Nail Your Stimulus!
The first time I ever did “FRAN” was in 2011. My little sister told me that I should try this workout where you did 21 thrusters, 21 pullups, 15 thrusters, 15 pullups, 9 thrusters, and then 9 pullups. I told her that I was up for the challenge. I went on youtube and typed in thruster because I had zero idea what that could be. It looked simple enough and I had no reason to believe that I wouldn’t finish that workout fairly quickly. So off to 24 Hour Fitness I was.
I rolled in, did a few stretches and then grabbed a barbell and took it over to the area where they had a single pullup bar. With what were likely awful front squats to press, shortened range of motion strict pullups, and a number of elongated breaks sitting down on a bench, I finished that workout in an amazing 13 minutes and 20 seconds. I felt pretty crappy physically, I was tired, and mentally, knowing that my Brother-In-Law had done it in less than 4 minutes.
What went wrong here? A number of things. I had never done a thruster before. I hadn’t attempted any squat except a back squat in 10 years. 95# on a movement I had never done was probably off. Strict pullups weren’t a reasonable option for this type of workout. I had likely spent 6 of the 13 minutes sitting down! Most importantly, this all equated to a blaring miss of the intended stimulus of the workout Fran. The perfect workout for that day likely would have been 21-15-9 wallballs with a 14# ball + jumping pullups. That would have had me finishing in under 4 minutes, satisfied, and not feeling wrecked the next day.
Intended stimulus is a crucial consideration if one of your key goals is “increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains.” How is this workout supposed to feel? Heavy, medium, or light? Anaerobic, anaerobic veering towards aerobic, or completely aerobic? How should the sets be accomplished? Unbroken or managed? Do the options that you often pick for yourself allow you to complete the work while preserving the intended stimulus of the workout? Ask yourself these questions honestly. The answers to them could be the one thing holding you back from achieving your goals.
Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try a workout as prescribed every once in awhile. This can be important for benchmarking. However, more often than not, you should not be worried about what weight or movement is RX’d. You should be worried about hitting the intended stimulus and what options will get you there. The intended time domain for a workout like FRAN is likely <4 minutes. With that said, what options get you there? If your 1RM thruster is 135#, that doesn’t mean you should do FRAN at 95# just because you can thruster that weight. Do it at 65# or even 45# until you can do the 21-15-9 thrusters completely unbroken. If the 21-15-9 pullups leave you walking away for long breaks, maybe a jumping pullup is in order? Even if you can do kipping pullups! 6 Years into my CrossFit life, I am certain that if I did a FRAN with a 65# bar and jumping pullups, it would leave me on my back, mission accomplished. How about KAREN, 150 wallballs for time, with a 10# medball instead of a 20#? I’d be annihilated.
My point is that every warmup, workout, movement, coaching cue, direction, timecap, they are all designed to make you better at CrossFit. Which is an exercise methodology which we believe is more effective than the rest and by following it will lead to a better quality of life. Better at CrossFit means fitter, fitter means more capable of handling physical tasks and likely increased mental fortitude. The key to better CrossFit is hitting your stimulus everytime and then working on skill and strength prerequisites when you can. Find the stimulus, increase your fitness.