Pre-COVID our small group class format which saw classes of 12 members or less provided a great opportunity for coaches to address individual training needs and recommend workout modifications best suited to keeping each participant safe while progressing toward their specific fitness goals.  With the limitations imposed by the current open gym-only format and the additional coaching demands of Zoom classes coaches have had less opportunity to work with members and make sure they are adapting workouts correctly for themselves to simultaneously optimize both safety and fitness outcomes.  The subject of how to train sustainably has come up several times in recent weeks.  We’ve been able to address this to a degree by offering short 1-on-1 personal training sessions with members to address their specific goals and challenges.  I’ve so far had the pleasure of meeting 1-on-1 with Quicksilver, Dauntless, G-Money, HHH, BFG, Smash, Derby, Electric, Livewire, Hammer, Adagio, Sass, Motor, Silk and several others.  If you would like to get a bit more direction you are welcome to book some 1-on-1’s with the coach of your choice. Otherwise, here are some tips on how you can make CrossFit workouts safer and more effective for yourself:

Stop Chasing the Rx
Adapt the WOD to your needs.  The Rx is a useful tool to strive towards to push you forward and prevent your fitness from backsliding.  But any tool is only useful when applied to the correct circumstance. 

Doing Grace Rx’d makes no sense and is counterproductive if it takes you 23 minutes.  You need to scale loads and movements to get the desired workout stimulus. 

If you are returning from injury or inactivity, it may not make sense to do 100 Rx’d pull ups.  You need to ease your way in by scaling volume and intensity in order to allow your body to catch up.  Don’t be shy to mix in ring rows or other alternatives.

Sometimes the Rx will hold you back from achieving your specific fitness goals.  If you are targeting raw strength, a dumbbell or sandbag Elizabeth will get you a better pay off than the barbell version especially if you can easily blast through cleans at the Rx’d weight.

Use the Rx to produce better fitness results but don’t become a slave to it.  Abandon it when it does not serve your purpose.

70% Beats 110%
Today’s WOD is less important than the next 5 WODs.  CrossFit is a high-intensity training program.  That is not the same as a FULL intensity training program.  100% effort is for competition, not for training.  It is hard to recover from 100% effort, your next workouts will likely be crap, if you don’t get injured and miss them completely.  Consistency trumps intensity.  70-80% is still high intensity but it is a training intensity that you can recover from, that will allow you to come back and play hard again tomorrow.  Did you get that?  High intensity does not mean FULL intensity.  Stop sacrificing your body on the altar of all out effort.  70% will leave you sucking wind, 80% will leave you in a heap on the floor.  You will get fitter AND you’ll be able to maintain that level of effort consistently.  Remember, you won’t get far if you keep burning out or getting injured.  A month of 70% effort workouts will trump sporadic 100% workouts and you will feel better to boot!

Total Volume vs 1 Rep Maxes
1 rep maxes are for competition (see 100% effort above).  Yes, beginners will score personal bests for the first 12-24 months but if you’ve been CrossFitting more than 2 years, as most Empower members have, you need to stop chasing 1 rep maxes and start training for total volume.  Training at the threshold of your capacity is tough on your central nervous system making recovery falter.  It is also challenging on your musculoskeletal  system exposing you to higher risk of injury.  It may also rob you of work capacity.  Look at the 5×5 deadlift example below:

He-Man 300-305-315-320-325 Total Volume: 7825lbs
Panthro 315-315-315-315-315 Total Volume: 7875lbs

At first blush you’d think He-Man stole the show with a set of 5 deadlifts at a whopping 325lbs but when you look at total volume you will note that across 5 sets (25 reps) Panthro had more quality sets moving a total of 7875lbs or 50lbs more than He-Man without endangering his body and central nervous system by flying too close to his maxes.  Panthro is building a better strength base AND will be more recovered to optimize tomorrow’s training.

When you stop valuing maxes and start calculating total training volume you will get better results, continued progress, fewer injuries and build a better base of strength by eliminating throw away sets.

Rest After Personal Bests
You’re on fire until you burn out.  It’s hard to stop when you are on a hot streak.  When you’re winning, you want to keep on winning, but like a gambler on a winning streak, you need to know that now is the best time to walk away from the table and cash in on your gains.  Only suckers keep playing until they bust.  If you just hit a personal best performance, it is time to slow down, take the next few training sessions down to 70% effort or even take a few days off.  This takes discipline.  But remember, personal bests are for competition, not training.  When you hit a best in training, congratulate yourself, it means your training is working.  You now have a new high water mark.  Now take some time to recover.  Remember, we’re not trying to hit our bests in training.  If you hit one it is a happy accident.  If you hit another, you are flirting with disaster.  Back off!

Adaptation Occurs at Rest
The WOD is the stimulus.  The adaptation occurs at rest.  Too much of a good thing will kill you.   We are always searching for the MED: Minimum Effective Dose.  You want just enough training intensity and volume to stimulate an adaptive response.  And then you want to get adequate rest to recover and consolidate your training gains.  Any excess training will actually interfere with your recovery and actually blunt your adaptations short changing you on your training efforts. In fitness, less is more.  If you’re training a lot, eating well, sleeping well but not seeing significant improvements, you are probably training too much.  Your shortest path to accelerated results is to reduce your training volume.

Slow is Smooth
Form first!  The Navy SEAL motto is: Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.  If you want to go faster, first slow down and get better.  Powerful effort will burn you out and put you in harm’s way.  Effortless power is achieved through mastery of the fundamental movement mechanics.  Learn the points of performance and discipline yourself to maintain them throughout your workout, even when you are fatigued – ESPECIALLY when you are fatigued.  Getting injured is a sure way to slow down your fitness results and being efficient is a sure way to get more work done quicker with less effort.  Movement mastery therefore pays off twice and gets you results twice as fast.  It’s not complicated but it does demand discipline.  The secret to success is JUST SLOW DOWN!  Every rep.  All.  The.  Time. 

