finding the groove

2-4 reps - high neuromuscular efficiency
4-8 reps - mid range
8+ reps - poor neuromuscular efficiency

Now when i say high and low its not a shot at you or who you are...and if you had the slight sense that it was when you read it, then do some reading on ego by Tolle...i move on.

The thought process of this came up years ago when Brett Marshall and I would train together often in the old OPT facility in my basement. Brett and I have a storied career which travels farther than Crossfit competitions (did you know ironically that we have never gone head to head on anything...bloodbath for sure)...i digress...I understood without knowing what gives that Brett was just a different monster than I was a person.
We quickly came to realize that in different workouts whether it was CF, Westside, Poliquin, Staley, Chek, Versteagen based ones...we usually discovered very quickly who was better at certain things; more so in rep ranges, fatigue in sets, time domains, etc...
Then we both went to see Poliquin, and he re-affirmed what we had known but not used in our training; that we were different people and should train differently.
Without going into much detail as it cannot possibly be captured on a blog, tests such as the 85% for max reps relative to the 1RM can tell a lot about a persons ability to fire the muscles up in laymans terms.
I will be completely honest with you as I HAVE NOT yet discovered the answer in terms of how to modulate this with CF methodology (could be the reason why i'm still doing this) in terms of how to PERFECTLY position individuals within this sport relative to the "card they carry"..i.e. their make up.
So lets take an example:
Ryan Gouthro yesterday did 13 reps at 85% of his 1 in his squat; and for those who know Ryan, you will understand that the moderate to heavy weight met cons are up his alley (he might not win at them or excel at them but he does well with them, as long as it does not involve technnically advanced movements)...analyzing this further it makes sense seeing that met cons like moderate to heavy met cons might stimulate his nervous system at the right speed/intensity...etc...whereas as we also know that low effort gymnastics and long distance steady state stuff is not his forte.
So the question do we train Ryan in a sport he has chosen (CF) that has so many things to work on while ensuring that he greases the groove that his body knows best? Reason i ask b/c when you want to excel in a sport that contains all variables of the energy systems; the time you spend on each one is VERY IMPT in determining your future and your sustainability within the sport. What I mean by this is that I've seen people who are "bred" a certain way and made up differently than others try their damdest (sp?) to excel at something that they will just never get by trying all of it...and on the other hand see people train what they are good at "most of the time" and get better results; this is the point i am trying to make which YOU have to figure out.
Is it the reason these people excel and sustain in these sports b/c they are hitting it where they are supposed to be...i think the answer is yes from what i've seen and trained.
THEREFORE...based on what you know about yourself in how you perform, how do you achieve this? Yes, i am asking you. Post your thoughts.
As a sidenote, Brett and I tested this on the arm flexors in Phoenix, he did 2 reps at 85%, I did 11.


Scott Schactler said...

does this mean it is bad to train at stuff we are not good at? i thought training at your weakness made you better?!

rwcorson said...

No, I don't think that's what's being said. How much time you spend on your strengths & weaknesses is the question. The answer is very individual and this is what OPT is asking us.

Matt said...

I don't understand how lower reps equals a higher efficiency, seems backwards to me. unless its saying your muscles didn't blow their wad on the 1 rep max, like they should have and allowed you to squeeze out more reps on the 85%.

Rob Sifton said...

Great video below. About Community and Crossfit. That community spirit is obvious in and around OPT, CFC and this blog as well. Thankful to be part of it from near the start of it all.

Robin Lyons said...

Looking at Ryans Back Sq.
He only maxed at 295lb which is relitvly light for a male.
What are his stats/wt/ht/age?

I will respond in more detail later but of the top of my head...Muscle fiber make -up and weight lifting experiance has a lot to do with the amount of reps an athlete can punch out at 85% of 1RM.

Most greenhorn lifters (3 years less experiance)will be able to hit a higher rep range soley because their "under developed 1RM" isn't that heavy...compared to a lifter who has trained for 5+ years under heavy loads. The heavier the 1RM the less reps an athlete will do at a given percentage of maximum.

Like I mentioned yesterday...muscle fiber "make up" can influence a response like you and Bret obviously experianced at Poliquin Performance. I would assume you carry a high amount of slow twitch fibers...

