progress

15 May 2019 - Throwback Thursday: Making Progress - Intensity vs. Technique

It’s Throwback Thursday, which means its time for one of our Throwback Thursday blog! This week, we’re re-visiting a blog we first published on 16 January 2015, covering the incredibly important topic of “Intensity vs. Technique”.

Intensity can be defined as "exactly equal to average power (force x distance / time)”. In other words, how much real work did you do and in what time period? The greater the average power, the greater the intensity.

Technique can be defined as “a skilful, correct, safe and efficient way of performing movements”.

Intensity and average power are the variables most commonly associated with optimising favourable results. Do more work in less time (without overdoing it), and you’ll get fitter, faster, Fact. In order to improve, we have to be prepared to push ourselves, often to 'uncomfortable' levels.

There is a fine line between intensity and technique.

If we are focused on absolutely perfect technique every time we train, then our intensity will be much lower. On the flip side, if we go super hard all the time, it's likely that our form will suffer and we are at risk of injury. The key is finding the middle ground where you can go hard, but stay safe.

So where is this fine line between intensity and technique?

Let's use CrossFit's favourite example.... let's take a look at three imaginary athletes who are all going to do "Grace" (30 clean and jerks at 60 kg, for time) and they all finish exactly on 3 minutes.

Athlete A hits it first. He puts on heavy metal to work out to and gets himself all pumped up by running around the gym screaming and grunting, slapping his chest and face and throwing chalk everywhere. 3, 2, 1, GO!

The clock starts and he proceeds to yank the bar off the ground with a rounded back, he reverse curls it with little to no technique. He then strict presses overhead while heavily arching his lower back. Every rep is performed in the same way. He finishes his workout in exactly 3 minutes and drops to the ground in the fetal position, a sweaty, heaving, panting mess. He doesn’t move for the next 30 minutes.

It's Athletes B's turn, so he changes the music to his 'Chillin' on a Sunday' playlist. The clock starts and he calmly walks up to the bar, he spends what feels like an age getting into a perfect set-up and proceeds to clean and jerk with perfect form. He drops the bar to the ground and takes a couple of steps back and assesses his next approach. As the workout continues, he takes time to talk to the coach about his day. He too finishes at 3 minutes, he has not broken a sweat and he walks away feeling refreshed.

Finally, it's Athlete C's turn. He changes the music over to his favourite workout tunes and hits some dynamic mobility drills while he’s waiting to begin his workout. When the clock starts, his clean & jerk technique isn’t perfect – he has an early arm bend, and could probably open his hips up a little more – but it’s pretty good. His coach yells a few lifting cues, the athlete corrects his technique and strings together 10 good reps before dropping the bar. He gives himself 15 seconds before forcing himself to pick the bar back up and finishes the workout in 3 minutes, flat. When he’s done, he is sweating and breathing hard. He composes himself, takes a gentle jog and brings his heart rate down to normal levels in a few minutes.

All of the above athletes finished at exactly the same time and all the athletes lifted 60 kg so we can say that the athletes all performed "Grace" with the same absolute intensity. What we see in our descriptions is a big difference between the athlete’s relative intensity: the ability for each to push themselves physically and mentally.

For Athlete B, his movement was perfect, but his intensity was very low. Do you think his performance will improve his overall fitness in the future? He may have looked technically perfect, but because he lacked the intensity, his fitness is less unlikely to improve in the future.

On the flip side we have Athlete A aka 'Mr Intense'. He went so hard that he had no form, he was at risk of hurting himself and probably those around him. Although the intensity was super high, his lack of technique will likely result in little improvement next time he does this workout as he did nothing to work on his efficiency.

Athlete C is right on the money as he balances CrossFit's requirement of high intensity and good technique. He had a few technique errors, but nothing serious and he was able to correct them when cued by the coach. He was also able to push himself hard. If he performs like this on every WOD do you think he will improve faster than the other two athletes?....Yes!

