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High/Low Training

I’ve always liked to mess around with different types of programming. To learn the art of programming one must get hands on experience with the plethora of options available. There are so many ways to train people that you should never be bored.
For the past while our focus has been almost entirely on aerboic development. CrossFit is the sport of fitness and a huge part of that fitness is work capacity. A focus on aerobic development is a sure-fire way to increase your work capacity. There is, however a trade-off for that work, in that you tend to let the strength work slip away. With only an hour a day and upwards of 30 minutes of exercise being programmed into some of those days, strength can take a back seat.
I wrote a post a while back titled ‘Strength is the Glass’. It went on to discuss how strength opens possibilities for us. Whether it’s the strength to stand up off the couch or the strength to dead-lift 500 pounds, strength makes us capable and gives us power.
As we alternate between programs it is always very important to return to a strength biased program. As we increase our strength we open up new possibilities for conditioning exercises when we return to energy systems work.
Imagine a person unable to do an air squat. Our options for conditioning work are very limited, but if we focus for 6 weeks and work up to a 50 pound weighted front squat then all of a sudden we have a whole bunch more options for lower body conditioning work. This same concept can be applied to the super-elite.
At the CrossFit Games this year there was the Speed Clean ladder. Five bars, increasing in 10lb increments were lifted in series as fast as possible in a race style format. The final mens clean weight was 345 pounds. If you aren’t able to clean 345 pounds even once then how do you expect to do it after having done 340, 335, 325 and 315 all in a twenty second window? This is where an increase in absolute strength would allow you to condition your body for this type of test.
Our strength biased program will be based off the High/Low method of training. High/Low uses alternating days of higher and lower intensity exercise for the same muscle groups. You can use the High/Low method with anything, including energy systems work but we will be applying it to strength development.
This program will be the first in a long time where I have used a five day training cycle. Meaning the exercises rotate every five days. I’ve typically stayed away from this type of training because some people’s schedules are very strict (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and therefore they don’t get exposed to every type of training we would be doing. This will give us a very consistent week to week progress though and that consistent schedule will be an advantage.
We will use the first 4 weeks as a trial phase to learn how people respond to the training. The ‘High’ days which are intense work will consist of barbell lifts performed with the APRE6 routine. The low days which are low intensity exercises will be the same muscle groups but performed either unilaterally or with an odd object like a kettlebell or sandbag. What we are looking to do on our ‘Low’ days is limit the entire ‘System Load’, or the amount of weight our body is bearing. Barbells are implements that are intended to be lifted they are easily loaded to maximal weights and optimally designed for lifting. Whereas odd objects can impose the same challenge, but they are inherently more challenging to lift. For the sake of comparison lets look at a back squat (high) vs. rear foot elevated split squat (low) obviously the back squat can be loaded much heavier than the split squat but the exercise is comparable in difficulty. Another example would be a dead-lift (high) vs. a sandbag (low), same challenge but much less ‘System Load’.
The cycle:
Mondays will be our High squat and Low press days. Each day begins with a High exercise either followed by or superset with a Low exercise. The High exercise, being on the APRE6 routine doesn’t change over the 4 weeks but the Low exercise will change week to week. In this 4 week cycle we will be using the Front squat paired with some type of upper body press.
Tuesdays are our High upper body pulling exercise (think pull-ups and rows) complemented by a Low intensity lower body pulling exercise like a single leg RDL or a double kettlebell clean.
Wednesday is our only not dedicated strength day. We will call it wildcard! If CrossFit.com posts a fun looking workout, we’re giving it a try. You could also see some kettlebell circuits or Olympic weightlifting here.
Thursday is a High intensity upper body pressing day which we will use seated press on the APRE6 routine paired with a Low intensity squatting exercise like split squats, lunges, or zerchers.
Friday is our only stand-alone exercise day as it is dead-lift. The dead-lift is typically the most demanding lift of them all. Gripping heavy objects with your hands is notoriously hard on your central nervous system and the dead-lift is also the heaviest exercise we will do all week. For this reason we don’t pair it with a secondary exercise and we leave it for the end of the week where it will be followed by two days of recovery.
All of these days will either have some accessory strength work put in, in the form of a strength circuit or a for time or for rounds WOD. Additionally we will enter a maintenance phase for our conditioning, doing 2-4 WODs per week ranging from 5-30 minutes in duration.

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