Junior Nationals Prep: Overcoming CrossFit Challenges

We’ve had some of the best Junior athletes in the country for the last three years with guys like Nathan Damron, Tom Summa, Dylan Cooper, and Mason Groehler to name just a few. We’ve had multiple guys on the Team USA Junior Squad for the last three years.

This year marks a slight change in our team. We still have multiple Junior athletes, but now we begin the era of our Youth athletes. We’ve been waiting for quite some time to unleash these youths on the rest of world.

Training for the Junior Nationals this year has presented multiple challenges. That’s what this article is about. I wanted to give all of you some inside insight on the way I went about overcoming these difficulties. In the past I have normally just gone through our roster and given my predictions. That’s cool and all, but my main goal is to educate all of you in as many ways as possible. That’s why I decided to go about things a bit differently in this post.

The Challenge of Adding CrossFit

The biggest challenge has been working with athletes who are participating in multiple sports. This year we have two young men who are also very high level CrossFitters. One, Nathan Clifton, is a CrossFit Games athlete and is now participating in his first Junior Nationals. We are looking for him to hit personal records, have some fun, and hopefully fall in love with the sport of weightlifting.

Ryan Grimsland missed the CrossFit Games by one position last year, and is coming off a powerful second-place performance at Wodapalooza. Ryan looks to make a bid at the Youth Pan American Championships, while making the CrossFit Games for the first time. These are some big goals, but my job is to help him reach these goals. That’s what I have aimed to do.

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Multiple Coaches

For these two athletes, it’s been a lot of work finding balance between their strength training, technique work in the competition lifts, gymnastics, accessory work, aerobic capacity, and overall conditioning for CrossFit. The biggest key to success has been communication. There were times during the program that each athlete got pretty beat up, so I simply scaled things back and let their bodies catch up.

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Sometimes, like in Nathan’s case, he is working with his hometown CrossFit coach for his conditioning and gymnastics work. That can present a problem in most cases, but we handled that situation as well. I program most of my athletes a year at a time, which can change based on the meets they qualify for. I was able to send Nathan’s coach several months of programming for him to program around. That’s the simplest way to handle multiple coaches in multiple locations.

One big issue I am seeing nowadays with a lot of CrossFitters is they have a coach for strength and the Olympic lifts, they have a coach for gymnastics, one for swimming, one for endurance, and one for CrossFit programming. How in the world could they possibly program optimally like that without any communication? The answer is they can’t. If that’s what’s happening with you, you need to slow everyone’s roll. You should arrange a meeting between all of your coaches and get them on the same page.

Guidelines for Synergy

Luckily with Ryan I work very closely with his CrossFit coach, so this isn’t a problem. Ryan’s new CrossFit coach is actually someone who I am partnering up with, but that’s an announcement for down the road. We are able to piece together a workout that is synergistic. Here are a few examples:

  • If an athlete spends the morning burning their glycogen stores on aerobic work, they can still lift. They can go heavy with a focus on one to three reps, keeping the sets under ten seconds. This will use the alactic system. For the first 10 seconds or so, the body replenishes ATP directly from phosphocreatine (PCr). This is the fastest way the body replenishes stored ATP. Anything after that would require glycogen that you don’t have.
  • Anaerobic work that is complementary to the strength training.
  • Movements for conditioning that don’t cause a lot of muscular damage on days where volume is high in strength training – like sled drags, prowler pushes, and carries.

If an athlete wants to be successful in both sports, this line of communication is absolutely imperative unless you are some sort of freak. Even if you can take the volume of mismatched programming, you are 100% setting yourself up for a future injury with this sort of approach.

The Chess Game of a Meet

There are a few other challenges we are addressing with some of the other athletes.

For one, there is a competition within the competition. Yes, we are battling for podium spots and Junior World Team spots – but this is also the last qualifying meet for Youth Pan American Championships.

That means all good coaches should know the following:

  • Where their athletes stack up for Junior National podium spots
  • Where their athletes stack up for Junior World Teams
  • Where their athletes stack up for Youth Pan American Championships
  • How the ranking sheets work
  • Where the competition stacks up. This way, they can track their progress during the meet. A one kilogram decision can be the difference in staying home and making Team USA.

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Here’s an example of a sheet that I created in excel based on the ranking sheet, so I can track the results of the Youth Pan American Team throughout the weekend:

The Knowledge Bomb

I want to end by giving all of you a piece of advice that really paid off for us this training cycle. Ryan and Morgan both came to a point where their snatch mechanics were breaking down. So did we stick with the program full steam ahead? No way, we dropped back and punted.

We took one of their heavy sessions about three-weeks out, and focused on technique. We drilled until they were back on track, and that led to many personal records and, most importantly, massive amounts of confidence.

The moral of the story is a program is nothing but an outline. It’s a map to guide progress, but it should be a living, breathing document that can be adjusted based on need. Here are some words of advice all strength coaches should live by:

Make the program fit the athlete, not the athlete fit the program.

Yes, we are ready to throw down, but I hope this glimpse into our Junior National meet preparation gives you more insight than just some article talking about how awesome our athletes are. Our primary goal is to educate. That is the way we give back to a sport that has been so kind to us.

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