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Manipulating Patterns for High-Interference MetCons

June 29, 2022 by

3 Part Case Study

Let’s take a look at three tests from past the CrossFit seasons, one from the Open, one from Quarterfinals, and one from the Games.

Each has high movement interference.

In other words, the same muscle groups are being used in multiple movements, presenting a bottleneck for many athletes due to muscular fatigue or failure.

So today rather than looking at this from a program design perspective, I want to determine what is the best way to pace workouts with high levels of interference.

Let’s take a look at our examples…

2022 Quarterfinals E2

3 Rounds for Time (15min Cap)
-30 Pistols
-30 GHD
-10 RMU

Open Workout 20.1

10 Rounds for Time (15min Cap)
-8 Ground-to-Overheads 95/65lbs
-10 Bar-Facing Burpees

2021 Games E9

For Time // 21-15-9
-Echo Bike Cals
-Snatch 105/75lb

For each of these events the separation value for athletes was being fatigue resistant in a specific pattern (ie. hip flexors & abs, triceps & shoulders, legs).

Having great muscular endurance for these types of tests isn’t just a priority, it’s the sole separator.

When muscular endurance falters compensations arise.

Optimal vs. Compensatory Patterns

“Optimal” Movement Patterns: completing the given exercise with the biomechanics that are generally regarded as good technique, meaning in a way that is efficient and orthopedically sound.

Compensatory Movement Patterns: a deviation from the “optimal” movement pattern in a way that allows continued execution of the exercise, but in a way that is less efficient or orthopedically sound.

Q: So what’s the difference between simply doing a movement incorrectly and it being a compensation pattern?

A: Fatigue.

If an athlete moves without an error at first, but then one appears as fatigue builds, this is a compensatory pattern.

Compensation Example: 2022 Quarterfinals E2

Round 1: The athlete’s hips and shoulders rise at the same rate in the pistol. She sit up with speed through the full range of motion in the GHD Sit-Up, and she presses out of the dip of the muscle-up immediately without driving the knees to the chest to generate a kip.

Round 3: The athlete sways side-to-side in the pistol, leaning her torso to one side to provide additional lift for her airborne leg in the pistol. She grinds through the finishing range of the GHD because the change of direction speed has been significantly reduced. The ring muscle-up cycle speed has slowed by about half a second per rep due to her being forced to wait until her feet come under her hips, allowing her to generate a kip for the dip.

Intentional Pattern Manipulation

Should I Prevent Compensations?

This is sort of a misinformed question.

The reality is compensatory movement patterns are going to appear in workouts that are written to create separation in a field of competitive athletes.

Workouts in the Sport of Fitness are often written in a way that intentionally bias muscular fatigue in a specific pattern.

As a result, the athlete may choose to start a workout with an altered movement pattern to intentionally change one or more patterns to make the demands on a specific muscle group less.

Pattern Manipulation Example: 2022 Quarterfinals E2

Round 1: The athlete supports her elevated leg in her pistols by placing her hand under her calf and providing a small amount of lift. She sits up as quickly as possible through the middle of the range of motion on the GHD, but then slows the top portion of the movement, allowing for an extra breath at the top each of rep. On her Ring Muscle-Ups, she uses a slightly shortened kip to minimize the core and hip requirement of the Muscle-Ups.

Round 3: The same thing as round 1.

See the difference between this and the compensation pattern scenario?

The first was reactive where this plan of attack was proactive.

The athlete’s pacing strategy allowed her to stay ahead of the muscular fatigue, and her result was a repeatable power output (e.g. similar technique and split times from round 1 to round 3).

Building vs. Expressing

It's an important an athlete (and their coach) understands the difference between building fitness and expressing fitness.

The former is about surgically applying stress to the limiting systems, in a way that does not result in training a compensation.

Let’s take an athlete, let’s call her Bella, who frequently has a “chicken wing” appear in her fatigued sets of Bar Muscle-Ups. This is a compensation; it is inefficient and isn't orthopedically sound.

This error appears because Bella lacks straight arm pulling strength and doing reps with that altered technique allows her to manipulate the pattern to continue to get work done, albeit in an uneconomical way.

The question becomes…

How can I train the limiter (ie. straight arm pulling) with enough stress for it improve, but without training the compensation (ie. chicken wing)?

Here’s an example of a session I recently wrote for this 1-on-1 Coaching athlete…

500m Ski – slow & light pressure
A1. Push-Up + Alt Toe-Touch (3 x 8)
A2. Inchworm Planks (3 x 3)
A3. Muscle-Up Ring Row (3 x 5)
B. Banded BMU from Box (8 Singles) rest 30-45s
*focus on pulling with straight arms as long as possible
*use a mid to heavy band – that allow you to catch high (no chicken wing)
C. Every 45s x 8: 1 BMU
*goal is no chicken winging, turning over as high as possible
D. Every 45s x 8: 1 RMU
E. Bench Press (4 x 10-13) 58kg - rest 1:30-2:00
F. Seated Double DB Press (4 x 6-8) 12.5kg/Hand
G1. DB Pec Fly (4 x 10) light to moderate
G2. Banded Lat Row (4 x 10) 3s lower

This is a very different stimulus (and outcome) than expressing (aka. testing).

If this same athlete is in a tester piece or is in an actual test, it’s more like, “Go as fast as you can with whatever technique will allow you to put up the best score.”

It’s quite a different mindset and approach.

As an athlete or coach, you need to develop an awareness of when you are building and when you are expressing, so you can be very clear about what you are doing and -more importantly- what you are not doing.

Expressing Muscular Endurance

While muscular endurance overlaps with strength and strength endurance, it’s further down the time continuum.

In other words, these are lighter contractions that are more sustainable.

In an ideal world, a CrossFit athlete would have such great cardiac development, tissue tolerance and muscular endurance that he would never be forced to alter patterns from there optimal execution.

And in some workouts, even ones with high interference, this is possible.

A Games athlete isn’t going to manipulate his rowing sequence to a leg-dominant pattern (avoiding pulling hard with his arms) in a workout like this…

3 Rounds for Time
-21 Calorie Row
-7 Ring Muscle-Ups

…the power blunted by a lack of an upper body pull would be too significant to allow the athlete to continue to stay competitive (ie. get their best result).

However, this strategy exists on in a fantasy land for most athletes, and so is avoiding all compensation patterns.

Key Takeaways

Be aware of your movement, including your compensations.

Know when to manipulate patterns from the onset of workouts, and know when to break into a more sustainable variation of a movement as you flirt with your “red line.”

Predicting your capacity -in any physical endeavor- is a moving target. In CrossFit it’s even harder because the game changes as you play it.

You have to frequently practice (1) executing a novel task (2) at high effort (3) largely by “feel.”

Know when to build and when to express.

This is crucial to executing our best on game day in all workouts, especially those where you will be forced to manipulate your movement due to high movement interference.

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