sport requires that I be able to put out a reasonable amount of energy for long periods of time. I am not going to get in the semantics of discussing if this specialization makes me more or less fit on any scale, it is something that I just like to do with my friends and it brings me great joy. I did however notice that the more time I spent on the trails doing low intensity long duration work the easier short duration high intensity work became. No we can speculate as to the cause of this, better aerobic conditioning, more mitochondria density, etc but the fact remained I got better at doing short fast stuff. Couple this long distance easy training with high intensity work on the track as well as high load maximal efforts in the gym and I got even faster. My case is then that as important as intensity is long aerobic and supportive conditioning is just as critical to a well rounded athlete.

I know I am rambling on a bit here, but I would like to incorporate one final idea of sustainability. I will unequivocally state that there is no athlete alive or dead that is capable of working at his or her maximal intensity three days on one day off every day of every week. To believe this is utter bullocks. Even though crossfit workouts are usually of short domain there simply is just not enough time for our bodies to continually repair the kind of damage maximal effort does. Therefore the idea of maximal effort at such and interval is simply non sustainable, or not able to be replicated day in and day out.

Looking back, out initial concept of periodization comes into play. That is we build intensity over a period of days and weeks performing different movements and allowing ourselves time to rest and recover. The number one element in fitness gains is consistency. No matter what fitness program we design for ourselves (withing reason here, eating twinkies and playing x-box is not a fitness plan) so long as we do it consistently we will achieve results. If we have a well designed program like crossfit we will achieve greater results so long as we are able to stick to that program. By executing each workout at high intensity and literally pushing ourselves to the breaking point each time we are ensuring that we will not be able to be consistent.

I suggest a remedy for this that might be blasphemous to crossfit HQ. Don't hit every workout as hard as you can and don't have crossfit be the only piece of your fitness puzzle. I instead suggest you build intensity in cycles. Three days on one off is a great idea, but ultimately too small of an interval to see much benefit. For replicate ability I suggest you try training five days a week with a three on one off, two on one off schema. This ensures that week in and week out that you can reliably schedule your exercise. That shortened first work period really helps prime the pump for intensity in the second. Also make sure your hard days are the days before your rest day. Realize too that if you want to achieve maximal results that rest days shouldn't be complete 0 days. Go for a walk, swim or go to yoga. any low level activity you do will help flush you system of any nasty workout bi products.

Also I suggest you build the intensity of your workouts in 4 week cycles. It may be as simple as realizing where you are in your four week cycles and adjusting intensity accordingly or your may with to formalize and write out the fact in whatever workout log you keep. Just remember the first week is moderate, the second harder, and the third OMG hard the fourth cycles back to easy. This will help keep your injury free for longer and ensure that you give your body time to rest and build itself back stronger.

Anyway, that has been way too much of your time and more information that I had meant to disseminate. If you have questions with anything email me at


  1. While I do think you make many valid points, I do disagree with you about hard days and recovery days. I completely agree with you on the importance of rest days. I don't think though, that there is a black and white line between easy and hard. I think workouts throughout the week should vary. With the 20% being the maximally intensity, and the rest of the days varying at different levels below this. With of course at least one day that was spring breeze through a unicorn's bottom easy. With the varying levels of intensity I think that it allows different days to focus on different aspect of fitness i.e. pure power and anaerobic days compared to more endurance based workouts. Different weeks can also have focus for the maximal effort and low intensity workouts. As you have said, too often people focus on the maximal effort. I think it is important to cover this broad spectrum so that as a trained athelte you can be well balanced and compete at several different levels. However, I can see the difficulty in creating a training program that can encompass all of this. Especially if an indvidual is training in more than one sport. <3

  2. I completely agree with your statements...and in fact I thought I had made exactly those points during my rant. I think that it is necessary to vary intensity within the week just as it is important to vary intensity week to week. By varying the focus of the week it is easy to build in a little rest for one skill, i.e. maximal effort lifting while you build strength in another i.e. running a 5k. I do think however that the weeks should follow a build and recovery phase separate from the easy, moderate and hard days you have during the week.

    In conclusion here I don't think there is a misunderstanding or miscommunication here. We are speaking the same language and I really appreciate your input.