Training days versus Test days
The early CrossFit days looked a bit different than today. Back then the goal was, ‘How much can we mess you up today?’
Not anymore. Yes, sometimes you will feel like you overdosed when you push yourself to the limit, but that feeling shouldn’t be the norm; it should be a once-in-a-blue moon occurrence—often when you accidentally misjudged a workout.
Think about this question for a minute: When you come to workout, are you conscious of whether it's a training day, a test day, or a play day?
You should be! And the context model of our programming helps you determine this with our 3 different workout approaches or mindsets.
Training should make up close to 80 percent of your time at the gym. Training includes your long warm-up, your mobility work, your strength and skill work. This is recognized by our Practice Context prescribed in our programming. Usually you’re working below your physical capacity here, and it’s where the gains are made!
Warm-up is where the gains are made?
Hells yeah! The often-boring, tedious tinkering to improve your ankle or shoulder flexibility, or the repetitive three-days-a-week squat program that has you asking, “Back squats again?” are absolutely where the biggest gains are made.
What about the conditioning—the reason 50% of you show up?
It’s important, but it’s not where the gains are made, per se. Think of conditioning as a chance to put your newfound strength and skill work to use.
What do you mean? Isn’t conditioning the place I should ruin myself and end up in a heap of sweat and tears?
Not if you’re doing it right. If you’re conditioning in a way that’s helping you improve your overall fitness, then it should feel controlled and well-paced, just like your strength and skill work. If you feel like you might pass out, chances are you went out too hard, and will likely end up slower in the end.
One of the most well-respected coaches around, James FitzGerald, the owner of Opex Fitness in Arizona, explained that every workout should have an intended stimulus. This means, when you hear “3, 2, 1 Go,” it shouldn’t be a giant free-for-all chaotic experience, where people devastate their bodies and can’t recover for three hours. In fact, most of the time you shouldn’t even be going at a 100 percent effort.
One thing I have personally learned this year with my training is this concept. The majority of my training I perform at 85-90% effort, with many sessions prescribed even as low as 75% effort. The goal is to be able to maintain those efforts for long periods of time without slowing down, in some cases actually speeding up throughout the workout.
What? I shouldn’t try my hardest?
Think about this quote for a minute:
“CrossFit has been marketed as a sport where everyone’s so intense all the time, but the very best CrossFit athletes in the world are never going that hard,” - James FitzGerald.
Brent Fikowski at the 2016 CrossFit Games after winning The Snail event without much of a look of grimace on his face.
The point is simply staying below your threshold on any given multi-modal workout will usually make you faster in the end. The concept is simple to understand when we’re talking about a single modality, such as running, rowing or swimming. Nobody is going to sprint the first 30 seconds of a 5-km run. But time and time again during multi-modal workouts we’ve never done before, people do the equivalent of the latter, making you slower in the end.
For those of you who like the pain: Don’t worry, you will still feel pain during conditioning workouts, but try to save it for the final quarter of the conditioning workout—the big sprint finish! If you’re in pain in the first half of the workout you’re in trouble.
Going back to FitGerald’s point: His overarching argument is that sticking with an 80 percent effort in both training and competition will likely lead to the best overall performances. This doesn’t mean you’re not working at improving your fitness; after all, if your 80 percent effort keeps getting better and better, then so does your 100 percent effort.
Testing should make up about 10 to 15 percent of your time in the gym. Also known as Competition or Mental Toughness in our context prescription in our programming.
It’s essentially the sport aspect of what we do—the game day. Everyday can’t be a test day, but remembering to test yourself here and there can go a long way in keeping you motivated as an athlete, as well as giving you moments of both fear and satisfaction. Test day is the time it’s acceptable to flirt with the line of going out too hard and overdosing yourself a bit, as doing this is a great way to learn about where you’re fitness level is at.
Testing days can be identified when there is a repeated workout or movement which you can compare your score to such as; Fran, Grace or even a 1-Rep-Max Lift.
THAT BEING SAID, even when you put yourself out there—either in the gym or at a competition—as FitzGerald pointed out, this still doesn’t mean you’re overdosing yourself to a place that takes its toll on your performance recovery. It’s still best off knowing your fitness level, having a plan of attack, and avoiding going out too hard and fading by the third round of a five round workout.
Test days are important, but smart testing, as opposed to blindly jumping in without a plan, is always best.
We don't talk about playing too much, but we think it’s important to give yourself the license to play from time-to-time. Maybe 5 percent of the time.
Playing might involve working on some gymnastics skills on the monkey bars at the park, or maybe it involves flipping tires or throwing heavy stones around. Maybe it means picking up a new sport, or going hiking or surfing. Playing can be dangerous if you're fooling around with movements you're not ready to do, but if you've been putting in the training work everyday, and testing yourself periodically, you generally will develop a pretty good body awareness, and overall sense of what you're capable of.
Check out the MadLab Prescription for a great life here (http://crossfitnorthokanagan.com/great-life-prescription.html). It talks about the importance of remembering to play new sports and go on adventures. The importance of remembering to play.
So next time you're in the gym, take a good look at the Context of the day and ask your coach if you're still not sure how to approach the program for that day. Less testing and more training will ultimately yield higher testing results when those days do come up and also remember to have fun on the Play days!