So...what to do...what to do. I think this is a great eye opener for everyone one this blog to relize each of us are not created equally...and to be able optimize your own "machine" train it in zones (%) that maximize your genetics...

I would like to know Ryans stats...thanks

unit said...

lower reps at 85% is a better NEURO-Muscular efficiency... ie the ability of all innervating nerves 2 all muscles involved in the movement 2 fire synchrounously at a given load... if u can do a high rep count at an 85% 1RM load, then that is saying ur Neuromuscular performance at ur 1rm is not efficient in it's firing in generating force for neural impulse... this is a function of muscle fiber composition and prior training (as mentioned above) as 2 some extent u can train ur muscle fiber types and 2 a small degree the neuromuscular units...
so if the interaction of nervous system and muscle contraction was most efficient ur one rep max would far exceed what u could do 4 2 reps... the more reps one does the less NM coordination it takes... and hence efficience... mostly... as is my understanding, knowledge and reading on the topic has allowed me 2 believe...

Brent Maier said...

I guess I'll be one of the first to jump in here. This may sound a little selfish but I hope you don't find the answer because I can't imagine having to going back to the regular scheduled programming.

Anyway, I've been a firm believer in that your only as good as your biggest weakness, so it is an absolute that you must train your weaknesses, unless growing stronger at your strengths will positively affect your weakness. I think there are some weaknesses that can only be strengthened by setting aside some extra cycles for improvement.

I can remember day one of my Crossfit career where the success of doing the 1st rep of a 50 HSPU's in a workout was whether or not my shorts were tied so my partner wouldn't pull them off. Through the years I've trained, I've always had the mentality of training everything with a little extra emphasis on the weakness. At that time, there was no real measurable difference between lackof strength and skill because both were so poor in regards to the diversity that Crossfit required. Over the course of 3 years now, it is VERY clear as can be where my strengths and weaknesses are.

Mental toughness is considered a weakness and for many, finding that inner demon is a challenge. Devising strategies is something everyone must learn and could also be considered a weakness. Some can be taught and much must be learned based on your own capabilities as OPT mentioned. Looking back at a video I took 3/4 the way up the hill for WOD 1 of the games this year, I caught on tape the 2nd place finisher Tommy Hackenbruck out of Salt Lake City as he was walking by telling another competitor, "take your time and save energy for the other events". Was that key to his 2nd place finish? Would this same strategy have had the same affect on Mikko?

Just throwing away my timer a month or two ago during timed events has made me mentally stronger by forcing me to judge intensity based on how I'm feeling as opposed to the time on a watch.

My point up till now is that there are a ton of factors that affect performance.

One longtime weakness that continues to plague me and DJ commented on it as well a few days ago. The number of pushups I can perform at one time tapers off quickly after the first set. Of all the weaknesses I've had, this continues to have the most impact on time in a lot of WOD's especially those with tons of pushups/ringdips/HSPU's. Why and how do we fix it?

Since starting the big dawg program last year, my ability to grind off single HSPU's and pushups has improved beyond belief. My times continue to drop considerably and I'm showing strength gains. But how can we continue to bring up the amount of pushups I can perform unbroken and/or while fatigued? The only thing I haven't tried is doing something like 100 pushups a day for 3 months.

One last thought, even though you and Brett have never competed against each other, there is no doubt that you are both animals and it would be a battle royale for sure. The final contrast in regards to your arm flexors baffles me in that you both are on opposite ends of the scale there. I can see where you may have a skew of +/- 3-4 reps depending on how dialed in you were on your single max attempt including your follow-up AMRAP. With a spread of 9, there are without a doubt some differences however I wouldn't expect that number would give any prediction of the results of a battle royale between AFT and OPT.

Is that the answer or are there other MAJOR discernable factors to consider here that would apply to everyone assuming you could lump everyone’s weaknesses together for those folks at or around the same skill level?

More food for thought...

Ryan G. said...

Age 33
Weight 200 lbs
Height 5'11"
12-13 % bf.

Crossfit for the last two years, with a couple inactive periods. I was in sad shape befor I started.

