Trouble With Triplets – Sun 4.09.17

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Article taken from  This one is talking about when a lack of skill and/or strength limits intensity in a workout.  Some movements require significant levels of strength and skill before athletes can use them in conditioning workouts.  This article talks about why it’s perfectly OK to scale workouts to get the true desired effect.

The Trouble With Triplets

If you get 2 rounds of Nate in 20 minutes, you’re likely missing the point.

The triplet calls for max rounds of 2 muscle-ups, 4 handstand push-ups and 8 kettlebell swings. When performed by a skilled athlete, it’s a challenging test of conditioning in the range of 20 or more rounds.

But if you take 20 minutes to grind through a total of 4 muscle-ups, 8 handstand push-ups and 16 kettlebell swings, you’ve turned a conditioning test into work on gymnastics skills, with 2 irrelevant sets of swings to break things up.

This is not to say it’s stupid to struggle through Nate. Developing athletes can find pride and motivation in putting “Rx” on the board, and sometimes the struggle is worth it. But only sometimes. I’ll let the Founder of CrossFit Inc. explain the rationale behind the conditioning triplet.

“Ideally the elements chosen are not significant outside of the blistering pace required to maximize rotations completed within the time (typically 20 minutes) allotted,” Greg Glassman wrote in the 2003 article “A Theoretical Template for CrossFit’s Programming.”

In a triplet such as Nate, the elements are indeed significant for most in that two of them require a measure of gymnastics skill and strength, as well as strength endurance over 20 minutes. Glassman isn’t saying Nate is a badly conceived triplet, but it can be a badly applied triplet if it’s programmed as a metabolic-conditioning workout and coaches don’t scale appropriately.

Give Nate to CrossFit Games champion Mat Fraser and he’s likely to be slowed most by the distance separating the rings, wall and kettlebell. Give it to the athlete who just got his or her first muscle-up and you can expect a score of 1 or maybe 2. Or zero on a bad day, plus a lot of torn skin and blood.

Similarly, Cindy can be misapplied. Great Cindy scores are in the 30s, indicating an athlete has the strength and conditioning to bang out unbroken sets of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 squats. A score of 4 rounds indicates an athlete is doing strength work, not conditioning, with the bulk of the time usually spent straining for single pull-ups.

Interestingly, you can make mistakes with the triplet Cindy at the other end of the spectrum, too. Maybe you can’t—but Chris Spealler can.

A CrossFit Seminar Staff member and multi-year CrossFit Games athlete, Spealler logged a legendary Cindy score of 38 rounds in 2007 or 2008, though the humble owner of CrossFit Park City told me by email that he was “probably suspect on the range of motion” when he did it at a rec center.

Spealler said he’s never tried to beat the score over the last decade and doesn’t even do Cindy as prescribed anymore. He’ll add in 3 heavy deadlifts after every 3 rounds, add a heavy clean and jerk after each round, wear a vest, double the reps, and so on.

“I just didn’t need to be better at (Cindy) to be fit,” he wrote.

Spealler is a somewhat rarer example of an athlete for whom the prescribed workout isn’t appropriate. He figured that out about 10 years ago, and he’s been messing with the benchmark workout ever since as he’s worked to improve overall fitness.

It all comes back to the intent of the workout. As a coach, what are you trying to accomplish with your triplet, and how will you scale for novice and experienced athletes?

If you’re working with developing athletes and you want a conditioning workout, stick with Glassman’s advice: Keep it simple and make it hurt as athletes maximize cycles through the three movements. Consider box jumps, burpees, skipping, light deadlifts and other accessible movements that allow athletes to hold a very fast pace. Or modify significantly to create the same effect, reducing loads and scaling complicated movements to those that promote repping rather than resting with newer athletes.

For more developed athletes, you have additional options. Consider Spealler’s Cindy variations. Similarly, a strong, skilled, well-conditioned athlete could likely maintain Glassman’s recommended blistering pace in a triplet of 3 deadlifts at 315 lb., 3 muscle-ups and 30 double-unders, but upping the deadlift weight to 455 lb. would reduce the intensity significantly.

As coaches, you must explain the intent of the workout to your athletes and then scale quickly and competently so they get what they need. That means skillfully programming each workout, deflating the occasional ego in the interests of overall fitness, and backing up your tight triplet with skill work and strength training later in the week as part of well-rounded programming.

As athletes, you need to listen to your coaches so you don’t miss the point and turn strength work into conditioning, and vice versa. Lose the ego, scale the workout and hit it hard—then work on your skills and strength at other times.

If you ever find your athletes are resting too much during a conditioning triplet that should be performed with intensity, take a hard look at your programming and your scaling, then keep Glassman’s advice top of mind when you create your next triplet.

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