Here are some tips that we have found helpful in our training...

Strength days

Aim to lift more than last time. For example, if I am doing front squats for sets of 5 reps, I check back in Beyond the Whiteboard of what my 5 rep max is. If the last time I did front squats for 5 reps my heaviest set was 100kg, then I always go into the session with the goal of my last 1-2 sets being above this weight. Even if it's just by 2.5kg, it’s still an improvement and every kilo counts!

Embrace the suck. I know that as I approach a new rep max, I may lean forward a little more than I would like and I will be in a battle to keep my knees tracking my toes perfectly. Provided it's only very minor deviations in form, the last couple of reps of each set should have you wondering whether your are going to make it! If you're unsure, speak to your coach if you have any questions or would like feedback on your form before you add weight, that's why we're here!

Met-cons

Keep rest periods short. The more resting you do in a workout the lower the intensity will be. One tip is to decide that each time you rest, it's only going to be for X seconds (10-15 seconds is more than enough). Keep an eye on the clock and time yourself. No matter how you feel, you will get back to work once those seconds have passed time and you will surprise yourself at how much more you can do.

Go in with a strategy. Decide how you are going to break up the work...make it a challenge!

Have a mantra. It's easy to convince ourselves to take a rest, but it's much harder to convince ourselves to keep working! When the going gets tough and I want to stop I just focus on the next rep, and nothing else. I actually say "another rep". Once I do that rep, I say again "just one more rep". Before you know it, you've done 5-10 more reps before you actually rest.


WORKOUT OF THE DAY

A) Strength: Power Clean
Establish a 5 rep max (touch and go)

B) Conditioning

"Big Bang"
50 Cleans (102.5/70 kg)

* Modify to 90% of your 5RM
* Time cap: 10 minutes

16 July 2015 – Measuring Progress on Beyond the Whiteboard

In this post we are going to look at how you can chart your progress on Beyond the Whiteboard (BtWB).

BtWB is set up so you can easily see how your progress is going. Some of the more obvious places to look (which I won't cover in great detail) are...

Fitness Level: Your overall 'Fitness Level' gives you a good gauge of your progress, by clicking on your fitness level number you can see its increase/decrease over time and also quickly identify areas of strength/weakness.

Individual Movements: By typing a movement into the search bar e.g. 'back squat' you quickly pull up your history with that movement such as rep maxes (the heaviest load you can lift for a given number of reps e.g. 3 rep max), when and what previous workouts you completed containing the movement etc.

What about individual workouts? How can you see if you have improved if you repeat a workout a few months apart? This comes down to power output, measured in foot pounds per minute. If you want to see improvement, this has to increase.

If you search for the workout in question using the search bar (in this case, 'Grace'), and then click on 'History' you can see all your past results for the workout, and also a graph which plots your results against your power output.

From my examples above, my last 3 attempts at 'Grace' were all at 60kg, but the time increased from (1) 2mins 52secs, to (2) 2 mins 38secs, to (3) 2mins and 9secs. As the graph shows, this is an obvious increase in power output. So I have made definite progress....#GAINZ!

What about if you repeat a workout but use a different weight or a more complex movement? For example the first time you did 'Grace' it was at 50kg and was finished in 5mins 24secs, but the second time you used 60kg but completed it in 6mins 47secs. Well, the same thing applies, it comes down to your power output.

Below is an example of an athlete who completed Grace at 50kg in their first attempt, and then a few months later at 60kg. We can see from the pictures below that at the heavier load and a slightly longer workout time, the power output actually dropped 9.4 (ft*lb)/sec.

Before you look in horror at this athlete's decrease in fitness.....

Things to consider...

1) Have you made progress or not? When repeating workouts, our ultimate aim should be for higher power outputs. That being said, a decrease in power output (when using heavier loads or harder movements) does not mean you got worse! You have done a workout with a load/movement that you could not manage before. So herein lies your improvement.