295# is about 20-25# shy of my previous 1-RM BS. I'll look it up when I get home.

Scotty Hagnas said...

Hmmmm.... interesting thoughts. I have been aware of the fiber typing/neuromuscular efficiency tests, and have even done them a few times before, but I ultimately never did much with the info because I wasn't sure how to adapt it to a CF approach.

I know Poliquin has those who test as fast twitch perform a lower average number of reps per set for strength work than a more slow twitch individual. However, if our goal is to get 15 thrusters at 135 lbs done as quickly as possible, how do we apply this?

Here is a possible example: my thoughts are to have the individual with high neuromuscular efficiency concentrate on driving his 1RM thruster as high as possible, while a trainee with lower efficiency would work on incrementally pushing his 10-15 rep thruster max higher. This way, both individuals will reach the same goal as quickly as possible, taking advantage of their individual strengths.

Brent- I have the same problem with pushups as you do. At 85%, we both are pretty efficient: I got 2 reps and you got 5. Could pushing our bench 1RM higher be the best plan? I have tried something similar to the 100 pushup/day plan before; it did very little to boost my one set max. Perhaps now I know why... I was trying to train like the wrong kind of animal.

OPT said...

matt, unit answered it correctly.
robin, 2 years experience at OPT is enough to call someone trained...otherwise you are right only in your defintion of what WAS perceived as trained...i have since seen people learn movements and get to within approx 5% of the 1RM they have been at for years only within months of is the exposure, not the age that matters....more so, there are no certainties in human development as once thought.
Brent, what i am asking may not have an answer, i think SCotty hit on some things that i have tried personally and which may have helped me get to some level of performance...and Brent, if it as the case that people work on their weaknesses, how come DJ and Mike did so well? - certainly not by training their weaknesses, otherwise i would have had DJ running every 3rd day..and this is the MaJOR point to take home..imagine if i made Rory do 20 min plus workouts 4 x /week and strenght based stuff 1x/every 2-3 weeks (he is "working" on his weaknesses right?)..and my question is, to what extent.
the only true answer i have is that those that train outside of what they are good at too long suffer in sustainability within the the neural drive diminishes as would happen if DJ and ROry worked on their 5K's

Robin lyons said...

Ok... so looking at Ryans #'s I would answer the question- "How do we train Ryan...?" --by continued progression in Neuromuscular lifts(Deads/Bsq/O-lifts) (reps 1-5/sets 6-12)Higher sets will keep work capacity and neuro effect high.
Crush the Met-Con wods with loads high enough to put sufficient tension on the muscle to continue strength gains...Example (Fran-instead of 95lbs use 70-80% of your max thruster)

Secondly,I agree to ..."the reason these people excel and sustain in these sports is because they are hitting where they are supposed to be..."--I believe applying the right amount(%) of effort to influence a training effect...continue to overload their strengths.

Thirdly based on what I know about myself...and what I am discussing here on this blog-- I feel I need to implement workloads that are going to continue to influence a training effect (strength and work capacity gain)Gymnatics and running are my weaknesses so applying proper intensity (intervals) to these modules as well will hopefully make a differnce... to any thoughts on this...

OPT said...

robin my dear, you've got lets see how it goes shall we?

CrossFit Christchurch - Pete said...

Very interesting.

Am I right in thinking the main part of increasing our CF performance is finding our own sweet spot with regards to intensity/load?

Would be great to see some different ideas, perhaps Scotty's thoughts, expanded upon.

Looking foward to reading other people's thoughts

Rory Hanlin said...

Just to caveat on what coach was talking about and give a real world recent example:

I just took the Army PT test today. (Which is the reason why I didn't do yesterday's WOD)
I ran the 2 mile event in 13:10
Which was 6 seconds slower than my last time (13:04),

Since taking the last PT test 6 weeks ago, I ran LSD 5+miles at least once a week, and one ruck march of 4-6 miles once a week

Yet my 2 mile time was slower, and the 2 miler felt terrible. I couldn't find pace, and I was struggling the entire time.

In April when I was doing solely OPT WODs and never ran over 1000 meters I took the PT test and scored a 12:47 on the 2 mile run.

