In my experience working with the athletes I coach, I find that Masters athletes are much more likely to be open to taking a more cerebral approach to training, rather than just “burning it down” every day in the gym.
Masters athletes understand that along with limited “adaptation currency” (aka. physiological resources) to give to their training, they are also confronted with an increased level of stressors and responsibilities, resulting in limited training time.
The point is: Masters athletes have limited time and resources to dedicate to training.
As a result Masters athletes often put more emphasis on the mental side of training, asking questions like…
• What areas of my fitness can I improve the most with the least amount of work?
• How can I find a blend in my training of skill, strength, and conditioning?
• What movements am I most (or least) likely to see in the Quarterfinals vs. Semifinals vs. The Games?
• Does the scoring system favor playing to my strengths or working my weaknesses?
• What can the AGOQ (2014-2021) tell us about the Masters Quarterfinals (2022- )?
In short: Masters athletes need a more surgical plan of attack for their training structure.
And the purpose of this analysis is to help you formulate that plan.
Data Analysis: The Age Group Online Qualifier (AGOQ)
The basic premise of this guide, is that CrossFit always has themes in it’s programming.
The Open always has a particular style, structures and themes to it’s workouts. The same has been true for the AGOQ – now the Age Group Quarters.
If we understand the past, it helps us predict the future.
Before we dive into an analysis of the AGOQ, I recommend you take the time to look through all the past workouts. Take your time, looking for themes. Things like common movement pairings, workout type (e.g. Chipper, AMRAP, etc.), duration, loading, etc. How is this similar or different from the Open? How might this impact your training to peak for this type of event?
The AGOQ Workouts
AGOQ: Data & Implications
Lesson 1: The Number of Events
The Data: 4.5 – The Average Number of Events in the AGOQ (2014-2021)
The Training Implication: While the Quarters will typically have about as many scored events as the CrossFit Open, the density of those tests is completely different. During the Open you typically only have to do one workout per week, or two in the event of retesting a workout.
For the Quarters, you usually have Thursday evening to Sunday to complete all the events, including any second attempts you choose to make. This could mean as little as five to as many as eight tests in the span of 3.5 days.
The first thing this means is as a Masters athlete you need to be prepared to handle executing maximal intensity workouts on back-to-back-to-back days.
Not only that, but you need to be able to handle testing more than one workout in a day and all that comes along with that. This includes everything from getting nutritional prep and timing correct to getting your body warm and your mind to an optimal level of arousal.
There’s quite a bit that goes into feeling sharp for more than one time slot per day, not limited to hormone levels and muscle tissue tolerance.
But frankly, the only way you will get this process down correctly is practicing it in the weeks and months prior to the event.
You’ve got to Turn Up the Training Volume.
Lesson 2: The Equipment List
The Data: Limited equipment is required to complete the qualifier: Barbell(s), Pull-Up Bar, Dumbbells, GHD, Climbing Rope, Jump Rope, Rower, Floor & Wall Space
The Training Implication: When you’re conducting an online competition, there are limitations in the testing body: You’re never going to see an Open Water swim in the Quarterfinals.
It comes down to… What can effectively test CrossFit’s version of fitness while allowing mass participation and consistency of movement across all athletes?
Could CrossFit create an Quarterfinal test with 400m Runs?
Yes, they could, but it would be difficult to standardize a device to measure that distance and ensure athletes aren’t cheating.
What if one person’s run course is on gravel and hilly while someone else’s is on flat pavement? Well, maybe everyone can perform it at a track? Or maybe HQ could make everyone buy an Assault Air Runner?
See how difficult that would be for CrossFit HQ to effectively create a fair test?
Now they did it for a limited number of athletes in the 2020 CrossFit Games Stage 1, Event 5, but they also sent certified judges to the athletes. So personally, I don’t see a 400m Run showing up in the near future.
Now, they could incorporate a series of short shuttle runs where a measuring tape could be used and the athlete could stay in the frame of the camera.
See the difference?
The implications for training here are that it’s easy to get caught into the “what if’s” of movement selection, but that’s a fool’s errand.
Look to past workouts and the most recent year’s equipment list, and figure out a list of movements that have a high probability of showing up…
Lesson 3: Prepare for a Chipper
The Data: Every year of the AGOQ has featured a *Chipper (2014-2021).
*I’m defining a Chipper as workouts (regardless if For Time or an AMRAP) that feature very large chunking of reps, where multiple sets of a single movement will likely need to be executed before moving on to the next movement (e.g. For Time: 80 Bar-Facing Burpees, 4k Row)
2021 – E2
2019 – E2, E4
2018 – E3
2017 – E1
2016 – E4
2015 – E3
2014 – E4
The Training Implication: This means that a Chipper is as ‘guaranteed’ in the testing body as going heavy in some capacity (a Max Lift or a heavy barbell in a MetCon).
Therefore, the ability for movement-specific muscular endurance is -at the very least- as important of a physical trait to a Quarterfinals-level CrossFit athlete as strength.
You don’t have to look past social media to see that it’s normal for CrossFit athletes to be working on strength on a daily basis in training. From the Big Three to the Olympic Lifts, these are staples in a CrossFit athlete’s training.
