Training bias – strength, conditioning, other?

I Will CrossFit, the affiliate I train at, has a more conditioning biased training regimen. The programming is an oft-discussed topic in the #530crew conversations. We’ve all made remarkable progress over the last year or so, in terms of strength and conditioning. This is evidenced by the fact that our PRs have all been moving steadily upwards for the various weightlifting benchmarks and downwards for the timed benchmarks.

Ben Bergeron, legendary coach of the two fittest people on Earth, Katrin Davidsdottir and Mat Fraser, has podcast series called, Chasing Excellence. In a recent episode he discussed Conditioning-Biased Training. Give it a listen.

BB chasing excellence

I love that there is a copy of Seth Godin’s “What does it sound like when you change your mind” on the shelf behind them.

In this episode: We talk about the difference between programming for competitors versus members of our affiliates, the downfalls of strength-biased programming, & why less is almost always more.

It’s a great discussion and offers excellent insight into the different programming approaches which can be followed. What I found just as interesting, though, were the comments about the podcast. Ben divides the programming needs for an affiliate between competitors (Games- and Regionals-level athletes) and ‘regular’ members. And rightly so. The programming required to reach Regional level is so far beyond what most people want from a training program that they bear little resemblance to each other. However, there is another group of athletes not addressed with this approach. These are the guys who are not going to be in the top 20 in the Games and they’re not looking to beat Dan Bailey’s Fran time. They’re also not just trying to keep fit. Many of them played or still play other sports. They’re competitive. They want to improve. They want to get stronger. They want to learn how to do all the gymnastics movements. They want to get faster. They use CrossFit to supplement and complement their other sporting activities. Often making great strides in the other sporting disciplines because of the work they do in the CrossFit box. A program that suits some looking to keep/get fit may not suit this sort of CrossFit athlete. I think there is room for something in between. In some affiliates they program three versions of the workout: scaled, Rx and Rx plus. Perhaps this does address it to some extent. In ours, we have scaled and Rx but people do their own scaling depending on their experience and strength, often ending up somewhere in the middle.

I’ve only trained in one other affiliate when I was on holiday, so I don’t have a frame of reference for how other philosophies on programming work. I know I’ve improved significantly in the last year in all aspects of CrossFit that I’ve focused on. For me, I tend to trust the process our Coach has us following but it’s interesting to think about progressing to the next level. And trying to define that next level. I think if I discuss this with my coach we can work out a plan to address whatever it would take. But I also think that despite my progress, I’m still at a level where I can continue to improve just by following his current program. Intensity during the workout can make quite a difference without changing the program. But that’s a topic for another post.

In what direction is your programming biased? How are your WODs structured? If you changed affiliates was it because of the programming?


Conditioning Day: Embrace the Pain

This was a tough but good WOD.  After our coach said 3-2-1-GO, most of the athletes took off at quite a quick pace. My comment was ‘it’s a marathon not a sprint!’ When I saw the workout posted I decided that I was going to aim for a steady rather than quick pace. 

I’ve recently managed to figure out how to do kipping toes-to-bar so I felt ok about those. I just had to keep moving. I broke them up into sets of 5 with a 5-10 second break between each. This worked well throughout because I was able to maintain a steady pace. 

The double unders were sooooo frustrating. Every time I think I’ve learned how to do them properly it gets programmed into the WOD and I realize I haven’t. The most I managed unbroken was 6! So I lost a lot of time doing these and I have the whip marks on my legs to show the struggle. I need more practice!

Wall balls! At the end of each round. This is where the suck really set in. Again I broke these up into sets of 5 or 10 with a 10 second break between each set. Slow and steady. Despite this I was so tired at the end of each round that the run in the next round was more like a shuffle. 

In the end I didn’t finish before the time cap was reached. I managed to get through the 30 double unders of round three. I did continue and completed all 150 reps of all  4 exercises. I was so finished at the end I could barely form coherent sentences.

