Now that we have given you an overview of the different methods we use to develop an athletes all round conditioning, in this final post we will discuss how we fit it all together. Very few athletes have the time and energy to use every method of conditioning we have mentioned to develop aerobic and anaerobic conditioning all year round, and even if they did we wouldn’t advise it!
To fit the pieces together into a productive and non-exhausting jigsaw we must first think about when an athlete wants to peak for a competition. From here we can work backwards, and determine at which point we will focus on which aspect of their conditioning. Doing this is something which is commonly referred to as periodisation. Dividing the training period up into smaller blocks called meso and micro cycles with each block having a focus. There are two main methods of doing this, block periodisation and undulating periodisation.
Block periodisation involves an entire training block, usually 4-6 weeks, having a specific and consistent focus, for example spending 6 weeks developing your aerobic conditioning. Undulating periodisation is different, using this method the focus of the training may vary on a day to day basis, for example day 1 may be aerobic, day 2 may be HIIT and day 3 may be SMIIT. Both methods have their merits, and which one to use can vary depending on the athlete and their season.
As well as this we must also consider restitution periods. This is the period we would maintain a given level of a particular component of fitness if we were to stop training it, such as aerobic conditioning, before it would start to decline. The restitution period for aerobic conditioning is typically around 30 days with some individual variation. However, the restitution period for your most intense anaerobic conditioning is only 5 days. So already, bearing in mind on competition day you are going to be working at the highest intensity you are capable of, you can see how the pieces begin to fit together. At the furthest point from competition we would focus on aerobic conditioning, and as we get closer we would begin to focus more on anaerobic conditioning.
As opposed to using a classic block or undulating periodisation method, I like to use a hybrid of the two. By this I mean that whilst each block may have a focus, such as aerobic conditioning, that focus isn’t exclusive. Instead I use the 70/30 rule, whereby in an aerobic training block, 70% of the training is aerobic and 30% is anaerobic. As the athlete gets closer to competition that ratio will switch. Using this method, whilst the majority of the adaptation to training will be in favour of the predominant training method, it also prevents the non-predominant training method being left to decline, particularly when the length of the training period exceeds the restitution period of that adaptation to training.
Having said that, every athlete is different and knowing your athlete, their competition schedule and training schedule will influence how their training looks. It is important to plan in advance, determine when your athlete is looking to peak and work back from there, to effectively bring everything together when it really counts.
In summary –
In this penultimate blog post on the subject of conditioning we will be building on what we have discussed in our last two blog posts by looking into the different methods of developing your Anaerobic conditioning.
As mentioned previously, CrossFit doesn’t rely solely on one energy system, and the way in which energy systems interact with each other means this is very rarely the case anyway. Your typical CrossFit “metcon”, is generally designed to be relatively short and intense, but how can we manipulate this to get the best results.
Your traditional short sharp AMRAP will improve your anaerobic conditioning, go into any CrossFit gym and speak to the members and they will all tell you how much their fitness has improved as a result of this kind of workout. The key to optimising these workouts is to ensure the intensity is right. Ideally you should be working around or above your lactate turn point – the point at which lactate production outweighs lactate removal. Why? Because the body’s ability to tolerate and remove lactic acid without any decrement in muscle function is a primary adaptation of anaerobic conditioning, and is a strong determinant of CrossFit performance. If we were to quantify this in terms of heart rate, you would typically be looking at somewhere in the region of 80-85% of your maximum heart rate. So designing your workouts using movements or loads that allow you to reach this intensity is key to ensuring your workout is an effective use of your time.
Interval training is another method that can be used to develop your anaerobic conditioning and I like to split this into two different intensities. First, we have your high intensity intervals. These are performed for short periods normally ranging between 3 and 5 minutes with the intensity been slightly higher than your average metcon, typically closer to 85-90%. The benefit of these intervals isn’t necessarily that you are working at a higher intensity, but that these intervals can be repeated multiple times with equal rest periods in between, so the total time spent working at a higher intensity is greater. However, there isn’t a linear dose response and it will vary from person to person. One athlete may be able to maintain the given intensity for multiple rounds, where another may only be able to maintain that intensity for 1-2 rounds. Once the intensity drops too low the athlete will no longer be getting the intended stimulus at which point it would be advisable to stop. Over time, we would progress the athlete by increasing the number of rounds they perform, but only much as they are capable of maintaining the desired intensity.
Another method of interval training which can be used, that is particularly useful as the athlete gets close to competition and is in an intensification phase, or with team athletes, is supramaximal interval training. This is performed for a shorter duration (1-2 minutes) with a much longer rest period between intervals, anywhere between 2 and 4 times the work period. Naturally this means the intensity can be higher still (90-95% max heart rate), and again with the extended rest period can be repeated multiple times. Of course, this replicates team competition well, particularly competitions where there are 4 or more people in a team, but also replicates individual competition where it is only natural that athletes will push harder than they would on a regular training day. Conditioning your athletes to becoming accustomed to working at these intensities will allow them to work at higher intensities for longer come competition day, as well as recovering more effectively between workouts.
Each different method of anaerobic conditioning has its advantages and disadvantages, and should be used in conjunction with one another, not exclusively. And let’s not forget about your aerobic conditioning too! In our final blog post we will discuss when and why we use each different method of conditioning at different stages in the season, and the interaction between them.
In summary –