Sunday, December 21, 2008



In Crossfit, typically defined as work capacity. Over broad time and modal domains.

That could mean I am good at a lot of stuff, at a lot of relative outputs; big heavy things once, light things many times, or over great distances.

Traditional wisdom says doing both is basically impossible. There's a little truth to that. You can't be the World's Strongest Man and win the Boston Marathon. Between extremes like this, you're gonna have to choose.

Somewhere in the middle, and Greg Glassman hopes at just about every point between the two widest outliers, fall elite Crossfitters. What do I mean by 'elite Crossfitters'? I mean Crossfitters that are substantially better than most others at Crossfit stuff. The ones that perform very well on a variety of benchmark workouts. For example, upon statistical analysis of the results of the 2008 Crossfit Games, it was found that the combined total time of Fran and Grace was a reliable predictor of rank in the games.

What these workouts have in common is that they move a moderate (depending on who you ask) load a pretty great distance (in weightlifting terms) very fast for quite a few reps. They tend to represent work periods of about 2-12 minutes for the best Crossfitters, at power outputs approaching (and even sometimes exceeding) 1 Horse Power. This intermediate time period, and this supramaximal intensity ( > 100% VO2max) combined with incomplete or non-existant rests remind of another famous and much discussed, debated and mostly applauded training schema;
The Tabata Protocol
Tabata found that by taking existing Exercise Physiology knowledge to it's categorical imperative, that he could improve VO2max values substantially while additionally gaining other conditioning benefits. You see, some eggheads, from here to Sweden/Finland, have understood since at least the late 1960's that as the intensity of aerobic exercise increases, so do the increases in VO2max. And somehow, just about everyone decided that rather than running faster, we'd just run longer. Seeming to completely ignore the facts they themselves discovered, and published time and time again.

Exercise Physiologists have also been using things like the Wingate Test to measure 'power' output. As you can see, this is a 30 second test. Before you underestimate it's correspondence to a broad range of power outputs, be advised that the bike is weighted, and that initially, power output is something akin to 12-14 W/Kg. Considering that elite Olympic lifters in the lower weight classes reach values of 20-25 W/Kg, it ain't bad. The test is first and foremost a test of your ability to 'embrace the suck'. Power output stays at one level for the first few seconds, and then drops some for the period 4-14 or so, and then it plummets rapidly. This represents the storage and utilization of ATP and the phosphocreatine sources of energy more than anything else. To 'game' the test you'd want two things:
The ability to extend the knees and hips powerfully
The ability to do this as fast as possible as many times as possible in 30 seconds, without a reduction in performance (power output)

Tabata's research concluded that his protocol was equally (if not more) effective in rendering an improved VO2max value. What he also found was that lactate clearance and other major factors affecting 'anaerobic' performance were also substantially increased, in contrast to traditional (60-85% VO2max for 20-60+ minutes) protocols which provided entirely insignificant adaptations if any. His protocol calls for a supramaximal effort for 20 seconds, and then a 10 second respite, repeated 8 times. When done correctly, this can and will induce things like tears, vomiting and bargaining in the hardest of men. It's not difficult to predict that this type of training would make one better at tolerating higher concentrations of lactic acid, lower pHs, clearing said lactic acid, storing more ATP/CP and other adaptations. All of these things would increase your performance on a Wingate Test. They'd also raise the 'holy grail' of ultra endurance, the 'lactate threshold' the max speed at which one could operate before lactate accumulates, and therefore one of the (if not THE) limiting factors in endurance racing of all sorts.

Changing directions, let's step away from energy metabolism and look at force production. It's undeniable that there's a strong correlation between deadlift performance and that upon similar strength and power based movements, such as:
particularly when deadlift performance is viewed in terms of relative strength rather than absolute strength. Having a 600lbs deadlift may not improve your vertical that much if you're a super heavy. However, a 600lbs deadlift in the hands of a 195lbs man makes him an instant threat on the basketball court, even if he's a midget. And remember, in the case of a test like the Wingate, what we're measuring is peak power, and then what percentage of that peak is maintained for how long. So, all things being equal, that super midget has such an advantage, becuase peak power, both absolutely but especially W/Kg, is starting SO high.

Any athlete who develops the ability to produce that much force, and then maintain it for a moderate period, is gonna be blowing most of the world out of the water. So here's my proposal:

Raise the deadlift
Measure/Increase performance on a Tabata workout

While thrusters and the clean & jerk require there own skills, the raw strength to move a lot of weight off the floor and then doing something hard and fast viciously for 8 minutes is sure to make you a stud in a few worlds; you will be concurrently increasing your prowess as a powerlifter, a Crossfitter and an endurance athlete. What would be particularly frightening is to see the performance enhancement derived from a program such as this on a sport that relies primarily on anaerobic energy and has short-moderate time periods, perhaps free-style wrestling at 3 sets of 2 minutes, or Judo at 5 minutes (speaking from my own experience).

The Deadlift done right

There are many protocols for lifting heavier weights:
Linear Periodization
5x5 based programs
Texas Deadlift
Power to the People
I prize PTTP for it's simplicity as well as it's focus on relative strength, or avoidance of hypertrophy. I also dig the basic concepts behind WestSide training; gaming the lifts and working them from different angles (ME/DE/RM).

Look into some of those answers on the Force production side, and on the tabata side, I would recommend the following:
Tabata n Dumbbells
Ross Emanait Article
classic tabata; a bike
better tabata for most; an ergometer

Combine these two intensively for a two to six week period. See what it does for you.

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