"Watt" can you do?
The operating theory behind CrossFit is that if you can complete more work in less time, you are more fit. Your fitness is what you can do. Power output is the goal. Or is it?
In mixed modal events, there are ways to increase your “power output” with no extra metabolic load. Put simply, there are ways you can go faster and get better scores in workouts without being better.
Time is the goal. Rounds+reps is the goal.
A great example of this was in the Open last year, when dumbbell snatches were performed in workout 17.1. After the live announcement, the community quickly found that the method of cycling the reps demonstrated by Fikowski and Vellner was not the ideal way to go. Both athletes would snatch the weight with their right hand and put it down with their right hand, then switch hands with the weight resting on the ground, then snatch it with their other hand. When video submissions of seemingly inhuman times popped up, we saw a circus trick drop from the top of each rep. Switching hands on the way down (thus keeping tension in the system) saved almost a second every rep with little to no added fatigue. Add up 150 reps of that, and you’ve got at least a minute shaved off. Again, with no added fatigue.
If you’ve read Tim Ferriss’s The Four-Hour Body, there was a section in it where a coach who worked with NFL hopefuls did the same type of thing. In the 20-yard shuttle test, he’d routinely drop athlete’s times by a statistically significant amount in a single hour just by altering one thing: their dominant side. By switching from a right-handed (right-footed?) start to a left-handed start, he’d cut an entire single step out of a 5-second test.
Big money for small changes.
Let’s break down a workout so you can see how to think about this type of thing:
Glen Ellyn WOD 18Oct2017: “Box Puzzle”
5 Rounds for Time
10 Box Jump+Step Down 24”/20”
7 Shoulder-to-Overhead 135/95
The “step-down” portion of this metcon makes it slower than a rebounding jump workout, but not that slow. It’s a sprint (i.e. a sub 5-minute glycolytic-ish effort), and both of the movements are short hip-extensions that fry your quads. Let’s assume, however, that you have the requisite strength to go unbroken on all the STOH, and that you are well-conditioned enough to not stop on your jumps. This is about shaving time without getting fitter, right?
So here’s where you shave stuff.
1) Cycle your barbell
Duh. Power clean right into the first jerk. When you lower the bar, use your legs to absorb the weight and push right into the second rep. If you’re strong enough to push press it without hitting a sticking point, do it.
2) No stutter-steps
When you step down from the box-jump, you should be jumping the instant your second foot hits the ground to minimize contact time and mimic a rebounding jump.
3) Jump high
The height of the box isn’t ridiculous, so you should aim to land above parallel on top of it. As close to standing up as possible so you don’t have to pop up out of a deep squat from every jump.
4) Transition smart
No chalk breaks; you don’t need it for this short of a workout. Barbell should be right behind the box so you basically turn around and jump before the bar stops bouncing (after you’ve made sure it’s not going to hit anyone).
5) Working tension, not peak tension
Fit people with great form often use more energy than they need to when they’re cycling medium weight barbells. Don’t hold your breath. Instead, breathe on the jerks like you would on a kettlebell swing. Controlled, and as loose as you can get away with whilst still keeping the midline stable.
The winning time for this workout was 3:44, but I believe that 3:20 is within reason for that person, and that sub-3:00 is plausible.
So there are tricks, tips, tactics that can improve your “fitness,” especially in the testing events and competitions. And in sprint events like 2017 Regionals event 6, a whole season can come down to the wire, and two hypothetical athletes who are biologically identical from a metabolic standpoint can finish ten places apart.
But are you fitter?
Yes and no.
It’s not as straightforward as measuring fitness through VO2 max or some other pure method of power-output tracking. I like my tests to include technique work because I like technique (surprised?), but I also recognize the need for things where there are very few places to hide. 100 burpees for time. 10 minutes on the Airdyne. An hour on the rower. Those are all good events that minimize (but can’t eliminate) the gaming aspect of the test.
But realize this as well: “fitness” in other contexts can cover this definition, and CrossFit may very well absorb it into their ideology. Knowledge and strategy is a competitive advantage. Form, mobility, tactics, etc. are all tools that you can use to inch or jump your way up the leaderboard. And it’s fair. The Darwinian definition of fitness includes anything that accomplishes the basic mission: eat and procreate. Not everyone is a perfect hunter, but everyone has to kill and eat. Figuratively speaking.
This type of “gaming” events can take place in your everyday life as well. At risk of sounding a little too biohacky, think about ways you might shift something up in your daily schedule so that it costs you nothing extra but saves you time, money, decision-making energy, stress, etc.
Part of the journey of fitness is leveraging your strengths and picking up points where you can. But it's obviously not everything. Training, lifting, working out, should be put in the context of your goals. If your goal is to look good, feel good, or live forever, these recommendations might only marginally apply to you. Maybe getting to your goal means accepting a drop in conditioning to improve your strength, or a reduction in glycolytic output in order to improve your aerobic base, or it might mean losing every workout for a year while you re-tool your positions to make sure that you’re healthy enough to train for 10, 20, 30 more years. Power output, now and future, is one goal. A good one, but deciding where it fits in your hierarchy of priorities is up to you.
And in the meantime, maybe you can shave a couple seconds off your times using these tips.