Know Your percentages
Rookies have trouble understanding the importance of recording workout data.  Sometimes veterans are too lazy to track it too.  The result is at best sub par performances but at worst, needless injuries.  It is amateurish and irresponsible.  You need to track your workout data so that you know your maxes.  You need to know your maxes so you can load appropriately.  For strength training you should be working at 70-90% of your 1 rep max.  Anything less will not help you develop strength and may promote sloppy form.  Anything more will put you at risk and promote a breakdown in proper mechanics. 

For conditioning workouts you should not exceed 60%, 40-50% is often ideal.  Anything more will put you in harm’s way and will also rob you of the desired training intent. 

There may be times when it makes sense to go outside the provided percentages but do not do so except under the guidance of a coach who can explain why it is appropriate in this specific instance.

Volume Matters
High performance cars go from 0 to 60, the human body doesn’t.  If you’ve never done more than 10 pull ups in a workout, you shouldn’t be doing more than 15 today.  Earn your way to 60, 100 or even 200 a few reps at a time!  Build your way up and once you’ve achieved a work capacity never surrender it unless circumstances such as injury, illness or a prolonged absence require you to rebuild.

Put Building Blocks in Your Mouth
You need at least 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass per day!  If you are active and want to optimize your recovery and training adaptations the correct number is 1.6 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass per day.  That is a lot of protein!  Bet you are not eating that much.  Struggling to recover?  Suffering from frequent strains and slow healing?  Not seeing the physique you dreamed of in the mirror?  There’s very few problems adequate nutrition can’t solve.  There’s a lot of “experts” making a lot of money trying to complicate the subject but like many things, it isn’t really that complicated. 

Here’s your fool proof recipe for excellence:
1) Eat.  More.  Protein. 
2) Marvel at the transformation!

It’s simple really but not at all easy.

Rest Actively
Sitting still is not good recovery.  Walk, cycle, swim, yoga or Original Strength at low intensities.  The more you move, the faster you recover.  As long as you aren’t accumulating more damage.  Optimal results are achieved at 8500+ steps per day.  That’s a lot of walking!  Sadly your biology is not programmed to care about the demands of your work day or how much free time you have available.  Do the best you can.  The less you move, the slower you recover, the less benefit you reap from your training sessions.   Fat metabolism is more influenced by sedentary habits than by your exercise habits.  In fact individuals walking fewer than 5000 steps per day did not experience the fat oxidation benefits of exercise.  8500+ steps per day were necessary to prevent exercise resistance.

Warm Up.  Cool Down.
I am impatient by nature.  I hate warming up and cooling down.  I just want to play.  And when I skip either warm up or cool down I pay the price.  It is hard to enjoy playing when you are in pain or injured.  You can’t just throw your body into action without prepping your muscles and joints.  Maybe if you lived an active life all day long but if you’ve been sedentary, even for a few hours or even working in a fixed position for prolonged periods, you need to limber up properly.  And when you’ve taken your body through the rigours of the workout, you can’t go straight back to your sedentary lifestyle without first taking it through a proper cool down.  I wish it weren’t so but that is just the way it is.  Be responsible.  Take a professional approach to caring for your body and it will serve you well for years.  Ignore this advice at your own peril.   

Hold Still Longer
Build resilience through static holds, isometrics, sled pulls/pushes and loaded carries.  These are joint-saving options for building real strength and resilience.  Use them as warm ups, cool downs or on recovery days.  With little to no tissue damage or joint stress you will not impair your recovery.  Lacking the sexy factor these training options fell off the radar but they have always worked and they still do.  They will make a comeback but why wait for holds and carries to be trendy again when you can reap the benefits now?

Earn Your Intensity
Through consistency.  If you took time off, come back slowly and carefully rebuilding your foundation.  Form-Frequency-Intensity.  Follow that order and you will be healthy and safe and reap all the benefits of training.  Race to intensity (the fun stuff) without first correcting form and building a foundation through consistent training and you are setting the stage for a train wreck.

Train Like a Racehorse
Wear blinders in training.  This is your training.  Stop watching what the other guys and gals are doing.  You don’t need to be better than them.  You’re comparing yourself to the wrong target.  You need to be better than you.  Build on your capacity in small, incremental improvements.  Ignore everyone else.  This is your race and your past self is your only meaningful competition.  But remember what we said earlier: training occurs at 70-80% effort, we’re not chasing personal bests day-to-day!  So how will you be better than you were yesterday?  Don’t worry about it.  Keep your head down, your blinders on and get your work done day-in, day-out, consistently without fail, following the instructions above and you will find you consistently improve over time.  You won’t score a personal best everyday.  You won’t score a personal best most days.  But over time, your performances will almost magically trend up a percentage point at a time.  Day-to-day you won’t notice it, not even week-to-week or month-to-month but by the end of a year, when you look back, if you’ve followed all the instructions above, you will be astounded to see how your work capacity and power output has increased!  The trick is to keep your head down and the eyes on the task in front of you at this moment with no mind to yesterday or tomorrow.  A good pair of blinders will get you very far. 

Friday WOD

Equipment: Barbell or Alternative

Warm Up
3 Rounds:
1 min Full Body Rock
1 min Cross Crawls
1 min Romanian Deadlifts

Deadlift POP

8 min AMRAP
10 Deadlifts
6 Bar Over Burpees

Cool Down
Dragon Pose
Pigeon Pose
Hip Crossovers
Downward Dog
Child’s Pose