2) Off days: We all have off days and you will not feel like a 100% WOD-Killer every time you step into the gym. Not every session is going to be laden with PBs! Check back on our blog, A CrossFitters Road Map for the Intermediates Athlete.

3) What is the trend in your results: This is most important... are your results, fitness level and power outputs trending upwards? If they are then you are making progress!

Beyond the Whiteboard provides a very valuable tool for your training, provided you are consistently (and accurately) logging your results. 

So get logging!


WORKOUT OF THE DAY

A) Alternating EMOM x 20:
Minute 1: 2 Front squat (Heavy as form allows)
Minute 2: 10 Push-ups @ tempo 2020
Minute 3: 10 Ring rows @ tempo 2020
Minute 4: Rest

B) Front squat finisher
Drop the weight by 15% and perform 2 sets for max reps, rest 2 minutes between sets.

 

16 Jan 2015 – Making progress: Intensity vs. Technique

Wow, that's some serious intensity there Arnie...

Wow, that's some serious intensity there Arnie...

Intensity can be defined as "exactly equal to average power (force x distance / time). In other words, how much real work did you do and in what time period? The greater the average power, the greater the intensity."

Technique can be defined as a skilful, correct, safe and efficient way of performing movements.

Intensity and average power are the variables most commonly associated with optimising favourable results. Do more work in less time (without overdoing it), and you’ll get fitter, faster. Fact. In order to improve, we have to be prepared to push ourselves, often to 'uncomfortable' levels.

There is a fine line between intensity and technique. If we are focused on absolutely perfect technique every time we train, then our intensity will be much lower. On the flip sid,e if we go super hard all the time, it's likely that our form will suffer and we are at risk of injury. The key is finding the middle ground where you can go hard, but stay safe.

So where is this fine line between intensity and technique? Let's use CrossFit's favourite example.... let's take a look at three imaginary athletes who are all going to do "Grace" (30 clean and jerks at 60 kg, for time) and they all finish exactly on 3 minutes.

Athlete A hits it first. He puts on heavy metal to work out to and gets himself all pumped up by running around the gym screaming and grunting, slapping his chest and face and throwing chalk everywhere. 3, 2, 1, GO! 

The clock starts and he proceeds to yank the bar off the ground with a rounded back, he reverse curls it with little to no technique. He then strict presses overhead while heavily arching his lower back. Every rep is performed in the same way. He finishes his workout in exactly 3 minutes and drops to the ground into the foetal position, a sweaty, heaving, panting mess....he lies there for the next 30 minutes.

It's Athletes B's turn, so he changes the music to his 'Chillin' on a Sunday' playlist. The clock starts and he calmly walks up to the bar, he spends what feels like an age getting into a perfect set-up and proceeds to clean and jerk with perfect form. He drops the bar to the ground and takes a couple of steps back and assesses his next approach. As the workout continue,s he takes time to talk to the coach about his day. He too finishes at 3 minutes, he has not broken a sweat and he walks away feeling refreshed. 

Finally, it's Athlete C's turn. He changes the music over to his favourite workout tunes and hits some dynamic mobility drills while he’s waiting to begin his work out. When the clock starts, his clean and jerk technique isn’t perfect – he has an early arm bend, and could probably open his hips up a little more – but close to it. His coach yells a few lifting cues, the athlete corrects his technique and strings together 10 good reps before dropping the bar. He gives himself 15 seconds before forcing himself to pick the bar back up and finishes the workout in 3 minutes, flat. When he’s done, he is sweating and breathing hard. He composes himself, takes a gentle jog and brings his heart rate down to normal levels in a few minutes.

All of the above athletes finished at exactly the same time and all the athletes lifted 60 kg so we can say that the athletes all performed "Grace" with the same absolute intensity. What we see in our descriptions is a big difference between the athlete’s relative intensity: the ability for each to push themselves physically and mentally.