CrossFit Christchurch - Pete said...

Does this differing training 'focus' also apply to warm ups?

I feel I generally perform better with a short warm up - is this similar to finding the ideal warm up intensity to stimulate the CNS to get the optimal training effect?

(As opposed to some people who seem to function with relatively longer warm ups)

Garage Crossfitter said...

This is good stuff....after reading these posts a bunch of times I am starting to catch on...

My weaknesses ( i have lots) are heavy metcons for a short amount of time..example....the qual workout which consisted of 315lb deads with 400m runs, that would have wrecked me, currently i do not have the work capacity to come off of a run and lift 315 off the floor multiple times.
So should I do workouts such as diane with 275lbs or work on getting 21 reps with increasing weights?
Workouts such as nancy, which create an elevated heart rate from the run, then having the ability to hold 95lbs over your head for 15 reps, multiple sets. Should an athlete work on nancy at 135lbs at less reps? or work on running intervals and core strength?
I also have the pushup weakness described above...first set of tabata 20, then 17 then 13 then all 11's. Should I be hitting a heavy bench press more often to stimulate that part of the nervous system more often?
From what I am understanding is...not to spend to much time on weaknesses as it will dimish your strengths due to not working that system often enough. We should strive to push are strengths to new levels, ex, doing fran with 115lbs if you have a sub 2:30 fran.

I may have touched on this kind of programming when I experimented with Greg Everretts program after the 2008 games, we were lifting heavy at the beginning of all workouts, 5x3, 5x5, 5x1, oly lifts and power lifts. then depending on the work load, that would dictate how heavy of a metcon we would do and at what time domain. After coming off that program, i ran a 20:15 5k, which was a (pr), and we never ran anything over 200m and I did a 2:38 fran after a full 45 min heavy oly workout. This kind of programming kept my nervous system firing all the time, got me stronger but maintained, if not improved my metcon and running. What I noticed with the mainsight wods was, i didnt do the powerlifts and oly lifts, NEARLY enough to keep that muscle memory firing and my 1 rep max STALLED if not decreased for awhile, until i started realizing that I needed something different and/or supplemented to my programming.


bso said...

This is fascinating. I've experienced a tremendous increase in work capacity since I started doing heavy lifting 3-4 times per week prior to the wod. I also feel that I've got good results by doing CrossFit Football type wods more often than CrossFit WODs.

I was talking with Tania about this concept a few days ago and some key factors to test if it has been effective for increasing all-around will be "Cindy" and a 5k run. I think Cindy will be a good thing considering I took 5:02 off my JT score the other day and over 40 seconds off Fran about 2 weeks ago. I was feeling like I "should" be training more of the high-rep wall ball/ghd situp stuff that gets neglected, but I see that I get better at that stuff without really training it that way. So.... some sort of 70/30 split between CrossFit Footballish stuff and CrossFit stuff seems to work for me.... so I keep doing it that way?

Unfortunately I guess it means that in a CrossFit community like CrossFit Winnipeg, we would need to pool athletes based on neuromuscular efficiency rather than always having "THE workout of the day". Wouldn't the same apply here?

Garage Crossfitter said...

I think you nailed it saying "we would need to pool athletes based on neuromuscular efficiency rather than always having "THE workout of the day".

I can see this moving in the direction of coach testing us with daily wods to determine our neuromuscular efficiency, then once determined each of our daily wods will vary based on workload, and percentages for each person....

this shit is awesome, pumped to see where this is headed....

Garage Crossfitter said...

I'm also interested in exploring the effectiveness of what Brent said..."Just throwing away my timer a month or two ago during timed events has made me mentally stronger by forcing me to judge intensity based on how I'm feeling as opposed to the time on a watch."

I find myself looking at Mike Fitz, Geoffs and others times before my wod and then i shoot to beat that, but in many cases I find myself pacing myself to get their time....could I have gone harder if I didnt know the time? would it be a negative effect? Interesting to think about.....
The same goes for lifting heavy, my new mindset is I am MUCH stronger than my mind tells me I am, i am starting to stack on more weight even if i dont think I am good for it....pushing the limits...breaking barriers

PTS said...

