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Max Effort Black Box

Michael Rutherford

Part I

After practicing and coaching the CrossFit methodology for over two years I am increasingly convinced the most successful athletes are those who come to the dance with the greatest strength and power. Athletes with the best strength base perform the best in this new sport called CrossFit. Greg Amundson and Josh Everett are two perfect examples of successful, and very powerful, CrossFit athletes. Both Greg and Josh can turn "Fran" in sub 2:40 range. Greg has also been reported to 1RM a front squat/push press (a.k.a. a THRUSTER) with over 275lbs at a bodyweight of around 200lbs. I personally witnessed Josh clean & jerk 155kg while weighing in the 84kg range. My own BLACK BOX project started last summer when I began thinking of how a template like this might go together. The final thoughts evolved during the fall when I was retained by one of the city's best high school basketball coaches. With this approach the basketball players' strength improvements continued throughout the season. With this in mind I would like to present a permutation of the CrossFit theory. Consider this Maximum Effort CrossFit or ME CrossFit if you will. Stay with me here while we sort through this a bit. Here are some of the components of my ME CrossFit program. MAXIMUM EFFORT (ME): A cornerstone to the Westside Barbell training program is the Maximum Effort Day. During these sessions the athlete works with a load near his/her maximum (90% +) for that day. Repetitions range from 1-5. In this program we will be using near maximal loads for all the weightlifting movements. There are two rep ranges. The first week on a rotation, the repetitions are 5-5-5-3-3-3. Joe Kenn1 refers to these as introductory reps. The second time through on a movement, the repetitions are 3-3-3-1-1-1. My intuition indicates that experienced athletes could stay with 3-3-3-1-1-1, or you could perform 8 x 2 or 10 x 1. The Prilepin chart may be handy in a case like this. Anything over 90%, 4-10 sets 1-2 reps with an optimal number of 7 sets. MOVEMENT ROTATION: CrossFit athletes will recognize the following functional movements. TOTAL BODY (T): Include Olympic Clean variations, Olympic Snatch variations, Push Presses or Jerks. LOWER BODY (L): I like squats. I like a rotation of weighted back squats and front squats. UPPER BODY (U): I will select standing press and weighted pull-ups for my upper body movements. You could also look at bench press and/or incline press. I find these least productive but I know they are popular and necessary in certain circles. Again, for this discussion our movement pool includes: TOTAL: Power Clean from the Deck (PC) and Hang Cleans (HC) LOWER: Back Squats (BS) and Front Squats (FS) UPPER BODY: Standing Press (SP) and Weighted Pullups (WP) [Editors Note: Weighted dips and muscle ups seem fair game as well.] What we will do with the movements is rotate them on ME days. On the first ME day we will perform a to-



tal body movement (T): power cleans from the Deck (PC); on the second ME day a lower body movement (L): back squats (BS); and finally, on the third ME Day an upper body movement (U): standing press (SP).

DAY 8 - REST DAY 9 - CrossFit workout (XF) DAY 10 - ME (Upper Body-SP) (introductory reps) 5-5-53-3-3 DAY 11 - CrossFit workout (XF) DAY 12 - REST DAY 13 - CrossFit workout (XF) DAY 14 - ME (Total Body-PC) 3-3-3-1-1-1 DAY 15 - CrossFit workout (XF) DAY 16 - REST DAY 17 - CrossFit workout (XF)


These should be familiar to everyone. One needs look no further than and the workout of the day. Whenever possible place emphasis on monostructural metabolic efforts--e.g. running, cycling, swimming--on the day following a ME workout. You could also precede ME days with more gymnastics movements. In any case, the varied if not randomized approach with CrossFit will address any weaknesses in your athletic profile and provide the GPP (General Physical Preparedness) you require to elevate your maximum strength and power.


Rest is of critical importance. I cannot improve the 3 on 1 off micro-cycling design. I think it provides excellent balance between volume, intensity and rest. Now that we have the parts, here is how it goes together.

DAY 18 - ME (Lower Body-BS) (introductory reps) 3-3-31-1-1 DAY 19 - CrossFit workout (XF) DAY 20 - REST DAY 21 - CrossFit workout (XF) DAY 22 - ME (Upper Body SP) (introductory reps) 3-3-31-1-1 DAY 23 - CrossFit workout (XF) DAY 24 - REST


DAY 1 - CrossFit workout (XF) DAY 2 - ME (Total Body-PC) (introductory reps) 5-5-5-33-3 DAY 3 - CrossFit workout (XF) DAY 4 - REST DAY 5 - CrossFit workout (XF) DAY 6 - ME (Lower Body-BS) (introductory reps) 5-5-53-3-3 DAY 7 - CrossFit workout (XF)

We have now rotated through the introductory reps and the foundation ME reps once. Now we rotate to the secondary foundation movement. In this case it would be hang cleans, front squats and weighted pullups. The athletes I have plugged into this template are continuing to improve, although they have only invested six months thus far.

