Preparing for a CrossFit Competition

Two judges evaluate athletes performing handstand pushups.

The most important thing you can do to prepare for an upcoming competition is to train hard every week in the many months prior to the competition. Sorry, there is no magic pill, and your performance at a competition is determined by the cumulative discipline and effort of the many months prior. At two weeks out from the competition your performance capability is almost fixed. At one week out, your performance capability is definitely fixed. There’s nothing you can do in the final week before a competition that will solicit a meaningful adaptation from your body. Workouts break us down. Rest brings on supercompensation, solidifying the adaptation we caused through the workout. It is imperative that you focus on ensuring your body is completely rested (adapted) from all your previous workouts when your competition begins. The only exception is skill-specific work like double-unders or muscle-ups, if the coordination component is your weakness. You can improve your coordination on a specific skill over the course of a few minutes on the morning of a competition. However, that’s the exception rather than the rule.  The overall point is to train hard well before the competition, because by the time you start worrying about it, it doesn’t matter anymore.

With that said, there are plenty of ways to ensure you maximize your performance on any given day, especially with some advance notice and preparation. Your rest schedule in advance of the competition is critical. At one week out, more than ever before, you must believe that rest will benefit you more than additional workouts. At the risk of being repetitive: You cannot solicit a meaningful shock/recovery cycle from your body in a week. Any attempt to do so will leave you less prepared for the competition because your body will not be fully healed on the days you intend to stress it most. Louie Simmons says that someone who is afraid to rest in the days before a competition lacks confidence in their training. I agree. Here’s my training schedule from the three weeks before the recent 2010 Deep South Qualifier.

Table outlining an athlete's training schedule before competition.

The third week prior to the event is a pretty normal week for me. I don’t usually have two consecutive weekends completely off, normally training on either Saturday or Sunday, but that’s how this series worked out. During the second week prior I began my tapering strategy at the end of the week, foregoing a double WOD. The final week before the competition was devoted to ensuring my body was completely recovered from previous WODs, but wouldn’t forget how to work hard. I also wanted it to retain neuro-muscular pathways (i.e. don’t forget the best way to squat, run, burpee, clean, etc). Monday’s prescribed WOD was a series of eight 400m sprints with 90 seconds rest between each. I did only four of the sprints, but at full intensity. On Tuesday I programmed a short-duration WOD that I attacked with full intensity: Fran with 24” box jumps subbed for pullups. Wednesday I completely rested. Thursday I did active rest. I rowed 2000 meters at a pace so relaxed that I easily carried on a conversation throughout the row. Then I performed two rounds at full intensity of 15 wall ball shots (20 lb), 10 pullups, and 5 burpees. I did not time the WOD, but estimate I worked for less than two minutes. I later ran about 1200 meters at a relaxed pace.

My intent was to work hard up to two weeks out, start tapering at the end of the second week prior to the competition, and devote the final week to a recovery plan with short WODs to keep neuromuscular pathways and remind my body of its need for endurance. I have read from Mark Rippetoe and Louie Simmons that you loose strength very slowly, but lose endurance very quickly. Strength building WODs also heavily break down your muscles. For those reasons, during the final week I performed no strength work, only short metcons and very light endurance work.

Finally, what should you do on game day? The best advice I received, and that I shall give again, is to not change a thing that you aren’t required to change. Eat what you always eat (assuming you follow a solid Paleo/Zone plan). Wear the shoes and clothes you always wear for WODs. If you always tape your wrists/knees then tape your wrists/knees. If you’ve never taped your wrists/knees, then now is not the day to start. Game day is not the day to begin anything new or try a new method. Do you use the hook grip? Keep using it. Never used the hook grip? Today isn’t the day to learn. If you follow a solid training/nutrition/rest plan then all you need to do to ensure your best performance is keep following that plan.

Closeup of the face of an athlete performing dealift.

On game day I pack the same food I pack every week day for my meals. However, I have found that breaking the meals into smaller divisions is beneficial to accommodate the different schedule of the competition. I have also found that eating larger portions after WODs (as soon as practical after initial recovery) works well for keeping me nourished and repaired, but not leaving my stomach full when the next WOD rolls around. Hydration is also critical. Ensure you hydrate adequately in the day or two prior to the competition, and sip water continuously throughout the competition. You should have to urinate a lot during the competition. I generally make a pit stop about 20-30 minutes before my heat to ensure I don’t get the urge during the WOD. This also reduces my body weight by a few ounces. Sorry, I can’t help it. I’m an engineer.

Finally, don’t freak out. I know that’s easy to say and difficult to do, but seriously, what is there to worry about? As I said earlier, your level of performance is pretty much a given on the day of the competition. You can’t magically do something just a little different and become 20% stronger or faster, so relax. When I’m about to launch into a WOD I’m thinking, “It’s just another workout. Just do it like you’ve done all the others.” Important things make you nervous. They should, and they always will. You can’t avoid being nervous, but you can avoid completely flipping out and degrading your performance. You also can’t affect anyone else’s performance, so just give it everything you’ve got and see where the numbers fall. In sum: prepare, relax, perform. Do everything necessary to ensure you perform at your peak, but on game day it’s too late to worry about where your peak falls among the competition. Have fun, eliminate regrets, and then celebrate–regardless of where you finish.