HOW TO PREPARE FOR A CF COMPETITION
Periodization and how to apply it to Prepare for a CrossFit Competition
Periodization is the process of structuring training into phases. The purpose of periodization is to cause the muscle to continually adapt to new conditions of overload and to allow the muscles to recover from the stress of training. Training should be organized and planned in advance of a competition or performance. Having said that the following is written based on having two CrossFit competitions in a 12-month Macro cycle. Where the first competition is a “tune-up” for the main competition of the year. Please also note that every CrossFit athlete is unique and recovers at different rates, also that all athletes may be able to achieve higher sustained levels of intensity, different stress levels and weight loads on the body than you. So for that reason this article is written as a general guideline on how to use periodization to build up to a CrossFit competition and as such can be tailored to the individuals needs. The overall phases however would remain the same.
A macro-cycle refers to an annual plan that works towards peaking for the goal or main competition of the year. There are three phases in the macro-cycle: preparation, competitive, and transition.
The entire preparation phase should be around 2/3 to 3/4 of the macro-cycle. That would be between 8 and 9 months of the year for the preparation phase. For our purposes of a “tune up” CrossFit competition leading to a main competition the prep phase of the 1st competition would differ from the prep phase of the 2nd competition because the 2nd competition is the main goal and objective. The preparation phase is further broken up into general and specific preparation of which general preparation takes over half. An example of general preparation for CrossFit would be building an aerobic base as well as a strength base. We also have specific preparation, which would be to work on the proper form (i.e. gymnastic and Olympic Weightlifting movements) and perfect skills such as pull-ups, muscle ups, burpees etc in order to be more efficient for the final format of the sport, the WOD.
The competitive phase can be any number of competitions, but they all lead up to the main competition with specific tests. For purposes of this article and ease of explanation we will consider only one competition leading to the main competition. Testing might include any of the following: performance level, new shoes or gear, a new WOD tactic might be employed, pre-WOD meals, ways to reduce anxiety before a competition, or the length needed for the taper. When the pre-competitions are of a higher priority there is definite taper stages while lower priority might simply be integrated in as training. For us our pre-competition or 1st competition will be integrated as part of the training. The competitive phase ends with the taper and the competition. Note- In the context of sports, tapering refers to the practice of reducing exercise in the days just before an important competition.Tapering is customary in many endurance sports, such as the marathon, athletics and swimming. For many athletes, a significant period of tapering is essential for optimal performance. The tapering period frequently lasts as much as a week or more.
The transition phase is important for mind and body, a year of training means a vacation is in order. A beginning CrossFit athlete might take a month while a more seasoned athlete might take as little as two weeks of recovery time after the main competition.
A meso-cycle represents a phase of training with duration between 2 and 6 weeks dependent on the sporting discipline. Each week will be considered a micro cycle. For CrossFit we will begin with 8 micro-cycles. During the preparatory phase, a meso-cycle commonly consists of 4 – 6 micro-cycles, again we will be implementing 8 micro-cycles, while during the competitive phase it will usually consist of 2 – 4 micro-cycles depending on the competition’s calendar. For our CrossFit template we will begin with a competitive phase of 4 micro-cycles.
The goal of the director is to fit the meso-cycles into the overall plan, in the form of a timeline, to make each meso-cycle end on one of the phases. He then determines the workload and type of work of each cycle based on where in the overall plan the given meso-cycle falls. In other words for that specific meso-cycle, make sure that your Olympic lifting and your WODs are programmed properly to fit the goal of that training period which should be strength and endurance, as well as necessary skills such as gymnastics and body-weight exercises depending where you are in the year or which Meso-Cycle you are in. The goal in mind is to make sure the body peaks for the high priority competitions by improving each cycle along the way.
A micro-cycle is typically a week because of the difficulty in developing a training plan that does not align itself with the monthly calendar. Each micro-cycle is planned based on where it is in the overall macro-cycle.
The Annual Plan
The annual plan is important in that it directs and guides athletic training over a year. It is based on the concept of periodization and the principles of training. The objective of training is to reach the highest level of performance as possible (peak performance). To do so, the athlete has to develop skills, bio-motor abilities and psychological traits in a methodical manner.
This phase consists of the general preparation and specific preparation. Usually the general preparation is the longer of the two phases.
This phase may contain a few main competitions each containing a pre-competition and a main competition. Within the main competition, an uploading phase and a special preparatory phase may be included.
