Data from a series of workouts in October.
Data break down:
Week 1: Task Priority, “To Endure” (Chipper) – Average time was 18:14
Week 2: Task Priority, “Deja Vu” (3 RFT) – Average time was 17:15
Week 3: Task Priority, “Thank You, Come Again” (5 RFT) – Average time was 17:58
Week 4: Time Priority, “Swan Song” 18:00 AMRAP…3-2-1…GO!
Task Priority – a CrossFit workout where the amount of work to be completed is prescribed and the athlete will determine how long it takes to complete the work.
Time Priority – a CrossFit workout where the time to work is prescribed and the athletes will determine how much work gets completed in that predetermined amount of time.
Across a series of three Saturdays, we completed the same task priority workout in three different versions. Week 1 was a “chipper” where each movement was completed prior to moving to the next. Week 2 was an evenly distributed 3 rounds for time version, and week 3 was a similar structure, but 5 rounds for time.
Looking at the data, clearly 3 rounds for time was the most efficient breakup strategy for the average athlete who completed the WOD. What that means is that in the 3 rounds for time version, athletes produced the highest average power output across the total time of work, thus producing the highest level of intensity, which by CrossFit’s definition of fitness, means they got fitter on that day.
However, as we think about how that version facilitated the fastest average time, we have to wonder if athletes actually still left intensity on the table. If we consider this workout containing 300 total reps, we can easily compute an average seconds per rep in order to standardize our comparison. The rep break out would look like:
60 situps, 90 DB snatches, 150 double unders, where every 3 jumps equals a rep (50 total reps), and 1500m row, where every 15 meters (or about 1 stroke) equals 1 rep (100 total reps).
60+90+50+100 = 300.
By examining this, we can then do some simple math and determine the average seconds per rep across each iteration:
Chipper = 3.65 seconds per rep
3 Rounds for Time = 3.45 seconds per rep
5 Rounds for TIme = 3.60 seconds per rep
This analysis makes a basic assumption of constant movement across the entire workout. Therefore, as is the case with all assumptions, we are inserting a certain level of inaccuracy. Like a standard Newtonian physics problem where that uncertainty is assigned to heat loss as a result of friction, CrossFit’s uncertainty lies in the time an athlete rests. Like physics where heat loss constantly draws from a system’s efficiency, a CrossFitter constantly battles her own nemesis during a workout – rest.
When we look at our data across the last three weeks, the fact that the 3 rounds for time version of this workout facilitated the lowest seconds per rep means our athletes, though moving very well and putting out a great deal of work, still have a great deal of inefficiency in their fitness. In other words, the Chipper, by simple math, should have been the fastest version due to it only requiring 3 transitions, which are inherently portions of the workout where an athlete can not complete work. Since these transitions preclude the completion of work and are unavoidable, we can, like in a standard Newtonian physics problem, drop them as assumed conditions of inefficiency when completing our seconds per rep calculation. However, like a rolling rock slowly coming to a stop, transitions are the inherent and unavoidable friction in the problem and do require some examination.
From a mathematical perspective, we can get a sense of just how much inefficiency gets added with each subsequent increase in rounds and transitions. The chipper only required 3 transitions whereas the 3 rounds for time had 11, and the 5 rounds for time had 19. Even if an athlete is a wizard moving from one movement to another, there is an inherent amount of intensity lost each time we add a transition. Imagine the differences between sliding an object across a paved surface, a wood surface, or a surface covered in ice. Friction sucks and so do transitions…maybe.
What do I mean? Well, try stopping your car when driving 60 mph in order to avoid colliding with a brick wall. On an ice covered road, the car doesn’t stop in time. However, slamming the breaks on a dry, rough road allows the car to come to a complete stop long before hitting the wall. In this situation, friction shifts from being an enemy to being your ally simply by shifting our perspective on what’s considered a desired use of the friction coefficient.
Similarly, an athlete who improved from the chipper to the various rounds for time iterations sees how transitions might serve them in improving their power output. By doing these different versions, each athlete gets a sense of how best to optimize their ability to JUST KEEP MOVING. Some athletes actually continued to get faster as they progressed through each iteration with the 5 rounds for time being their best version. Yes, they definitely lost efficiency with added transition from version to version but at the same time, they found that they are better movers when breaking up various movements due to physical limitations while also determining which movements they should leave as larger chunks of work.
Taking this new found information, an athlete can now figure out how to best tackle the upcoming time priority version of this workout. As an 18:00 AMRAP (as many reps as possible) version, athletes will now be tasked with completing the 300 reps as many times as possible in a set amount of time. A consistent and efficient seconds per rep analysis is now critical to an athlete executing the most efficient power output version of this workout.
Said another way, pacing matters.
In the end, there won’t be one perfect strategy. But there are definitely very bad strategies. The universal enemy of power output is unnecessary rest. For many, this takes the form of getting a drink of water, chalking hands, fixing equipment, tying shoe laces, putting hands on knees, or some other stalling tactic thinking those extra few seconds will make everything feel better. The truth – it won’t work. When the workout is a task priority, the pain won’t stop until you are finished with the work. However, in a time priority, the longer you rest, the less work you will do because that clock keeps ticking. If you need to hide in the chalk bucket, or take that extra sip of water, that’s cool. Fitness is a journey, and we all have to navigate our own path. Just understand that by choosing to rest just a little bit longer, you are also choosing to limit your improved work capacity across broad time and modal domains.
That may sound harsh and some may be thinking shouldn’t we as coaches strive to find ways to make our athletes happy so that they keep coming back. Sure, I think happiness is an important component to improved compliance and improved compliance improves consistent attendance and that leads to better results. However, I will also offer a consistent observation across a decade of doing this – happiness doesn’t come after doing easy things. Hard things are hard because they require work and dedication. A coach’s job is to relentlessly hold her athletes to a standard of movement and empathetically ask us to step outside of our previously perceived limitations. That means asking someone to often have the courage to jump just before she is ready. Sometimes we land successfully, sometimes we crash and burn. But the jumping is what matters because it’s in doing hard things that we find better versions of ourselves
As coaches and athletes, there is a lot of discussion available to be had here. How much do you want to explore athletic potential or dig into what CrossFit means when we talk about power output and intensity. CrossFit can simply be a workout but it can also be a path to explore the concept of efficiency of effort, qualitative vs. quantitative perspective, and fitness as a function of physiological and emotional capacity rather than just brute force. This is the beginning of understanding why Mat Fraser looks like he never moves “fast” or is going “hard” and yet he actually moves so fast that what he accomplishes seems super-human.
It can also be the beginning of a conversation about where you are letting inefficiencies creep into other aspects of your life. Simply doing more work to do more work doesn’t always equate to better outputs. Taking the time to establish some intentionality in your approach and consciously managing the moments when you should do nothing so that when it’s time to move you move with efficiency, might actually be a better strategy to improve your fitness; and I dare say the rest of your life. It’s hard and that’s why it’s worth doing.
Show up…talk to your coach…have fun. We’ll see you On the Creek!