Cool stuff here.
I fall in line with bso and Garage in that I need the heavier stuff to maintain or continue to have progress. Mainsite worked great for about 8 months and then I felt as if I was stalling due to the lack of heavy lifts.

Before crossfit I would run different stuff 3-4x per week. My times never got better but I felt I needed that much to maintain. After doing crossfit and subsequently running much less, my run's for everything up to 2 miles is the same or better.

I personally feel more heavy stuff might help my ability as a xfit athlete, but I don't dare add it in before a OPT wod because it would surely crush me.

Robin Lyons said...


Pooling is a great way to ensure proper intensity for each individual. I did a MASS assessment with all my members a couple months ago and organized them into teams based on their current performance...then with the posted WOD I specialize it for each team by tweeking load precriptions...volume etc. Most people who find success in crossFit...were probably notthat strong in the first place...I was very strong when I started CF and now sub-par based on my previous abilities...I feel I have been under stimulating my threshold by example: doing a 65lb FRAN for time...or a 185lb Deadlift. Those weights a clearly below my 80%+ 1RM ranges...therefore not creating a strong enouogh stimulas to gain a strength/work capacity response.

any hooo...we are all here to learn from each other and kick some ass and I will see you around!

bso said...

Robin.... can we chat about this? Email me your phone number at

OPT said...

Pete, i'd have to see and understand your warm up before i made a comment on if it was effective or not for length, etc...

OPT said...

bso, this does apply, i.e your thoughts on pooling...its tough to find the sweet spot for that...will see how it goes

Anonymous said...

This is incredible stuff. I dont feel nearly qualified to make my own statement, so again I would just like to say its an amazing read!

A thought: There was a also a games pre interview where Everett talked about how he doesnt train his weaknesses, just his strengths so he enjoys training

Robb Wolf said...

Outstanding post, and right to the heart of the matter.

I have no "low gear". When working on a rep-max the weigh either goes up fast or not at all and the shut-off is spectacular. I have historically thrived on the shorter stuff and I think this is part of it. Interestingly however, I build "work capacity" better from sled drags, capoeira and easy, un-timed heavy bag work. I can dig a deeper hole than I can recover from VERY easily. After nearly 10 years of crossfitting I'm tickled about what I sick at (everything long) and simply enjoy what I'm good at. Ironically, this was after attending the Poliquin Biosig-1 where he made a point to find what you are good at and DO it. In sports and in life. Find what you are good at and make money doing someone else to take care of the shit you suck at. Ironically, my life is easier, Im happier and more fulfilled doing this instead (for me) beating my head against obstacles that just tear me down and leave me exhausted.

I will never come close to winning the CF games, but for a 37 year old guy who was on the road 38 weekends last year, I have some very good game at the stuff in which I excel.
I suck at guitar though, and I WILL fix that.

Josh Bunch-practice crossfit said...

Great Stuff, and great discussion.

While I actually really enjoy working my weaknesses, and becoming better a the stuff suck at, Im unsure if the majority of that work has done anything to help what I was already good at As a competitiv bobybuilder for quite a while, I hve been in a gym at a very frequent capacity for the last 12 years. Since finding CF 3 years ago i have tossed out the isolation stuff obviously, but snce the inclusion of CF programing my one rep max has went down across the board on all the slow lifts...they oviously went way up on the oly lifts, since we neverdid them.

I adapted quite well to anything considered heavy, and semi short to moderate length, and even apdated very well to the gymnastic portions....the distance still being my goat(running rowing).

The loss in size was entirely by choice, and dictated entirely by diet. I feel much more comfortable right at 200 and alittle under.

I query if its not more of the past paths trained over time. The concepts of being very mindful to perfect form in bb transfers over nicely to handle heavy weights, and u rarely can handle heavy weight woithout being able to handle yourself well...wich in turn makes for a nice gymnastice setting...but I never ran...

I notice the more untrained athletes pick up very quicky on the short, and gymnastic, but have a very hard time progressing to hevier loads...whereas folks from a backround more resembling mine, seem to do well with heavy...but continue to die on light loads.

Kinda random, but tryin o process it all into short quips...maybe helpful, maybe not.