The Black Box

Matt Articles


I’m feeling posty lately so I’m going to give it another go:

Yesterday I insisted that specialization was the bane of fitness. Fitness was the choice of working as many of those 10 recognized physical skills as possible, preferably possessing a minimum level of competency in all of them, and maintaining a balance with random functional movements executed at high intensities. With dialed in focus one can mimic the demands of a busy household, combat, police, or fire work with their CrossFit training regimen.

Today, I’m going to say the opposite. Well, sorta.

For those of you who do work in police, fire, or are in the service you probably have to take those nasty little things called PFT’s. Physical Fitness Tests: the litany of running, sit-ups, pull-ups, and push-ups that have impossible standards for advanced scores and don’t measure a damn ounce of functional fitness. 100 push-ups against a 2 minute countdown has nothing to do with dragging a 140 pound casualty down 3 flights of burning stairs or leaping out of the patrol vehicle to chase down some jerk who’s hopping fences like a rabbit.

We all have goals we want to meet in conjunction with developing our functional capacity.

Enter the Black Box. The Black Box was an idea originally developed by Coach Rutman. You can visit his site by accessing the “Fitness Conduit” in our friends section. Do yourself a favor and make that trip.

The Black Box takes the typical CrossFit 3 days on 1 day off template and substitutes the middle day with maximum effort strength training. In the original incarnation one would do a CrossFit WOD that involved heavy metabolic conditioning and a monostructural movement (running, rowing, or swimming) followed by lifting the next day, and on the 3rd day perform another metabolic CrossFit WOD. The lifts were focused lifts, which is to say on the first lifting day one would do a full body lift (squat clean), on the second a lower body lift (back squat), and on the third an upper body lift (weighted pull-ups). All the lifts followed a particular rep scheme that is not important to elaborate on here. They were also maximum effort lifts which is, in my opinion, why they produced excellent results. This all out effort will be important to remember when you decided to black box a movement.

The idea of the Black Box was to put a whole bunch of moves in the box and have results emerge from the other side. If a strength base could be shored up one could put even more extreme effort into daily WOD’s and finally achieve that elusive goal: more power output. Essentially one was specializing in order to become good at CrossFit, which is, not specializing.

What’s my point? Well, this concept can be applied to any area in which you have a pronounced weakness. If the push up portion of the PFT is killing you then you would want to Black Box pushing movements. If it’s the sit-ups then you’d want to work something out for those. For all the non-service people, I’m sure you’ve been training at Lombardy or on your own (tsk, tsk) and in the middle of a movement thought, “I really suck at these.” All of us have. We can Black Box that movement and become better at it. Our improvement will proportionally affect our performance as CrossFitters. Being a better CrossFitter means more power output. More power output, in our circle, means greater fitness.

Brandon and I have decided to Black Box running. We’re looking primarily to increase our speed but we wouldn’t mind upping our endurance either. After 12 weeks of following a 5 on 2 off schedule we moved to the 3 on 1 off. This was an accident actually. Stupidly, we thought we could up our work to a 6 on 1 off. Without any light days in the mix, and when I missed work because I could not wake up, we got wise and moved to a 3 and 1.

We figured workouts that demand heavy power output would be best to pair with a running Black Box. This would be sessions of sled dragging, lifting, and heavy bag carries. We perform one CrossFit “girl” a week, a running work out that utilizes intervals, a workout that I have chosen, a workout that Brandon has chosen, a running workout that would primarily focus on technique (especially, foot strikes), and finally a chipper or functional couplet to round out two 3 on 1 off microcycles. Essentially it would look like this-

Sunday: Dianne (21-15-9, 225# Deadlifts, Handstand Push-Ups)

Monday: 200 meter sprintsX8, rest is 3 times longer than run

50m 180# sled drag
10 Squat Cleans 95#
10 Push Press 95#
10 Front Squats 95#
10 Clean and Jerks 95#
50m 180# sled drag
15 Balls Slams
15 Ring Push Ups
15 Thrusters 35# dumbells
15 Calories on the rower
50m 180# sled drag
20 Pull Ups
20 Push Press 35# dumbells
20 Split Cleans 35# dumbbells (10L, 10R)
20 Wall Balls 20#
50m 180# sled drag
25 Push-Ups
25 GHD Sit-ups
25 Air Squats
25 GHD Back Extensions

Wednesday: Rest

200m Beck’s burpees
400m Bearcrawl
200m Waiter’s walk, 1.5 pood kettlebell. Switch hands at 100m
400m 100lb heavy bag carry
200m Firemen’s carry (170 lbs)
200m Sprint

Friday: 10 steep stair ascents for time

Saturday: Byrd Park WOD

This is an exceptionally heavy week but you get the idea. Hopefully, by specializing in running and power we will, when we go back to solely CrossFit, increase our output on metabolic WOD’s exponentially. We shall see at the end of these 12 weeks. Until then, we’ll keep working away at our fitness. We’ll keep specializing to get even better at not specializing.

If anyone has any comments or suggestions we welcome them. We like input.

The original Black Box article can be found in the Performance Menu Issue 3 ( ) It is well worth the $30 a year for a subscription