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Making Conditioning Work For You–Part 2

Alright, so you read the first part of this here series last week.  If not, go ahead–we’ll wait.

So before we go any further, one step back into that first post.  What if you aren’t sure whether you want to train as a CrossFit competitor?  You’re new here, in relatively fine fettle, you’re intrigued by what you’ve seen on ESPN or heard from your friends, you’re pretty competitive…but you’re not sure you want to commit to training like that all, or most, of the time.

Two easy answers: 1) Come to our Sunday Competitors’ group at 8 AM to try it out.  We’re great at scaling workouts to meet you where you are, and you’ll get to experience what it’s like to train classic CrossFit metcons in a group atmosphere with an eye on performance rather than general fitness…and 2) Check out some of the old CrossFit Open WODs during an Open Gym session Tuesday or Thursday.  Think about what it would be like to train that way regularly with an eye on competing during local Throwdowns, regional events, or even just the CrossFit Open season each spring.  If you give it a shot, you’ll know pretty quickly whether it’s for you or not.
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Now, as promised, some thoughts on making conditioning work for you here if you, like most people we meet, have come in search of a good, hard workout.  You want to work your ass off, get into the best shape of your life…and you don’t put up too much of a fight anymore when we tell you how important strength work is (bone density, blah blah, lbm to fat ratio, blah blah, metabolic improvement, we’ll spare you the speech we’ve made countless times) because you know the conditioning’s coming at the end of class.

Here’s the first, most important question you need to ask yourself: What is it you want most from your workout?  You want the good, hard workout but why?  What is Thing One you need from your conditioning?

After an honest self-assessment, almost all of us will arrive at one of three answers:
1) To look better naked.  This usually means better muscle-to-fat ratio or simple fat loss, and in either case is best addressed via strength training and diet.  We almost always use the analogy of kindling, fire, and accelerant with new members when describing the process of body recomposition: you gather the kindling and start the fire with strength training and diet, and you use conditioning as the accelerant.  Without adequate base, you’re just throwing gas on a few twigs…you’ll do some burning, but it won’t last long no matter how much accelerant you use, and then what?  If fat loss is your Thing One, make sure you have your strength and dietary base in order, and then do it again.  It is that important.  Then…skip down a couple of steps and we’ll tell you how to make the most of the conditioning we do.

2) Simply to get an asskicking or 2a) To get a varied 30-60 minute asskicking or 2b) To get a varied 30-60 minute asskicking in a group setting.
Confusing?  What’s the difference between the three subheads?  Let’s start with the commonality, actually: there is an ass, and you want it kicked.  For some people, it is that simple.  If your Thing One (and if this is your Thing One, experience tells us it will usually be your Thing Two and Thing Three as well) is hauling ass through a workout until you are utterly spent, if it is the feeling you are after, then you can save yourself a gym membership very easily: teach yourself how to do burpees, squat jumps, and mountain climbers and spend ten to twenty minutes however many days a week doing these three movements in various permutations without much rest.  If this sounds glib, I assure you it is not: if it is simply the feeling of a hard workout you are after, that will do the trick.

Here’s where it gets a tiny bit more complicated, though not by much.  Do you want to get that feeling over a longer duration, and with a little more variety?  Again, we can save you some time and money.  There are a ton of products out there (The Beach Body series comes to mind) which will bring the workout to you–a different one most of the time–in the comfort of your very own home, in forty-five minute bites.  If you are disciplined enough to work these programs regularly on your own, you will feel like you’ve gotten a great workout, probably every time, and you will be out however much a DVD costs these days.  And if you want to get that feeling in a group session (we hear often enough from folks who are looking for a “group bootcamp experience” or some such), it is not such a very big step to check out your local chain gym or rec department for class-by-class membership in bootcamps, body pumps, or power classes.  If feeling is your Thing One and you are willing to either leave the strength work on the table or seriously compromise its effectiveness, there are certainly more direct and lower-ticket options for you than what we offer…though you should read the next item too.

3) Finally, the one we hear most often: to get into better shape.  Aha!  The great middle path.  For some this means “I don’t want to be out of breath walking up stairs anymore” and for others, “I want to beat the kid down the street on a post pattern during our Sunday football games.”  Whatever your definition, we need to understand that this is a relative aim: ‘better’ means better than yesterday, and tomorrow better than today.  ‘Better’ is a measurable, so we keep track, anecdotally as well as empirically: “I felt better after hauling the trash to the curb today” and “I finished my squats and situps in seventy seconds without any wind breaks.”  If this is your Thing One, “better shape”–even if it is slightly underwritten by one of the previous two aims–here’s a bullet list of things you can do to make the most of your conditioning work here.  Some of this is simple, some a little more involved, but it’s all very doable:

