Building for Performance & Competition

In our last blog I spoke about the importance of knowing where you are in your training. Read the last blog, it is key to any athlete understanding how their body is adapting to training interventions. Once you know where you are, then you can determine where you are going!

If you are considering training for competitions, whether it be running events, triathlons, CrossFit competitions, X-terras or any other competitive event, you have to understand the concepts of undulation and periodization.

I explained undulation in the last blog as a regular rising and falling of training intervention. Periodization is an organized approach with progressive cycling during a specific period. If you are NOT training for a specific event at a specific time, these two principles are of less importance but are still applicable for the greatest return on investment in training. If you are not considering and using these principles in training, you are simply working out. We know what the difference is between training and working out, we train!

So, when you look at your training through a specific period such as on an annual basis, there should be a methodical approach to the rising and falling of frequency, duration, intensity, volume and total volume. There should also be an organized progression on loads and training that reflects your goals for your events. In the world of triathlons and other endurance sports, the terms used for training progression are base, build, peak, transition, and recovery. We start with a base period to gradually set a foundation, progress to the build phase to develop greater aerobic capacity and stamina, strength, power, etc…, and then progress to peaking for the event or events and then transition after competition and recover. If you are crossFitting, and you are trying to maintain a peak level of maximum fitness at all times, you will eventually fail! What does this mean? No athlete can maintain their maximum level of peak fitness without eventual breakdown, tissue fatigue and potentially injury. The human body needs cycles of rest and recovery. Now, this doesn’t mean that your weekly 2-3 day rests are adequate. This means that at some point in your training you should back off the volume and intensity and switch gears to training that allows overall recovery.

How to cycle and prepare for a CrossFit competition?

Assuming that you have a base of skill, strength, power, speed, agility, mobility, etc…, there should be a specific plan to decrease your total training volume before the event date. There is a ton of information out there on how this should be done, and in general it can be applied to most individuals. To receive the maximum benefit, some individualization needs to be implemented. Here are two approaches; if you are an elite athlete, more skilled, higher in class ranking and at the top of your game, tapering off volume before a competition needs to be slow and gradual to maintain the highest level of fitness possible before the event and to peak. If you are an individual that is in the beginner or intermediate stages of development, tapering can be more abrupt and shorter in duration. The reasoning here is the higher fitness athlete is at the top of the fitness game, margins for win-loss are very close and they need to maintain that fitness until the event but also be gradually tapered off before the event. In the less fit or developed athlete, the margins for competition are greater and the chance that they are at the edge of there performance curve are less likely.

General guidelines for tapering before CrossFit Competitions

Reduce overall volume of training within 2-4 weeks of the event based on your fitness level. If you are at an elite level of fitness, work with your coach to have a plan as to how you will transition training down in volume and still keep fitness performance variables high. If you are a less elite athlete, still work with your coach but there is a greater margin for error.

Training adaptation lags behind training intervention by 7-10 days minimum. This means that if you perform a workout on one day, it will in general take 7-10 days before you realize the fitness gain or adaptation from that training. So, why hammer yourself one week out in heavy strength training or long duration endurance work? It is unlikely that you will realize the benefit of that training until after the event!

No strength training over 75% of 1RM closer than 5-7 days of competition. The last thing you want to be is so sore for the day of competition that you can’t move well. This may change from one athlete to another and age and fitness level are important variables. Older athletes should allow more time.

Workouts should become shorter, and less frequent but intensity can still remain high if using lower loads and less neurologically stressed training

SLEEP, REST, and RECOVERY should be a major priority. Increase your sleep cycle if you can to a minimum of 8-9 hours and get lots of down time in between training sessions. Upgrade your nutrition if it is lacking. Water, water and lots of water. At least 50% of your body weight in ounces is a minimum standard!

Work with your coach to provide competition-like training sessions where you can get a feeling of how you are going to respond to the competitive environment. This is especially important for the less experienced athlete. Hold a small competition WOD just for your box or maybe just within a class regularly scheduled.

Work SKILL very close up to the event date. It is possible to gain more skill by tweaking one movement or another and gaining that last edge of movement quality that can make you more efficient.

Use mental imagery techniques and meditation to develop a positive “feel” or approach to the competitive arena. Everyone is different in this area. For example, I like to visualize myself performing the WOD but I also like to think about it as, “just another WOD.” The thought process of just getting the work done works for me. Some people like the buzz of the crowd and adrenaline from competition.

Learn your competition elements. Study previous competitions similar to the one that you are about to perform and work those movements and refining them. Focus on work cycles that mimic the times and combination of movements in previous competitions. It doesn’t always have to be the same movements but working within metabolic energy requirements is imperative.

If you lack anaerobic capacity (short duration high intensity power capacity), use intervals at these levels or even higher to develop more capacity. If you lack aerobic threshold capacity, use shorter intervals but mostly focus on longer duration training to support the development of cardio-respiratory function, develop increased capillaries, improve oxidative training, and increase muscular endurance and stamina.

As the list title indicates, this is a GENERAL list of guidelines when getting ready for a competition. Each athlete has to work within the environment they have chosen to train in, and the level of knowledge and experience that either they posses, or the guidance of exogenous expertise.

Fitness, Community & Lifestyle


Coach D



  1. Wil April 25, 2013 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    Great great blog. Now that I have entered this “Wodfather”, I’m really going to need your help in organizing my training and when to starry tapering off. I agree with everything here, just applying it is never as easy:)

  2. superfitandpregnant April 25, 2013 at 8:54 pm - Reply

    Fantastic article! Very informative and well-written. I won’t be doing any competitions for quite some while but I will definitely be sharing this with my training partners.

  3. Rob April 27, 2013 at 11:11 am - Reply

    Great article!

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