Sometimes what you do is less important than how you do it. 

This blog post will be of particular interest to our CanWest athletes and any members intent on developing their athletics skills.  I realize many members come to the gym to just get a good workout and are not too interested in mastering the movements.  But these same members will frequently ask me how to get better at a particular movement.  The answer is to stop trying to finish the workout as quickly as possible and instead look for opportunities for how you can use the workout to develop specific skills.

So how do you do this?  I’m going to use Thursday’s Row-HSPU WOD as an example by explaining in detail exactly how I approached this one in order to develop very particular skills. 

I have strong HSPU’s so even if I rowed at a comfortable 2 minute/500m pace, I could finish this one Rx’d in under 20 minutes.  Instead, I chose to invest nearly 40 minutes in targeted skill development.

I programmed the rower for a 500m countdown timer, set my damper to a drag factor of 115 and gave it a 90% effort on the row finishing at 1:45.2.  This was a hard pace for me and required several minutes recovery before I could get set up for the HSPUs.  I would not do this in competition but today I wanted to work on my high intensity rowing and explore what speed I could realistically repeat.

Parallette HSPU’s are challenging.  I want to develop strict strength with a deficit so I decided to do the first 10 reps without a kip in sets of 2.  This was very taxing for me and required a few minutes recovery between each set of 2.  It constituted the longest portion of the WOD but I was pleased to accumulate exactly 5 sets of 2.  The last 10 I completed kipping in 2 sets of 5 without much difficulty.

For my second row I reset the timer with the aim of improving on my first row.  I failed finishing at 1:45.3 just slightly slower than round one.

Strict HSPUs were next.  My goal: 2 sets.  I completed 11 and then 9.

My final row I edged the damper setting up to a drag factor of about 118.  This time I finished at 1:45.0.

My last round of HSPUs was kipping.  I’ve done sets of 20 unbroken before so I wanted to see if I could do this again in my fatigued state.  I succeeded.

All this took much longer than if I had paced the row better or broken my HSPUs into shorter sets but it accomplished some serious strength and skill development and taught me several things:

While I can sprint a 500m Row at about 1:45, it requires a lot of recovery.  For competition, if there is work to be performed after the row, I would be best to stick to a more manageable pace of 1:55/500m which is 10 seconds slower but will not require several minutes recovery.  I also learned that for a sprint, I perform better with the damper at a drag factor of about 118.

Parallette HSPU
If strict ones show up in competition, I would be best to do them as singles at a pace of about 1 every 40 seconds.  If kipping is allowed then sets of 5 will work well.

Strict HSPU
I can certainly bang out 10 in a row to wrap up a WOD but for bigger workouts I’d be best to stick to 6-8 at a time.

Kipping HSPU
In a pinch I can go unbroken for 20+ but for pacing sets of 12-15 will be best.

I don’t always break down my workouts this meticulously but 80% of the time I prioritize micro goals over total score and look for skill development and learning opportunities inside the workout.  Hopefully this breakdown and peek inside my process helps you rethink your own approach to workouts so that you can stop obsessing about the leaderboard and get the most out of them.

The time, space and equipment limitations of a group class may not always allow you to approach workouts the way I did but if skill development is one of your goals, I do recommend dissecting the WOD elements and prioritizing particular micro goals within the workout.  In the long run you will become more efficient and develop better pacing which will ultimately make you a better competitor.  It may also help you stay healthier and injury free.

Friday Make Up Day

1) 500m Row
20 parallette HSPU
500m Row
20 strict HSPU
500m Row
20 kipping HSPU

2) 5 Rnds
20 Wall balls 14/20# 11/12′
10 Med ball pull ups

3) 45 min AMRAP
800m Run
10 Deadlift @225/315#
800m Run
50 Sit Ups

4) Empower Reset #25
3 mins Navy SEAL box breathing (4/4/6/6)

2 mins Starfish

3 mins
20 Cross Touch Dead Bugs
10 Windshield Wipers

3 mins
Back to Front Get Ups

2 mins
Crab Step Throughs

5 Tibetan Rites
3 each:
1. Spin
2. J
3. Table
4. Lean Back
5. Up/Down Dog


  1. Rocking Chair
  2. Breakfall
  3. Kiai
  4. Squat to breakfall
  5. Stand to break fall
  6. Bonus Ninja Manoeuvre: Rolling up to feet

5 mins
10 Romanian Deadlifts
5/5 KB Suitcase Deadlifts
5/5 KB Single Leg Deadlifts