  • Get better at using the warmup.  Look at our warmup.  In isolation, does it look more like strength work or conditioning work?  Ding ding ding!  Get to class on time or even a little bit early and get good at motoring through the warmup, with full range of motion and zero slop.  Getting into better shape is often a lot like saving money–you pick your spots and take your shots where you can take them.  The warmup is a very easy place to enact that sort of change.  What do you think would happen to your current level of conditioning if you got better and better at moving through our warmup quickly and efficiently, perhaps so much so that you had time to do it twice?
  • Kill the downtime during prehab and assistance work.  Most often during our current cycle, we will have 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps of prehab movement and a similar or slightly larger amount of assistance work to complete.  Some of this boils down to knowledge and planning: check out the workouts on the website before class and have an idea of what movements you’d like to hit for prehab.  If you don’t recognize a particular movement, find it on You Tube so you have some ideas in mind as we explain what we want you to do during class.  Having a plan before you even walk in the door means you’re likely to be first or second to the bands or dumbbells and much more likely to move through the work expeditiously and well, and again perhaps with time for an extra set or two.  So too with assistance work, and again we ask the question we asked above: if you got better at doing your prehab and assistance work, with greater efficiency and dispatch, what do you think that would do to your current level of conditioning?
  • Track that shit!  We repeat a fair amount of benchmark conditioners; more often than that, we repeat particular movements and protocols.  (KB Swings for 30 seconds, anyone?)  Track that shit!  And this applies to assistance work just as easily: we’re doing kettlebell swings and dumbbell rows for assistance between sets today, for example, and last week 10 reps at 20 and 25 respectively felt pretty easy.   Granted, this is assistance work and meant to serve the strength progression, but if you can bump your swings up to 26 and your rows up to 30 in good form to sweat a little bit more, well, you’re moving yourself closer to better shape.  Seek progress and challenge yourself.  If you can press 90 and pull 220, you should not be reaching for 10 lb kettlebells and 15 lb dumbbells for swings and thrusters.  From the opposite perspective, if you default to the 53 or 70 lb kettlebell and hear “faster, faster, faster” and “snap your hips” every time you swing the bell, why not try being better and faster at the movement with a little less weight?  Though it might not seem apparent when looking at our whiteboard, we want you to be just as meticulous with weight choice during assistance and conditioning as you are during strength work.  Some days this may simply mean you select a weight that is light; some days this may mean you try to push yourselves to the next level KB or DB.  Track it and recognize assistance and conditioning as a place where you can work more quickly, more efficiently, harder, and smarter.
  • Reduce and use transition time.  This is a quick bit and pretty simple too, but it’s one I don’t think many people outside of CrossFit competitors pay much attention to.  Get better at moving quickly between movements.  And get better at moving better between movements.  Let’s say we have a five round conditioner based around KB swings, pushups, and goblet squats.  KB Swing to pushup transition: RDL the KB down to the ground for a little extra work, hop over the bell into a gentle pushup position.  Pushup to goblet transition: latter half of a burpee out of the last pushup, clean the bell from ground to rack, grab both handles and squat.  Squat to swing transition: extra eccentric half of squat to bring the bell down to ground level, reach the bell out in front to the hike position, and hit the swing.  Those are exaggerated examples for general fitness, perhaps, but still: during a workout like that we’ve got 14 transitions to make–what if you got better at all 14 every time we did that workout?
  • Work harder.  Shit, this whole piece could use the proviso that none of this is meant to be glib, huh?  But this bears mention.  I think back to some of the conversations I’ve had at the end of classes with folks about getting better workouts, and I can’t help remembering the two instances during the conditioner where that person stopped to talk to their classmate or me about how hard or easy the movement was, or whatever.  Hell, grab a different weight, stop talking, work harder!!!  Sometimes it is sort of Occam’s Razor, right?  And I also think of days where I have been extra chatty (for you morning folks, this may be hard to conceptualize) and have held folks up between sets talking about this or that.  Granted I am incredibly charismatic and was no doubt dispensing pearls of wisdom, but own your hour and tell me, your other trainers, or classmates to stifle if we’re holding you from your work.
  • Jump rope.  Got all of your work done?  Class running more quickly than expected and have some down time?  Jump rope.  Hop on the bike.  Grab an empty bar and do a quick complex.  Bear crawls …talk about an underrated and underused way to jack up your conditioning!  There are tons of options to get a little extra work in to improve your wind.  Pick one or ask for one and get it done.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it should give you a pretty healthy head start on your path towards getting better workouts and improving your conditioning.  Do enough of them well enough with the right strength and dietary base and you may just hit everyone’s Thing One!

Next: Conditioning for strength sport athletes–Don’t Worry, Be Happy.

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