Stop 21-15-9ing Yourself To Death

The base of fitness: Strength +  Endurance.

 The CrossFit games say they “forge elite fitness”

 You want to be elite? Be strongest and fastest for the longest. People 21-15-9 themselves to death thinking it will get them to Matt Frasier status – and they might see some improvement, but it won’t be sustainable, healthy, or get them to the level they want to be.

Typically, people trying to get better at Fran sling 95lbs on a bar and proceed to 21-15-9 themselves over and over, expecting drastically different results every time. The literal definition of Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

 There is a difference between exercise, training, and testing. Most people do not know the difference. CrossFit Games workouts are a TEST of an athletes fitness. Most CrossFit workouts fall in this category. All test are a form of exercise, but few fall in the training category. Training is doing a workout to get better for a test. So how does one TRAIN to kick Frans ass?

 If a workout is 21-15-9 Thrusters and Pull Ups (Fran),  27-21-15-9 Thrusters and Burpees over the bar, or 21-15-9 anything, the workout is a lot easier when the weight being moved is less than 50% of a 1RM. Likewise, learning to breath, control the breathing and having the engine to move the body is critical.

 The first step to getting a sub 4:00 Fran is to STOP DOING FRAN until you have a 185/135+ (preferably 200/150lb+) 1RM thruster. To quote Greg Glassman “No aspect of functional movements is more important than their capacity to move large loads over long distances, and to do so quickly.” The first step is to move a large load.

So how does one get better at Thrusters?

  1. Become stronger. Strength days – 5x5 @80%1RM, 4x8 @75%, 6x2 @90%

  2. Become more mobile. Thrusters require a tremendous amount of flexibility in the shoulder and wrist to transfer from the front rack to the press.

  3. Become more efficient. Ensure the bar is in the rack on the squat, not in the palms.

Pull Ups?

  1. Add what I call “sneaky volume.” During your specific warm up, 3x10 pull ups won’t kill you (and if it does, we need to work on it). Throw in more pull ups at the end of your session, soon you will be doing 60+ pull ups per day.

  2. If butterflying, perfect your technique. Butterflies have their time and place and Fran is one of them.


The second step: Long Distances. An aerobic foundation level must be built. To do this, steady state or longer interval are the most efficient.

  1. A 45 minute run or bike or row with HR >82% 1RM.

  2. 4x2000m Row, 3 minute rest

  3. 2000m, 1000m, 500m Row or Ski 1:1 Work Rest OR 1600m, 800m, 400m Run 1:1 work/rest.


Third step – “to do so quickly.” Fran should take less than 4:00 unbroken. The third step is how quickly can your body flush lactate? To increase your lactate threshold, workouts were the heartrate is up above 85%MHR is required.

  1. 30 second Row OR Ski OR Run OR Bike, 30 Second Rest. Six Rounds. Four minute rest between blocks, three blocks.

  2. 30 second Row OR Ski OR Run OR Bike, 90 Second Rest. In 90 second rest, 5x KB Clean and Jerk. 10-15 Rounds


Do you see the difference – By doing the workouts above, you will get better at a host of test, rather than grind yourself into the ground repeating the same test over and over again. This principal is the same for all types of test.

 To get faster at a 5k, you don’t run 3.1 miles over and over again. Rather, you do speed work, mile repeats and other workouts designed at becoming a better runner, then you test your 5k again. Do you see a pattern here?

 We are not banging our heads in the wall, doing the same WOD over and over again expecting different results, rather we are attacking the components of the workout to get better. This is what all professional athletes do, work on the components of fitness (strength, power, power endurance and endurance) and let the test (the games workout or the 5k) evaluate the effectiveness of the program.


George Cullen