May 14, 2020
Training for a CrossFit Competition Without a Gym
WRITTEN BY Shayna Dunitz

COVID-19 has presented a myriad of challenges for everyone. Whether you’re not used to working from home or being around your partner all the time, or you’re struggling with not being able to see friends and do the things you normally do, things are tough right now. Another group of folks that are having a hard time is athletes - races, games, tournaments, and competitions across all sports are either canceled or up in the air as to whether they’ll take place. For some, this makes it hard to maintain the motivation to train.

That’s not the case for everyone though. On today’s blog, we’ve got something a little different. Below is a Q&A with Central Athlete client Dylan Sanders about what it’s like to train for a competition during a shelter-in-place order. Enjoy!

Central Athlete: How long have you been competing in the sport of CrossFit?

Dylan Sanders: About 3 years now

CA: What competition are you training for right now?

DS: Northern California Classic which is set to take place at the end of August. The NorCal Classic is a 3-day fitness festival out in Sacramento and last year was the largest Crossfit competition in Northern California. It has a large payout with $10,000 going to first place in the Elite division which brings in some of the best athletes in the sport. You must qualify in order to compete in it. After I didn’t qualify for WODAPALOOZA last September the goal has been to podium in the Elite division of the NorCal Classic. Thanks to my performance in the qualifiers that goal is still alive heading into the final step of the process. I’m almost in the end game now!

CA: What were the qualifiers like?

DS: Qualifiers went really well despite being absolutely brutal. Only a couple of retests which is rare for me. I think I went one and done for 4 of the 6 workouts. It was easily the best I performed in qualifiers for an event. But they definitely beat me up. I think I threw up during 2 or 3 of the events and by the last day I couldn’t even hit my warm-up weights. Qualifiers are easily the worst part of the season. The big competitions are fun but the qualifiers just mentally take a toll and lead you to doubt and second guess yourself. But at the end when you see your name not that far off from the games athletes, and even beating them in an event, it feels good and gives you confidence that you can hang with some of the best in the world.

Coach's Note: Dylan has the ability to push himself, but one of his weaknesses is trying to go full throttle for each qualifier. Especially when you have 6 qualifiers with the possibility of repeating some of the “tests”, you have to consider the overall volume of these events. It takes a serious toll on the athlete’s nervous system.

At this point, Dylan and I have worked together for about 3 qualifiers and 3 competitions. He executed well and was able to sustain the intensity necessary to qualify for the elite division at the NorCal Classic.

DS: To add to Jesse’s qualifier comments, this is by far the best I’ve performed in a qualifier. If you look at the workouts of all 3 qualifiers we have worked together with, this one easily had the worst movements of the 3 for me. But we had me to a point where that didn’t matter. The heavy lift was the snatch, which is my worst lift, but I was able to damage control there and we’ve trained my motor to a point where I could excel even if the movements aren’t my specialty.

A quick overview of the 3 qualifiers we have trained together: The first one did not go very well. I somehow got lucky enough with people dropping to barely get into the competition a month later and we were able to peak for the main event in a way that I way outperformed my qualifier score. The second one started very strong but definitely fizzled down the stretch. It was the toughest competition to qualify for that we have done together. There were a decent amount of peaks and valleys here, but definitely a lot to learn from. With this one, I only retested 2 workouts which is crazy for me. I wasn’t close to the bubble for getting in, it was just close for making the Elite division. And I was seeing my name right by guys that my name has not been near in the past. I was a “Jesse was right” moment away from being in top 20 (Jesse was right moments are when he warns you about something and you maybe shrug it off only for it to come back to bite you. In this case a penalty for not locking out fully my shoulder to overheads after he warned me about it).

I’ve always worked out hard as long as I can remember. The massive improvement in qualifiers in the year and a half since working with Jesse is largely attributed to this being the smartest I’ve worked out. This is probably 2 parts Jesse and negative 1 part me. (LOL) He will talk CNS in recovery or gears utilized in a workout and I will be like “Dylan Smash!”

