Be sure to drink your… Ovaltine?

So the title of the post seems a little suspect, you say? I know what you’re all thinking… Marcus’s beard has finally taken over his brain and caused a hodge podge of facial hair and neurotransmission errors, causing him to use the most random title imagineable. Well, if you read the last post you know how Charlie Murphy feels about that. Alas, I digress. The title is inspired by none other than one of my favorite movies and holiday experiences of all time, “A Christmas Story”. I sat through 3 showings of it on Christmas Day and loved every minute of it. If you have not watched it, I will not fill you in on the details because you are a Grinch and need not read any further. Those that have seen it remember the Little Orphan Annie decoder pen that Ralphie got in the mail. He was so excited to listen to his first message on the radio and decode what it said, only to find out that the meaning of the message was an advertisement for Ovaltine. How disappointing…

But all of this got me to thinking: how cool would it be to have a decoder pen? Life gets confusing as hell sometimes and it would be nice to have something that would help interpret the goings on of the day to day grind. Case in point, I often find myself perplexed about if my Inov8’s match my boardshorts and beanie. Now it would be nice to have a tool which did in fact clear up that confusion. I have yet to come up with the solution to this conundrum, but what I can offer is a mildly universal solution on how to scale and plan your approach to either performing or programming workouts.

One of the main reasons for the success of CrossFit is that it is one of the few training systems that targets all of the energy systems of the body. Being that the use of any scientific talk will hurt my overall musclehead aura, I will refrain from getting into too much detail. Instead here is a brief explanation of each of the systems:

Phosphogenic System

(100% effort) This is targeted by executing explosive powerful movements at high velocities or high force. The body uses purely ATP and Creatine Phosphate during this phase of exercise. The best example is a 1-5 rep max lift of any kind.

Glycolitic System

(apx. 90-95% intensity) This system is sustained longer than the phosphogenic system but does not involve the same amount of power output. It involves the breakdown of glucose and glycogen (stored) that is converted to energy. The best example of this would be a 400 meter run or 500 meter row.

Oxidative System

(apx. 50-90% intensity) Those of you that are runners know this system all too well. Basically anything that you can maintain for longer than 5 minutes falls into this system. The body’s ability to utilize oxygen is tested during this type of exercise. 1 mile run anybody?

So lets further break this down into CrossFit terms, and get away from the smart people talk (although this is a very dumbed down explanation of the energy systems). The beautiful thing about CrossFit is that during any one workout you can experience one of these systems or all of these system. Let’s use the same movements but use different rep schemes as examples to prove this theory.

First off, lets set the total reps at 100 pull ups, 200 push ups and 300 squats. Workout A consists of doing 100 pull ups then 200 push ups then 300 squats. You cannot move on to the push ups until the pull ups are finished and the same for the squats. The geniusi (plural for genius, DUH) out there may approach Workout A balls to the wall and go all out for the 100 pull ups and run out of gas entirely. This of course is not the best course of action. Instead those with any sense would do the pull ups at a much more mild intensity over a longer period of time. Same goes for the push ups and squats. This workout, by design, is a much more oxidative workout, although the first portion of the workout would definitely be part of the glycolitic system. Summary: lower intensity longer duration.

Now, on to Workout B… We use the same amount of total reps, but we partition the reps into smaller chunks. So let’s say we do 10 rounds of 10 pull ups, 20 push ups, and 30 squats. The amount of total work is the same, but the workout can be approached at a higher intensity because the scheme of the reps allows for that. Turn that into 20 rounds of 5 pull ups, 10 push ups, and 15 squats, and the workout becomes even more glycolitic. Add rest intervals into the scheme to increase the intensity of each round and the workout moves even more towards the glycolitic pathway. Each round of work takes less time to finish but the overall intensity is naturally higher. Think higher intensity shorter duration.

Finally let’s pretend someone really hated you and had the time to watch you suffer, and gave you Workout C: Do your maximum 1 rep weighted pull up for 100 sets. Then do your maximum 1 rep weighted push up for 200 sets. Then finally, do your maximum weighted squat for 300 sets. This in theory would challenge your phosphogenic system if ample rest time was given between sets. This is highly impractical and (not to offend anyone) plain retarded. But you get the idea. Think the highest intensity possible for the shortest duration.

So, how do you use this to decode your training? First and foremost think about what types of workouts you excel in. When you check the whiteboard and see a 1 mile run do you raise the fist or pump it? Then approach workouts in that manner whenever possible. Work on the systems and time domains that you are not proficient at. Not only that, when you do something like Fran make sure you are getting the intended benefits of the workout. It is designed to be a sprint (relatively) done around 5 minutes or less. If it’s taking you longer than 8 or 9 minutes, consider scaling the weight or the reps to get the same metabolic effect from it. If you are not doing it as rx’d and it is taking you 2 minutes, stop patting yourself on the back and start loading up the bar and doing real pull ups. And finally, if you notice that you are either conciously, subconciously or accidentally only making it to days that are more biased towards one type of energy system, change that. Nobody likes a specialist… At least not in the CrossFit world.

So, I hope this really helps you when you tune into the figurative radio show that is CrossFit and need to decode your workout. I promise you that the results will not be as disappointing as they were for poor little Ralphie. Until next time!


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