Raise your hand if you like positive results. Awesome, we’re all on the same page. We recently had a workout, Wednesday, September 18, that consisted of 5 intervals of pressing movements and calories on the bike. If you worked out that day you’ll remember it vividly. This workout received a lot of hype, positive and negative, and because of that it is a great topic of discussion. Questions asked may have been why was it so hard? Is it possible? Why did my times fall off? Through this blog I hope to provide some insight into the design of this workout and how you can approach workouts of this style to one, feel successful, and two, improve your long term results.
First line item, why intervals? At Troy, we implement intervals, often, for three key reasons. Those are work quality, work intensity, and equipment/class management. The third is simple, we have X amount of equipment and want everyone to get a solid, well organized workout, minimizing equipment discrepancies. The first two reasons, those are the true focus of the interval.
Let’s use a mile run as an example. If I were training for a max effort mile run it’d be simple to go out every day with the intention of running my best mile. Over time I would likely improve my mile time a bit. But, from experience and science I know that this isn’t the best way to train for the mile. Running one mile at max capacity, over and over again, provides the same training stimulus every time. A more fitting way to train for the mile would be to break it into its components. What makes up a mile or 1600m run? Simple, 100m, 200m, 400m, and 800m intervals. If I train those shorter distances, I can build time under tension at higher effort levels. It’d also be wise to mix in some longer distances, say 2 or 3 mile runs, to improve my aerobic system, since many of the shorter runs would classify as anaerobic. In all, giving the mile a bunch of different training stimuli is a better approach than just running one mile at a time over and over.
As CrossFitters, often our goal is general health and we’re not always training for a specific event like the mile in this case. However, we do take the training approach of variance because it’s proven most effective at eliciting change. Taking varied programming and implementing well thought out, effective intervals, helps us maximize our intensity and work quality for the time we are working.
Now, how to approach the interval? This is a little different for all of us. It takes a little bit of individualizing. We love this at Troy CrossFit and we aim to provide the best guidance we can by way of a workout description, pre-class briefing, and personal recommendations. However, often times, the final decision is yours. Using the pressing/bike workout as our model, what was the optimal approach to that workout? This workout had a unique setup with a timecap of 2 minutes for completing the second bike effort that was followed by 10 thrusters to close out the interval. 2 minutes plus 10 light thrusters equates to about 2:30. With the intervals running every 6 minutes, this gives you 3:30 worth of rest for a work:rest ratio of roughly 1.5:1. Two and a half minutes of high intensity work mostly falls into the category of anaerobic training although not at its most explosive outputs. You can read more about energy systems in this past blog:
And more about stimulus in this one:
Our glycolytic energy system, an anaerobic one, that dominates energy production during intense bouts of exercise in the 30 second to 2 minute range, requires about 3 or 4:1 to recover optimally. We can see that the 1.5:1 we’re working with on this workout is much less than that. And that is our golden guide to how to approach the workout at hand. If the interval calls for sub-optimal recovery, then in order to either sustain pace or build in pace I need to work sub-maximally. And this is a key that you must grasp with your fitness. Testing and competing are done at max. But training, what we do on most days, is performed at sub-max. It’s the reason why you don’t load up a heavy barbell and one rep max every day. The lighter weights at higher reps are the training that build up your strength. Then you test it sometimes.
What is sub-max? Anything below 100%. In the case of our workout sub-max comes in the form of our output and not a specific weight. If I need to work for about 2:30 and will be resting for 3:30, it’d be wise to start out at a pace of 80%. In this workout, the 80% mostly pertains to your biking efforts. Starting out at 80 gives you some room to build up in pace over the course of the workout as you begin to breathe heavier and fatigue. Notice the use of build up and fatigue? You can still build while you fatigue if you approach your workout with a plan. Fatiguing from an 80% effort is much different than from a 100% effort. For this particular workout, if the bike calories in round 1 or 2 required you to max out on the bike in order to complete the work within the two minutes, or maybe, it didn’t require you to go 100 but you still did and finished them faster than 2 minutes, then what you likely saw was a drastic drop off in your performance in rounds 3 and beyond. To be expected because there wasn’t enough recovery time allotted in order to repeat a max effort performance. Many who attended class, opted to reduce the calorie number right from the get go. This workout modification allowed them to lock in to that initial 80% allowing them to remain consistent or even build across the 5 intervals.
This leads us to the RX mindset. It’s traditional to have an RX in CrossFit workouts. Amongst many things, the key to this RX is in providing a gauge for how the workout is supposed to go. If I see a 75 pound thruster, I know it’s supposed to be light and fast. If I see a 315 pound deadlift, I know it’s going to be slower and more controlled. Get in the mindset of using the RX as a guide for you to modify the workout to your needs. If you come in each day, see RX as a challenge, and say,”I’m doing that,” you may be in the mindset of competing. There’ll be good days and a lot frustrating ones as well. You’ll often feel beat up. You’ll get fitter over time. If you come in each day, see RX as a guide, follow your coach’s advice, and then modify the workout accordingly, you are likely in the mindset of training. Sometimes you’ll go RX, sometimes you won’t, you’ll have a lot of good days where you feel built up and energized, and you’ll get fitter faster.
To wrap it up, intervals are great ways to train. Make them work for you with the goal of building yourself up. Train often, compete sometimes.