If you want to increase your performance in any way, whether that is strength, stamina or sheer size, then ‘progressive overload’ is king. Put simply, it is doing more, more often. Everything from adding more weight to the bar, to shaving seconds off a workout, or performing more reps in the same time frame, when it comes down to it, more is always what we’re aiming for.
Having a handful of benchmark workouts that you repeat regularly is a surefire way to track your progress and give yourself targets to smash into oblivion on your quest for gains. And nobody does benchmark workouts quite like CrossFit. ‘The Girls’ are a series of workouts designed to test you across a broad spectrum of strengths and skills. In fact, having a few of the girls on heavy rotation is a dependable fast track to fitness.
My personal favourite is ‘Grace’. Simple and sinister, you’re going to load up a bar and take it from the ground to locked out overhead 30 times. You’re going to tackle it with one grip-ripping twist: every time you let go of the bar you’ll incur a 10 burpee penalty. Not just your garden variety burpee, either. With each rep you’ll jump laterally over the top of the bar, adding some serious accountability to the height of your jumps and the quality of your reps.
Before you load up your bar, chalk up your hands and preemptively remove your T-shirt, read my professional recommendations for approaching the workout, then find the full session below. Give Grace our best, won’t you?
PICK YOUR POISON
The Rx (which is the Latin shorthand for ‘as prescribed’ or CrossFit chat for ‘the standard’) weight for Grace is 60kg for men. But unless you’re an aspiring competitive Crossfitter, this number is fairly arbitrary. At its core this is a sprint workout, so you don’t want to load up your three rep max and grind through a hundred burpees, but on the other hand if you lower the weight and manage all the reps unbroken, you’ve defeated the object of the workout and have probably undersold yourself. Aim for a weight that you can confidently smash through the first ten reps with. After that? Hold on tight, for as long as you can…
BREAK IT DOWN
This is where that burpee twist gets interesting. If you try and game this workout, you’ll see you’ve got two main options. Both have their merits but like a seafood pizza from a two-star kebab house, they also have their risks. You could break down the reps into bite-sized chunks from the off, avoiding fatigue at the cost of incurring more burpees than you otherwise might. The danger here is stretching the length of the workout and being forced to slow down and catch your breath and booking yourself extra time in the pain cave. Your second option is pushing hard with your presses, avoiding those leg and lung busting burpees at all cost. The danger? Hit failure too soon on the barbell and you may find you can’t recover fast enough, leaving you with nothing but triples, doubles and maybe even gut wrenching singles. That’s going to cost you a lot of burpees.
BREATHE IT IN
There’s no doubt about it: this one’s gassy. If you want to hold a pace that will see you finish in a respectable time with minimal burpees incurred, then oscillating between strained breath and panicked hyperventilating is not a strategy I’d recommend. Being mindful of your breathing is the low-hanging fruit of increasing your performance. On your barbell work, think about syncing your breathing up with your reps, a nice big breath before your first pull from the ground, bracing your core, dumping the air back out as you press overhead. As you fatigue, consider adding an extra exhale/inhale as the bar lands on your chest to expel more carbon dioxide. On your burpees, consider the fact that your chest bumping the floor is probably going to slap the wind out of you anyway, s0 use this to your advantage: try a big inhale while you’re still on your feet, and let the drop to the deck naturally provoke the out breath.
1) Barbell Clean and Press x 30
Once your barbell is loaded, set up so that your feet are shoulder width apart, bar directly above the middle of your shoes laces. With a slight band in the knees, hinge down with a flat back and grasp the bar with an overhand grip, just outside of your knees (A). Dig your feet into the floor and create tension throughout your entire body, stand up explosively, using the momentum to pull the bar high, before dipping under and twisting your wrists to ‘catch’ the bar high on your chest, standing tall once it’s secured (B). Take a deep breath and bend your knees, dipping down to create power from the lower body, before driving back up and pressing the bar overhead (C). Lower the bar under control to your chest, then to the floor. Pace yourself through these. You don’t want to let go of the bar but flinging the bar from ground to ceiling means either you you went to light, or you’re in the red and seriously risking burnout.
2) Burpee Over Bar x 10 every time you drop that bar
As soon as you let go of the bar, turn your body ninety degrees, so that the bar is to your side. Take a deep breath and drop into a press-up position, then straight to the ground. (A) As your chest hits floor, exhale. Jump your feet back towards your chest, before explosively standing up and launching yourself laterally over the barbell (B). Once you land on the other side, stand tall opening up your rib cage and take a deep breath before repeating.
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