Game-Planning WODs: From Grinders to the Games

I NEVER used to want to know what the WOD was going to be. I refused to look at the website before I headed in before dawn to train at my box.
By James Toland ,

It wasn’t always this way.

Back in the olden times (2010), it was completely different for me.

I NEVER used to want to know what the WOD was going to be. I refused to look at the website before I headed in before dawn to train at my box. I think a big part of this was the fact that, well, I was scared. I didn’t have a sense of what I could and could not do at that point. I was still learning the movements, and to be honest, I didn’t understand a lot of what was posted on our site and therefore had no sense of impending doom. HSPU, T2B, SDHP ... at this point these letters meant nothing to me, so why be afraid when I saw them for the first time on the whiteboard?

Now, after hundreds of WODs, I have an obsession with knowing all the details in advance. Not so I can pick and choose which ones I do and don’t do, but for a more tactical reason — game-planning.

To me, this is the strategy of taking the daunting and sometimes overwhelming workout and chopping it up into more manageable pieces. It’s the main component in keeping me moving in my methodical grinder style and getting me through training sessions that a lot of people my age wouldn’t even consider.

There is some science that supports my grinder quirks and game-planning. Brian Moore, MD, MEd in neuropathology, says that “game-planning” is not just about trying to make the WOD easier to digest physically and mentally. There is some method to this madness. Moore states that this approach resonates on a primal level. “In planning how to attack a WOD, we are using cognitive skills inherited by antecedent generations who had to plan out an approach to a challenging endeavor — a hunting party going after a woolly mammoth, for instance,” he explains.

Furthermore, Moore says, “When we initially look up at the whiteboard, we cannot help but start planning out how we’ll approach a particular WOD. By nature, people tend to perform better if they perceive that a workout is getting easier.”

I couldn’t agree more with the doc. When I’m hit with a high volume of pull-ups, I like to break them up and do them three at a time. In my mind, caveman or not, I can ALWAYS rep out three, drop, reset and then get three more. Otherwise, I burn out on, say, a set of 12 in a row.

Moore supports my approach and, as a fellow grinder, admits he does some similar techniques: “I leverage that perception by breaking up my reps in a descending order. For example, if I have to do 21 thrusters, and I know I’ll need to break them up into three sets, I’ll break them up into sets of 8, 7 and 6 rather than slogging through three sets of 7. That little adjustment provides a sense of mental dominance over the workout that will keep me moving.”

A good idea from a pretty smart guy.

He also tells me that there really isn’t much difference between grinders like us and Games athletes when it comes to this mental chess game. “A mentally tough grinder is essentially the same as an elite CrossFit (Games) athlete from the neck up. Both plan their attack, push through adversity, adjust the plan when required. That’s why CrossFit fans identify so closely with Games competitors. The difference lies in the fact that the elite athlete has muscular, neurologic and cardiovascular adaptations that far exceed those of the grinder. Those neck-down attributes are determined both by nature (genetics) and nurture (nutrition and training),” Moore says.

I know there are some CrossFitters out there who believe in just going for it and hammering out the reps until their bodies force them to take a break. Some of them are able to move unbelievable and seemingly inhuman amounts of weights and endure extreme numbers of high-intensity reps. But for most grinders like me, a plan is the best way to stay in the game. We might not be able to finish first or Rx every WOD, but with a solid game plan, we can always grind it out.

What are some ways you like to “game-plan” your WODs? Email me your tips and strategies for getting through tough WODs at jtolgrinder @ gmail.com.

Stay on the grind.
— JTol

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