GPP, or General Purpose Training, and the 100 point system.
Note--for those of you waiting for the Lama post, I've written that and am just doing a little checking on it, up soon. Mal Haskins photo to left.
A friend of mine sent a link to this video, which I thought was interesting. I'm not completely convinced that doing pushups on a ball is a hell of a lot better than doing them on the ground, but doing pushups on a ball likely does more closely simulate grappling with someone while playing rugby, which is what this video comes from. Our discussion prompted a few thoughts on general fitness training.
The main idea I'm working with right now is that there is no "General Physical Prep" training in an absolute sense. We are all training for what we're training with, or, put another way, we get good at what we train. Crossfit is meant to be GPP, and it is more general than just power lifting or something, but ultimately Crossfitters become best at doing Crossfit. This point was driven home to me while watching the CF regionals in Canada, where only a few of the people in the event could run up a low-angled wet hillside--that was too specific of a skill. In my world that's a basic skill, but nothing can prepare someone for everything (and this is not to rag on CF, I think it's an effective "generalist" program for sure). There will be crossover in sports, but in general the most effective sport training will be that which most closely resembles the sport.
Some sports, like soccer, are easy to train a lot of--go run, do agility drills with the ball, etc. Other sports, like football, rugby, ice climbing in summer, alpinism, etc, are more difficult to train specifically for, and require "simulations" either with weights or specific apparatus.
I was thinking about all of this while in New Zealand last week for the New Zealand mountain film festival. It was a fantastic trip, thanks to everyone who showed me around! I ended up doing about six different sports and activities in my week there; it would simply be impossible for me to be at my top level for all of them, and even training for all of them would take more time than I have in a day. My legs were blowing out skiing, my grip was failing while climbing, and my head wasn't as strong as it could have been for speed flying.... I would have been far better at any one sport if I had just been training that sport, but my life isn't like that (no complaints at all!). I rely on my sports background and general fitness to get through this kind of week...
Right now I'm mainly doing only four main non-sport exercises in any given week: Squats, deadlifts, muscleups and handstand pushups, combined with front levers and a few other things tossed into the mix before, after or during my sport-specific workouts (climbing and kayaking most often, bit of mountain biking etc. tossed in there). These four "gym" exercises are the first to get dropped when my "health" load (see below) gets too high. These four exercises helped with everything I did in NZ, but it was my background skill level that got me through each sport. I also think these exercises help with my life; I like to be able to pick up a bag of peat moss, put it on my shoulder, and walk to the car. Not necessary, but nice. However, having that skill takes away to some extent from my other sports, that's just how it works.
All of this is leading me to look at my training in a new, for me, way. Let's say that at any given time I have 100 units of "health" available for training, work, practicing, etc. in a week. I know from repeatedly destroying myself that I can only realistically handle 100 units of "life" a week. Getting piss-drunk on friday will take away 30 units, or effectively ruin a day and a half of training. Flying to New Zealand will take away about 20 units... Doing Crossfit burns about 15 units a session give or take. A hard climbing workout the same. A big day in the mountains might 80 or more. Not doing anything physical at all will knock me back about 30 units of function a week, I need to do something. It's possible to push to 150 units for a week or maybe a month, but in any given year I'll end up getting really sick, injured, or burnt out mentally if I push past that 100/week average too much in any given period. Everybody has a different level of health load they can handle, but I've found it very useful to look at my life with this idea in mind. I keep a detailed training log, and I can go through it and see what happens negatively when I load up too much, and also what happens negatively when I don't load up enough in terms of performance at a specific sport. The positive comes when the load is appropriate and directed to produce the best performance.
Right now I'm about 50 units a week climbing and about 50 a week kayaking in terms of sports. Doing a lot of CF isn't going to work, nor is doing too much deadlifting/squats/whatever. If I accept my 100 idea I can organize my athletic and life priorities realistically, and not feel bummed 'caused I'm not doing "enough" of whatever. Or if I'm not hitting my goals then changing something. One of the people I coach had a lousy week where life destroyed her training schedule; her problem wasn't what to train, but just to scale back the damage to her 100 points to the point where there was room to train for even 50 points a week.
There is no absolute on this point scale, just as there are no absolutes with training or nutrition (really). The first step to understanding training is to do something, anything, and then to record that information and start to understand it. Then you'll know what produces performance results, and what 100 points feels like. It's been working for me.
Edit July 12:
I just added a photo of my training log from last week, a few people have asked for this. This is a typical "on the road" week, a big variety of stuff. Note that my "strength" workouts are relatively low volume, I know from years of experience that I can not handle highly destructive workouts after doing something like flying to New Zealand, doing a major presentation, etc. Or, I could do monster workouts, but if I push too hard while there's a bunch of other stuff going in life I invariably get sick immediately or injured long-term. This is why I keep a training log, so I can see what happens after I train, and what I was doing that worked or didn't, year after year. I used to keep a very detailed log, but this is what it's boiled down to over the years. Easy to track rough load (and tracking anything physical except weight lifted or time doing something is pretty rough). The single most important number in this training log is the total of all the days I spend climbing, kayaking and paragliding every year. Seriously, that's how I judge the absolute success of my year.
Edit July 13th: Some more good thoughts here on "Bedrock and Paradox." I like the longer cycle stuff and use that too. I do think the total quantity of work in a given sport can definitely increase with fitness, but not the total "strain." So, for example, if you're fit and climbing a lot of 5.13 then you can do five of 'em in a day and be OK. But if you're just breaking into 5.13 then that will destroy you for a week. A guy named OPT believes that if you are fitter you can also destroy yourself on a deeper level during a workout because you both do more work and get much better recruitment than a novice. The novice will be sore, but the trained athlete may take longer to recover from the damage inflicted. Interesting ideas.