Before we dive into the strategies, let’s first define the difference between TRAINING and COMPETING.
COMPETING Definition: performing a workout, test, or event with the sole purpose of attaining the best score possible without regard for the appropriateness of the workout based on the individual athlete’s current fitness level or capacity.
This is important for the competitive athlete, BUT should be done only on certain occasions.
TRAINING Definition: performing workouts and training pieces with the goal of achieving the desired stimulus and improving individual weaknesses.
Athletes understand pacing instructions, stimulus, and proactively modify the workout to allow the stimulus to be met. This needs to be our approach the majority of the time!
When you start competing in CrossFit or some type of competitive fitness you learn there is far more to a workout than just giving 100% from start to finish.
The ability to plan and execute specific strategies for a workout or event can be the separating factor for athletes who have equal fitness levels.
You learn that a competition based workout against others will have spots where you need to push harder, take calculated rest breaks, limit a pace on some movements, break up movements into strategic sets, etc. depending on the workout and its elements.
With that knowledge and experience often our training workouts are treated the same way; you see the class workout you’re supposed to hit that day and you think “Okay… I want to finish top of my gym’s leaderboard, so I should push this pace here, break up those, slow this down, and I will go fast on this.” Is that a bad thing? Does it lower the effectiveness of that day’s session?
Yes… and no, to both those questions.
Yes it can be bad because it can take away from the stimulus of that day’s workout, which would lower the effectiveness of the workout towards your training. Unless, you are strategizing to maximize the stimulus of the workout OR trying to get a different stimulus and that may address a specific weakness you have.
Those two strategies allow you to get the most out of training whether the day’s (or session’s) workout is in your wheelhouse or not.
Strategizing for competition is absolutely needed for competitive athletes but it should be different than their everyday training.
Let’s break down what each is and how to do them:
What is strategizing like competition?
Strategizing like competition is getting the most out of what you can CURRENTLY do to perform the best you can at a workout. This is looking at a workout and thinking about how you can get the best finish on that piece, whether it is the most reps, fastest time, heaviest weight, or whatever it may be. This is great for competition, because that is when you need a strategy to get an edge over your competitors. However, for training this isn’t something you want to happen often, because regardless of the purpose of the workout (the stimulus) you are ONLY thinking about your finish results; and regardless of your purpose in the gym (training for health or to be a competitor) that is not what training is meant to be.
Training should be about improving your weaknesses and exposing yourself to your program's desired stimulus.
Your goal is maintaining intensity when it's called for and possibly slowing down to increase the challenge of a movement when this is the focus.
All that being said, there will be times when you should strategize for competition during training.
When and how do you strategize like competition during training?
The moments you should be strategizing like competition during your training are when you are testing. By “testing” I mean the times when the workout result is more important than how you completed the workout. For those that are training for general health, that would likely be when a CrossFit benchmark comes up during the daily workout or, if you are training using CrossFit Complete’s programming, when you are starting a training cycle and it is a test week’s workout.
During those times the result is more important because that is the information that you will eventually compare to your future self doing the exact same workout test and using the difference in result to determine how successful your training cycle (if it was a training cycle) or daily general training (if benchmark) has been.
For those that are competitors, the testing times are really similar depending on your program. As a competitor you are likely following some sort of program (whether it is your gym’s, your own, a trainer, or an app) there will likely be designated benchmarks and training cycles that have workouts for your testing. However, competitors have other testing workouts; these workouts would be from qualifier workouts, and the actual competition’s workouts that get released prior to the competition. Those workouts should get added into your training program and should be tested and strategized as much as you would the day of a competition. So, now that we know strategizing like a competition is only needed a few times during our training; what do we do with the rest of our training?
What is strategizing for training?
Strategizing for training is pushing yourself to do more on certain elements of your workout to help yourself perform BETTER than you currently can in the future. This is looking at a workout and its stimulus and thinking how do I strategize to maximize the stimulus desired of this workout. The stimulus desired of the workout is what drives change to your ability to perform; so, making a strategy for that day’s (or session’s) workout to get the absolute most of what the programming is wanting to challenge will only increase the speed that you improve your performance.