For Athlete B, his movement was perfect, but his intensity was very low. Do you think his performance will improve his overall fitness in the future? He may have looked technically perfect, but because he lacked the intensity, his fitness is less unlikely to improve in the future.

On the flip side we have Athlete A aka 'Mr Intense'. He went so hard that he had no form, and he was at risk of hurting himself and probably those around him. Although the intensity was super high, his lack of technique will likely result in little improvement next time he does this workout as he did nothing to work on his efficiency. 

Athlete C is right on the money as he balances CrossFit's requirement of high intensity and good technique. He had a few technique errors, but nothing serious and he was able to correct them when cued by the coach. He was also able to push himself hard. If he performs like this on every WOD do you think he will improve faster than the other two athletes?....Yes!

Here are some tips from me and Maria that we have found helpful in our training...

Strength days

  • Aim to lift more than last time. For example, if I am doing front squats for sets of 5 reps, I check back in Beyond the Whiteboard of what my 5 rep max is. If the last time I did front squats for 5 reps my heaviest set was 100kg, then I always go into the session with the goal of my last 1-2 sets being above this weight. Even if it's just by 2.5kg, its still an improvement and every kilo counts!
  • Embrace the suck. I know that as I approach a new rep max, I may lean forward a little more than I would like and I will be in a battle to keep my knees tracking my toes perfectly. Provided it's only very minor deviations in form, the last couple of reps of each set should have you wondering whether your are going to make it! If you're unsure, speak to your coach if you have any questions or would like feedback on your form before you add weight, that's why we're here!

Met-cons

  • Keep rest periods short. The more resting you do in a workout the lower the intensity falls. One tip is to decide that each time you rest, it's only going to be for X seconds (10-15 seconds is more than enough). Keep an eye on the clock and time yourself. No matter how you feel, you will get back to work once those seconds have passed time and you will surprise yourself at how much more you can do.
  • Go in with a strategy. Decide how you are going to break up the work...make it a challenge!
  • Have a mantra. It's easy to convince ourselves to take a rest, but it's much harder to convince ourselves to keep working! When the going gets tough and I want to stop I just focus on the next rep, and nothing else. I actually say "another rep". Once I do that rep, I say again "just one more rep". Before you know it, you've done 5-10 more reps before you actually rest.

Do you have any tips on how you push yourself in WODs? Let us know in comments!

WORKOUT OF THE DAY

A) Beginner
A1) Deadlift: 6 x 3
* Add load as technique allows
A2) Horizontal Push

A) Intermediate & Advanced
A1) Deadlift: 2-3 reps @ 80-90% totalling 15-20 reps
A2) Horizontal Push

B) 5 rounds for time of:

"Skill Focus"
3 Hang clean (70/45 kg)
5 Shoulder to overhead (70/45 kg)
7 Front squats (70/45 kg)
Rest 1 minute between rounds

"Fitness Focus"
5 Front squats
5 Shoulder to overhead
Run 200m

An Insight into our Programming

Programming at CrossFit 1864 is guided by our three key principles:

First, quality of movement and coaching are imperative and at the core of every good CrossFit box. They should be sought after tirelessly. 

Second, your development as an athlete (and ours as Coaches) never ends and we should continue learning from as many different sources as we can get our hands on. 

Finally, the only thing that comes close to the importance of quality movement is the importance of having fun and enjoying your training.

So you can get a better understanding of the finer details of what we do, we have detailed our basic programming structure for all levels of athletes, both for our strength pieces and our conditioning and gymnastics work....

General template

The general training week template follows a simple structure of a strength biased day followed by a conditioning biased day. 

*Please note that the description below is purely an example of how we structure our programming. This will evolve and adapt as our community grows and your needs change.

