Programming Micro-cycles for Crossfit Gymnastics (Part 2)

Programming Micro-cycles for Crossfit Gymnastics (Part 2)
In this post we delve into our approach and philosophy with regards to programming micro-cycles for Crossfit Gymnastics. If you haven't already read my first blog post on programming then please do so before taking the time to read through this post. Otherwise some of the concepts and approaches may be difficult to relate to / understand.


As mentioned in the first post, I loosely define a micro-cycle as a 4-8 week cycle focusing on developing a specific skill. I used the word loosely because it could last for longer than 8 weeks and it's also not an entirely accurate definition of a micro-cycle It is, however, how I define it in terms of our programming for Crossfit Gymnastics. For example, let’s say your general muscular endurance is good specific to Crossfit Gymnastics but for whatever reason your C2B pull-ups are lagging behind the rest then a micro-cycle might be an 8 week cycle that develops your efficiency, muscular endurance and capacity in C2B pull-ups. As explained in part 1, you also don't want to neglect other skills. You should run more than one micro-cycle at the same time for different skills. Even skills that are already a relative strength, you will need to run  maintenance cycles to ensure you they don't become a weakness. There's little to no value in improving one skill only at the expense of another.

Understand the "phases" from part 1

Assuming you know which skill you are going to focus on, the next step is to evaluate and establish the missing links or "kinks in your armour". Let's say, as an example, we are going to develop strict handstand push-ups (HSPU). First of all, let's take a look at our phases from part 1:
  • Phase 1: Building the foundation
  • Phase 2: Higher skill attainment and skill efficiency
  • Phase 3: Maximal strength
  • Phase 4: Muscular endurance
  • Phase 5: Capacity development
  • Phase 6: Crossfit
These "phases", as explained in part 1, are more like priority / focus areas and should not be developed in complete isolation. These phases can effectively be considered meso-cycles that make up the overall macro-cycle for the year (or season). Beneath that, we are now of course looking at micro-cycles for a particular skill. However, you still need to consider these same phases for that particular skill. I will continue to use strict HSPU as an example and have detailed each phase with a series of questions to ask yourself below. However, before we get to that, let's briefly look at the timeframe in some more detail.


First of all you need to decide how long to spend on each area relative to where you identify your missing links. For example, if you have developed all the areas of a good foundation for a particular skill but just lack general strength and conditioning then you could simply focus solely on maximal strength and muscular endurance. Like I said, a micro-cycle usually takes 4-8 weeks but there's no reason it cannot continue for longer if necessary. I will give you an example below that can be used for most skills but you will need to tweak it accordingly.
  • Weeks 1-2: Foundational Development and Skill Efficiency
  • Weeks 3-6: Maximal Strength and Muscular Endurance
  • Weeks 7-8: Capacity Development*
*Although it overlaps, this is different to muscular endurance and will be explained below.

A few general rules and considerations

  1. Foundational development and skill efficiency overlap well and therefore it makes sense to develop them simultaneously.
  2. Maximal strength and muscular endurance, in most cases, can be developed simultaneously specific to Crossfit Gymnastics.
  3. Muscular endurance works best when utilising strict movements. Even if the skill you are choosing to develop is kipping, it's best to develop specific localised muscular endurance through strict movements first.
  4. Capacity development is where you really focus on building "capacity" in kipping movements, unless of course you are focusing solely on strict movements. If you are focusing on strict movements, you might still include this phase to practice maintaining keeping your new, improved technique and endurance under high heart rate (more on this coming up in the "Capacity Development" section).
  5. If you are lacking areas of foundational development then these will likely take longer than 4-8 weeks to develop and therefore should be an integral part of your overall plan (your macro-cycle for the year / season). It's also like that if these areas are lacking that they will be impacting other skills too and not just this one.

