The importance of “rate” in the sport of CrossFit

02 Sep


The importance of “rate” in the sport of CrossFit

It’s not very clear how to measure success in the sport of CrossFit outside the obvious improvement on the leaderboard year after year.

If your snatch goes up 15 pounds, are you more successful?

If your 5k Row PR drops 45 seconds, are you more successful?

If your double Fran time drops over a minute, are you more successful?

What if all of these happen but a particular combination of movements shows up in a CrossFit event and it cripples you? Do you then take the stance that you didn’t improve over the past season?

These are the challenges one faces in a sport that is arguably changing and evolving year after year. Despite this uncertainty, there is one area we can look at that is often unacknowledged that can provide a barometer for growth/success in the sport over time. And that happens to be called “rate.”

 

What is rate?

Definition: [Rate] is the average number of repetitions performed per minute on a given task, or combination of tasks, over a fixed, or unfixed, time frame.

For example:

10 min AMRAP:

21 Burpees

15 KBS @ 32kg

9 BBJO @ 24”

Score = 5 rounds = 225 total repetitions = 22.5 repetitions per minute = rate

As mentioned above, there are many measures that can be monitored to “show” success or improvement for an athlete. One measure that posits a strong argument for its value is rate. The goal of this post is to show why rate is a valuable measure of success in the sport through publicly accessible data.

Looking at rate can give us insight into what is required at the highest levels in the sport. It doesn’t tell us “how” to improve the rate (more on that later) but rather informs us. It’s descriptive not prescriptive.

We will start with more recent examples of rate in the sport.

Events: The 2021 CrossFit German Throwdown & The 2021 CrossFit Lowlands Throwdown Events (Semifinal events from this past season; they both had the same events used for their online competition)

If we add up all the repetitions for each event, we get the following numbers:

Event 1 - Total repetitions: 126

 

Event 2 - Total repetitions: 400

 

Event 3 - Total repetitions: 720

 

Event 4 - Total repetitions: 40

 

Event 5 - Total repetitions: 456

 

Event 6 - Total repetitions: 60

 

Event Total Repetitions: 1802

 

1802 divided by 6 events = 300.3 repetitions per event

 

4 caveats:

 

  1.         Rowing is measured by strokes per minute; I estimated 27 strokes per minute for that event
  2.         For the snatch event the athlete I selected performed 10 reps at the last barbell, so 40 total
  3.         We are assuming all repetitions are equal when they aren’t
  4.         The area of interest is “mixed modal capacity”

 

If you take the 5th place male finisher and add up his total working time you get:

 

~69 minutes

 

69 minutes divided by 6 events = 11:30 minutes per event

 

300.3 repetitions divided by 11:30 minutes = 26 repetitions per minute

The average rate required by the 5th place male finisher was 26 repetitions per minute across 6 different tests.

The takeaway here is knowing that to be at the Games level there is a “rate” that is required. Said another way, if you can’t maintain 26 repetitions per minute across a variety of tests (specifically the ones mentioned above) then you don’t have the necessary mixed modal capacity to be a CrossFit Games athlete, yet.

Let’s zoom back a year to look at an Open performance. I did this math for the 2020 CrossFit Open (completed in October 2019) with athlete’s who finished 33rd in the world on the female side and 27th in the world on the male side, which qualified them through the Open to the CrossFit Games and these were the numbers:

372.6 (average repetitions per workout)

 

Divided by

 

 13.1 (average minutes per event) 

 

= 28.4 reps per minute (33rd female / 27th male; last qualifying spots for both divisions)

If anything, pause to think about how fast you are moving to complete 26 repetitions in a minute. Then do that for 10 more minutes. Then think about different combinations of movements (PC to OH, RMU, DU’s or Thrusters/T2B/ Burpees) and think about that same rate with those movements. It’s humbling, but it creates a starting point for a discussion on what is required to be at that level.

If you want a very simple way to “feel” this and maybe gauge where you are, try this:

Row 11 minutes at 27 strokes per minute (choose a pace that allows you to maintain the stroke rate and pace for 11 minutes straight)

-rest 3-4 days-

11 rounds for time:

30 sec Row @ 27 strokes per minute

13 KBS @ 24/32kg

-rest 3-4 days-

6 rounds for time:

60 sec Row @ 27 strokes per minute

13 Push Ups

13 KBS @ 24/32kg

-rest 3-4 days-

For Time:

50 DB DL @ 35/50# per hand

40 DB S2O @ 35/50# per hand

30 GHDSU

100 DU’s

30 GHDSU

40 DB S2O @ 35/50# per hand

50 DB DL @ 35/50# per hand

-The goal with this progression would be to hold 26-27 repetitions per minute throughout the entire piece of work.

 

It’s safe to say the rate required to be a Games level athlete is a tall order and requires a tremendous amount of training and consistency over time to build to that level.

