April 20, 2015
Tips From the Pros: How to Tackle Your Favorite CrossFit Benchmark Workout
By William Imbo
April 21, 2015
“What’s your Fran time?” To a CrossFitter, this is akin to asking a Powerlifter what their squat is or a sprinter their 100 meter time. Throughout the years, CrossFit has developed numerous benchmark workouts like Fran designed to test different aspects of your fitness—strength, muscular endurance, speed, etc. The more benchmark workouts you perform, the more varied tests of fitness you’ll be subjected to, providing you with a more accurate picture of where you stand. By performing benchmark workouts regularly, you can build up measurable data that will highlight your strengths and weakness, allow you to measure your improvement and set goals for the future. And because the elements of benchmark workouts do not vary, you can easily compare your performance to other athletes in your box and around the world to see where you stand relative to the rest of the CrossFit community.
So who better to go to for advice on how to beat the benchmarks than the fittest athletes in the world? We asked five CrossFit Games athletes to share their strategies and offer tips on how to tackle four of the most popular benchmark workouts in CrossFit.
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“Jackie is a personal favorite of mine, as it was the opening event in the 2013 CrossFit Regionals. I practiced it three times prior to the competition and learned a lot about pacing a mixed modality workout.
As the workout begins, I try to control my nerves by focusing on a pace that I have rehearsed in other workouts, where more work is required after the row. For me, rowing a 1:40-1:42/500m split will leave me with enough energy to attack the next movement.
As I transition from the rower to the bar, my instinct is to walk slowly to the bar. In fact I actually feel better with a sustained heart rate, so I try and get to the barbell as quickly as possible and do my first few reps of the thrusters at a slower rate. As I feel confident in my pace, I begin to accelerate the thrusters through to the 50th rep before setting the bar down and jogging to the pull-up station.
There’s no time to chalk up for the pull-ups as that takes seconds—and seconds are the difference between a 1st and 5th place finish. I like to use a wider than shoulder-width grip for this workout as my pull-ups rarely fail at 30 reps. As the reps tick away, I focus on breathing and falling straight down, instead of allowing my body to pull through the bar. [“Pulling through the bar” occurs when an athlete over-arches and ducks under the pull-up bar and breaks the plane of the bar with their body, which is inefficient.] At 25 reps, it all comes down to mental strength, and what your mind believes, your body achieves.”
“I love this combination of movements. Little interference from movement to movement, a rep scheme that allows you to keep moving, and a time duration that is challenging, but doable.
If I’m looking to set a PR in the workout I’ll use butterfly pull-ups. As I transition from the pull-ups to the push-ups, I drop from the bar like you would for a burpee. During the push-ups I focus on keeping my triceps pressed firmly into my lats to give my chest and arms a little bit of a break. Finally, I’ll pop up to a standing position and move through the squats at a moderately fast pace.
Because this workout is 20 minutes, knowing how long you can sustain a consistent pace per round is helpful. I try to keep to 38 seconds per round, which will get you just under 32 rounds total. Most people have the hardest time maintaining pace and form with the push-ups, which become a time sucker when you reach critical volume. I recommend playing with different hand widths and elbow positions to see where you can last the longest before fatiguing. Lastly, during the last two or three minutes, go for broke!”
“I try to make sure I have good form from the very first rep. I wouldn’t start Grace by push pressing, but instead use a short dip into a push jerk that would allow me to move for longer without fatiguing too quickly. I start the workout by hitting a certain number of reps that I think is reasonable instead of trying to go unbroken. Personally, I believe that it’s better to move at a steady pace and take very short breaks if you need to.
My best time in Grace is 1:27, and I believe that if you have a time under 1:40 it doesn’t make sense to keep trying to do the workout faster, otherwise your form will go out the window in pursuit of a quicker time. Instead you should try to add more weight to the bar. Regardless of how much weight you use, when you perform Grace try to focus on form from the very beginning—doing so will make the barbell seem that much lighter, and that will translate to a faster time overall.”
“This is a tricky one. The elite athletes should plan to do the overhead squats unbroken, and run a comfortable pace on their first 400 meters. How you perform the next four rounds is dictated by your ability. The typical gym member shouldn’t plan to sprint the first run, and should break the overhead squats into manageable sets. It’s also far better to rest for a little longer if you can break them up into two sets rather than three because picking up the bar after a break takes a while when it comes to overhead squats.”