CA: What equipment do you have at home?

DS: Barbell, dumbbells, rower, assault bike, kettlebell, squat rack, box jump, jump rope, rings.

Editor's Note: When we closed the gym down a couple of months ago, we loaned out most of the equipment to our clients. Nobody took more than Dylan did - he needed to borrow a truck to bring it all back to his 1-bedroom apartment!

CA: How has your training changed since the shelter-in-place orders?

DS: Fortunately not too much. Muscle-ups and rope climbs have been the only movements that have been troublesome. Otherwise, the big change has been volume and a lot more strict movements. All my pull-ups have been strict. The volume has been crazy high. Can’t really afford to miss lifts (bye-bye security deposit) so we have really focused on a crazy high workload. Mobility has improved as a result of all the barefoot lifting. I think the dog has seen a bigger change in the training as he has loved me training at home.

CA: Has anything about your new routine helped your training? Hurt it?

DS: Mobility has definitely been improving due to the barefoot technique-driven movements. Running has been going well too. Getting close to that 20 min 5k and 5:30 mile. In a competition, setting might be there. I’ve also been getting a ton of sleep which is always good.

Coach's Note: When you are training as much volume as Dylan has been, recovery is of the utmost importance. Doing 2-3 workouts per day is necessary to compete in this sport. Essentially life needs to be 100% aligned. When he isn’t training, he needs to be very intentional about getting proper nutrition, optimal sleep, and restoring his musculoskeletal and nervous systems. When the volume creeps this high, it isn’t rare for an athlete to sleep 10+ hours plus naps.

DS: I feel like at this point Jesse can see my workout results and probably know how many hours of sleep I got the night before. Another thing that has improved is the quality of my active recovery. I look forward to it as it’s the best way to get out of the house and into nature. I’m even sprinkling them in during the week. Currently, my active recovery is a combination of hiking, paddleboarding (getting a pair of boards ended up being the best quaranpurchase), and rollerblading the Veloway. As an added plus, they make for great dates ;)

CA: Will you keep anything from your new routine when you’re able to train at the gym and go back to an office?

DS: I was doing 11 workouts per week before and have kept that up. So the training routine won’t be that different. May try to keep some middle of the cardio/run sessions to mix it up. But other than having to be really careful about setting the weights down, not much is that different. The routine will more reflect where I am at in terms of peaking for competition than anything else.

CA: What’s it like to train at home every day?

DS: The biggest thing is there are so many distractions. I have my tv, video games, bed all right there. So motivation is tougher. I have to be more careful about going heavy. And sometimes I have to get creative with the setup. I compartmentalize a lot, so I like having a spot just for training. That’s all my mind is focused on in that zone. That bit is tougher to do at home and there are definitely more days with major energy struggles.

Coach's Note: Know why you are committing the time to move every day. Once you are clear on the reasoning why you are doing something, when you have times where motivation is low, you can remind yourself why you are doing this along with using your discipline.

Training at home is just another obstacle. With cognitive behavior techniques and focusing on rhythm, this is something that can be easily tackled.

CA: How do you train on days when you aren’t feeling motivated or just don’t have it?

DS: One of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn during this is how to work on seeing things through a 3rd person perspective and really paying attention to my wording in situations. For example, "I have to train this evening" as compared to "I get to train" or "I’m lucky to be able to train this evening." On the really tough days where I just want to say screw it and drink beers and play video games and say this whole lockdown sucks (there were more of those than I’d like to admit) I have to really look at my situation from a distant perspective. My goal for the year was to podium at the Northern California Classic elite division, and despite everything being canceled or shutdown I still have the opportunity to achieve this. And I have everything I need to work towards this.

How many people on lockdown have access to a gym, running trails, hiking trails, a track, and coaching? All while having something they really want to achieve to pursue. When looking at my situation through that lens, I’m pretty lucky. I am really thankful for this competition because quarantine could have been a lot worse for me without it. It’s pretty cool that during a global health pandemic I’ve been able to come out of it physically stronger through a larger range of motion and with an increased aerobic capacity than when I entered it.