Strategizing for training can be tough for those with a really competitive spirit and thrive off being around the top of the leaderboard, because it requires you to take a step back, change your approach from “how do I do this to show what I can do?” to “how do I do this so I can make myself better at what I can do?”, and not always hitting that leaderboard spot (still can sometimes though!). This falls into a similar thought process of delayed gratification; doing things that are aimed for long term gain, instead of short term gain/gratification.
For Competitors, if you are following a general program (a gym’s program with only a daily workout of the day or an app that gives you programming that is made for multiple people and not specific towards you) then strategizing for training isn’t always about maximizing that day’s (session’s) desired stimulus; sometimes you will need to change the stimulus to what you need to improve on. Knowing when to change the stimulus requires you to track your workouts, and decide when you feel like you have hit that stimulus enough in your recent training and need a different focus for a time. If you program for yourself or have a personal program tailored to you then you probably will not need to change the desired stimulus.
How do you strategize for training?
To strategize for training you want to ask yourself “what do I need to do to get the most out of the stimulus desired for this workout?” This should first lead you to what movements you should do whether it is scaling or keeping the movement as is. Then the loading of the movement; do you scale up, scale down, or keep the loading? Along with the loading you can think about the rep scheme of the movements; how do you break them up, if at all?, or do you scale them up or down, if at all? to get as close to the stimulus as possible. The loading and rep scheme go together when thinking about strategizing for training because they can affect each other’s performance. To show how you might strategize for training let’s make an example with an athlete:
Athlete Tony during his last competition did exceptionally well but missed out on the top spot of the podium because during a workout that tested shoulder stamina he got last place in that workout, recognized through other tests to start this training cycle that shoulder stamina is a weakness that he should improve on. The program he follows is his affiliate’s programming that only includes a daily workout.
Today’s workout at his affiliate is a workout that has shoulder stamina in its stimulus:
3 Rounds Each for time:
30 Dual DB Push Press 50/35
50ft Handstand Walk
15/12 Cal SkiErg
Gymnastic Skill under fatigue
Tony knows he can do all of the movements Rx. How he would usually strategize this workout like a competition would be to break up the DB push press into 3 sets of 10, rest 5 sec, then take the handstand walk into 1 set of 20ft and 2 sets of 15ft, then go hard on the ski erg until he finishes each round.
But he wants to maximize his training and is going to be strategizing for his training. Tony is now strategizing to break up his Dual DB push press into 1set of 16, 1set of 14, rest 8 sec then take the handstand walk into 1set of 25 feet, 1set of 20ft, and 1set 5ft, then try to go hard on the ski erg to finish but is okay with a more moderate push to finish out.
In the example, it shows how the athlete has been training for competition and just trying to finish the workout fast, but is missing out on most of the shoulder stamina because he is taking the DB Push press and handstand in sets he feels confident he can maintain for each set and be able to push the SkiErg hard at the end. However, when he changed his strategy to focus on his stimulus (strategizing for training) he is taking tougher, bigger sets with his DB push press and handstand push-ups to get more focus on the shoulder stamina. Even being sure to add only a little extra rest between the movements to make sure he can take the bigger set for the higher skill movement so he doesn’t take away from stimulus with too much rest. Lastly, he still wants to push hard at the end to maintain the intensity, but is accounting for the accumulated fatigue that may affect that push; this helps with being okay with a slower finish because what he really wanted was the stamina.
So, strategizing for your training is the best way to get the most out of your training. Just because you are adding a strategy to your workout doesn’t mean you will miss out on any of the gains, but to get the most gain you want to make a strategy that targets what the workout is intended to change (or for those competitors that need to change that stimulus, that strategy is targeted for what you need), not just strategizing to be the best in class, best in the gym, or make a personal best on a random workout.
Save the strategy to compete for your testing days or competition, and push your strategy to make your training do what it is supposed to: make you perform better!