Let’s keep this data dive going with another example. This happens to be one of my favorite mixed modal capacity tests to give to clients.

 

“2012 CrossFit Open - 12.3”

 18 min AMRAP:

15 BJSD @ 20/24”

12 S2O

9 T2B

 

(In the 2012 open rebounding box jumps were allowed, when we [myself and the coaches at BigDawgs] use this test we Rx stepping down #saveyourachilles)

 

500 reps = 27.8 reps / minute -> Elite (Top 100 in the world)

450 reps = 25 reps / minute -> High Level (Top 200 in the world)

396 reps = 22 reps / minute -> Advanced (Top 500 in the world)

(The placings listed above are relative to the numbers I calculated for the 2020 Crossfit Open. Meaning, if you scored 500+ repetitions on the 18 minute AMRAP you would have expressed a rate on par with the top 50 in the world for the 2020 Crossfit Open. While the top end scores from 2012 are still consistent for what athletes in 2020 would be capable of, even though it was with rebounding box jumps, the subsequent placings are not; the drop off is much more severe in 2012 than in 2020. The depth of field in the sport of CrossFit has grown tremendously). 

From a coach’s perspective, as an athlete develops there will need to be an improvement in the rate of work they can perform in mixed modal tests. And this is something that must be monitored to ensure their fitness is moving in the right direction. I, personally, have a few tests that I use to help gauge progress and monitor development. 12.3, mentioned above, happens to be one of them.

Variation in rate, movement combinations, and a framework for improving

Considering the endless combinations of movements and workouts in the sport of CrossFit we need to discuss how rate fits into this ever-changing enigma. If you give someone a very simple test (complementary movement patterns with lower tension on the system), for example “Cindy”, and they perform 20 rounds in 20 minutes they would average 30 repetitions per minute which at face value is an elite level of mixed modal rate. But, based on data 20 rounds on Cindy isn’t an “elite” score. Closer to 30 rounds is elite. Herein lies a required understanding of what makes tests like Cindy easier to turnover than the CrossFit Open workout 12.3. As mentioned above, Cindy is comprised of complementary movement patterns with lower tension on the body mainly due to all bodyweight movements and the range of motion required for each repetition is small. Let’s create a continuum to help illuminate this idea:

On the far left we have the CrossFit benchmark test, “Cindy”:

20-minute AMRAP:

5 Pull Ups

10 Push Ups

15 Air Squats

Characteristics:

-low tension (all bodyweight movements)

-smaller ranges of motion

-complementary movement patterns

In the middle we have this test, CrossFit Open 12.3 (with step down box jumps:

 18-minute AMRAP:

15 BJSD @ 20/24”

12 S2O @ 75/115#

9 T2B

Characteristics:

 -moderate tension (light to moderate barbell)

-moderate to large ranges of motion

-a mix of complementary and non-complementary movement patterns

On the far right we have this test, CrossFit Open 17.1 and 21.2:

For Time:

10-20-30-40-50

Alt DB Power Snatch @ 35/50#

15-15-15-15-15

Burpee Box Jump Over @ 20/24”

Characteristics:

 -moderate tension (light to moderate DB weight)

-large ranges of motion

-non-complementary movement patterns

Notice the difference in tension and range of motion required between the three examples. Additionally, notice the change in rate for elite level scores on each due to the changes in tension and range of motion:

An elite score in “Cindy” is 30 rounds (900 repetitions), 45 repetitions per minute

An elite score in “12.3” is 14 rounds (504 repetitions), 28 repetitions per minute

An elite time in “21.2” is 9.5 minutes (225 repetitions), 23.7 repetitions per minute

We can’t look at rate at face value. It needs to be viewed in the context of the test or piece of work one is performing. Knowing this, we can create a framework to identify where an athlete currently sits with regards to rate and the continuum described above.

Framework:

Level 1 (complementary patterns with smaller range of motion requirements)

Performing 25+ rounds of “Cindy” – this movement combination (Pull Ups, Push Ups, Air Squats) is complementary which allows for higher turnover rate as the working muscles in each movement don’t negatively impact each other to a large degree.

Level 2 (complementary to non-complementary patterns with moderate range of motion requirements)

Performing 11+ rounds on “12.3” – this combination has some overlap or non-complementary patterning due to the hip flexor fatigue from the T2B which will play a part in the hip drive on the push press and hip extension for the box jumps, especially if rebounding is not allowed. This test isn’t a true non-complementary test but falls somewhere in the middle.

Level 3 (non-complementary patterns with large range of motion requirements)

Performing 21.1 or 17.1 in 9 to 9.5 minutes – this combination would be classified as non-complementary where both movements fatigue similar movement patterns (hip extension). If someone can’t make these contractions more sustainable than unsustainable for the duration of the test, they will limit their rate and performance. Performing this test between 9 and 9.5 minutes gives us a rate of 25 repetitions per minute, which based on scores would classify as elite.

