I get asked this question a lot! The way I program for my members here at CrossFit PHX is periodized with phases set around the CrossFit Open as our “season”. We have strength phases, conditioning phases, and reloading/deloading phases. At a macro level that’s about as simple and/or complicated as it gets.
As we move through the year, the emphasis and desired results of my members progress fluctuate with their performance over time. A strength phase is pretty self-explanatory: you’re supposed to get stronger. Reloading/Deloading, well that’s progressively increasing or relieving intensity so the system can prepare for what’s coming or recover from what you’ve been putting it trough.
Conditioning, however, seems to be a rather ambiguous term for my members. “So, are we working into our ‘cardio phase’ now?”, the number one question asked as we transition out of a strength cycle. First off, it is NOT synonymous with cardio. Cardiovascular endurance, is a component of conditioning, yes, but not the sole purpose for this phase of training.
So let’s start with a clean slate and simply answer the question. What does it mean to be conditioned? The short answer, to be conditioned is the ability to be STONGER FOR LONGER. To put it into context for you. The CrossFit Open is all about being conditioned. Strength and gymnastics skill aside, the competitors that go to regionals, are the best conditioned athletes their respective regions have to offer. For locally competitive CrossFitters, the loads aren’t incredibly heavy, and the skill involved isn’t out of this world. Athletes during the open that were able to crush 14.3 (Escalating Deadlifts with Box Jumps) were better conditioned because they were able to pull more weight, for more reps, in certain amount of time while breaking up those loads with box jumps mixed in. Conversely, athletes that smoked through 14.5, thrusters and burpees (the perfect combination of hell and death for most) had incredible gas tanks and were able to accomplish more work, faster. That’s what it is to be conditioned.
That being said, what goes into improving one’s conditioning? Well there are a couple points of emphasis, and here they are:
1) There is the obvious cardiovascular component. You have to have strong lungs (cardio) and a strong heart (vascular). There’s no way around it. Muscular development is awesome, but with no way to efficiently transport oxygen to working tissues, what’s the point? You can squat 400 pounds once, but you’re the first one to burn out in a high volume workout with a third of the load. Being strong only gets you so far, and weight training for the most part is an anaerobic activity, meaning you don’t need a ton of oxygen to go heavy. For example, a 5k Row, or a 1 mile run get after the cardio component in a conditioning phase.
2) Stamina, how long can you sustain an accelerated pace before you start to slow down or your performance starts to suffer? Tabata WODs are perfect to illustrate what I’m getting at. For those of you unfamiliar, Tabata is 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest, usually for 8 rounds or 4 minutes total, but you could go on forever if you wanted. Anyway, I watch people blow through the first round of (insert movement here) with 30 reps and at the end of the eighth round, they only hit 10-12. Sound familiar? Their initial pace was unsustainable. However, if they dialed it back a notch, and maintained 15 reps each round, they actually end up accomplishing more work in the end without feeling like their heart is going to burst at any moment during the next 7 rounds. Tabata “Anything”, 500m Intervals, Repeated 6-minute WODs with 2-minutes rest in between: that kind of work boosts stamina over time.
3) Endurance, both cardiovascular and muscular, but we’ll focus on muscular right now. How many reps can you accomplish before you drop the bar? How long does it take before the burn sets in from blood lactate building up in muscle tissue? How long can you continue to perform through that burn? These are all issues that muscular endurance can help mitigate. As your endurance improves you’ll be able to move at a certain intensity for longer without redline and handicapping your performance. From a muscular standpoint this is where higher volume sets (15-20+ reps).”Chippers”, 150 Wall Balls for time, aka “Karen” or “Kelly”, 5 rounds of 400m run/30 box jumps/30 wall balls, or 20+ minute WODs: all will test your endurance.
You throw all that together over the next month and some change, in combination with strength work to maintain your hard earned gains, as well as some in depth gymnastics development, and you come out on the other side an athlete with a better engine and able to accomplish more in a given work out! Simply put, what you’ll see is PROGRESS!
I know it may be hard to see day to day, but there is a method to my madness. Its not as “random” as it all may seem. RAISE YOUR STANDARD!
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