Not Able to RX Your WODs Yet? Try a 30 Day Skill Challenge

Every year I set aside 2-3 months that are dedicated to achieving specific goals through a particular 30 day skill challenge. I have found this to be an incredibly effective way to become an all around better athlete. The goals are wide ranging but the rules remain the same:

  • No booze
  • Eat quality foods
  • Develop a program specific to the task at hand.

This formula has gotten me among other things my first kipping muscle up, my first strict muscle up, improved my clean by 40lbs (technique much?), and helped me PR a 2 year stagnant deadlift number. The method works. You go into a tunnel for 30 days of self-improvement and come out a little more badass than you were before.

skill challenge annie thorisdottir deadliftingSource: Annie Thorisdottir
Concentrate on one element that you want to improve.

How do I decide where I need to improve? Easy, I base it on my metcons. We all have weaknesses that become apparent on the whiteboard. One of the great things about CrossFit is our ability to quantify everything just by looking at our progress over time.

So looking at your progress, where are you weak in your metcon? Are you unable to RX a movement due to a lack of strength or due to a lack of skill? For skill I recommend working with a coach specific to the skill you need. For strength, it may be time for a reset and programming dedicated to strength gains.

Working for 30 days and dedicating yourself to a specific task as I describe above may get you to where you want to be, but here is where the comments come in: In order for you to get stronger at a lift, you may need to take some time off from your WODs.

Get over your fear of missing WODs. You will come back stronger:

We Crossfitters live for the WOD. We show up every day excited to see what misery the whiteboard gods bestowed upon us. Taking 30 days away immediately sends anxiety levels through the roof for many of us.

That first muscle up feeling!

The truth is 30 days is simply not enough to hurt your ability to blast through WODs. Don’t believe me? Test for yourself. Knock out any of the “ladies” before going on a 30 day strength cycle, and hit the same one after your return. The difference will be negligible. I’ve even been faster 30 days later just because I was so excited to WOD again.

You will also find your strength gains will make WODs easier. Take “Diane” for example. 21-15-9 Deadlifts and handstand push-ups. The RX for deadlifts for men is 225lbs. Which athlete is working harder at the deadlifts, the one with a 300lb 1 rep max or the one with a 450lb 1 rep max? Yes, it is true that the one that lifts lighter could still have a stronger engine, but overall the athlete that has more maximal strength will lift for more reps at the prescribed weight. If both of those athletes are somewhat equal in other aspects of fitness, we can safely conclude who will have the faster time in this WOD.

Don’t take my word for it. View how professional athletes train year round:

An annual training cycle for an athlete is known as a macrocycle. Macrocycles are broken down to specific parts known as mesocycles which are further broken down to specific programming known as microcycles. Microcycles are phases that are typically 30-40 days dedicated to a specific function. After collegiate and pro athletes finish a season, they enter a mesocycle typically known as the recovery phase. Immediately following the recovery phase comes the preparatory phase.


3 cleans + 1 jerk. Not coming up on my toes without Oly shoes is a win. – #RogueOlyBar #Nano6 #ProgenexMove #Btwb

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During the preparatory phase, the focus is on maximum strength. This is where athletes train programmed microcycles dedicated to becoming stronger in very specific areas. Athletes then enter a pre-competitive phase. This is where we begin to see more metabolic conditioning. Notice the trend here? Many pro athletes are not jumping right into metcons without a solid base of strength. In fact, they may spend 60-90 days just getting strong before you see them doing any work that resembles a WOD.

The pros know that a strong base takes time to develop. Are you putting the cart before the horse in your training?

Skill Challenge – Programming for strength:

Like I stated before, one of my 30 day goals was to improve a long time stagnant deadlift PR. There are tons of powerlifting strength programs out there. From Conjugate to 5×5 to Wendler, the options are plenty. Which one is best for you? The one you can understand and stick with but still challenges you.

Since powerlifting programs are designed for all 3 lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press), I did some customizing so that I could focus on my deadlift. My own program was a 4 week mesocycle that looked like this:

  • Monday: Band work followed by working up to 3 reps of my deadlift at 80%. Complete 5 sets of 3 reps at 80%. Rest for two minutes between sets.
  • Tuesday: Rest / mobility
  • Wednesday: Good Mornings followed by RDLs at 5 sets of 5 reps at 60% of my deadlift 1RM, rest 2 minutes between sets / Accessory work: 5 sets of 10 heavy Russian kettlebell swings, rest 2 minutes between sets.
  • Thursday: Rest / mobility
  • Friday: Band work, front squats, strict press (both low reps, high weight)
  • Saturday: Sumo Deadlift Work up to 5 sets of 5 reps at 70%.
  • Sunday: Rest / mobility

Throughout the 4 weeks, weight went up 3-4% on each lift. After the last week of training, there was a period of active recovery until the following Wednesday. Wednesday was re-test day.

  • Complicated? No.
  • Easy? No.
  • Is it a program that is easy to understand and adhere to? Yes.

The amount of rest days in my program is a tough pill for many Crossfitters to swallow. My reason for doing so is I wanted to get better at a powerlifting movement, therefore I trained like a powerlifter. Powerlifters rest. They take long rests between sets and they take long rests between workouts. I generally try not to reinvent the wheel when I want to be better at a specific movement. If I dedicate 30 days to being a better gymnast, I program and train like a gymnast. The same applies to all areas of training.

So with warmer weather approaching, I encourage you to look over the past few months of work in the box. What is lacking? Where can you improve? Take the time to focus on weakness while fueling your body with quality food and resting when necessary. If you need to step away from the WODs for a bit in order to come back stronger, do it! This will help to guarantee that the beach season is full of heavy lifts, amazing movement, and fewer shirts.

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