Listen to your coach

This is a quick note on the intention of our workouts. I’m noticing a lot of people trying to lift too much weight or too little during WODs. Aside from the obvious safety issues that come from lifting too much, when you change up the intended stimulus this often affects how the workout is improving (or not improving) your fitness.

This “quick note” ended up getting longer than I originally intended, so if you can’t be bothered to read it all or don’t care about the science (which is a strong word, seeing as I wrote it) then the real takeaway from this is: listen to your coach. When your coach gives you a weight or a movement that is different to everyone else’s, there are good reasons. We are here for you to get the most out of your workout safely and to maximise YOUR performance – not others.

GAIN Programming Aims

What is scaling?

Scaling is not doing less than someone else. Scaling is trying to find the intended stimulus of the workout. Different workouts have different aims and these are achieved by targeting different stimuli and engaging particular energy systems.

(Sorry, here comes the science bit.)

These energy systems are:

1.The Anaerobic A-Lactic (ATP-CP) Energy System.

Think of this as a drag racing car which has huge acceleration for a very short period of time. Also known as the ATP-CP, or adenosine triphosphate – creatine phosphatesystem, the anaerobic system provides high bursts of start-up energy for activities that last less than ten seconds in duration.

Athletes who compete in sports that require high amounts of short duration acceleration are: weightlifters, gymnasts, throwing sports, or sprinters. They all primarily use the anaerobic a-lactic system.

2. The Anaerobic Lactic (Glycolytic) Energy System.

Think of this as a petrol-fuelled car with decent acceleration.

The anaerobic lactic (also known as the fast glycolysis) system provides energy for medium to high intensity bursts of activity that last from ten seconds to two minutes. Some American football positions, basketball players, football players, middle distance runners (400m-800m) rely on this system.

The anaerobic lactic system is capable of high intensity levels like the ATP-CP system, and doesnot rely on oxygen for fuel. The primary difference between the two systems is in the capacity of the system. You can think of capacity as the amount of time that the system can work at peak output before dropping off.

Whereas the ATP-CP system will only produce energy for ten seconds, the fast glycolysis system works at peak capacity for up to two minutes. As a result, waste products such as lactic acid accumulate in the blood and in the muscle cells. A burning sensation in the muscle, shortness of breath, and fatigue are all symptoms of lactic acid build-up.

3. The Aerobic Energy System

Think of this a diesel car that can go for relatively long periods of time without refuelling, but doesn’t have turbo power.

The aerobic system is the most utilised of the three. It provides energy for low intensity activities lasting anywhere from two minutes to a few hours. Unlike the other two systems, the aerobic system requires oxygen and takes much longer to overload. Sports and activities that use continuous sustained efforts such as long distance swimming/running, rowing, and cycling rely on the aerobic system.

In reality, most sports use a variety of energy systems, or at least the power (time to reach peak output) and the capacity (duration that that peak output can be sustained) of the system. The only real exceptions are Olympic weightlifting and certain field events, such as the hammer throw or shotput.

Which energy system is most prevalent in a given sport dictates the training intent.

Training Intent

The training intent refers to the athlete’s desired outcome from training, whether it is relative strength, hypertrophy (muscle gain), or strength endurance. Every athlete has a training intent that is specific to his or her sport, which is shaped and defined by specific loading parameters.

CrossFit, however, requires, all three energy systems to be used. Different workouts aim to train different systems at different levels.

Monday’s GAME DAY workouts were a very good example of this.

1) 21-15-9

Front Squats


The aim of this workout was to go all out. To train the ATP and glycolytic systems with an emphasis on the glycolytic. Due to the time taken for this workout (intended to be from 4-6 minutes with a maximum of 10 minutes), the encouragement was to go for fairly big sets. These sets were likely to last for 20-30 seconds, and thus predominantly be glycolytic efforts. This workout also falls into the aerobic system, as it will take longer than a few minutes to complete.

2) 8 x Min AMRAP

Ground to Overhead (Clean & Jerk)

This workout was designed with an ATP energy system emphasis, with a crossover into the glycolytic. Each lift only takes a few seconds (ATP) but collectively, your efforts crossover into the glycolytic system and then to the aerobic system due to the time period set.

3) 50-40-30-20-10


DB Snatches

This workout is very much in the aerobic pathway. It had a 16 minute time cap. I didn’t expect anyone to finish this workout, but wanted everyone to keep going for 16 minutes. The intention of this was to move consistently at relatively low intensity for a fairly long period of time compared to the previous workouts.

The programming that we do and the aim of CrossFit is to train all three of the energy pathways and get the amazing results most of you see very quickly after starting CrossFit. Don’t get hung up on the amount of weight lifted, or how much faster or slower you are compared to others. Think about the intended effort/intensity for the workout, and ask whether you achieved that. This will be what makes you fitter, help you add lean muscle, lose body fat or ideally- all three.

I hope that this has been helpful. If you have any further questions about the intention of the GAIN workouts then please grab a coach. They will be able to help you achieve your goals by making your workouts personal to you by achieving the desired stimulus, rather than simply changing exercises for you.

The next article will focus on health, wellness, and dealing with injury/illness in your training. We’ll talk about how much recovery is sensible and what is required for optimal health and performance.



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