the spaz of fitness has arrived

Strength and Endurance: Can it be done?

In General, Training, WOD on December 3, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Prepare yourselves. I have a shocking announcement. Sit down, have a Nor-Cal Margarita, take a deep breath. Ready? Okay.

I think I’m burnt out on WODs.

… I know, right?

I know I WOD more often than most people, and that I’ve been a metcon addict for well over a year now, but the day has finally come that I’m aching for something a little different. Now, I’m not sick of training, and definitely not sick of CrossFit. I’m just hungry for something more than randomized workouts. After the announcement of the 2013 Games date , competitive gyms all around the country have ramped up their Games-specific programming. Competitor’s WOD, whose programming (by Ben Bergeron) I admire, has started its “Goat Training” phase– aka “target your weaknesses.” In fact, Bergeron posted his Goat Training Template just a few days ago. Bergeron pinpoints what we all love and hate about CrossFit: “The idea is to be good at everything, great at one or two things, and suck at nothing.” This is a sport that tolerates no weaknesses.

We know I’m not a Games hopeful– nor do I aspire to be one. But I do aspire to be a well-rounded athlete, which is one of the many reasons that I enjoy CrossFit so much. I began with a strength-focus about a year ago because that was my greatest weakness, but now I feel I’ve almost become lopsided in the opposite direction (not that I’m a strength beast by any means). By these strength standards, my bench and press fall under the “advanced” category, my deadlift is “elite”,  my squat is (alas) intermediate, and my clean is just short of advanced. My hard numbers are still lower than I’d like them to be, but by now I think that means I just need to become a larger person (peanut butter, steak, and potatoes, yeah?)… and hopefully my lifts will go up proportionally. Meanwhile, however, my endurance has become deplorable.

The strange thing is, I think I should be decent endurance athlete. I’m very good at not stopping. In fact, that was my single asset when I started CrossFit– I embraced the suck. I lived for it. But, I’ve become pretty crappy at sustaining that intensity these days. I’ve cut my 100m sprint time by 3 seconds in the past few months, which I’d like to think is a big deal considering that 100m sprints are measured by fractions of a minute… but my 400m is still well above 60 seconds. (I think somewhere around a 1:15… more often 1:20). It seems that I recover slowly even for lifting. I need to take closer to 4-5 minute breaks between max effort lifts as opposed to the minimum 3…

But alas strength and endurance are often posited as opposing goals when it comes to fitness. Yet, it must be possible. I’m surrounded by athletes that are supremely gifted in both domains. Recently, I came across this article by Alex Viada– an Ironman finisher and triathlete coach with an elite powerlifting total. Being the geek that I am, I love it when anyone explains his thought process. I don’t just want to know what to do, I want to know why I’m doing it.

Viada’s program is geared towards someone training for a longer-distance race. While I admire marathoners, I don’t think I’ll ever be one… I much prefer the thrill of short sprints or the meditative calm of heavy lifts. I am, however, interested in building my endurance– I just don’t need 26.2 miles of it. So, being the research-freak that I am, I contacted Alex.

I hesitate to call myself a self-made athlete because, though I’ve built a knowledge base from obsessive research and so much trial and even more error, I owe a lot of what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown to a handful of much more experienced and very generous friends. I’ve also found that the fitness community is just so welcoming and willing to help. Alex wrote back and answered my questions about what to do for form drills and how I should think about distance if my goals are to become a better CrossFitter. While we both agree that CrossFit distances rarely demand more than a mile, Alex recommends over-distance training– since the sport requires you to do things beyond the mile you just finished, it’s useful to have something left in the tank. So for “long, slow distance,” he suggests that I fluctuate between 1.75-3 miles and tinker with speed and intensity depending on the intensity of my other workouts during the week. He also recommends shortening my recovery times during my sprint intervals– which is… a really good idea that I also dread. One of my favorite go-to workouts is 100m repeats. But I walk back the full 100m to allow for full recovery. I’m pretty sure I’ll suck at them with a reduced recovery time, but I think that may also help me push through WODs.

Here’s my problem: I’m terrible at training via WOD-ing. If my only goal were to burn calories while having fun, WODs would be perfect… but the same intensity that pushes me through each WOD also means that I sacrifice a lot in favor of beating the clock. I was thinking about this last Saturday, during a WOD with toes-to-bar. I can actually link my kips in toes-to-bar– I figured it out about two months ago and can do it consistently on my pull-up bar at home. I have never, however, successfully linked my kips during a WOD because 1) at that point, I’m fatigued enough and my endurance sucks enough that I can’t quite manage that strength and coordination, and 2) I’m stubborn enough that I’d rather crank them out 1-2 at a time so that I’m working-out while everyone else is working-out… and I can’t bring myself to take a break and let my body recover to do the movement properly. If I keep approaching the movement like that, I’ll never learn the right muscle-memory to time the kip during my WODs.

So… for the next month, I’d like to try something new. I’m going to continue with my Westside-Conjugate strength training, which I love, and I’m going to try working with Viada’s strength + endurance template, which is Westside-based anyway. It means I don’t have to change any of my strength work– I’m just trading WODs for more distance. Due to the PA weather, I have a feeling I’ll be doing more rowing than running… though I’m still waiting to hear back from Alex on what he thinks about that and whether that will translate to okay running when the weather warms back up. I also want to continue developing my skills as a CrossFitter, but I want to do that properly– so I’ll do skills as skill-work. I’ll work on things slowly, for form rather than sloppily for time or for max weight. To keep from burning out, I’ll limit most of the heavier stuff to my strength work, and only do skill stuff when my body feels fresh. I’m not entirely sure how this plan will go since I’ll be spending about half this month in Arizona– on the one hand, it means I’ll be able to run, but on the other, I won’t have access to a lot of the usual toys.

As of right now, I think my weeks will tentatively look like this:

Monday: Cleans (weight will vary depending on how I feel– nothing structured, just working on form),  “long,” slow run (today that was two miles)

Tuesday: ME Upper Body, light recovery run (or row), some light skill work

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: ME Lower Body, Sprints

Friday: DE Upper Body, (not sure about the running form drills if I don’t have access to the outdoors… maybe some running form drills, maybe some skill work, maybe a metcon, maybe it varies week to week)

Saturday: I may switch this up between short pace runs and more traditional metcons, also, a good day for skill work.

Sunday: DE Lower Body

I’ll have to do some tinkering as I figure out what works and what doesn’t, and how much the running wears me out. I can already tell you that today’s two miles has my calves spasming (lacrosse balling as I type). But… the surprising thing about today was that I enjoyed the run. I’ve spent so long hating distances over 400m because I’ve adopted a habit of trying to push 110% on everything. I have no sense of pacing. Trying to push 110% for distance means 1) Jo hates life and 2) Jo breaks down too much to do the rest of the workout well. So I embraced the “slow” part of today and worked on form, keeping in mind all the drills that Alex gave me… and surprisingly, my knees didn’t hurt (my IT bands usually seize up around the 800m mark) and… I loved it. It cleared my mind… after the first 3 minutes of “why am I doing this,” I enjoyed the breeze and watching the pavement scroll beneath my feet… Who knows, maybe someday, I’ll voluntarily run a whole 5k.

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