When planning your training year, particularly if your using the block method of periodisation, it is important to have an understanding of restitution periods so that the sequencing of each block is optimal and allows for peak performance in competition. This is of even greater importance in a sport like CrossFit, where there is a requirement for a large range of physical capabilities to be optimised to allow an athlete to perform at their best.
As we mentioned previously the restitution period refers to the length of time adaptations to each training stimulus will remain once training has stopped. This is different for each adaptation as well as each athlete, so it is important to have an understanding of your athlete’s capabilities. The restitution period of each different training adaptation can depend on your athlete’s natural predispositions, training age and training history, as well as how much time an athlete has spent working on a specific element. Generally speaking the longer the athlete has trained an adaptation, the longer the adaptation will remain once training has stopped.
Developing aerobic fitness in an athlete requires a prolonged period of time working at submaximal intensities. The very nature of the training means its time consuming, and in athletes with limited training time it can be either overlooked or shortened meaning the adaptation never occurs. However, an athletes aerobic capacity and be developed to a much greater extent than their anaerobic capacity as a result of the number of adaptations that occur, and aerobic fitness has a much longer restitution period of around 30 days.
Anaerobic capacity on the other hand can be developed much quicker, but the limited number of adaptations that occur mean that there is an upper limit and that these improvements will reside for a much shorter time than aerobic adaptation, particularly for completely maximal short efforts (e.g Fran). Anaerobic adaptations can start to decline as quickly as 5 days after the cessation of training, and as an important element of competitive CrossFit, it is important this loss of ability is minimised in order to peak for competition.
Typically this is why at times furthest away from competition an athlete may focus the majority of their training time on developing their aerobic fitness, and then focus on shorter intense efforts as they get closer to competition. It is also important to consider a trade off between both aerobic and anaerobic capacity to allow an athlete to perform at their best. If aerobic capabilities begin to decline after 30 days, but it takes longer than this for an athlete to achieve optimum anaerobic capabilities which decline very quickly, a coach may happily trade off 10% of an athlete’s aerobic capability to achieve 100% Anaerobic capability, if that is what the competition requires most.
The same is true for strength and power. Athletes with a good strength training background may be able to retain maximal strength capacity for up to 30 days post training. However sprint ability, maximal power and ballistic exercise performance may begin to decline within 5 days. The relationship between the rate of decay of strength and power adaptations, is very similar to the aerobic/anaerobic relationship, likely in part due to the energy systems involved and adaptations that occur. Again, this has important implications in the planning of the training year to allow an athlete to compete at their peak.
An important factor in all of this is an understanding of your athlete, their predispositions and their level of ability. For example, if you have an athlete who can row a 30 minute 10k, but takes 5 minutes to do Fran, then it would be perfectly acceptable to allow their aerobic fitness to decline and spend time working on anaerobic capacity, as that is more likely to be a limiting factor in their competition performance and overall placing. Similarly, if an athlete can deadlift 300kg, but struggles to clean 100kg, in the context of competitive CrossFit the athlete will gain more from spending time developing speed and power. Of course the opposite to both examples can also be true and would require a different solution.
In summary, periodisation is an important, if not essential tool to allow your athletes to train year round, injury free, with continued progress and to peak for competition. Taking the time to plan the training and competition year or multiple years will pay off, as well as making your life easier as a coach. Always bear in mind the demands of the sport, the end goal and the athlete, to ensure the most success.