CA: How are you feeling about being 2 months out from the competition?

DS: I feel good. Volume capacity and endurance is there. Some advanced gymnastics work and high intensity will have me ready to go, but the base is there. I’m at the body that’s right around optimal for competition for me. Just push the run time and intensity here and set to peak. The hardest part is the fear of the event getting canceled. It’s been delayed and facilities changed. I just really hope all this work doesn’t get put in without the opportunity to show it against some of the top competition in the world. That’s the toughest part of the event right now is trusting in it happening.

One major confidence advantage I have in anticipation of the competition has been the quality of my training during the craziness. I felt I haven’t lost a beat and have managed to improve on things during lockdown. I think it speaks volumes to the adaptability of the coaching module at Central Athlete in spite of all the changes needing to be made, I can come out of the lockdown more ready for an elite competition than when I went into it.

Dylan managing positive body composition despite being home all the time for the last 2 months!

CA: What challenges have changes to the competition presented?

DS: So far, the competition date has moved from May to June and now to August and the facilities have also changed. The date changes were easy to take in stride because they just gave me more time to train. The location change was a big tougher. The downtown, outside fitness facility was a huge draw for me. And I texted Jesse the day of about how this sucks but then after I slept on it I realized how impressive it is that they are keeping this competition going. All the top athletes are still going so my opportunity to test myself against some of the best in the world is not lost. It’s been an adoption of the Taoist belief of flow like water when changes come up; this should help me in the competition as well.

The dates have changed. The facility has changed. But the goal has remained the same and the pursuit of that goal has not changed at all. I can’t control what changes they need to make, and right now it feels like there is very little I can control at all, but at least I can control how I choose to train. Sometimes you have to ask yourself WWSSD, what would Sara Sigmundsdottir do?  And the answer is: make the needed adjustments and train hard.

As far as training, I just send Jesse the new date. He knows how to train me to peek at the right time and I know he will make the needed adjustments to make me perform at my best at go time. Makes that part super easy from my end.

CA: How has having a coach helped with training for the event?

DS: It’s invaluable. If I were doing this entirely on my own I’d probably be injured right now, especially since I think one of the biggest challenges in coaching me is protecting me from myself. I’m training 11 times a week, but the programming is only a fraction of what Jesse is doing working with me.

One of the most impressive things Jesse has done during this process is bring his Obstacle Is The Way attitude (Ryan Halliday). For example, I am not able to get the rings high enough for regular muscle ups so he programs L-Sit muscle ups. The track is closed for the week, he adjusts the runs to be done just as effectively on a trail. Whatever crazy obstacle comes up, he adjusts the program as needed.

While I don’t believe there is a substitute for face to face interaction, like a coach can’t physically move me into the proper starting position via TrueCoach, the amount of feedback I’ve been able to receive on technical movements have been amazing. There are days I’ll text Jesse the video in between sets and have feedback before my next lift.  Speaks volume to the product that I can get that much coaching while on lockdown. I have sent videos of Olympic lifts for feedback to lifting Guru, and also a Central Athlete coach, Steven as well.

Maybe the most important thing has been having a coach in tune to where I’m at mentally. Even in the perfect conditions, this much volume can physically and even more mentally beat you down.  Even with 11 training sessions a week on average, some of these sessions could be over 4 hours. It’s a lot of work. Jesse has known where both my body and my mind have been during all this training. If I’m physically beat, that’s usually an easy adjustment to lower the weight and focus on technique. Mentally is probably tougher and I think Jesse has a great grasp on this knowing when to say push through it and when to add another recovery activity that gets me outside and refreshed. Fortunately, based on last year's event there is a lot of running involved. Being able to do a large amount of my endurance capacity training outside is awesome.

To learn more about Dylan’s journey to the NorCal Classic, you can follow along @dylandsanders on Instagram. And if you’re looking for more guidance and structure on a training program that accommodates all of life’s changes, click the link below to schedule a free strategy session with one of our professional coaches!

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