Foundational Development

Is there a fundamental lack of foundational development that is causing an issue in the development of your chosen skill?
  • Scapula stability and mobility
    • Strict HSPU question examples:
      • Do you have active control of your scapula? Do you have the mobility (strength + flexibility) and stability to be able to safely control and complete a bent arm overhead press using the correct mechanics and positioning?
  • Flexibility
    • Strict HSPU question examples:
      • Do you have good enough shoulder flexion and thoracic extension flexibility to perform a strict HSPU using the correct mechanics and positioning?
  • Awareness
    • Strict HSPU question examples:
      • Do you have a general awareness of positions whilst inverted (in handstand)? Do you understand and can you actively feel the difference between hollow, straight alignment and arch whilst upside down?
  • Connective tissue
    • Strict HSPU question examples:
      • Have you spent dedicated time to strengthening your connective tissue ready for when we start significantly increasing the volume and intensity in the maximal strength and muscular endurance phases?
If you can't answer yes to all of the above questions then you are absolutely setting yourself up for failure. You will probably improve your strict HSPU just by doing more strict HSPU but the gains will likely be marginal. Your progress will always be limited and will plateau quickly. I don't want to go into too much detail specific to HSPU because this isn't the topic of this post. However, you need to understand that if these foundational areas are not first developed, you will just simply not be able to produce the optimum amount of pressing power and you are going to use more energy trying to stabilise and "force" the correct positioning.

Higher Skill Attainment

We can effectively put higher skill attainment aside because we are looking at a specific skill and given that you are looking to run a micro-cycle for that skill, it's safe to assume that you can already do it. Maybe not well but you already have it and therefore it's no longer higher skill attainment. If you wanted to improve your skill level relevant to the micro-cycle then you could do it here. For example, we have chosen to develop strict HSPU so at this point I might decide that I want to spend some time learning free standing HSPU. It is a higher version of the skill that we are using for the micro-cycle and therefore it makes sense to include it here.

Skill Efficiency

We are looking at strict HSPU and therefore skill efficiency is not so much of a big deal. Generally speaking, there is less efficiency adjustments with strict movements because we are effectively taking out the opportunity to make efficiency gains through improving the kip. There is however, still efficiency involved.
  • Movement Patterns
    • Strict HSPU example question
      • Are you keeping your centre of mass in the optimum place in order to generate the most power through your base (hands)?
  • Positioning
    • Strict HSPU example questions
      • Are you using the right positions, at the correct time, in your strict HSPU?
      • Is your hand / head placement correct?
  • Scapula Placement
    • Strict HSPU example question
      • Are you using the correct scapula positioning? Are you starting the rep with your scapula elevated (top of handstand) and allowing your scapula to effectively depress and protract (slightly) as you begin the descent down to a headstand position? (The second part is more of a natural occurrence). Are you then actively elevating your scapula in order to begin the ascent?
You will notice that these questions appear to overlap somewhat with the foundational development phase. However, the foundational phase was more about developing the strength, end range (flexibility), stability in order to obtain the correct positions, scapula placement etc. This phase is about actually learning to implement those points at the correct time during the reps.

Maximal Strength

As spoken about in part 1, maximal strength can be seen as the basis for muscular endurance which is arguably the most important phase for competitive Crossfit, at least from the perspective of Gymnastics. I have explained why in part 1 so I won't do it again. For a movement like a pull-up, dip, muscle-up, this phase is much easier to understand and implement because you can effectively add weight. For maximal strength you want to be in the 1-5 rep range. For example, you can do weighted dips, pull-ups and muscle-ups. Doing weighted HSPU, although possible, is more difficult and not ideal. A better solution would be to spend time developing deficit HSPU. You can do so by using bumper plates or parallettes. You can also add tempo eccentrics (negatives). Eccentrics are generally much harder on your central nervous system, though. So take that into consideration. This phase is effectively about doing smaller sets of near or maximal effort reps with increased intensity which in most cases comes through added weight, at least for Crossfit Gymnastics. I would recommend just using simple linear progressions. Either gradually and progressively increase the weight (or deficit) each week, or gradually increase the volume of reps. However, as a general rule, try to keep the volume to lower than a total of 30 reps in sets of 5 or less. Rest periods of 2-3 minutes between sets. If it gets too easy, do not increase the volume past 30 and do not increase the rest periods between sets. Otherwise you start to fall into the realm of muscular endurance. Instead, like I said before, increase the weight, deficit, eccentric tempo or whatever appropriate linear progression you are using.