This phase is used to facilitate psychological and physiological rest, relaxation and biological regeneration as well as to maintain an acceptable level of general physical preparation. This phase lasts between 3 – 4 weeks but should not exceed 5 weeks under normal conditions.
We are going to attempt to give you a general outline of how to best prepare for a CrossFit Competition. The following template will be a constant work in progress as everyone is different and things may have to be changed to fit the athlete’s needs.
Months 1,2 and 3 (Meso-Cycle 1 0f 4 each Meso-Cycle consisting of 12 micro-cycles)
General Preparation- OK the first thing to consider is building a solid cardio and strength base. This foundation is crucial. The amount of cardio and strength work you do will be a constantly changing through the year leading up to the major CrossFit competition, but the foundation must be set. Well so how do we do this? Let’s start with the cardio base. Long distance running comes to mind right away but guess what we are not runners we are Cross Fitters and we don’t have the same goals as long distance runners. We are not fringe athletes. However cardio base can come form any form of exercises or combinations of exercises that elevates your heart rate to your specific VO2 max percentage, usually in the 65% or higher range, in CF that % is usually way higher as it is a sport and monitoring your heart rate during a sport is very hard. When was the last time you saw Dwayne Wade stop playing in a game to check his heart rate? What is VO2 max? VO2 max (also maximal oxygen consumption, maximal oxygen uptake, peak oxygen uptake or maximal aerobic capacity) is the maximum capacity of an individual’s body to transport and use oxygen during incremental exercise, which reflects the physical fitness of the individual. The name is derived from V – volume, O2 – oxygen, max – maximum. VO2 max is expressed either as an absolute rate in liters of oxygen per minute (l/min) or as a relative rate in milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of bodyweight per minute (ml/kg/min). The latter expression is often used to compare the performance of endurance sports athletes.
To set a good cardio base I suggest doing WOD’s 4-6 times a week (short metcon WODs) or as much as your body allows you to and then supplement your days that you do not WOD with running, rowing, biking, swimming or interval sprints etc At least one rest day a week through this Meso Cycle more if your body tells you to. So for example you could do four WODs in a week and two cardio days of a 3-mile run and one rest day in a week etc. Please take notice though that heart rate % is different in the case of cardio by itself as opposed to heart rate during the WOD. Allow me to elaborate on this. When you go and do cardio on your own most people stay in their “target heart rate” which is defined as being within the range of 65%-80% of your maximum heart rate. So in this type of “traditional” cardio you are maintaining a set or steady pace throughout the entire cardio session and staying within the 65%-80% of your maximum heart rate.
When you WOD, the most important thing is to have intensity. Let us consider a WOD of 5 rounds for time of 5 power cleans at (135/95) 10 KB swings (53/35) and 15 burpees. If take your time and with each of the different exercises you may slightly elevate your heart rate but not enough to reach the target heart rate zone and therefore not truly achieving cardiovascular training. In order to significantly elevate your heart rate, you must approach and execute the movements in the WOD with high intensity. High intensity means non-stop, “balls to the wall” pace. That, of course, will then elevate your heart rate to a level that may be out of your comfort zone. In order for your WODs to be used as cardio training, you have to bring the intensity, WODing at 65% heart rate is pointless and you will achieve only minimal results, much less establish a cardio base for a competition. So the two ways of developing a cardio base are- sustained exercise that keeps you in the 65%-80% zone or WODs that are high intensity, to be clear a WOD that is not intense is NOT CARDIO.
Now, lets tackle the strength base you will need to prepare for a CrossFit competition. In one word it is USAW. USAW is the governing body for the USA Olympic Weightlifting team. The first step to developing a solid strength base is to become proficient at the Olympic Lifts. This means practice, practice, and more practice. You have got to be perfect on your form especially if you intend to do CrossFit. “Never compromise form for speed”, and I mean NEVER. If you practice and perfect your form the amount of time you MAY lose will be negligible. Make sure you set up properly or you will injure yourself…that is a certainty over time. The amount of times you see an Olympic Lift in a WOD is not enough to build a strength base. Doing CF 5-5-5-5-5 or 3-3-3-3-3 sets for the Olympic Lifts before a WOD is also not enough to build a rock solid strength base. You must follow a strength-training program independent from your CrossFit to develop the strength necessary to excel in a competitive setting. That program, in my opinion, is a USAW program (12 week) that uses progressive over load principles, periodization, conjugate method, and dynamic method as well as follow Prilepins Chart for the proper percentages and repetition schemes for your lifts. You must also incorporate lifts that “assist” your Olympic Lifts, such as clean pulls, jerk balance, snatch balance, dead lifts and split squats to name a few. This means you must work on your Olympic lifts separately from the WODs, you have to find the time to do this if you want the strength necessary for a CF competition. For CF competitions purpose and for time constraints you may hybrid your USAW program to fit the needs of CrossFit. Make no mistake though your USAW Olympic Lifts are the only way to get the strength necessary to compete successfully in a CF competition. For the 1st Meso-Cycle you are looking at a 12-week program, lifting twice a week, to establish the proper mechanics and familiarity with the Olympic Lifts. If you already have lifting experience you are probably looking at a three times a week intermediate program for the 1st Meso-Cycle. If you are already rock solid and proficient in the lifts you will probably do a three to four times a week advanced USAW program for the 1st Meso-Cycle. Remember you may adjust how long your USAW takes for time constraints.
