If you’re new to CrossFit, you might not have met Fran yet. You will soon enough. She’s a tough cookie, a real lung burner. And if you’ve been doing CrossFit for a few years, you likely know why she’s a tough cookie. Fran is a benchmark workout: 21-15-9 Thrusters and Pull-ups for time. Elite athletes finish Fran in less than two and a half minutes. For most of us, that seems impossibly fast. But, this story isn’t about the fastest person to ever finish Fran – it is a story about the typical person in the gym who wants to increase their level of fitness.
CrossFit has a key component – relative intensity. Physiologically and psychologically you want to achieve the relative intensity of the workout. Relative intensity goes hand-in-hand with scaling and adapting the workout. You want to set yourself up for success by determining the best workout to increase your level of fitness. This means getting that same intensity as more experienced athletes – and hitting that intensity will provide you the best long-term results in our overall programming. If a workout is programmed with a recommended time cap or goal intensity, you want to match that. Rx is just a prescribed reference – and too many times we are drawn to try “go Rx” at the expense of the intensity of the workout (I’ve got to raise my hand a few times on this one). And this brings me to my story about Fran. Fran was one of those days.
21 Thrusters (Rx 95 lbs men, 65 lbs women)
A good reference for Fran is to finish in the 5-7 minute timeframe. If you scale the workout and finish faster than 5 minutes, the next time you see Fran, you should increase the difficulty. Fran should not take you more than 10 minutes. If it does, you don’t have the right intensity and should scale more.
It’s a sunny, pleasant evening as I look the board where the workout is written. I had been working on pull-ups after classes for several months and recently achieved strict pull-ups consistently at small numbers (small meaning 10 in one day was the most I’d ever done). The coach comes over and we discuss the board, the coach recommends scaling the pull-ups considering the volume of pull-ups that are meant to be done quickly. Ideally no more than 2-3 short breaks in the set of 21 and I only have a single pull-up, maybe two. Specifically, the coach says 10 single pull-ups is very different than 45 pull-ups in a WOD. I’m looking at a very narrow view of fitness, just this one workout. I want to try and do it with the pull-ups. Coaches are looking at the big picture including the intended intensity of the workout, your overall fitness goals and what is intent and design of this workout within the programming. Coaches are considering a broader perspective, long term fitness.
Coach counts down, 3-2-1-GO! And we start the workout. The thrusters go well, I take one very quick break during the set of 21, mostly because I forgot to pull my head back out of the bar path on a rep and got off balance, so I drop the bar and reset. But, before I even finish the set of 21 pull-ups, others are already finishing the entire workout. My heart rate, which had increased significantly on thrusters, is also back in a very comfortable zone. I didn’t have any intensity in the pull-ups. By the set of 9 pull-ups, I’m only able to do one pull-up every 20-30 seconds. The other athletes have already been done for over 5 minutes. I finish in 12:42. I was proud of that, I did a WOD with pull-ups. But – I totally missed out on working at high intensity. Doing Fran with pull-ups that slow lost all of the intensity. And that’s actually where I need to put in more work, pushing hard when it’s gets uncomfortable, I tend to some someone who can settle in at a comfortable pace and keep that pace for a very long time. The short, high intensity workouts are the difficult ones for me – so I should have worked on getting the intensity in. Ring rows with the Rx weight for thrusters would have been the perfect way to do that, I can make a ring row challenging by adjusting my feet. Set the foot positioning so that I can do the set of 21 with 2-3 short breaks and I would be back to the thrusters and hitting that goal time of 5 -7 minutes. Or, I should have done 2 – 3 pull ups each round, then gone to the ring rows or jumping/assisted pull-ups to be able to keep moving and keep the intensity while being able to practice the skill as well.
Some days the coaches will allow you to try it Rx just because you want to. And it’s why we have the time caps on workouts, it is your workout and there are days where you want to try a heavier weight or a more difficult scaled option. And there does need to be the opportunity to put new skills into WODs and combine it with an option to maintain the intensity. And somedays, you just gotta go for it, see how far you get within the time cap. Be proud of yourself for trying something new! But, also remember the intensity and mix it up – not every workout should be heavy and slow! The coach knows what intensity was programmed and will push you to match that intensity. In addition, they likely have seen what your thrusters looked like in the warm-up or your pull-ups and can help recommend good weights and options.
Scaling to meet the goal for intensity is a good habit to establish. I now approach handstand push-ups with a better view than I once approached those pull-ups in Fran. Can I do handstand push-ups one at a time with large breaks in between? Yes. Do I do that in a workout where there is supposed to be 10 handstand push-ups in each round? No. I’ll do two or three reps, then scale the remaining reps, or scale all of the reps depending on the programming and coach’s guidelines (by the way, scaling a kipping handstand push-up to a piked push-up is actually tougher for many people, so “scaled” doesn’t equal “easier”). This will allow practicing on the skill while also maintaining the intensity. Eventually, that 2-3 reps will become 5 reps, then 10 reps and so on. I’ll talk to the coach ahead of time and see if it makes sense to work the technique, cut the reps or scale with high intensity and we agree on a plan.
There are the right times to start practicing your skills in a WOD even if it means you might finish last, and there are the right times to scale and go for a very fast and intense workout.
~Coach Lindsey Johnson