Muscular Endurance

When developing muscular endurance, as a general rule, complete sets of above 5 reps. Also, try to make sure you are working:resting at a 1:1 ratio or resting for less than you are working but this will of course depend on your max unbroken set for the particular skill. You also want to try to keep moving for the work station. For example, try to do HSPU for the entire time instead of keep breaking them up into small sets. However, that is of course dependent on how big your max set is and how long you can go unbroken for. If you have to break, try to just shake your arms and get straight back in and carry on. You are training your body to recover faster which is ultimately what muscular endurance is. How long your muscles can keep going before they fatigue and physically break down. Similar to maximal strength, use a simple linear progression. Don't overcomplicate things. You are effectively trying to increase the total number of reps you can complete in a given time period, complete the same number of total reps in a shorter time period or a combination of both. Try these cycles to develop your muscular endurance. Generally speaking, they work for most Crossfit Gymnastics skills. Both strict and kipping but as I mentioned before, the best way to develop localised muscular endurance is through strict movements. The cycle only changes depending on your max unbroken set.
Max unbroken set of your chosen skill = 20+
5 sets @ 40%, 50%, 60%+, 40%, 40% For example, if your max unbroken set is 20 you will do the following: 1 x 8, 1 x 10, 1 x 12+, 2 x 8 You will notice the 3rd set (60%) has a plus. This set should always be a max-out set. Not to complete failure. You always stop when your technique breaks down or 1-2 reps before you reach complete muscular fatigue to the point where you physically fail reps. Consider it a "technical max". It's also a good learning curve because you will develop a better ability to understand how fatigued you are at a given point in time which is of course very important in Crossfit. If you don't have this awareness then you risk pushing too hard in a metcon and reaching complete failure. Remember that muscular fatigue is different to high heart rate. You might be able to push through a high heart rate for longer but once your muscular fatigue reaches "the point of no return" you are in trouble. It is important for the cycle to be progressive but equally if you are having a good day, you want to take advantage of it, and that means going above and beyond your percentages. If you are having a not so good day, then you still have the minimum target of 60% to hit. To begin with start a new set every 2 minutes. Each week add 1 rep to each set (except the final 2). When it starts to get really challenging and you struggle to hit the prescribed numbers, reset them back to the above and start again, this time you will gradually reduce the rest periods each week. So week 1 will start every 2 minutes, just like the original week 1, then week 2 might start every 1m45s and so on. This is how the full cycle might look: Week 1: 1 x 8, 1 x 10, 1 x 12+, 2 x 8. Starting a new set every 2 minutes. Week 2: 1 x 9, 1 x 11, 1 x 13+, 2 x 8. Starting a new set every 2 minutes. Week 3: 1 x 10, 1 x 12, 1 x 14+, 2 x 8. Starting a new set every 2 minutes. Week 4: 1 x 11, 1 x 13, 1 x 15+, 2 x 8. Starting a new set every 2 minutes. Week 5: 1 x 8, 1 x 10, 1 x 12+, 2 x 8. Starting a new set every 1m45s. Week 6: 1 x 8, 1 x 10, 1 x 12+, 2 x 8. Starting a new set every 1m30s. Week 7: 1 x 8, 1 x 10, 1 x 12+, 2 x 8. Starting a new set every 1m15s. Week 8: 1 x 8, 1 x 10, 1 x 12+, 2 x 8. Starting a new set every 1 minute. Re-test and re-start based upon your new numbers. You can of course experiment with reducing rest and increasing rep volume but the above is a relatively simple approach that's easy to follow, and usually very successful. You can always shorten or lengthen the time frame of the micro-cycle by making the rep increases / rest period reductions more drastic or more gradual.
Max unbroken set of your chosen skill = 8-19
10 x EMOM (start a new set every minute on the minute for 10 minutes) using 25% of your max unbroken set. Final minute is a 'plus' set (max-out). Follow the same principles as above for the max-out set. Go to a "technical max". For example, if your max unbroken set of strict HSPU is 10, you will do: 10 x EMOM of 2.5 reps. You can't do half reps? Of course you can't. Round up or down accordingly. I recommend being conservative to begin with and rounding down. You can always just push harder on the max-out set. Each week you will progressively add reps. The cycle might therefore look as follows: Week 1: 10 x EMOM of 2 reps (final minute is 'plus') Week 2: 10 x EMOM: 3 reps for the first 3 minutes, 2 reps for the next 7 minutes (final minute is still 'plus') Week 3: 10 x EMOM: 3 reps for the first 6 minutes, 2 reps for the next 4 minutes (final minute is still 'plus') Week 4: 10 x EMOM: 3 reps for the first 9 minutes, then the final minute is still 'plus' You could also decrease the rest periods by starting every 55s, 50s, 45s etc but for this cycle, progressively adding reps each week tends to work better.
Max unbroken set of the chosen skill < 8 (< 5 for muscle-ups)
To be honest, at this point you're not really developing endurance. Your issue is going to either be your strength, skill efficiency and/or foundational development. Your micro-cycle shouldn't be focusing on muscular endurance at this point. If you want to develop endurance in a similar way then scale the movement to something whereby you can complete a bigger max set. In the example of strict HSPU, this might be box handstand push-ups.

