When it comes to planning your CrossFit season, we always come back to periodization because it's the most proven approach when it comes to "how to plan". Not planning at all increases your likelihood of getting injured, being burned out, and basically falling out of love with CrossFit - and that's the last thing we want.
So, before getting into what you can do to maximize your CrossFit season, what is periodization?
What is periodization?
Periodization is the process of dividing an annual training plan into specific time blocks, where each block has a particular goal and provides your body with different types of stress.
In short, it helps you to get the most out of your training efficiently, and it's broken down into 3 cycles; macrocycle, mesocycle, and microcycle.
Understanding the 3 cycles of periodized training will allow you to prepare for your events and reach peak performance in the best possible way.
Seems simple, right? But, firstly, let's break down the 3 cycles.
What are the 3 cycles of periodization?
- Macrocycle: this refers to your season as a whole and is broken into 4 stages (eg. endurance, intensity, competition, and recovery).
Find the one event of the year you want to do the best in, and then work backwards. This is now your number one priority you focus all your training on.
- Mesocycle: this refers to part of a training stage such as endurance, and is designed to help you accomplish a particular goal. Typically 3-4 weeks in length, this allows your body to be challenged with a new stimulus while allowing it to recover. The skill is planning your mesocycle, knowing what areas you want to improve on and balancing it with your upcoming competitions.
- Microcycle: this refers to your week's training and planning progressions over a series of weeks to create your mesocycle. Eg. 3 days hard training, one day off to promote the skill you're working on. That's why taking random "deload" weeks/days isn't a thing.
Structuring your season with these in mind will give you the tools and approach to smash your season.
Why is planning your CrossFit season important?
As we've touched on previously, there are some huge benefits to planning your CrossFit season, but the ultimate reason is being able to make consistent progress towards your goal and avoid as many roadblocks such as injury getting in your way. That's the number one reason why planning is so important.
Many athletes in the gym don't plan their season. The only exceptions are athletes with one-on-one coaches, and a good one will do it for them.
If you've been doing CrossFit for some time, you may have noticed that there are a lot of skills, movements, and disciplines are needed to be achieved before you can even say you're 100% RX. So, imagine trying to learn all of them at the same time?
Firstly, being able to do every movement every week is pretty exhausting and then repeating this pattern will give you an endless feeling of never amounting to anything. As athletes, we feed off winning and getting those micro wins every week is important to your motivation.
Secondly, if you're working to everything or nothing, how do you know if you are winning at all? It's great to just turn up to the gym, workout, maybe have a couple of beers on a Friday night afterwards, and then come home - but how do you know if you're making progress?
By breaking down your year into what you really want to achieve, when you hit that PR, or proficiently move through that movement, CrossFit feels awesome.
How do you plan your CrossFit season?
Using the periodization methodology, let's break it down into macrocycle, mesocycle, and microcycle. Then, before planning anything, have a think about what it is that you want to achieve over the next 12 months.
You can have a whole number of different goals, so it has to be personal to you. For example, it could be that competition 6 months away, or you want to lose weight, or you just want to be an RX athlete. This planning approach applies to all abilities, whether you're scaled, RX, or even elite. What changes is the goal that you're aiming for.
Top tip: when looking to plan your CrossFit season, you want to be focusing on as few goals as possible.
If competing is your goal, then more detail is required. The further away you are from your competition, your training should adapt to look less like the competition. The focus changes to more individual pieces of CrossFit such as strength, power, speed, endurance/aerobic, and skill.
As you get closer to the competition, your training should start to resemble what it’ll actually be like, and start combining all the elements.
This process is about staying focused.
If you're stuck on where to start, always keep going back to your WHY: why do you do CrossFit? Here at WODprep, we help you to discover what your why is and how that translates into your CrossFit in our Strong Mind course.
Let's say you're aiming to do that competition next year. It'll be the biggest competition you've ever done before, and it's a great target to go for. It'll be a challenge!
Mark the spot on the calendar as that's exactly when you want to be peaking your performance.
Next, start listing all the weak spots in your game. For example, conditioning, specifically running and rowing, can be one area. Another could be ring muscle ups, pistols, or double unders.
Whatever it could be, always be as honest as possible when creating this list. There's no point lying to yourself otherwise; you'll just be cheating yourself out of your own gains.
Now that you have a focus and have listed out the areas you need to improve to give your best performance at the competition. Your mesocycle will help you work backwards and start practicing where you can be better.
*Note, the focus on the mesocycle doesn't have to be focused on your weaknesses, it can be tailored to the demands of the goal. For example, that list may look slightly different if you're training for a marathon. But for the purpose of this article and helping you improve your CrossFit performance, we'll stick to your weaknesses.
Mesocycles typically are 6-8 weeks, but this can vary from 2 weeks to 4 months, depending on your macrocycle. Plus, depending on how far away you are from your main goal, you can work through several different phases one at a time. Phases can include; muscular endurance, strength, power, performance, and maintenance.
By focusing on one area at a time, with increasing progressions, the process allows your body to adapt without overloading and burning you out. As soon as you burn out - it's game over.
Microcycle will be the period that you're most familiar with. This is just one week of training and how it's broken down. For example, you may have 3 days on, one active recovery, two on, and a complete rest day.
This is a typical week for a CrossFitter, and is designed to give you enough rest and recovery so that you can attack every session with purpose. Here are WODprep, we like to say "attack the workout with purpose" rather than as "hard as you can".
Throughout the week, we want to ensure that training is quality and that you're not competing. There's a difference. If you find yourself redlining every session, not giving any attention to the quality of your reps, or stimulus to the workout, in that case, you're going to be pushing your central nervous system too far - aka lose more gains!
You need to work out what's best for you again. Depending on your background, 6 days may be too little or too much. For example, if you came from a background in elite sports and started CrossFit, your ability to take on a higher volume of training is going to be much easier than if you've never done sports in your life. Again, you need to work out what's best for you.
In your microcycle, your training should look fairly similar until you change the mesocycle. You'll see a lot of similarities in your training from week to week as you're honing in a particular area of CrossFit that you need to develop in order to peak at the right time. The only differences from week to week will be harder progressions and possibly a change in volume or intensity.
Now that you've got a flavor of how to plan your CrossFit season and why periodization is important. Start writing out some actions. Grab your favorite pen, notebook, and give it a go.
Don't worry about getting it wrong the first time. The hardest part is getting it down on paper, and if you ever get stuck, our expert coaches would love to help you.
You can chat more with WODprep's head coach, Dr. Cj, via the link here.