Returning to CrossFit After Your Strength Cycle

The following article was written by myself and Michael Wolf.
The information detailed here is for a specific group of people, namely those who have just completed an 8-week linear progression strength cycle with little to no conditioning and are planning to return to high intensity training such as CrossFit. If you are one of these individuals, your gains from strength cycle will likely result on your PRing one or more of your Olympic lifts and benchmark WODs. However, transitioning back to CrossFit after not doing conditioning for a while has its challenges and is best approached in a thoughtful, step-by-step fashion. Your strength will be significantly greater than the last time you did CrossFit, but your conditioning will be (temporarily) below its previous level. This combination requires some appropriate planning to make the transition smooth. So, here are some things you need to know:
You may or may not want to change your calorie intake

Returning to CrossFit will cause your body to burn more calories than you were burning in the strength cycle. It is always interesting to see what effect training alone has on your body composition, so maintaining your calorie intake from the cycle and going back to CrossFit will give you valuable information about your body. If you eventually decide you want to lean out, cut some of your calories down as an additional assist. Ideally you were eating a slight excess in calories while in the strength cycle, so dropping the calories down gradually should send you in the right direction for leaning out. When adjusting calories down to lean out, as general rule, start with simple sugars, starches, grains and so on. Reduce these a bit. Focus on getting most of your carbs from vegetables and fruits with only a little bit from starches. In the end nutrition must be individualized. If you have specific questions, be sure to reach out.
As mentioned, your conditioning will have dropped temporarily

There are no absolutes here as everyone is different, but generally speaking, if you had a high level of conditioning before entering the cycle, it won’t drop nearly as much as if you had a low-level of conditioning to start. Either way, you will still have some conditioning. This is partly because 1) it has only been eight weeks and 2) you didn’t become a couch potato – you were in fact lifting heavy sets of five 3 days each week and anyone who has done so knows this requires some conditioning.
Plan to ease yourself back into CrossFit over the next 5 weeks

So let’s talk about getting back to where you left off. The speed at which you will be able to fly through workouts and the rest times you take will be different when you return to CrossFit. You will have to go a bit slower to complete WODs and you will have to take more rest. Note, your body will remember it has the capacity to go faster and rest less, but you must keep this in check and not go to that extreme level until you actually develop this physical capacity once again. Here is a general template you can follow to ramp back up in CrossFit:

  • After the Cycle/CrossFit Total: Take 1-2 full days off.
  • Your 1st Week Back to CrossFit: Take 2 classes separated by more than one day (i.e. Tuesday and Friday or Wednesday and Saturday), and perform the WOD section of the workout at about 60-70% of your “all-out” capacity. You will likely be tempted by your own inner drive and/or the class atmosphere to go harder than this. As mentioned above, resist that temptation for your own good.
  • Your 2nd Week Back to CrossFit: Take 3 classes, preferably separated by a day (i.e. M/W/F or Tu/Th/Sat) and perform the WOD at about 70-80%.
  • Your 3rd Week Back to CrossFit: Use the same schedule of 3 classes separated by at least one day, and perform the WOD at about 90%.
  • Your 4th Week Back to CrossFit: Most people with a solid base of conditioning will be sufficiently readjusted to the demands of CrossFit to go all out in the WOD. If you were previously doing CrossFit more than three days per week, wait until the 4th or 5th week to train more than 3 days.

Some will benefit by taking a slightly time longer to ramp back up, and some will notice that they still don’t have that last little bit of conditioning gas in their tank quite yet, but that will return soon enough.
Specific notes for handling WODs

  • AMRAPs are perfect for returning to CrossFit as everyone finishes and you can set your own pace very easily.
  • Take much more rest in WODs than you normally would; don’t feel like you have to finish timed workouts within the cap.
  • If there are movements that require a high number of reps, be sure to break the reps up into sets (even if the movement has very light weight) or scale down to a lower number of reps.
  • If there are high rep movements that use smaller muscle groups (toes to bar, running), go much slower with these in addition to taking more rest.
  • Although you will be stronger, don’t use very heavy weights in WODs until you are re-adjusted, particularly if the WOD requires a high volume of work.
  • You now have a lot of current information as to what you can pull for a single, double, triple, and for heavy sets of five. By all means use these numbers to dial in your CrossFit class strength sessions. However, keep in mind that the Strength Cycle is designed to optimize strength. As such, you had longer rest periods and rest between heavy days during the Cycle – ideal conditions to express your maximal strength. This likely won’t be the case when doing a mixed modal program like CrossFit, where you might have 15-20 minutes to work up to a max squat, done the day after you did 100 double unders. Plan your numbers, and your expectations, accordingly.

Don’t forget the benefits of your Strength Cycle

  • The additional strength developed in the Strength Cycle will be evident from the very beginning of your return to WODs, particularly if strength was previously a deficit and limiting factor. Very often your newfound strength will overpower conditioning limitations in shorter WODs with moderate/light weights. For example, if your Rx Thrusters were slowing you down in “Fran” (20 Min for Rx), it is not unreasonable for your time to drop down to 8 Min, even without your full conditioning.
  • You will have obvious gains in the main lifts (Squat, Press, Bench, Power Clean, Deadlift) and be able to consistently lift more in these lifts than you did in the past.
  • Since both your upper and lower body are now stronger, any lift that uses both will also see major gains. These lifts include the push press, push jerk, split jerk, overhead squat, etc. This, of course, assumes that you have good form and that technique is not holding you back.

And there you have it. If you have any additional questions, feel free to drop either of us a line and we will be more than happy to assist.