When it comes to endurance training, the bible was written by one Mr. Joe Friel. And by bible, we’re talking about the The Triathlete’s Training Bible. Although the title says “triathlete”, it’s really the single best starting point to get into ANY endurance sports or build a training plan.
Joe does a fantastic job explaining the key concept of periodization which in its simplest form is breaking down your training into segments to focus on different things.
The book provides a solid foundation for athletes to either properly evaluate training plans written by your coaches or to create your own. Fair warning though, if you are interested in only the basics the book goes well beyond this as about a third of the book is about periodization. If you read the book, you’ll soon find yourself in the deep rabbit hole analyzing heart rates, training loads, recovery, acquiring the proper mental edge needed to race and so much more.
Periodization is in stark contrast to my other favorite sport, CrossFit, that at least at the local box level, seems to emphasize a complete lack of periodization. It instead sells itself as preparing the athletes for the “unknown and unknowable”. Sounds great but the athletes themselves get frustrated after a few years when they plateau and get stuck at a certain skill level.
At the higher level, there has been recognition of this issue. Even CrossFit HQ has presented the issue in a nice article Periodizing for the Games By Ben Bergeron where Ben comments “We’re no longer training for the unknown and unknowable. We’re no longer training for ‘a constant, ready state,’” adding: “We know when game day is. It’s the middle of July.” July is the date of the CrossFit Games, the sport’s highest level event. This is what most people see on ESPN and envision when they hear CrossFit.
With that revelation, a bridge can be built between random WOD programming and Friel’s periodization principles. Although not citing Friel, Bergeron proposes a simple block periodization training plan:
August: rest and recovery.
September and October: strength.
November and December: speed strength.
January: solely dedicated to weaknesses.
February and March: met-cons.
April and May: Regional prep.
June and July: Games prep.
This is what most serious – ie regional and games athletes, are and have been doing for some time. There are articles online dating back to 2009 outlining the need for periodization.
The average CrossFitter seems to have their head in the sand about periodization though. They expect the local box’s year round programming to have programming that will magically make them continuously better and heading towards being closer to a regional level competitor. I think most of them are crazy to foster any dream they will ever be regional level but I can understand their desire to constantly improve.
The local box however is not training games athletes.
The average box sets a fitness program for the mass public and is not set up to have athletes “peak”. They can’t follow a periodization schedule to make everyone at the gym happy. I’m assuming that over half of the average box is just interested in general fitness.
For an informed athlete (like someone reading this), the solution to the lack of progression is fairly easy but it requires doing something other than just showing up to the box six days a week and doing classes.
Adding a periodized weight training plan concurrent with the box training plan, where they do the periodized weight training plan for 2-3 days a week using Bergeron’s focus areas, will take the average athlete a long way towards training for their Open goals. I’m very lucky because at our box that we have a weight training specialist who writes custom programs and it’s included in our dues (the high dues that they are).
If the coaches at your box won’t write a program for you, all is not lost. There are some super-simple programs out there to help build strength that are free as well. One I’ve tried in the past is GetStrong. There are a limited number of movements with some simple periodization but the site even provides an excel calculator to really dumb it down. If you want more detail on the program, you can even go the extra mile and read the entire explanation book, Get Strong: How to build strength & lift double your bodyweight. Working this program in will not get you to the games but replacing some WODs with this strength program during the September/October periodization phase will take you a long way.
Another super simple weight training progression program that can be used is the Wendler 5/3/1 program. It’s been around a while and there are several good articles on the internet about it but if you need a quick link to one, go here. There is also a very good iOS calculator for your iPhone called Wendler Calculator By Daniel Ohrlund. I used the phone version for about six months and hit my best ever back squat.
I still prefer the training programs written by our coach because they tend to focus more on the Olympic lifts which I need all the help I can get at but this year I plan to use one of the basic plans for the first period to improve raw strength and then move to his programming for the speed strength period.
Education and planning appear to be issues for the average CFer but they have a bigger issue that comes even before that. Most don’t know what they actually want to do. The targeted peak date of July is probably not realistic. Should it be rolled forward to the Open since most CFers will be stopping there? Should it be the Regional date since even that would be a stretch goal?
While doing triathlons, it was easy to mark the “A” race on the calendar and build a plan moving backwards from that but CFers want to peak all year with no downtime. This maybe the single largest reason they are not progressing.
Although it could also be the lack of progressions in CrossFit training….
(that’s called a cliff hanger)
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