Athlete Work Output Recommendations: Part 1

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Giving your athletes pacing recommendations is paramount in CrossFit. I’ll be honest, I didn’t learn how to pace myself until 2013. It was actually Open WOD 13.1 (Snatches/Burpees) in which my first attempt I decided to go for a new record on the first set of 40 burpees.

Needless to say, I nearly died and barely hung on for the first the workout. The second attempt I went drastically slower on my burpees and thus we able to improve my score significantly. In the group setting where we have athletes of all different levels and abilities, we need to be able to give practical recommendations in terms of work output, loading, and pacing.

This is why understanding “The Why” behind your programming is so important, so you can actually convey this information in an easy-to-understand language for your athletes. If you haven’t had a chance to read our two-part blog series on the importance of knowing the why behind your programming click here for part 1 and here for part 2.

So what is the best course of action as far giving your clients pacing and exertion recommendations? At Box Programming, we like to give recommendations in terms of how hard athletes should exert themselves, but sometimes the lines are blurred; in the group-setting, we have a diverse group of athletes all with different training ages and levels of experience. For some, knowing how hard to push themselves may not be something they are comfortable with yet. Many push themselves too hard and end up dropping off significantly in terms of work output. Of course, our goal, in an effort to improve conditioning, is to teach our athletes how to sustain work output. 

For this reason, using rest intervals on the regular that coincide with the desired stimulus of the workout is paramount. Understanding Energy Systems Training (EST) is important for coaches, but too much science can confuse your athletes. Being able to differentiate between long-term, intermediate, and short-term energy system is a good place to start. Here are some classifications that may help you give the proper recommendations based on the intent of your programming.

Long-Term System (Aerobic System):

  • Relies on continuous use of oxygen for the oxidation of glycogen or fatty acids. Because the long-term system oxygen-dependent this is also termed oxidative system.
  • Longer distance events such as cyclical work.
  • Pacing dependent on your athletes aerobic capacity, but in the group setting, “conversational” type effort is a good place to start.
  • An example in CrossFit is the “Triple 3” that relies almost 100% on the aerobic system.

Intermediate System:

  • Also known as “lactic anaerobic” or glycolytic system. The process of glycolysis means “breaking down” referring to the breakdown of glucose into pyruvic acid and ATP.
  • Dominant process during sprinting
  • Pacing dependent on your athletes’ training age, but this work is highly uncomfortable.
  • An example of a workout that fits this criterion is a workout like “Fran” where most people will fall somewhere in that 3-6:00 Time domain. Workouts like this tend to be highly anaerobic.

Short-term System:

  • High-intensity, also known as the Anaerobic Alactic energy system.
  • Dominant in process during max effort movements.
  • Repeated efforts of this work must come with full recovery which is difficult in a group setting.
  • An example would be a 1RM Power Clean or 10-12s Sprints on an Assault Bike.

So now that we have a basic understanding of some workout classifications, how do we tailor our recommendations with pacing? To make things as simple and understandable to our athletes as possible, we are going to try to relate this information to them regarding what they may feel like. For instance, long-term pacing will be “sustainable” and conversational. The goal here is to sustain lower output of work for longer durations. For most this pacing will revolve around efforts that they know they can maintain with short rest intervals and without crossing over into that Anaerobic Threshold. Second, our intermediate system work will likely be uncomfortable where work-output will drop off quickly if there is not sufficient rest between sets. These efforts we will recommend that your athletes using scaling that allows them to move quickly and we will encourage them to opt for lighter loads which faster cycle rates as opposed to heavier loading and slower cycle rates. For instance, for a workout like “Fran”, we would encourage athletes to choose a load with their thrusters that they know they could be done unbroken when they are fresh. Lastly, our short-term system we will recommend 100% effort and scaling that reflect these efforts. In this case of a 1-Rep max athletes will need full-recovery between sets and in the case of a work above 90% of their current 1RM this could be as high as 4 minutes. In the case of cyclical work like Air Bike sprints, there will need to be sufficient rest intervals to sustain such work otherwise 100% effort will be off the table.

Overall, our goal as coaches is to advise our athletes how scale properly to ensure the desired stimulus of a workout. Of course, the lines can be blurred in the group setting, as there are many variables that can conflate the results (such as training age), but if we can understand the type of effort each workout carries with it, giving better guidance will be impossible. Keep in mind; this is an oversimplified guide. At Box Programming we give specific percentages that fall within our guidelines between 50-100% of Max Effort that encompass a variety of different pacing recommendations with the variability of our programming so having a model that works for you to classify a variety of different workouts is important. All of your athletes will have varying levels of Aerobic Power and Anaerobic Threshold so this will play a role in how long, and efficiently they can sustain work output. There are also workouts that may fall between the above recommendations, but this is a good place to start where you can start to make connections to be able to differentiate from one workout to the next.

Stay Tuned for Part 2 of this blog where we we delve more into the developing our athletes to sustain work output more efficiently and where most of your athletes limitations may lie.

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