1 The Coach's Strength Training Playbook by Joe Kenn. A must own for any coach or athlete.



Part II

In April, Coach Michael Rutherford unveiled an elegant template that draws from the success of WestSide Barbell and of course, CrossFit. We have received numerous comments as to the efficacy of the program and we are hoping to post before and after stats as they come in. Smart manipulation of training helps not only to maintain the crushing metabolic conditioning of CrossFit but also builds elite levels of strength and power. PROFILE This athlete is eighteen years old. He will be entering his freshman year in college this fall and plans on playing linebacker in college. He was highly successful as a high school athlete. In football, he recorded the highest number of tackles totaled over two seasons and is the single season record holder for his school. This record stood for over sixteen years. His senior season, he placed third in the Kansas State Wrestling Championships with only one defeat all season. His high school weight room accomplishments include all time school best in the Power Clean, Jerk and the third best back squat in school history. This background is important because it shows that the subject was trained but also highly motivated. PRACTICE For the last eight weeks, he performed the ME BLACK BOX template (see The Performance Menu April 2005). He missed one week practicing for the Metro All Star football game. The athlete rotated the following exercises during the time frame: T= Hang Cleans / Squat Cleans L= Back Squats, Oly style / Front Squats U= Bench Press / Incline Press

REPS 1st Rotation= 5x3 2nd Rotation 5x1 In addition to these changes the athlete modified his dietary practice, reducing additional servings on what was already a solid dietary practice for an 18-year-old male. The results have been rather significant considering the initial level of fitness for this athlete. Below are some measurable results.

Height Weight Clean & Jerk Thruster Back Squat

PRE 71" 211 lbs 301.4 245 380lbs x 6

POST 71" 202 lbs 313.5 275 405 lbs x 6

Real World Vertical Jump (Two-Hand Basketball Dunk) PRE POST Close, but no cigar Clean two

CrossFit Diagnostics Grace Fractured Fran Karen 2:29 3:39 7:05



Part III


When I first wrote in these pages of a way to increase athletic fitness via maximal effort (ME) training within the framework of the CrossFit technology I had no idea that the popularity of the template would reach this level. Since writing that in April 2005, I have received at minimum of one e-mail correspondence per week with questions about the template. Since that article, I have watched others take this 3-on 1-off configuration of focus lifting and calling it the "XYZ" Black box. Coaches I respect who had previously focused on a more myopic approach to conditioning are seeing the value of dropping in the ME work into their training cycles. They are combining the potency of CrossFit mixed mode with lifting big. As a result, the athletic monsters they were already creating are now monsters to the second power. If you are unfamiliar with what I have discussed so far, I would suggest you go to the Performance Menu store and download the original issue.

Field Application: Template Variation 1

The boy scientist in me wanted to see more. I put some other athletes in a variation of this in my own practice with similar positive results. Since I did not keep copious notes, I am uncertain if this template variation is superior to the original template. My practice is geared as a service rather than a research environment. My guess is that there is no statistical difference between the two. However, I do believe that this template is easier to administrate and execute. The template that they followed was and is an easy variation: metabolic conditioning (CrossFit) mixed mode training on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and ME work on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays. Monday XFIT Tuesday TB Wednesday XFIT Thursday LB Friday XFIT Saturday UB Sunday REST

XFIT = CrossFit Mixed Mode training TB = Total Body LB = Lower Body UB = Upper Body

Historical Roots

The birth of the ME Black Box came as the result of a contract I received from a local basketball coach. The coach was looking for a complete program. His team lacked in several areas. Their relative strength was very poor. He wanted a team that could run the floor all night but muscle up when needed underneath the rim and in the paint. Prior to my installation, the team's conditioning program consisted of alternating days of three sets of ten rep lifting and 400 meter track repeats. Looking at their lack of conditioning, I took to implementing the power of the CrossFit training template and adding the focus of either a total body (T), lower body (L) or upper body (U) movement and rotating these throughout the process. A successful formula was conceived. I had my own case study of twelve high school aged athletes. The results were spectacular: quantum improvements in strength resulted. The added strength allowed them to push these CrossFit medleys to levels they were not able to achieve during earlier workouts. The team narrowly missed the state playoffs that year. This year the team finished second in the state in the largest class following this template.

