Last August Freddy and I had the opportunity to go to Optimum Performance Training’s Athlete Camp held in Vancouver at Studeo 55. For more information on this camp or their services, see the link here: Optimum Performance Training.
We went as athletes, but also as coaches, to learn more about coaching aspiring competitors, and it was well worth it! Not only was the owner the one who ran the camp, Michael FitzGerald was thorough and refreshingly candid. He took the time to explain the energy systems, answer all of our questions (I asked a lot!) and ran us through a battery of tests.
Freddy and I both really enjoyed learning the reasoning behind Michael’s chosen tests, and how he improves those capacities once he has a baseline. I won’t give away any of his secrets, but a few take aways that we found incredibly important were:
1. You need a great aerobic base to be successful in CrossFit.
2. Upper body relative strength is crucial in today’s competitive CrossFit.
3. CrossFit as a sport is more endurance based (than power).
4. Training shouldn’t annihilate you, it should be well-planned with an intended purpose.
When we talked about the energy systems, how they overlap and interact with each other, it became clear (during the testing as well) how a strong aerobic base not only aids you in movements you would expect (ie: cyclic movements, like running) but that it also helps you recover faster between sets because your system can deal with oxygen more efficiently, etc.
Upper body relative strength, what does that mean? It means your pulling and pushing strength relative to your body weight. So you can see that if you’re 6’4, 230lb, you will need to be extremely strong to do a strict handstand push-up (not to mention overcome the length of your levers/limbs). In the early days, leg strength and raw work capacity allowed you to be successful in competitive CrossFit. As competitions have evolved, upper body relative strength is now a huge component of success, especially on the female side.
Of course there are a lot of powerful and explosive CrossFitters, but due to the way our energy systems work, maximum power can only be maintained for so long (ie: not 10 minutes workouts). Imagine the power it takes snatch 400lb, or to sprint 40 yards in under 4.5 seconds. This type of intensity cannot be maintained for even a minute! So endurance in CrossFit is not only from an aerobic base standpoint, but also with regards to muscular endurance (ie: 50 unbroken reps), and being able to ‘endure’ or suffer through that infamous CrossFit discomfort.
Since there is so much to work on in CrossFit, it’s understandable when competitors think that more is always better. Freddy and I have made that mistake ourselves. But they forget about the recovery piece of the puzzle, and for that, there needs to be a plan, even a periodized plan. If your main goal is to do as well as possible in the Open, why are you doing high volume training in July? Depending on the athlete, perhaps this is a time for strength building, and to iron out any weaknesses.
Since CrossFit competitions are available all year round it’s easy for athletes to skip having an off-season, which may lead to not only physical issues, but possibly mental or emotional burnout as well. It’s exciting to compete in CrossFit, but the original intent was for it to be a strength and conditioning program that made us more fit for life. This is something that Freddy and I are trying to implement more, to use our fitness and get outside of the gym and structured training.
Anyways, the athlete camp was a great experience, and definitely worth the cost, which was more than reasonable. We look forward to implementing some of the strategies for our programming, as well as our own training. We still have so much to learn, and can find a lot of resources online, in print, etc, but sometimes it’s nice to learn in person- especially from people that have been at it a lot longer than you!
Train smarter, not harder!
Jen & Freddy