If you’re looking for a great conditioning workout give this one a try. Scale where necessary – knees to chest/single unders/manageable wall ball weight. Let me know how it goes. 

Warp speed. Thoughts on speed and strength.

Warp Speed

A selfie on the move – Mr Sulu would be proud

I had a good run to work this morning. The weather cleared up overnight but the temperature was still rather low. The sun was just coming up. A cold and crisp Spring morning. Perfect for running if you have enough layers and a pair of gloves. I had a couple of random thoughts during the commute.

I decided to try my 5K route. I haven’t run that one in a while and I need to start upping my mileage ahead of the Pony Express Half Marathon coming up in May. My initial thoughts were mainly on how slow I felt. This is a constant thing for me when I run. I feel slow. I feel like I’m making no progress in the speed department. It didn’t help that I had the traffic lights conspiring against me as well. It seemed like I had to stop at almost every one of them, making my average pace drop. Interesting then, that the selfie I took on the run makes it look like I’m flying along :-).

My thoughts also veered in the direction of the Crossfit Games Open. We’re 4 weeks in with one more workout to go. What an experience this has been for me. Up to now, I’ve only competed in events like half marathons and triathlons. A couple of cycle races. I’d never considered taking on anything which tests your fitness in the manner that the Open does. From the Crossfit Games website, it is described as follows:

The CrossFit Games events are made up of a broad range of functional movements. Functional movements move large loads, long distances, quickly. These movements also form the basis of our exercise program. Make no mistake—the CrossFit Games are designed to test, not train, fitness. The goal is to find the fittest athletes, not to produce an easily replicable workout program.

Is ‘replicable’ a word?

The Open is the first installment in the Games. Competitors from across the globe log onto the Games website every Thursday at 5PM PST to find out what the workout of the week will be. They then have until the following Monday at 5PM PST to submit their scores for that workout. The top athletes move on to the regionals where they compete for a place in the big event, the Crossfit Games.

I’ve never considered myself strong (still don’t) and have tended to focus on my cardio training rather than strength training. I’ve been doing crossfit since the beginning of September 2015 so I didn’t think I was ready to enter the Open. After a bit of convincing by the coach, however, I signed up along with 17 other box members from the I Will Crossfit affiliate here in Dublin, California. I’m so glad I did. The workouts have all been tough but I’ve enjoyed all of them. I’ve learned some new skills along the way (double unders and muscle ups) and identified loads of things I need to work on (general strength and hand stand push-ups to name two). I’m excited to find out what the final workout will be. I now have a benchmark for next year – yes, I’m already planning to enter the 2017 event.

So how do these two random thoughts link? Well, I started crossfit in the hopes that gaining extra strength would translate into gaining extra speed and endurance. In the California International Marathon in December last year, I felt that my endurance had definitely improved. My finish time was a new PR so I guess the speed was there too. However, I’m not sure I’ve maintained that speed. This is all part of my nervousness as an event approaches. I’m looking forward to the half marathon in May. I haven’t run one in a while. I can’t wait to test myself. I’ll let you know how it goes.

What are your tips and tricks for increasing speed? Fartleks or Yasso 800s? Do you do any strength training?


PHOTO: Enjoy your training


Have fun

Just keep swimming…


Bexhill Triathlon 28th August 2011

Delighted to be alive after a horrible swim (taken in Bexhill in Sussex, England)

As you can see from the caption and the goofy expression on my face in the photo above, I was delighted to have survived the swim leg of the Bexhill Triathlon in 2011. I’ve had rough relationship with the swim in the events I’ve entered and since I’m planning to start my swim training in March, I thought I’d share some of my experiences.

A tip which completely revolutionized swimming for me is rather simple: “Drop your head to raise your legs and have the sensation of swimming downhill.” Before I read this and put it into practice, I struggled to swim at a steady, smooth pace. No matter how much I trained, I couldn’t get into a rhythm which allowed me to swim lap after lap like all the other guys at the gym pool. It frustrated me. If I slowed down, my legs started dropping so I had to kick and stroke harder to keep from sinking. Kicking and stroking harder meant using up all my energy, which meant I had to take numerous breaks between laps. Then I read the tip and everything changed.