(Via Danny Camargo) Lets introduce some basic steps for your Olympic lifting programming you should follow. First follow these 4 steps-
Step 1- Positions- includes your posture; grip, back angle and assuring all levers are tight. In other words learn how to properly perform each lift in all of the different positions of that lift. I.E. For Clean and Clean Related Exercises positions are as follows-Power Position, Hang Above the knee, hang below the knee, “lift off” and floor. Then power clean plus front squat. For Snatch and Snatch Related Exercises positions are as follows- Power position, hang above the knee, hang below the knee, “lift off” and floor. Then power snatch plus overhead squat. On the Jerk and Jerk related exercises the positions you must learn the press, push press, power jerk, footwork drill and split jerk.
Step 2- Movements- connecting all the positions to perform the actual lift.
Step 3- Speed- turning the movements into quick, explosive, controlled technique.
Step 4- Load- once the technique is mastered, load it up and go heavy.
Secondly, have the following considerations in your Olympic Weightlifting programming.
1. Complex Movements come first.
2. Alternate between pushing and pulling exercises.
3. Always include a Snatch and/or Clean and Jerk, or their power variations.
4. New athletes should incorporate a variety of exercises.
5. Experienced lifters, over a year, should focus on fewer exercises.
6. Squat three to four times a week, any less isn’t enough.
7. Always consider your program as a guideline that can be modified and is flexible.
Below is an example of one USAW day for a beginner and for an intermediate CF athlete taken from the program I developed for our members at CF Thump.
Week 1- 65% of estimated 1 RM for all lifts
Exercises Sets Reps
Hang Clean (Above the Knee) 4 8
Clean Pulls from the floor 4 8
Strict Press 4 8
Front Squat 4 8
Butterfly Abs 3 25
Hyper Extensions 3 15
Intermediate as follows-
Weekly Repetitions- 210
Distribution of Repetitions- Classical 20%, Accessory 80%
Snatch 80% 3r, 85% 2r, 80% 3r
Power Clean 80% 3r, 85% 2r x 3s, 75% 3r x 4s
Jerk from Rack 80% 3r, 85% 2r, 80% 2r
Front Squat 80% 3r, 90% 2r, 85% 2r, 80% 3r x 3s
RDL 80% 3r, 85% 2r, 80% 3r, 80% 2r x 2s
So basically do your tailored for CrossFit USAW program independently from your WODs for months one, two and three to develop your strength base. Now lets move on to months 4 and 5 and 6.
Months 4,5 and 6 (Meso-Cycle 2 0f 4 each Meso-Cycle consisting of 12 micro-cycles)
During the 2nd meso-cycle your cardio or endurance base stays the same for months 4 and 5. Meaning you stay at 3-4 WODs a week (high intensity) and one or two sustained cardio days where you can mix it up and do sprint intervals or run 3 miles etc
For your USAW strength base you will now begin your 2nd 12-week program. Of course you have to set new goals, otherwise your progress will stall. How do you do that? Well if your squat clean 1RM is 265 you set a realistic goal, lets say 280lbs and base your percentages (using Prilipen’s Chart) to that goal. In other words your percentages are based on what you want your new one rep max to be. Remember make it an achievable goal you cannot make a huge jump in weight for your goal. In the above example if you set a goal of 300lbs, that’s an increase of 35lbs the weight you would be lifting at your 80% to 95% would be unachievable. You wouldn’t even be able to do the lifts, so that’s useless. To get stronger and to continue to get stronger you have to make small jumps in weight so that the %’s continue to work for you.
