What would happen if I do CrossFit® affiliate classes for 30 days?
Okay, sounds simple enough. But before I dive headfirst into this one, let me explain what my current regimen looked like.
I am transitioning employers from a very flexible schedule that allowed for several hours of training per day to a fairly fixed schedule where I can’t train during the day. In fact, my current gym has no open gym hours when I go after work so I really didn’t choose this experiment, it chose me.
During the sixth months prior to this experiment, I often did more than one session per day. These sessions had several strength pieces and at least one Met-Con…often several.
In other words, I was working out… a lot.
I have never done affiliate classes consistently and exclusively, it has always been a fun way to socialize and get an additional workout in, if I thought it fit in my training schedule.
While many people start affiliate classes for the first time at a CrossFit® gym with little or no experience and minimal training volume, I am at the other end of the spectrum.
Beginners almost always improve when they join. I’m not a beginner.
So here I am. An athlete looking to maximize fitness, but unable to dedicate as much time to the endeavor. The stage is set.
What will happen when a competitive Functional Fitness athlete who is accustomed to personalized programming and double days does CrossFit® Classes?
Hypothesis (Day 1)
Going into my first affiliate class tomorrow.
- I will maintain my fitness levels within 98% (e.g. My PR for Fran is 2:22, 98% would be 2:26)
- I will maintain my strength levels within 95% (e.g. My PR Snatch is 235, 95% would be 223)
- My ability to perform at my best over the course of a several event competition will suffer.
- My ability to perform a Met-Con at 100% intensity will improve slightly.
- I will spend less time “worrying” about what is next in my workout and hit my current piece hard.
- I will enjoy working out with people in a group and the atmosphere will help me make the most of short sessions by attacking them with intensity.
- Certain target areas of mine will begin to to be affected negatively (mobility, strength & high skill gymnastics)
- At some point, I will get frustrated with class programming, use of class time, instruction or flow.
The Results (Day 30)
30 Days of Affiliate Classes are completed.
- I did not lose any maximal fitness. In fact, my ability to have a single hard effort increased. Some people would say that this means I am more fit, but that isn’t always the way fitness is tested. Let’s keep in my fitness and strength are always context dependent. If we are talking about a test of fitness like the Open…then yes, I got more fit. If we are talking about a local competition or sanctioned competition with several events (what I am preparing for) than probably not.
- As predicted, in most areas I maintained my strength within 95% of my best lifts. However, in one or two other areas I actually hit lifetime personal bests. For example, my back squat stayed within 95% (15 lbs) and I hit lifetime personal bests in my overhead squat and push jerk.
- To my surprise, my skills stayed sharp. Valid 30 days is not a lot of time in the grand scheme of things, but I was shocked how complex gymnastics felt with infrequent practice (Muscle-Ups, Butterfly Chest-to-Bar, etc). I believe a big part of this was the amount of volume I was doing before the 30 days started, allowing my skills to get really sharp in the first place.
- I enjoyed the class atmosphere. In my experience, the social component of classes is something often overlooked by high performers. For those completing their own program during open gym hours, it is easy to get lost in the pursuit of the “thing.” It doesn’t matter if your chasing the Games or an extra ten pounds off your waist, it’s easy to get buried doing a task and forget to stop and be present. It’s a delicate balance that I have seen very few people get correct.
- I had more time to redirect to other endeavors…if I wanted to. The bottom line is there are only so many hours in a day. I make the most of every single one. If something isn’t serving me, I cut it out. Case in point, I haven’t played video games since college.
What I Learned: Takeaways
(1) Accumulation versus Realization
It only took me one month of doing less to hit big numbers after six months of doing more. In other words, the affiliate classes didn’t make me stronger. I barely did any strength work this month. However, they certainly did allow my months of hard work and high volume to come to a head. The month of affiliate classes served as a chance for my body to peak. The tip of the iceberg is what everyone sees, but what isn’t seen is the months and years of hard work prior. You don’t know I stretched for hours each week in my room alone this summer to improve my overhead squat…you just see me post my PR to Instagram this winter. In the words of Ben Bergeron, “It takes ten years to make an overnight success.”
(2) Volume versus Intensity
Everyone loves pitting these two against each other…versus. The way I see it, they aren’t at odds. Both items change with respect to time, but they aren’t inverse of each other. It is a job of a coach to determine where each needs to be at a given point in time in an athlete’s life, season, training cycle, session and individual piece. Volume isn’t the devil nor the holy grail, it’s a tool. Just like a squat, press or pull.
(3) Motor Learning – Learning Skills
Let’s stay on the volume, intensity discussion for a bit. Volume is a particularly useful tool for developing movement economy. That is, learning to be efficient. These 30 days I did not develop economy in the traditional sense, nor would I progress more in this area by continuing in a typical class structure. There are diminishing returns at a certain point.
In my experience, efficiency is almost impossible to teach but yet it must be learned. For a coach, the only way to teach movement economy (beyond understand sound movement practices) is to put an athlete in scenarios where they are forced to be efficient or they won’t be successful. A word of caution to any coaches out there, this only works for people who can adapt and overcome. Not every athlete can or should be given this model. But understanding volume as a tool is a huge win.
Let’s take a good athlete who isn’t efficient in burpees. Every time they show up in a workout their heart rate spikes and they burnout. What would happen if you gave that high performer a 30-minute EMOM of 14 Bar-Facing Burpees? One, they will continue to do burpees the way they have and fail to complete the aggressive written EMOM. Or two, they will learn and find a way to make the movement sustainable. Little things like falling to the floor, snapping up instead of doing a push-up, and eliminating powerful jumps and extra steps. The body finds the most efficient, least draining means to the end. That can’t be taught effectively to a high-performer in a class setting…unless maybe you have a wizard of a coach would still finds ways to individualize in a GGP track programming.
(4) Elite Fitness is Not Elite Health
News flash…that girl you see with shredded abs probably isn’t even healthy enough to get pregnant and your favorite Russian weightlifter is on drugs. There is a way to exercise to maximize health, there is a way to maximize physique, and there is a way to maximize fitness. Yes, there is quite a bit of overlap, but not nearly as much as CrossFit® HQ would like you to believe.
If I believed a 60-Minute class, 6x per week was the way to elite fitness, I would do that and not an ounce more. I don’t believe that’s true. Just because I can maintain fitness in a class doesn’t mean I want to do it. I don’t like playing hokey-pokey…one foot in and one foot out. I’m either all in or not at all. That’s not the way to elite health, but that’s not why I started this thing. I could get really freaking healthy without running myself into the ground with nasty Met-Cons every day. You have to have a reason to do that…and I don’t see anyone attacking workouts that hard on a regular basis in the name of health. Sorry Glassman.
(4) An Athlete’s Relationship with Volume
Many people who do Functional Fitness and exercise in general have rather addictive personalities. Your typical “type A” who comes to the 5:00am class to get to work by 6:30am and then runs several miles in the evenings and just bought a rower for their basement. This person is not the quick responder described with the burpee scenario. They will not get better from doing more. In fact, things will likely get worse for them. Often they leave affiliates for the next thing when it all becomes unsustainable and they break. However, even many high-level athletes fall into this trap.
When I was competed in collegiate track & field, there were guys who in order to run a 4-minute mile had to run 100+ miles per week. There were other guys who ran 20-30 miles per week to run the same 4-minute mile. The 20-30 mile guys weren’t jealous of the 100+ mile guys. Functional Fitness athletes aren’t like that, they see someone doing more and they want to do more too.”-Evan Peikon, Training Think Tank
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