Suddenly it felt as if I was floating more. I felt as though I could move my arms as slowly as I wanted to and that I didn’t need to kick that hard to stay above the water. No more sinking feeling. No more energy wasted on kicking more than a dojo full of black belts. The first day I tried it I swam 1000m non-stop. I just kept going and I recall a sense of disbelief that I was managing to continue. The day before I’d struggled to finish half that distance even with regular breaks.

Expect the swim start to be a crazy washing machine of arms and legs. Even the occasional fist (I was once punched in the jaw by a guy swimming next to me. After hitting me, he swam towards another triathlete and repeated the process. It seems he took the opportunity during the confusion of the swim start to get some free punches in on unsuspecting people). In my first triathlon I was concerned about the swim distance and if I would make it. I plotted the shortest course which meant that I ended up in the thick of things at the course buoys. Ever since, I’ve made a point of swimming on the outside of the pack. Even though this means that I probably swim slightly further, it is worth it if you’d prefer to avoid the traffic jams near any obstacles or turns. So far this has worked out well for me.

There have been at least 3 triathlon events I’ve entered where I truly believed I was going to drown or, less dramatically, grab onto the canoe or kayak of the life savers to disqualify myself from the race. For all 3, I had trained and could easily manage the distance. What I didn’t manage well was the adrenaline at the start of the race nor the shock of the cold water. Now I make sure I get into the water early so I can get used to the temperature and, as mentioned above, I keep to the outskirts of the pack. I try and start at my own pace and don’t race to keep up with anyone. The other thought I have is that, if I am in serious trouble, the life savers are right there to pull me up. This gives me a sense of security and allows me to focus on my Dory thought, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just swimming…”

Good luck out there in the upcoming season. Any tips or experiences you’d like to share?


Holiday Fitness

I recently spent two weeks on vacation in Cape Town, South Africa. It was my first visit home in a while and I had a ton of catching up to do. Family and friends I hadn’t seen in 5+ years. In addition, my folks were moving house and the main reason I was back was that my brother was getting married. So I was expecting a full schedule. My biggest concern was that I wouldn’t have time to train. I didn’t want to lose all the fitness and strength I’d worked so hard to gain.


Bird’s eye view of Cape Town

In order to ensure that I stayed fit, I made some plans.

Ahead of the trip I contacted Cape Crossfit to inquire about drop-in classes. Thankfully they did have them and I signed up for a morning class two days after I arrived. The members of this box were extremely welcoming and the two WODs I participated in were great. I bought a T-shirt and wear it proudly to my local box.

My brother and I worked out together at his gym. We focused on pecs and ran on the treadmill.

I packed in my speed rope – I suck at double unders and thought I could practice while on holiday. On one of my quieter afternoons, I spent some time whipping myself on the arms and legs and cursing the world in general. I think I did get a bit better but it’s certainly not perfect yet. My sister’s dog, Ringo, must’ve thought I was crazy – he kept his distance throughout.

My running buddy, Craig, invited me to join him on some training runs with his club, Spartan Harriers. I enjoyed two runs with the club – the routes were nice and it was cool to train and catch up with one of my best friends. I wanted to run some routes I used to do when I was still living in Cape Town. Newlands Forest was an old favourite – amazing scenery and challenging hills.


Views in Newlands Forest

Another favourite was a route through the Constantia suburbs which included a green belt stretch. I used to run with another good friend, Anton. The route was close to my sister’s place,  so it worked out well.


Views in Constantia. Elephant’s Eye cave in the top left hand photo. I used to hike there with my wife.

