4 Tests to determine the best training program for CrossFit athletes

How To Determine The Best Training Program

From 2007 Fittest Man on Earth and OPEX Fitness Founder James FitzGerald.

In order to produce the most effective training program for your CrossFit athletes and clients you need to collect the best fitness data relative to the Sport of Fitness. This much is obvious. Most of the time, CrossFit Coaches rely on the information and performance numbers provided by the athlete’s completion of the previous CrossFit Open. While this data is extremely relevant and useful (it provides information about their skill limitations), coaches need a battery of tests that they can use and reuse to assess their athlete’s progression and what needs to be prioritized in their training to guarantee consistent improvement.

“The reason for these tests is to give you a starting point for the mechanics you need to work on with your athletes. These tests are not meant to showcase or prove that someone is ‘awful’ or ‘good’ at CrossFit.”OPEX Fitness Founder James FitzGerald

One of the unique challenges of training CrossFit athletes is the pure range of skills an athlete must master in order to be any good at the sport. This amount of movements creates a problem for coaches, as the number of tests that can be used are endless. Because of this, many coaches don’t know where to start and what tests to use to ensure their training programs are effective.

Over the course of training thousands of athletes for CrossFit competition, we’ve discovered that this process and the tests used don’t need to be convoluted or confusing. In fact, quite the opposite, the tests we have selected are repeatable, simple, and will offer you great insight into the progression of your athletes and where they currently sit on the competitive spectrum.

The four tests we will provide are performance indicators. They are snapshots in time of the athlete’s current capabilities or lack of skill. They will provide you with information, but not direct answers to what someone’s training should specifically look like. With that being said, here are the four tests you should use to assess your CrossFit Athletes throughout the training year.

60 min row

60 Minute Row For Meters

This type of test may not seem at all related to CrossFit, but it actually provides a great amount of insight into the aerobic base support of the athlete.

“The reason why I like this test is because it’s a test of patience, as well as pacing, mechanical fatigue and their aerobic volume.”OPEX Fitness Founder James FitzGerald

There’s a misconception in CrossFit that in order to be good at it, you only need great strength and barbell cycling skills. In reality, the reason why elite CrossFit athletes are great at cycling a barbell quickly is that they have well developed aerobic engines. A great aerobic engine allows CrossFit athletes to not only recover quickly from intense sets or movements, but also push or move a barbell without getting into a lactic state. While strength and power are vitally important to high level competitive CrossFit you shouldn’t get too obsessed with it if you actually want to improve your athletes in the Sport of Fitness.

This test provides a wealth of insight in their patience, their pacing abilities, mechanical fatigue, aerobic volume as well as the state of the Central Nervous System (how ‘fresh’ or ‘tired’ they are).

Ideal Scores

Anywhere between 15,500 meters – 16,500 meters (WEIGHT ADJUSTED)

*Be sure to take their scores and weight adjust them at the Concept2 Official Website page on the subject.*

What Does This Score Mean?

It will provide you with insight into how ‘fresh’ their Central Nervous System is as well as how robust their aerobic base of support is. If the athlete falls short of the ideal scores, you as a coach know that you need prioritize some aerobic based training in order to improve it.

1 Repetition Maximum Back Squat

1 Repetition Maximum Back Squat

The 1 repetition maximum back squat and the 1 repetition maximum snatch are meant to be utilized and analyzed together. The back squat is the best test of an athlete’s absolute strength in eccentric and concentric contractions of squat patterns. Because of the intensity involved with finding a true 1 rep max in a back squat, it also provides insight into the full capacity of their Central Nervous System and their ability to dig ‘deep’.

Speaking of digging deep, try not to become obsessed with the finer details of lifting technique as it may blind you to interesting observations surrounding how the athlete completes the squat.

Ideal Scores

Ideally an athlete should be able to back squat twice their bodyweight. Above twice bodyweight for men and just below bodyweight for women.

What Does This Score Mean?

Remember that both of the back squat as well as the 1 rep max snatch are meant to be analyzed together. Only a comparison of the two together are going to provide any insight into what you can do with these two numbers.

1 Repetition Maximum Snatch

1 Repetition Maximum Snatch

The snatch can be utilized as a flexibility assessment, a balance assessment, a mechanical assessment, as well as a coordination assessment. It is an excellent test of strength speed.

Ideal Scores

The ideal scores relates heavily to the 1 rep max back squat. An athlete should be able to snatch 60% of their 1 rep max back squat.

What Does This Score Mean?

If your athlete has a low back squat weight and a high snatch weight, meaning the two are relatively close together, That may mean you need to work on ‘freshening’ up their Central Nervous System in order to make sure the balance between the two weights exist.

If your athlete has a low snatch weight that doesn’t quite reach 60% of their back squat, that gives you insight into what their training should look like to reach that percentage.

As Many Repetitions As Possible of Unbroken Ring Muscle-Ups

As Many Repetitions As Possible of Unbroken Ring Muscle-Ups

“If you want truth measure intensity.”OPEX Fitness Founder James FitzGerald

Ring muscle-ups involve a whole bunch of different push and pull patterns in an unstable environment. In addition, this test will give you insight into the athletes right/left balance, core to extremities balance, and their gymnastic abilities.

Ideal Scores

For both men and women, 15 – 20 is an ideal range.

What Does This Score Mean?

The score will give you a good indicator of relative strength and their upper body muscle endurance. Having a high level of upper body muscle endurance is critical to the Sport of Fitness because of the demand of many of the movements. If the athlete falls below the targeted range, you know that as a coach, you need to focus on relative strength based movements.

Remember, do not assign judgment to the scores your athletes and clients get from the above tests. These tests are not ‘pass’ or ‘fail’. They are meant to be used by a professional coach to design and upgrade their fitness designs to ensure the client continues to grow and find success in the sport of CrossFit.

Got questions that need answering? Post them in the comments below and we will answer them!

CrossFit® is a registered trademark of CrossFit, Inc. OPEX Fitness’s uses of the CrossFit® mark are not endorsed by nor approved by CrossFit, Inc., and OPEX Fitness is in no way affiliated with nor endorsed by CrossFit, Inc.

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  1. Scaling options for athlete just starting?

    Row – as long as they can handle and build off of that?

    Back Squat – 5RM or 3RM?


    RMU – ?

    1. Hey Leo,

      I want to be careful here because we define athlete as somebody willing to kill for points/placements. To call a beginner an athlete is a bit confusing in terms of these tests. If a beginner told you they wanted to kill for points and that they were going to go all in on aligning their training, food, lifestyle, etc toward achieving their fitness goals, Id have them do these tests (of course if they can’t do them based on movement restriction, they shouldn’t do them).

      if they can’t stay on the rower for 60 min, they can’t stay on the rower. their score will just be poor
      if they can squat properly, put them under a 1 rep max with the proper form. if they’re weak, it’s just data
      if they don’t know how to snatch, be careful on even doing this movement, but if they can have them go for it
      if they can do 0 ring muscle ups, they score poorly

      the reason why you want them to know this is so that you can setup their expectations for how far they need to go to actually compete in the sport. that data may not feel good, but it’s real. if they truly are an athlete, they will be more bought into what they need to do in order to improve to that level

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