By Ken Jakalski, Head Track Coach, Lisle High School.
I’ve been hooked on the iPad game Clash of Clans. Basically, it’s a strategy game where you construct and expand a village and then “farm” resources such as gold and elixir by attacking other villages. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. Gamers must weigh the risk to reward in pillaging another village of its precious resources. It can be expensive committing troops to a raid, and so players have to consider the defenses of the village they’re attacking to determine what forces they are willing throw at what might be a minimal gain in loot.
Committing large segments of a powerful and well-trained army can indeed be problematic.
That got me thinking about the parallel to the intensity and frequency of high-speed training and racing. There are certainly risks involved, and how these risks are best handled has intrigued me even more now that I’ve begun reading a fascinating book on the CrossFit culture called Learning to Breathe Fire.
What makes the CrossFit approach remotely like coaches using Freelap for workouts?
Most important in terms of the parallel to Freelap, everything in CrossFit is timed. As author JC Herz points out, “The clock added intensity, and the structure of the workouts, many of them named after women, provided measureable benchmarks.”
Intensity is the trademark of Crossfit, but it is the intensity combined with “rabid empiricism and obsessiveness about the measurement of results.” CrossFit focuses on real world assessments of performance under intensity that can be “clocked, counted, or put on a scale.”
Founder Greg Glassman believed that the key to success was designing workouts that could be measureable, observable, and repeatable. This passion for assessment may have been rooted in Glassman’s background. His father was an aerospace engineer working in the defense industry, and Glassman seemed to share his father’s passion for math formulas and precise measurement. As Glassman noted, “careful observation, coupled with measurement, can reveal secrets of the universe hitherto unknown, unseen, and undiscovered.” This seems to be the CrossFit DNA: a combination of high intensity and an obsession for measurement.
How to structure workouts that “enabled novices and humbled elites–what Herz describes as making the “world-class athlete feel a soccer mom’s pain”—is basically what the combination of the Weyand/Bundle speed regression algorithm, combined with Freelap assessment, is able to achieve for those with the more specific goal of achieving faster top end speeds.
Coaches and athletes can generate speed workouts after determining two specific measurements—top speed, (via a fly-in 10 meter sprint) and top aerobic speed via a (300 meter sprint). With this data, the regression algorithm will provide each athlete with a specific time for a chosen distance. The workout is then terminated when runners’ times drop below a fall-off time, which reflects a drop in meters per second significant enough to change the workout. This drop-off time is what Christopher Glaser refers to as the “intervention” in the Sprint Calculator he has provided on this site.
Many use the term A-Reg or “auto-regulation” for this kind of approach, which basically means the coach is developing a volume management methodology which takes into account individual differences in work capacity. Such an approach prevents overtraining and optimizes recovery, since there are individualized limits to the number of high speed runs completed in any specific session.
Without this fall-off time or intervention, athletes could continue to run reps, but continuing to run progressively slower just to complete a coach’s “set” number of reps could have an impact on recovery.
But the problem is how best to gather the test data to enter into the calculator, and then how to actually time those workouts.
I’ve found Freelap to be the easiest and most practical method for accomplishing both. The set-up time for the coach is minimal and the feedback for the athlete is immediate. And for the workouts themselves, wearing a watch has the added benefit of motivating athletes who now are now “conscious of their time,” as Dennis Mitchell has mentioned. In other words, athletes now “own” their result and not the coach, and this sense of ownership is very important.
Herz comments on why she believes the CrossFit approach has been so popular and successful. “They bathed their athletes, many of whom had never considered themselves athletes, in the glow of constant acknowledgement and positive feedback.”
This is what happens with athletes who train using Freelap.
Freelap further allows this CrossFit-like emphasis on measurement because the transmitters can be set at various segments of a chosen run. For example, fly 30’s using 10 meter segment times can provide the coach and athlete with key insights, such as where within a set timing zone a particular athlete is indeed reaching his or her top speed.
In essence, by way of the motivation and the ownership of effort, Freelap helps to provide exactly what CrossFit does: “Measurable progress, real achievement, more power, more speed, more skill.”
The Freelap manta is a good one: what you can measure you can improve.
And this is accurate, in part because measurement itself can be motivational.
The combination of ASR and Freelap allows me to assess risk to reward just as I need to do before considering to raid a village in Clash of Clans. I believe this approach to workouts has made me a better coach.
But I’m still struggling to be a better gamer…
Please share this article so others may benefit.
Herz, J.C. Learning to Breath Fire: The Rise of Crossfit and the Primal Future of Fitness. New York: Random House. 2014