Now because our first competition is in month 6, which means it is in this Meso-Cycle, we tweak only the two weeks prior to the competition. This will be different from the main competition preparation. So the 2 weeks prior you cut down to 3 WODs a week, and NO sustained cardio days for the 1 week prior to competition and for your USAW program you do no weightlifting the 3 days prior to the competition. That’s it. For the major competition that preparation will change.
Now I want to introduce what I consider skill work, which will begin in month 5 and carry through month 6, ending only a few days before the 1st competition. Even though CrossFit is the sport of fitness and as such the WODs are unknowable, I believe there is a “skill set” of exercises that you must master in order to be a great Games competitor. In my opinion these include wall-balls, HSPU, muscle ups, thrusters, burpees, kettle bell swings, box jumps, pull-ups, double unders and toes-to-bar. Obviously CrossFit has numerous exercises but these specifically seem to always pop up in one form or another. We do not include any weightlifting ones because you are doing USAW already and should have mastered all the Olympic Lifts. You must master this core group of skill work, why? Something called neural adaptation conditioning (NAC). NAC is a change over time in responsiveness of the sensory system to a constant stimulus. It is usually experienced as a change in the stimulus. In other words the more you do something the more neural adaptation you get or the easier it becomes. You want to be very good at that core group of exercises. The skill work should be at least twice a week starting at the beginning of the 5th month for those exercises you have trouble with or done as AMRAPs after your USAW and continuing until just 2 days prior to the competition.
Why do we do this? Well it seems, that based on my reading and discussing this with various friends whose opinions I respect, that after your strength-training program (USAW) you hit a quick 7-10 minute AMRAP of these CF core exercises. This really “greases the wheels” so to speak when it comes to your neural adaptation conditioning. These AMRAP’s are done within minutes of finishing your USAW and you go high intensity for it. You do these AMRAPs month 5 through 6 straight through after your USAW program up to just 2 days before the 1st competition. Remember the first competition we are working straight through it, as it is just a tune up competition for the 2nd one of the year. Also please note that the days you do not do your USAW you may do longer AMRAP’s or longer WOD’s so long as your body has plenty of recovery time. Everyone is different, do not be stubborn and pretend you do not need the rest, it is very easy to over train in CF and the last thing we want is to be sidelined by injuries.
Let us review. Cardio is the same in month 4, 5 and then in month 6 the sustained cardio stops 1 week before the 1st competition. For the strength training, or USAW, that stays the same at 3 times a week through month 4, 5, and 6 stopping entirely 3 days prior to the competition. For your skill work you start that core skill set at the beginning of month 5 and carry it through month 6 stopping it just 2 days before the competition in the form of short AMRAP’s as soon as you finish your USAW lifts.
Months 7, 8 and 9 (Meso-Cycle 3 0f 4 each Meso-Cycle consisting of 12 micro-cycles)
You have just finished your 1st competition. The 1st week of the 7th month is a recovery week. You rest on the Cardio and the USAW, period. This Meso-Cycle has no competition in it so we go back to the basics on the cardio and strength training. Cardio goes back to 3-4 WODs a week (high intensity) and one or two sustained cardio days where you can mix it up. Strength goes back to your 3 days a week of USAW, but no AMRAPs afterwards. If you want to do that occasionally by all means do so. Skill, at this point you would only work on a skill that you are particularly bad at. Sorry but that’s the truth of it no one is perfect so admit it and resolve it and get better. The rest of the skill work in this meso-cycle would be whatever comes up in the WODs.
Months 10, 11 and 12 (Meso-Cycle 4 0f 4 each Meso-Cycle has 12 micro-cycles)
This Meso-Cycle includes the primary competition you have been training all year for so keeping that in mind, Cardio stays at 3-4 WODs a week (high intensity) and one or two sustained cardio days where you can mix it up for months 10 and 11. Strength goes back to your 3 days a week of USAW, but no AMRAPs afterwards for month 10 but the AMRAP’s at the end of your USAW sessions start up in month 11 and continues through month 12 stopping 2 days before the competition. For your skill work you start that core skill set at the beginning of month 10 and carry it through month 12 stopping it just 2 days before the competition. After the competition your recovery phase will be 2 weeks of rest. Do absolutely nothing.
Be aware that not everything is going to be as cut and dry as this template makes it out to be. However I do feel that this template, with honest feedback from yourself as to how you feel and how things are working for you, along side realistic goals for your USAW and where you hope to finish in the competition will help you begin to have a pattern of work and recovery. Hopefully this template with notes and tweaks from you will best help you prepare you for the unknowable of a CF competition. Best of luck.