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Practice, competition, and mental anguish (not brief)

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Practice, competition, and mental anguish (not brief)

Sneaky plug for our Spring Fling X&Ys competition! There is actually nothing to win if you register, but registration does close Wednesday at midnight!

Sneaky plug for our Spring Fling X&Ys competition! There is actually nothing to win if you register, but registration does close Wednesday at midnight!

We are in the auspicious beginnings of our annual structural cycle now. The CF Open has ended and after two weeks of low volume and some weird, fun lifting and conditioning, we are now on to our 6-week structural cycle. So now please allow me to explain an idea that we have finally decided to codify and put into words for you all, give you a run down of the structural cycle, and impart some ideas on how to get the most from the next several weeks. (Edit – I didn’t make it this far. To be concluded…)

The Open is rough on our bodies.

All of us take part in the Open workouts each year, some of us place importance on our performances in hopes of besting our previous selves or winning small, competitive side groups, and a select few earn the right to move on to their respective CrossFit Regionals. (Big congratulations are in order for Alex Anderson, Ben Plotnicki, and Stephen Newberry!) Regardless of where we end up after the Open, we all put in a lot of hard work in the build up and then slog through five tough weeks giving our all. We all deserve a NorCal margarita and a massage from Diana Christmas!

Now is the time to lay a foundation from which to build your fitness.

The structural cycle we run each year is a chance to address any niggling issues you might have carried into or out of the Open. It is also a time to attack structural deficiencies like strength imbalances, range of motion issues, and any general tissue problems you might have. As you well know, we do a lot of single leg and arm strength work during this cycle. It is important to shore up our weak side so as not to perpetuate imbalances that could lead to injury during bilateral movements like squats and deadlifts. Not only will balancing your strength side-to-side help bulletproof your body, you will also see gains in the more conventional “CrossFit” movements to which you are more accustomed. Expect plenty of Bulgarian split squats, single arm presses, single leg Romanian deadlifts, and lots of other esoteric moves that we pull deep from the back of the playbook as Jim Brosnan says.

An intuitive conditioning model has been codified for your better understanding.

 I have been programming CrossFit workouts for a long time. I have made so many mistakes I could fill this blog for weeks with nothing but stories about programming gone wrong. When I first started doing CrossFit in 2007 I thought the “Filthy Fifty” was CrossFit. I literally thought that workout was all that CrossFit was, and so a couple of friends and I would hit the gym and do the Filthy Fifty three times per week. Oops.

I have also had the pleasure of programming for a really wide spectrum of people and, therefore, fitness levels. I have programmed too little volume for some athletes, and conversely I have over-programmed some higher-level athletes. I once programmed a sprint day for my then 62-year-old dad (he’s really old, this was 10 years ago!) that was probably the last straw for a knee that had taken several lifetimes’ worth of abuse. But damn, those poignant lessons really stick out in my mind. And while Taylor and I might not get the programming perfect for everyone all the time, we sure as hell do much, much better than those heady days in 2007.

In the lead up to the 2015 Open, Taylor and I had a programming conversation that related to competitive intensity, practice, and the need to distinguish between the two. We put to words some ideas that had been floating around in our heads and ending up rather organically into the Ktown programming for a while. We further refined it leading into 2016, and now we are post 2017 Open and ready to put it to paper. Our hope is that this will help you better understand not only the programming but the often personal instruction and scaling (both up and down) that the coaching staff gives you all daily.

I should preface that this is not a new idea. We have all suffered the slings and arrows when we thought we had come up with something new only to find that it is being done already – and in this case even better! A somewhat recent Barbell Shrugged episode made us realize that people far smarter than we were not only using appropriate intensity and practice prescriptions, but they had gone a step further to put actual ratios of training intensity to it while adding nuance and detail. CrossFit Los Angeles predates us by a few years, and it is head coach Kenny Kane who has taken the idea of mastery and applied it to CrossFit training. It is a deep, deep rabbit hole into which we can dive sometime in the future, but let’s just start with how it applies to this cycle and our programming going forward.

If you played a sport growing up, you likely practiced throughout the week and played games on the weekend. Even if your sport was a mixture of practice and games throughout the week, your time spent practicing far outweighed your time in some sort of competitive game. (There is a large, interesting conversation here about the rate of young kids, especially baseball players, that play way too many games and specialize at too young an age, but I don’t want to ruffle too many feathers right now.) There are many reasons that this is the case. The two most important for our conversation are intensity and mastery.