Strength Bias Days

Each of our strength days has a main lift: a squat variation (e.g front squat, back squat), a hinge variation (e.g. deadlift, power clean) or a press variation (e.g. strict press, push press). Each movement rotates through a five week cycle and each fifth week will be a ‘Benchmark Week’ where we will test certain rep-maxes on the present lift, as well as hitting some benchmark workouts. The following week, we will change the movement variation in order to keep providing a fresh training stimulus.

For beginners we follow a linear strength progression based on adding load to the bar each week and performing that weight for a given number of sets. 

Here is an example:

Week 1: Back squat 2-4 x 8 

Week 2: Back squat 4-6 x 5 

Week 3: Back squat 5-7 x 3

Week 4: Back squat, new 1 Rep max

New cycle & new movement variation 

Week 1: Front squat 2-4 x 8

Week 2: Front squat 4-6 x 5 

…etc...

When you see a set and rep range like 4-6 x 5, this means perform 4-6 working sets of 5 repetitions at the same weight across all sets. This is after a warm-up in which you build up to your working set weight. The use of 3-5 sets allows for a little individual variation based on how you feel that day. 

This linear progression works very well for beginner to intermediate athletes as they have the advantage of ‘the novice effect'. Explained simply, when a person fairly new to training begins to lift weights, they get stronger very quickly due to rapid Central Nervous System (CNS) and muscular adaption. 

What is very important in the early stages (and also for more advanced lifters) is ensuring that load is increased in a controlled manner and only added to correct and consistent technique and proper movement mechanics. By adding small amounts of load each week, the training stimulus can still be applied in a safe and controlled manner.

This 'novice effect' can last anywhere from 3 to 18+ months. When results start to diminish then new training methods need to be applied and we move to more advanced strength progressions...

For Intermediate & Advanced Athletes you will follow the same movement cycles as beginners, but your strength work will vary slightly in how it will be presented on the whiteboard and how it will be performed.

Here is an example of what you might see:

Back squat @ 75-80% 1RM. Perform 2-4 reps per set. Totalling 18-21 reps.

This means you perform sets of back squats at any load between 75-80% of your 1 rep max back squat. Each set should be between 2-4 reps, and you will do as many sets as needed to total somewhere between 18-21 total reps.

There are several reasons we use this approach with more advanced lifters. The main reason is that the use of percentages and rep ranges allows us to account for variation between individuals. Depending on your genetics (e.g. muscle fibre make-up) some people could perform 4+ reps at 80% while others may only be able to do 2 reps.

The use of these ranges also allows for each individual to go ‘by feel'. Some days your sleep and nutrition has been spot on and you're ready to go in and crush the workout, while other days you may feel a little fatigued and have to go easier.

Why these specific numbers? The percentages and ranges come from years of widely respected Russian Weightlifting literature. Researchers looked at what percentages work best for different adaptations – Hypertrophy (growth and increase of muscle cells), Endurance, Speed, Max strength, etc. – and what rep ranges need to be used to ensure the right amount of stimulus is applied in order to achieve the best results.

Advanced Athletes

When athletes reach a higher level of fitness, they need more volume/intensity to keep pushing their progress. After the main lift session, we will sometimes program  ‘advanced methods’. These methods may include (but are not limited to) tempo method, shock method, complex method, dynamic effort etc, and they will vary along with the movement cycles (see example below).

Regardless of your level, all athletes will perform an additional movement that will usually be gymnastic-based e.g. a horizontal push or pull (push-ups, ring row), or a vertical push or pull (ring dip, chin-up). These movements will build strict gymnastics strength through the addition of load, tempo, deficit etc.

On strength-biased days, after the lifting section of the class we will follow up with a short (<10min) heavy met-con. The movements chosen for these will always vary, but they will be based around assistance exercises that complement the main lift of the day.

Gymnastic strength

As well as working on barbell strength, we also have to develop gymnastics. We split our gymnastics into 5 categories: vertical pull, vertical push, horizontal pull, horizontal push and midline. With each lifting session we choose one of these categories to focus on and at the gym we have a series of progressions to cater for complete beginners to the most advanced athletes.