However, when it comes to conditioning, it’s more typical to see workouts with multiple rounds for time or AMRAPs with small, manageable sets of exercises.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you move away from these styles of workouts because they are an important part of the testing body and a core requirement for an athlete’s success, but for an athlete looking to maximize their performance on the Age Group Quarterfinals, he or she needs to spend time specifically directed towards improving their ability to do big chunks of the same movement.
This doesn’t just mean doing Chippers, it can also mean doing EMOMs, cluster sets or using other interval structures, but it’s important to prepare for doing dense work.
Lesson 4: Look for Themes from the Individual Quarterfinals
The Data: The 2021 AGOQ had similar movements, workout structures and rep schemes as the 2021 Individual Quarterfinals.
The Training Implication: Let’s look at the similarity between these two events…
The individual Quarterfinals took place April 8-11, 2021. The AGOQ took place May 6-9, 2021.
That’s four weeks apart: plenty of time to get some significant training adaptations.
For a Masters athlete preparing for the AGOQ, you could test the Quarterfinals workouts and routinely practice variations of those workouts (similar movement pairings and rep schemes) to gain a competitive advantage both in terms of learning the pace and feel of those workouts but also actually improving your capacity in the types of workouts you are likely to see in the AGOQ.
Now, Castro already teased that the Age Group Quarterfinals would feature different workouts than the individuals, but likely HQ will be looking to test the same qualities for the Age Group Divisions as the open division.
Basically, pay attention to movement themes from the Open and especially the Individual Quarterfinals, and be sure to sprinkle in a healthy amount of these types of workouts into your training in your final preparations for the Age Group Quarterfinals.
Lesson 5: Implications of Scaling Starting at 55+
The Data: A 54 y/o Masters athlete uses the same weights as a 35 y/o Masters athlete (2016 – 2021).
The Training Implication: Personally, I see this as an unfortunate reality right now in the testing for CrossFit Masters. Workouts are written to test the youngest Masters athletes and incremental weight scaling is avoided as long as possible to make the logistics of the competition less complicated.
While I understand the rationale behind this, it clearly ignores the fact that a 35 year old is a different athlete than a 54 year old.
While I hope the amount of individualization for each division improves in the future of the sport, the truth is I don’t get to make the rules and neither do you.
You can spend time complaining and wishing it were different, or you can use this information to direct your training and give yourself a competitive advantage.
The first implication this has is that bigger, stronger athletes are often at an advantage in the Masters divisions, especially the older divisions prior to weights being scaled back.
This is how athletes like Ron Ortiz (6’3″ – 225lb) can perform well in the upper Masters divisions, while Brent Fikowski is the largest individual male in the past several years at 6’2″ and 215-220lb.
This means that maximal strength plays an important role in a Masters athlete’s expression of fitness, especially Masters in the 45-49, and 50-54 divisions.
The Data: 55+ Divisions workout weights and (sometimes) gymnastics skills are scaled.
The 55+ Division for females has average 72.3% of the Rx weights.
The 55+ Division for males has averaged 74.4% of the Rx weights.
The Training Implication: Scales have several implications for the Masters athletes in the 55+ Divisions.
First, is that the workouts bias towards “fitness” where cycle speeds and overall work rate play a bigger role than maximal strength. Strength is obviously still going to be an important quality, but the workouts won’t favor bigger, stronger athletes as heavily as prior divisions.
Practically speaking, if you’re a 55+ athlete, know how weights and other movements are frequently scaled based on past workouts.
This includes standardized barbell weights (M: 135lb → 95lb), dumbbell weights (F: 35lb → 25lb), and gymnastics elements (e.g. HSPU with Hands at Head Level → HSPU to 2” Riser).
It’s also important to realize the way movements have been scaled has varied significantly as well.
Sometimes Bar Muscle-Ups (BMU) are scaled to Chest-to-Bars (CTB), sometimes they aren’t.
Sometimes Chest-to-Bar are scaled to Chin-over-Bar, but sometimes they aren’t.
Sometimes BMU is scaled to CTB in the latter rounds of a workout, while other times a workout will progress from CTB to BMU later in the workout.
How CrossFit HQ chooses to scale the work all depends on the qualities of fitness they are looking to test. Case in point, several Games workouts have even scaled the volume of reps being completed or distance being covered.
For the 55+ Masters athlete is becomes critically important that you know and train all the different options available for scales so you are well versed in whatever version is required on game day.
Conclusion: The Athlete & The Sport
I’ve thrown a lot of information at you today. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds. So let’s zoom out for a minute and think big picture.
While it’s hugely important for a coach to understand the demands of the sport (Quarterfinals, Semifinals, Games), it’s equally important that he or she understands the unique demands of the individual athlete with which they are working.
Sure, there might be rowing each year in the Age Group Quarterfinals, but if you’re coaching a 6’4” (193cm) male athlete, it probably doesn’t make sense to give rowing a ton of emphasis in his program.
Once you (1) understand the demands of the sport, and (2) understand the needs of your athlete, training priorities should be straightforward.
What does the sport require?
What does my athlete need exposures to in order to improve?
Lastly, I’ll say that if you’re an athlete trying to do it on your own, that’s not a recipe for success. Find a coach you think you’d get along well with and commit to doing the journey together.
Remember, if you’re self-coaching, your athletic development will never outpace your development as a coach. So, I would encourage you to reach out to a person you respect and be willing to make the investment.
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