Increasing Training Volume Without Self-Destructing: Part III

Increasing Training Volume: Part III

Everybody sucks at something, and chances are good this suckage comes from a lack of movement proficiency, aka skill. This lack of skill typically comes not from being bad at a movement but more from not doing a movement, because usually when we’re confronted with something that is more difficult or not as enjoyable other things, we run away and hide….and then complain when they show up in a competition or workout.

One of the best ways to increase your training volume without self-destructing is by incorporating skill-focused work.

While the bad part of this is that no one enjoys spending time with things that they aren’t good at – give a weightlifter a barbell and they will snatch all day, but give them a set of rings and they will try five muscle-ups and then call it – the good part of this is that, with some thought, skill work can be easily added to your regular programming without interference while leading to the fastest and greatest boost in overall performance. 

The frequency of skill work should be determined by the current intensity, frequency, and duration of your training.
If you’re currently training for an hour four times a week, you can get away with more skill work.

If you’re currently training for 2+ hours at a high intensity six days a week, you can get away with less skill work.

The frequency of your skill work might also be determined by how much work needs to be done on a given skill. If you can compete at a high level of everything except for muscle-ups, you will need more touches more often on that skill (two to three times a week).

If you are gradually improving multiple skills, once a week per skill could be sufficient, both accommodate enough time to permit practice on all elements, as well as to ensure movements do start interfering with each other.

But the biggest key here is that your frequency needs to be frequent. Don’t be the guy that practices muscle-ups for two weeks and then bails because they’re hard. Long-term consistency is the only way to win.

Position, Position, Position

While you’re skill work should definitely include touches on a full movement, you will get the most bang for your training buck by improving and strengthening positions through drills and partial movements.

For example, here’s a “just do the movement” approach:
One time per week, 30 muscle-ups.

Here’s a “drills” approach for some struggling with muscle-up pulling strength:
EMOMx7 – 1-5 muscle-ups, then
rest 3 minutes
EMOMx7 – 1-5 swinging ring pull-ups, then
rest 3 minutes
5 minutes – As many sets of 3-5 unbroken strict false grip pullups as possible.
Another example for someone struggling with muscle-up dip strength:

Here’s a “drills” approach for some struggling with muscle-up dip strength:
EMOMx7 – 1-5 muscle-ups, then
EMOMx7 – 1 muscle-up + 3 Ring Dips
5 minutes – As many sets of 3-5 unbroken strict ring dips with a pause at the bottom of the ring, explode up with a 3 second descent.  

“Practice” Not “Puke”
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that skill work is practice, not a work-out. Skill work should be tough and a high volume of reps should be performed, but intensity should be low. GOOD MOVEMENT IS KING. This will mean fewer reps unbroken and more rest time between sets.

You are not trying to “get more muscle-ups”, you are trying to “be better at muscle-ups”, and in the CrossFit culture this difference can be easily tossed aside, both because of the attitude that numbers are king and that skill work will take more time.

“AMRAP 10 minutes: Muscle-ups” could be good for increasing your muscle-up capacity, but will provide less total touches on the skill in a more fatigued environment, and can also interfere with the rest of your training.

One of the 22-minute skill progressions above will give you more touches on a skill in a less fatigued environment, and has less of a chance to interfere with the rest of your training.

Incorporating Skill Work into Training

Before the WOD is typically the best time for skill work – you are fresh so movement will be good. It’s an easy trap to fall into to say “I’ll do it after the WOD” but then it becomes too easy to skip because I’m too tired/arms are fried/gotta pick up the kids.

I’m a fan of having a set skill-workout, but then moving when that skill workout is performed throughout the week. Because of the ever-changing nature of WODs, this can avoid too much of a movement back-to back. For instance, this would suck:

10 minute AMRAP:
12 Thrusters 95/65
10 Pullups
8 ring dips

WOD then Muscle-up Skill work

AMRAP 12 minutes:
3 rope climbs
5 power cleans 155/105
7 Box jumps

Here we would have back-to-back vertical pulling with a high level of grip demand. Tuesday’s muscle-up skill work could be questionable considering the previous day’s high intensity work with pull-ups and ring dips, which then compromises Wednesday’s rope climbs.

Suck city. This would be a case where moving your skill-work to an active rest-day, or a workout that follows an active rest day would be advantageous, both for preserving the movement quality of the muscle-up and the intensity of a possibly grip/upper body pulling based workout.

The basic idea is to be flexible enough with your skill work as to allow the greatest quality of work in both the skill work and the regular daily work. Avoid hitting one movement too hard on one day, or on back to back days. There will be some days where your skill work and the WOD fit together beautiful, some days it will be a challenge to figure out when to do what. Scaling the workout or scaling your skill work to accommodate each other could be useful in an situation where you are unsure.


Practice the needed skill frequently – consistently and over time
Improve proficiency, not capacity – do better, not do more
Be flexible with incorporating it into your regular daily work

Next up – Part III: Strength

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