Where an athlete falls in this framework can help better inform your design process and allow you to target more specific limitations in their training to improve rate. For example, if they can’t complete 25+ rounds of Cindy then adding in non-complementary sport specific training wouldn’t be a helpful addition to their program. They need to show proficiency in complementary mixed modal work before moving into more challenging combinations. That is the principle: less chaos before more chaos.

 How to train rate

This could be an educational course in and of itself. For brevity’s sake I will keep it simple to help provide principles around program design that’s aimed at training and improving someone’s rate.

It’s worth mentioning, there are a ton of physiological, and psychological, metrics/variables that can be prioritized to improve rate without training to improve it. For example, getting more sleep can help balance sympathetic/parasympathetic demand through better management of systemic stress and inflammation whereby blood can flow more easily to the working muscles. Better blood flow to the working muscles can help improve time to exhaustion. We won’t get into the weeds here, but that small shift in lifestyle can play a big part in someone’s ability to express and improve sport specific characteristics like rate.

 Practical Application:

If someone completes “12.3” and they score 360 reps their rate would be 20 repetitions per minute. If we wanted to move them closer to 22 repetitions per minute here’s one way we could progress it.

Step 1:

Build volume at said rate through interval methods

->

Step 2:

Build complexity/challenge

->

Step 3:

Build volume with new complexity/challenge

->

Step 4:

Test

Week 1:

2 sets @ high sustained power:

6 min AMRAP:

12 Alt DB Power Snatch @ 35/50#

9 Bar Facing Burpees

6 T2B

-rest 3 min-

6 min AMRAP:

12 WB @ 20/30#

9 BJSD @ 20/24”

6 HPC @ 65/95#

-rest 3 min-

*Same output for all 3 sets

-The goal with this piece of work is to build volume at or near the rate in which we want them to attain, 22 repetitions per minute in our example. I’m choosing movements that are complementary and will allow for faster turnover to preserve rate and limit muscle endurance limitations from non-complementary patterns. I’ve also picked 6-minute intervals as this is 1/3 the “event” which in principle is a good approach for interval training.

 

Week 2:

3 sets @ high sustained power:

6 min AMRAP:

12 KBS @ 24/32kg

9 Burpees to 6” OH

6 Pull Ups

-rest 3 min-

6 min AMRAP:

12 DB FS @ 35/50# per hand

9 BJSD @ 20/24”

6 T2B

-rest 3 min-

*Same output for all 3 sets

*We maintained similar patterns for each piece to preserve rate and ensure higher turnover while adding another set of work to build volume.

Week 3:

2 sets @ high sustained power:

6 min AMRAP:

10 [email protected] 95/65#

10 T2B

10 BJSD @ 24/20”

-rest 3:30 min-

6 min AMRAP:

10 Power Snatch @ 95/65#

10 Burpees

10 Pull Ups

-rest 3:30 min-

*Now in week 3 we are dropping the volume down a little but adding more complexity and challenge to the pieces of work.

Week 4:

9 min AMRAP @ high sustained power:

12 Power Clean @ 115/75#

9 C2B

6 Bar Facing Burpees

-rest 3 min-

9 min AMRAP @ high sustained power:

12 BJSD @ 24/20”

9 S2O @ 115/75#

6 T2B

*In week 4 we are getting ready to re-test by implementing two tougher pieces with incomplete rest. Notice how the second piece is very similar to the 18-minute amrap test. I placed that on the back end to challenge that piece work under fatigue in preparation for the test to come. Also, volume has dropped an appreciable amount. Notice the progression from week 1 to week 4:

Week 1 – 24 total minutes of work

Week 2 – 36 total minutes

Week 3 – 24 total minutes

Week 4 – 18 total minutes

Week 5 – Test

Week 5:

 18 min AMRAP:

15 BJSD @ 24/20”

12 S2O @ 115/75#

9 T2B

Closing: 

In closing, rate is an important aspect to consider when working towards one’s maximum potential in the sport of CrossFit. Over time, the goal for any athlete would be a steady increase in their rate across a wide variety of tests; from the simplest to the most complex. From a coaching perspective, utilize the continuum outlined above to identify where your athlete sits allowing you to figure out what type of sport specific work they might need to focus on in their training. Progress it, retest, review the results, and adjust as needed. I would suggest using tests that have more data behind them (IE – 12.3) to create more truth behind the results.

CrossFit® is a registered trademark of CrossFit, Inc. Big Dawgs' uses of the CROSSFIT® mark are not endorsed by nor approved by CrossFit, Inc., and Big Dawgs is in no way affiliated with nor endorsed by CrossFit, Inc.


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