After each set of your barbell lift, your peform a set of gymnastic strength work.

To tie all the above together, here is an example of a strength day:

Beginner

A1) Back squat : 4-6 x 5 
A2) Vertical pull

  • Rest 30 seconds between A1 and A2

  • Rest up to 2 minutes after A2

Intermediate & Advanced

A1) Back squat @ 75-80% 1RM. Perform 2-4 reps per set. Totalling 18-21 reps.
A2) Vertical pull

  • Rest 30 seconds between A1 and A2

  • Rest up to 2 minutes after A2

Advanced only

B) Tempo Method: Back squat

  • Perform 3-5 x 8-10 @ 50-60%1RM. Tempo 2020

All Athletes

C) Workout of the day

10 Minute AMRAP:

12 Front rack lunges
9 Toes to bar
6 Box jumps 24/20"

  • Beginner aim is 40/30kg lunge

  • Intermediate aim is 50/35kg lunge

  • Advanced aim is 60/40kg lunge

Conditioning days

While any training is technically ‘conditioning’, CrossFit 1864's conditioning days refer to non-strength biased days where we will typically have some of our longer workouts.

These days will follow a simple structure where we have two parts: 

A) Gymnastics / Barbell skill work
B) Workout of the day (WOD)

The Gymnastics / Barbell skill work will be 15-30 minutes (depending on WOD length) where we focus on particular progressions for some of the more complex gymnastics and barbell movements such as muscle-ups, kipping pull-ups, handstand push-ups, pistols, cleans and snatches.

We will then move into the WOD which will include the movement (or a scaled variation) that was covered in Part A. Here is an example:

A) Gymnastic skill work: Toes to bar
B) 5 rounds for time:

Run 400m
5 Cleans
10 Toes to bar
15 Wall balls 9/6kg

  • Beginner aim is 40/30kg Hang Power Clean
  • Intermediate aim is 60/40kg Power cleans
  • Advanced aim is 80/50 Cleans

Tracking Results, Athlete Levels & Progressing your 'Level of Fitness'

A training program is only as good as its results. What makes CrossFit so effective is that it enables coaches and athletes to obtain observable, measurable and repeatable data. By measuring workouts through time, speed, load etc, we can track an individual's ‘fitness’ and their progress. For example if you do the CrossFit benchmark workout 'Fran' (21-15-9 reps of thrusters and pull-ups) in 9 min 31 sec, and then repeat it 6 months later and your time is 5 min 57 sec, we can say your fitness and ability has improved (LOADS!).

To help us keep track of your progress, we use an online system called Beyond the Whiteboard

Not only can you log your workout results, but we can record lifestyle factors as well, such as sleep quality, nutrition and body measurements.

This system will help each of you discover your relative strengths and weaknesses. As your coaches, we can then use this information to analyse our programming and develop a plan of attack that will turn gym weaknesses into strengths. It doesn’t matter if you are trying to make it to the CrossFit Games, or you are simply looking to stay healthy... it's all about progress!

Here is a great article from BtWB that we suggest you read in addition to taking a look at the video above

At CrossFit 1864 we have set ‘fitness level’ ranges used on Beyond the Whiteboard to assess our athletes fitness levels from beginner to advanced.

1-60 = Beginner level
61-80 = Intermediate level 
81+ = Advanced level

This 'fitness level' takes into account 8 categories (power lifts, olympic lifts, speed, endurance, bodyweight met-con, light met-con,  heavy met-con and light met-con). For your fitness level to be accurate you need a score for each of these categories.

The role of nutrition

You have to complement your hard training with a solid and well rounded nutritional program. The hard work you put in at the gym will only pay dividends if your nutrition matches your goals. So, we also provide nutritional programming which we encourage all our athletes to take up.

If you have any questions about anything, or would like more information on our programme, please feel free to get in touch.