Movement pool rotations:



Total Body (TB) Clean Deadlift, High Hang Clean, Clean from the Deck Lower Body (LB) Front Squats, Back Squats (high bar position), Back Squats (low bar position) Upper Body (UP) Floor Press, Bench Press, Bench Press I'm not a big fan of bench pressing. I believe it to have limited positive transfer to sport. Unfortunately, the athletes I placed in this template needed specific work on this movement for testing purposes. Their schools, as with most schools, require this movement either as a 1 rep max or as a percentage of 1 RM for max reps. One could easily substitute overhead work, weighted pull-ups and or weighted dips in the UP movement pool.

We stayed with each ME movement for three weeks before transitioning to another. Our rep rotation for each week went as follows: Week 1 5 x 5 Week 2 5 x 3 Week 3 5 x 1 A couple of reoccurring questions have arisen from the initial writing. The first question centered on reaching max loads. The idea is to increase the weight of each work set until the best effort for that day is achieved. The second question pertained to other exercises that day. The original plan did not include any additional movements. I've since included assisting movements in certain cases. I like reverse hypers and glute-ham raise on the glute-ham bench. I like these movements for shoring up weaknesses in the posterior chain and in serving a pre-habilitative role. The Monday, Wednesday, Friday sessions did not select for sport specific metabolic training. We drilled the football kids with the same movements as the wrestlers. We worked the entire continuum of metabolic possibilities. I am, however, looking at `cherry picking' the WOD for more sport-specific stimulus. This will be explored in future articles.



Part IV

My friends at the Performance Menu asked that I share my training template from the recent USWF Masters Nationals. I had a successful Sunday on a relative scale. My return on investment of time (ROI) was excellent. I placed first at a national competition on essentially two training sessions per week while maintaining a high level of fitness incorporating the CrossFit mixed mode training technology. This version of the ME Black box might be useful to you.


· Limited time for mechanics of the lifts. If you have issues with your technique they may not improve with this approach. I used barbell complexes to warm-up and to cement certain techniques I needed to improve. · The focus and intensity required may prove psychologically taxing to some. · You may be under prepared. I found holes in my training as I approached the competition date. · Your injury potential increases as you increase the intensity. I believe that during February and early March I was on the skinny edge of overtraining.

Assumptions and Limitations

This program will work for an intermediate to advanced lifter that is looking for results while not necessarily specializing. If you are a beginner or you have large technical issues then this approach may not be ideal. I also believe that you need to have a sound strength base. You should possess both a clean deadlift and back squat of 1.5 bodyweight. With that being said, I am not a model of technical excellence. You should also have a solid conditioning base. I believe ideally that you have been practicing the CrossFit approach to general physical preparation (GPP) of training for twelve weeks prior to launching into this template. Better and more established lifting coaches would suggest more sessions and more technical focus. They are likely correct. For these coaches, this approach may turn out to be a swing cycle or bridge approach to the next competition. This is a minimalist approach.

Subject Background

Leading into this focus competition I had only competed in two meets. My third would come eight days prior to this focus meet. I initially wanted to participate in this meet starting two years ago. Prior commitments precluded my participation. I'm largely a selfcoached lifter. I seek out tips from more experienced coaches whenever possible. It was my oldest son's interest in competing that piqued my interest in entering an event. I'm a generalist who enjoys a number of different sports and fitness activities. I've practiced a randomized approach to fitness for many years. Even before I learned of the term CrossFit, I was coaching and practicing high intensity short duration workouts. At 47 years of age and 90kg, I can deadlift 195kg almost any time and back squat 150kg. Within the last year leading up to this event I snatch squatted 115kg x 3 and 90kg x 15. My general fitness is strong for a 47 year old male. I routinely rank in the 90th percentile in any of the benchmark workouts. I can row 2K around the 7:00 mark.


· Large ROI. · You can bring great focus and intensity to your training. I consider this low volume training. · Leaves time for other activities. You need not worry about being a specialist. I have been a frustrated golfer from birth. I would prefer to have my handicap drop to single digits than jerk 150kg. I had time to work parts of this passion. I also enjoy reading and spending time with my family. This approach allowed for me to be all things to all people. · Perfect for a Masters lifter with reduced recovery skills. · Builds tremendous confidence. If you are lifting within 90-100% of your goal on the practice platform you feel really confident when you compete.

Movement Pool

As a minimalist my approach to training took on a Spartan look and feel. For me, being good at weightlifting means to be good at the snatch and the clean & jerk. I basically practice one lift per session until the final weeks. So beginning on January 9th, 2006 here are



the movements I practiced. I did not practice these for the entire duration. Beginning February 6th, I dropped the snatch grip deadlift and hang movements. I was now down to snatching and cleaning and jerking. Snatch Emphasis Snatch Grip Deadlift Hang Snatch Snatch from the Deck *Front Squat *Abs *Reverse Hypers Jerk Emphasis High Hang Clean & Jerk (HHCJ) Hang Clean & Jerk (HCJ) Clean & Jerk from the Deck *Back Squat *Behind the Neck (BN) Power Jerk *Abs *Glute Ham Raise

* These movements were at a fixed 3 sets of 5 reps. The load varied based upon the other movements and their completion.