I want to begin with the meta idea of mastery. If you have caught Taylor talking about Japanese tea ceremonies or heard me pontificate about Zen archery lately, you might have noticed a theme of eastern tradition creeping into the common vernacular at the gym. Both of us are enamored by the eastern tradition of honing a skill, no matter how narrow that skill may be, for an entire lifetime. And the person honing that skill is deeply satisfied by the pursuit and journey of mastery. If you have ever watched a documentary call Jiro Dreams of Sushi, you might recall the nephew of Jiro whose sole (his soul’s?) task was to toast the seaweed wrap over a Bunsen burner type stove. He sat in a hallway and did this from open to close for 20 something years, and he took great pride in it. He was brought to tears when Jiro told him how masterfully he had come to do it. The toasting of the seaweed seems like such a straightforward, mindless task, but the nephew took immense pride in doing it and wanted to perfect every little nuance of the process. This is a good story to illustrate the pursuit of mastery.

It is the same with movement. The coaching staff is highly interested in your movement. We want you to move with precision and efficiency, and we want you to challenge yourself with tougher and more complex progressions of movements regularly. Human movement is our nori, and we want to help you express that movement masterfully and with virtuosity. We have written about virtuosity extensively here, here, and here.

To that end, we have always programmed practice movements, skill sessions, and sometimes entire days devoted solely to skill acquisition. Sometimes it is subtler than that though. Sometimes we write a conditioning piece in which we want you to slow down and be conscious of your movement. This often takes the form of every minute on the minute pieces (EMOMs). But this can be so subtle that it is lost on many people. That is OUR fault. And that is a big reason we were happy to have this idea of practice, competition, and mental anguish laid out so trim, neat, and proper.

Going forward we are going to make it very clear in the description of the workout what our intended stimulus is. We will be categorizing efforts into practice, competition, and mental anguish. Practice will be about 60% of all our efforts. Competition will be roughly 30%. And mental anguish will be no more than 10% of our work. This labeling will help you know what perceived rate of exertion to give on an effort, or it might help you refocus your goal for that particular piece to skill acquisition, for instance. Clarity in programming is important, and we hope this will help elucidate our intents and purpose.

A quick word about Practice, Competition, and Mental Anguish.

Practice is where most of our efforts will lie. This is important to ascertain mastery. In something as complex and varied as human movement a ton of practice will be required to not only move us along our fitness path, but the practice mindset will also help keep you in the game longer. Long term athletic development is the keyword here. Longevity in the sport, and tenure at CrossFit Ktown, is for what we are shooting. A good example of practice would be Tuesday the 18th’s EMOM of handstand holds and push-ups, hollow rocks, and flutter kicks.

Competition is the setting most CrossFit athletes are turned on to. We want to go hard and fast because, after all, there is a whiteboard. But logging your data into Wodify is more for you than anyone else. You are trying to create the best version of YOU! And so that is why we often turn the competitive eye inward when talking about progress and competition. To this end, we will be doing competitive training at roughly one out of every three sessions. This is the time to strategize, pace appropriately, game the workout, and really chase that personal record. We did Diane not too long ago, and that is a perfect example of a competition piece.

Mental anguish makes my stomach churn just typing it. I immediately think of the 50 cal Assault Bike or a 500m row. Any low-skill, high output piece would suffice. 90 second max sled drag at a REALLY heavy weight is another good example. Fran can be a good example for someone who has the skillset to perform fast and efficient thrusters and pull-ups. But Fran would not be a mental anguish workout for the person that is taking 10 minutes to complete it. Mental anguish workouts hurt – a lot. And for that reason we are only going to ask you to go to the dark place one out of every ten sessions or thereabouts.

And with that explanation I will wrap this blog post up. I still owe you all a peek at the template for this structural cycle, but I just can’t imagine anyone reading on after the 1800 words on fitness I just expectorated. I’m not even going to proof this beast. Sorry I’m not sorry.

Coach G

By | 2017-04-25T14:38:00+00:00 April 18th, 2017|CrossFit Ktown Knoxville|2 Comments


  1. ROBERTO April 18, 2017 at 8:27 pm

    The number 1 reason why CFKT is the best

    The highest level of Zen coaching one could ask for

    Serious , so lucky to have such thought go into the programming.

    Key 🔑 takeaway :

    Trust the Zen Master

  2. crossfitktown April 18, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    What’s up, Roberto!? Miss ya, bud. Glad you’re still lurking on the blog sometimes. :D

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