When I was at university, I spent a lot of time on the squash court. I played competitively for a few years and the campus had two courts. Robbie Samuels is a legend on this campus when it comes to squash. He plays 4-5 times a week and has been doing so for more than 20 years. I joined Robbie for a session on the courts. It’d been a while but it was a fantastic workout and loads of fun. A trip down fitness memory lane.


UCT Medical School squash courts

So all-in-all, I managed to continue training during my vacation. I feel I maintained my fitness and strength levels and came back home ready to move forward towards my goals. The keys for me were prioritizing my training and using the time as an opportunity to reconnect with friends and family.


Saturday Suffering and Monday Moaning

WOD 16.2.13

Saturday’s Partner WOD

Saturday morning at I WILL CROSSFIT is always fun. For a given value of fun.

Coach Matt has us doing partner or team WODs. This Saturday we had a workout titled “Strung-out, Backwards, Upside Down, Fran.”  It was a tough one for me. Up until Saturday, I’d not been able to do Thrusters at 95 pounds, so I started the workout feeling rather nervous. My partner, Steve L., and I decided to split the reps and also to do 10 at a time.

After the 1 mile run, Steve made quick work of the first 10 Thrusters. I approached the bar with a boat load of trepidation. But Steve kept telling me I could do it. I reached down, raised the bar to my shoulder and went into the squat. Braced myself for a split second and pushed up. Transition into the press. I did it! I almost dropped the bar with excitement because I seriously didn’t expect I’d be able to manage. I calmed myself quickly though, there were still 59 more Thruster reps and 60 more pull-ups to complete before the workout was done. All-in-all, happy day for me. I was an exhausted puddle of sweat at the end but I feel a bit more comfortable about the Open now because 95 pound Thrusters are inevitable. Thanks for the encouragement Steve!


Monday morning and the alarm goes off at 4:45am. Aaarggghhh. Already! Nooooo! I was still sore from Saturday. My quads, my abs, my lats, my shoulders. Actually, my whole body. I got ready anyway. The Open is less than two weeks away and I need all the training I can get. We always start our warm-ups with a jog up and down the gym track. This takes us by the WOD board and we all try and sneak a peek at what new torture awaits us. Today it was going to be a bunch of Clean and Jerks.

Cue further trepidation. My Clean technique is rather dirty. It needs a lot of work. I had maxed out at 145 pounds when we did baseline testing at the beginning of the year. At 155, I couldn’t get out of the squat. I was just stuck and ended up having to drop the weight.

WOD 16.2.15

Monday’s WOD

I started out conservatively – just the 45 pound bar for the first 6 reps – and focused on technique. It still sucked. I’m still working on the bouncing the weight off my hips on the way up. I lose power and momentum in that part of the lift. For the 5 reps I added another 20 pounds to the bar. Still manageable despite my fledgling abilities. Coach Matt pointed out that I could be more explosive on my split jerk as well. For the second set of 5 reps I added another 20 pounds (I’m more used to kilograms since I’m from South Africa, but with pounds it always seems like so much more, so I’m happy to report in pounds 🙂 ). Another 20 for 3 reps – still ok. For the first set of 2 reps I went up to 135 pounds. Pretty close to my 1 rep maximum of 145. I managed both reps but it was definitely more of an effort now. I took a bit of a longer break this time after loading the bar with a further 20 pounds. 155! If I lifted this, it would be a clean PR!

The other crossfitters all paused their lifting to watch and all shouted out various words of encouragement. I approached the bar. Set myself. And went for it. I got the bar onto my shoulders and went down into the squat. Here’s where I lost it last time. I gathered myself and lifted. And made it! Yay!!!! A clean PR!!! I still had the jerk to do and just about managed to get under the bar and lock out my arms.

A good day for PR’s. Steve S. also managed to improve on his clean max.

I only managed 3 rounds of the METCON but a good couple of days in the crossfit box for me. Still lots of work but I’m seeing the improvements thanks to brilliant coaching from Matt.

I’ve started cycling again. So look out for some updates in that arena soon.

Until next time. Thanks for reading and keep making a ruckus!