The Crossfit Open is over, and for the vast majority of us that means that our competitive season is done, and barring Tonya Harding, we aren’t going to the Regionals or the Games. That means it’s our off season, which is the time for fun, trying new things, and fixing our weaknesses. Keep reading to find out how to structure your off season.
The first thing you might be wondering is why even have an off season? I mean, you’ve been training really hard, and are probably in pretty good shape, so why not continue? Well I’m glad you asked.
The off season is the chance to physically and mentally unwind from more intense competitive training cycles. Your body cannot maintain that type of intensity forever, and in the long term it will stall, and even reverse your progress.
Secondly, I don’t know about you, but I get pretty tired of doing open style wods, and not lifting as much as I like, because I’ve got to kill an open wod this weekend.
Lastly, every athlete has weakness and imbalances in their bodies, and in their training. The off season allows you to address those areas, as well as create a base of training that will ultimately push your total fitness level higher than what it currently is.
Remember, your fitness is like a pyramid, with the off season being the foundation that everything else is built on. Math nerds will tell you that your pyramid can only increase in height if their is a corresponding increase in the base. So let’s work on that base.
Identifying Your Physical Weaknesses
Don’t worry, this is going to be easier than you think. What’s your least favorite movement, or type of wod? There’s your weakness. Based on my 10 years of experience with crossfitters, there are three big weaknesses that are fairly common to all.
Olympic Lifting Technique
This will come as no surprise to any experienced crossfitter, but there is some real confusion out there as to what this actually means. Most crossfitters think this is just running, rowing, swimming or cycling. These are activities that can use the cardiovascular system, but it does not mean it will only focus on that particular system.
As we all know, there are three systems in your body that provide energy for exercise: aerobic, anaerobic, ATP CP. When we talk about cardiovascular endurance we are generally referring to two pathways: aerobic, and anaerobic. This is a mistake.
Crossfitters naturally spend a huge amount of time working on their anaerobic endurance, and very little time working on their aerobic system. There are a couple of reasons for this.
These type of exercises are low intensity and can be boring. Crossfit HQ has also spent a lot of time discouraging what they call long slow distance (LSD) training. Like anything, this type of training is good in moderation, and harmful if taken to extremes.
The real reason we want to work our aerobic system specifically, is because it is always providing us with energy while we work out. When you start to work out at low intensity, your aerobic system provides all of the energy.
As you work harder, your anaerobic system kicks in adding its energy production on top of the aerobic system. If you only work your anaerobic system then you are really limiting your output.
This means that the more well developed the aerobic system is, the longer you can delay the onset of anaerobic energy production. In simple terms, this will allow you to wod faster without wanting to die.
How to Train Aerobic Endurance Smartly
The first thing you need to do is figure out your resting, and max heart rate. If you have a heart rate monitor you can use that for a more accurate result, or you can use your fingers and a watch.
Once you have those numbers, put them into this calculator. Your aerobic zone is zone 3 in your results. This means that you need to workout without your heart rate going over that zone.
This will be most easily accomplished wearing a heart rate monitor. You can pick up my favorite Garmin Fenix 3 HR which will monitor a huge variety of performance stats, or you can pick up these other types of heart rate monitors for much cheaper.
Heart Rate and Fitness Monitors
- Fitbit Charge 2 HR (Probably the most popular overall fitness device)
- Polar Heart Rate Monitor (Tried and true)
- Bluetooth HR Monitor (this is a monitor that pairs with an app on your phone)
*Affiliate links to Amazon
You don’t have to just run, cycle, row or swim. You can very easily WOD for your aerobic endurance as long as your heart rate stays in zone, but the pace for this wod will be much slower than normal. I generally recommend running, rowing or airdyne as those are already crossfit movements, but if you want to kayak, knock yourself out.
In terms of structure, I recommend three sessions a week of 20-30 minutes where this type of training is the goal. You’ll find after a few months of this, that your wods start to feel like a breeze. You will also find that your recovery from harder workouts is hugely improved as well.
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This is a huge deficit for many crossfitters, and especially female crossfitters. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think it comes down to the early days of crossfit, and it’s dislike of all things bodybuilding, which is to say, bench press and curls.
Crossfitters do spend a lot of time overhead pressing, as well as it’s derivatives, the push press, and jerk. This is fine, and it does develop the shoulders very well, but it leaves a lot to be desired in the other pressing muscles, i.e the triceps and the pecs.
This is why I recommend bench presses, because they hammer the pecs and triceps, which will carry over to your overhead press. This past summer I did an 8 week cycle of bench pressing with great success. I then attempted a 1 RM press, and added 5 lbs to my previous best, hitting 190lbs without ever having done one strict press in two months.
This is in strict contrast to an intense 4 days a week pressing cycle that I worked on the year before, which only added 5 lbs onto my one rep max, and was super difficult to complete.
Try the bench press, it will work wonders for you. I recommend a very simple cycle of 5×5 as heavy as possible (AHAP) for the first week, then 5×3 AHAP on week two, finishing up with 5×2 AHAP week three. Week four would be a deload where you do 3 reps on the minute at 50% for 10 minutes. I would recommend repeating this cycle 2 or 3 times.
Olympic Lifting Technique
This is one area everyone can improve upon, but beginners and intermediates need to improve the most. First, you will need to find a time to only focus on technique. I find that most crossfit gyms have an open gym time where a coach will be there, generally not doing a whole lot. This is a great time to get free personal training in the olympic lifts.
I tell my athletes this all the time at Crossfit Annandale. Few actually take me up on the offer, but the ones that do show huge improvement very quickly.
You can also take a seminar from an olympic lifting specialist. This is going to be more expensive, but you will get the benefit of someone who’s sole focus is on these lifts.
The Way Forward
Now that we’ve identified these weaknesses we need to go out there and fix all three right? Wrong!! Your body works best by really focusing on one area you need to improve upon, and putting most of your effort towards that. The rest of your energy is used only to maintain your other areas of fitness.
You might think that this sounds about as clear as mud and it is; however, I will be publishing a series of articles in the coming month that will give you a detailed plan on how to go about attacking these weaknesses, and more specifically, how to integrate them into a normal training plan. So stay tuned and sign up for our newsletter on the right to get these articles sent directly to you as soon as they come out.