Capacity Development

In this phase, assuming you are including it within your micro-cycle, is dedicated to building your capacity in kipping movements and learning to keep the efficiency we have worked on whilst under high heart rate. For example, you might have used strict handstand push-ups to develop your muscular endurance and now you will develop your capacity in kipping HSPU. The two do overlap but have big enough differences to justify having separate phases. First of all, as already mentioned, it's better to develop muscular endurance through strict movements, not kipping. However, kipping is a big part of Crossfit and therefore needs to be trained. Capacity development is the real test your skill efficiency. In particular, how it breaks down when your muscles become fatigued and your heart rate is high. This needs to be trained and not necessarily just be doing high intensity metcons. Getting your technique in kipping movements can be difficult enough without fatigue and high heart rate. If you think it will come naturally whilst in a metcon, you are just outright wrong. You need to train it. Start by gradually increasing your heart rate. Then increase it more by upping the intensity. Once you have mastered keeping your technique and capacity with high heart rate, you must then add in muscular fatigue. The process should be gradual and if your technique starts to break down excessively, you should take a step back. The more bad quality reps you do, the harder it will be to change. The more good quality reps you do, the more fatigue it will take to revert back to bad technique. Perfect practice makes perfect, not just practice. Simple. Stage 1: Gradually increase your heart rate whilst performing kipping movements. Add in a low eccentric movement like rowing or assault bike. This will stop too much muscular fatigue settling in but allow you to raise your heart rate. Nothing crazy at this point, just at an easy aerobic pace. For example, 20 minutes slow assault bike. Every 4 minutes complete 25% of your max unbroken kipping HSPU. Stage 2: Increase the intensity. Gradually build your heart rate into that uncomfortable lactate zone and see how your technique and capacity in kipping movements changes. For example, 5 rounds of 60s hard assault bike, 25% of your max unbroken kipping HSPU Stage 3: Add in additional muscular fatigue. This is the stage in which you would add in other Crossfit movements. For example, a triplet with kipping HSPU, rowing and power snatches (those movements are just random examples).

Final Message

Understand each of the phases because they also relate to specific skills. Understand which areas (phases) a particular skill is lacking and needs development. Establish a progressive plan in order to improve that given skill. This plan will typically last between 4-8 weeks but there's no reason  it cannot last much longer, or even be relatively continuous.   I hope you have enjoyed part 2 of the programming blog post. I also hope you have found the information thought provoking and useful. Until next time ...   Matt James @1mattjames1 Jacked Gymnastics @jackedgymnastics