Monday: CrossFit Mixed Mode* Tuesday: Snatch Emphasis Session Wednesday: CrossFit Mixed Mode- or Recovery Session with dragging sled. Thursday: Jerk Emphasis Friday: CrossFit Mixed Mode Saturday: Limited Snatch and Clean & Jerk Session Sunday: Rest & Recovery Hot Tubs Cool Contrast Beginning with February 6th, 2006 until March 20th, 2006 I reduced the movements again. Monday: CrossFit Mixed Mode* Tuesday: Snatch, Behind the neck power jerk, back squat Wednesday: CrossFit Mixed Mode- or Recovery Session with dragging sled. Thursday: Jerk, Snatch Friday: CrossFit Mixed Mode Saturday: Limited Snatch and Clean & Jerk Session Sunday: Rest & Recovery Hot Tubs Cool Contrast Beginning with March 20th, 2006 until contest time I pared down the training to look like this. Monday: CrossFit Mixed Mode* Tuesday: Snatch, Jerk Wednesday: CrossFit Mixed Mode- or Recovery Session with dragging sled. Thursday: Jerk, Snatch, Friday: CrossFit Mixed Mode Saturday: Limited Snatch and Clean & Jerk Session Sunday: Rest & Recovery Hot Tubs Cool Contrast

Meso Cycling

DATES 1/9-1/27 1/30-2/3 2/6-3/10 3/13-3/17 3/20-3/31 4/3-4/7 SETS REPS 5 3 to 5 Unloading Reduced volume by 50% 10 to 24 1 to 3 Unloading Reduced volume by 50% 10 to 20 1 Unloading Reduced volume by 50%

I do not select specific intensity for a reason. The objective was to lift the best effort possible for the session on the final reps. If I did not feel good, strong or had misses on the way up I would conclude the session. My journal only shows two sessions where I terminated a workout. I also did not reduce the intensity during the process. Why climb half way up a mountain to return and then come back down? I kept the loading intensity high. I did pay attention to how I was feeling.

Odds & Ends

I used a Zone 4-block, 3-times fat post workout recovery meal. I know this helped my typical hypo-caloric intake practice. I slept an average of 7 hours per night. On some weekends I was able to log up to 10 hours of sleep. The extra hours were helpful in bridging me into the next hard week. I competed in a meet exactly 8 days prior to my focus competition. I totaled 230kg on that afternoon. I felt solid on all my attempts. I narrowly missed a 130kg jerk and attempted and set a personal record on the snatch at 105kg. This was confirmation that I was ready.

Micro Cycling

I start my workday at 5:00 am and conclude several evenings at 7:00 pm. I have a son at home who wrestles during the winter months. Saturday and Sunday sessions were next to impossible. This is the weekly cycle that I followed for 13 weeks.




I competed in the 46-49 age group lifting in the 94kg class. I was light that morning even with a breakfast of eggs and fruit. I weighed 88kg down slightly from my normal walking around weight of 90kg. I hit a personal best total of 232kg. (102kg snatch and 130kg jerk). My Sinclair-Metzler-Malone was 328. This total was good for first place by 19kg. I placed 4th overall in my Sunday morning session, which included the 105kg and 105+ lifters.

I've received questions from some in the CrossFit community as to how I adjusted intensity with regard to the Monday, Wednesday and Friday sessions. Generally, I went hard but not to the cashed out stage. Cashed out is a term we use in our practice to describe the athlete out flat on the floor. These were still considered hard but not to collapse. I want to thank a few individuals. Coach Whitney Rodden, Coach Tom Cross and the entire Mid American Nazarene College athletic department for allowing me to train in a weightlifting friendly environment. Mike Burgener forwarded a couple of thoughts on my second pull. These drills gave me a nice warm-up routine. Finally, Gene Gilsdorf, an excellent lifter in his own right, paced my warm-up and helped me become successful on that particular Sunday. I salute all of my fellow Masters competitors. There were some amazing lifts over the weekend. It was an honor to lift with other folks who respect this sport.


I believe that my total could improve another 2-5% with a similar approach but more work on my snatch second pull. My shoulder that was painful for almost a year and forced me to jerk with a right foot leading has finally healed. I believe that this should allow for more jerks and handstand push-ups.





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