Training vs. Testing

A New Age of Programming

From a high-level competitor’s perspective, the days of sprinkling in some skill and strength work pre-WOD and going HAM until you’re puking out the overnight oats you ate for breakfast are long gone.

Our sport is quickly evolving as the years go by, and so has the preparation necessary to qualify for the big competition events.

What seemed like simply throwing a bunch of random workouts on a whiteboard has thoughtfully progressed into a masterful blend of science and art by the top coaches in the space in order to drive their athletes’ adaptation and perform in an optimal state.

Simply put, the best athletes nowadays are approaching their workouts in one of two ways; They are either training or testing.

To figure out how these athletes continue to adapt and make progress, we need to get into what these two principles actually mean.

Difference Between Training and Testing

The difference between programming a training piece and a testing piece is that we’re trying to figure out new information about the athlete in testing.

Basically, the athlete goes all out to try to get the best score possible.

In training, on the other hand, the score isn’t really a major concern. We’re more focused on sustainability, and basically building more volume with whatever skills the athletes need.

Drawbacks of Too Much Testing

In order to be successful and to continue to make progress, you need to know how and when to implement each type of workout accordingly.

One could make the argument that most CrossFit classes are really only testing workouts on a daily basis. It’s ultimately up to the coach to interpret the intention of the workout, but because of the competitive nature of the class, it’s easy to get caught up in trying to max out your score for the day.

From a GPP standpoint, this is fine. You put in the work for the day, you’re most likely a fitter human. However, when we’re talking about optimizing an athlete for competition, it’s important to recognize the drawbacks of too much testing.

The drawbacks are entirely athlete dependant. Factors like training age, specific skills being tested and retrained will dictate how often you should test it.

If someone just started CrossFit a month ago and was told to row 500 meters as quickly as possible once a week for eight weeks, they would more than likely PR that 500-meter row every single time.

Now, if you give that same test to someone who is five years into CrossFit just as frequently, they would more than likely increase their time by maybe two seconds.

At the end of the eight weeks, you’d actually start to see their 500m time getting worse.

The idea is that you want to spend more time training and less time testing. There are different ways to attack each training piece, but the overall goal is to create a positive result at the end of the cycle.

Difference in Volume

When it comes to the amount of volume in a particular type of session, testing days are generally very low in volume because the intensity should be higher.

We don’t want to take away from figuring out what the athlete is capable of, so those days are as controlled as possible.

When I repeat a test, I try to create the same environment each and every time, so during testing days, the volume will be very similar to the previous time we tested.

During training days, the athletes’ training volume is more than likely 3 to 4 times higher than it is during testing.

Striking a Balance

In order to create a balance between training and testing, you have to look at your training first. If you’re an experienced coach or athlete, you can go off of feel.

As an athlete in training, you’ll start to develop more awareness. You’ll recover a little bit faster, and your technique will improve.

These changes are positive indications that you’ve created some adaptation and it might be time to retest whichever skill or task you’re working on improving.

Programming the Tests

There are a few variables to consider when programming for an athlete including their strengths and weaknesses, how often they should be tested and what the actual test should consist of.

Testing on an Individual Level

Most of the tests I use are pretty much used for all of my athletes, as well as the other brute one on one athletes.

We’ve created this huge database, that tracks our athletes’ progress and identifies where their current fitness level is at.

With that being said, I do have key performance indicators that I use for each individual athlete. These personalized performance indicators are based on their fitness level, strengths, and weaknesses. If someone can’t do 100 pull-ups in a workout, I’m obviously not going to test 100 pull-ups.

Our tests are always within the athlete’s capacity.

Testing Frequency

Like I mentioned before, an athlete’s training age plays a big role in how often they get to test.

Their fitness really depends on the athlete and their experience in the sport, training age, and level of fitness.

Beginners typically test a little bit more often because adaptation is faster.

Elite athletes test a little bit less often because it takes a lot more for them to create adaptation.

Classic CrossFit Benchmarks

I use traditional CrossFit benchmarks for testing very often.

There is a ton of data out there for our athletes to reference, and most of them have already done them at some point, or are aware of them at the very least.

The girls and other classic benchmark workouts are a great way to identify where an athlete currently sits with their fitness and happen to be great performance indicators.

Personal Favorite Test

One of my personal favorite tests that we use here at Brute is 10 rounds of 500 meters on the rower, and 15 burpees.

Simple and effective.

This is a pretty common test that most of my athletes have done. Depending on what their score is, I’ll give them different ways to train it.

The first part is identifying what the limiting factors were for them. This could be the rowing portion, the burpees, or even just a lack of power output.

How we train for this specific test is usually dependant on one of those limiting factors.

The best way to do this is through interval training.

Some example training pieces include 500-meter repeats on the rower or intervals more similar to the task at hand such as 10 sets of 250 meters on the rower, 8 burpees and 35 double unders with a 1-minute rest between sets.

The goal with these intervals is to slowly increase the volume and intensity over time to create an adaptation.

Training With Intention

Like I mentioned before, during testing, I tell all my athletes that the goal is to get the best possible score. That’s typically the intention during a testing piece.

In training, It’s all about sustaining their efforts and making sure that they don’t have any critical drop-offs or basically fall off during the training piece.


Hopefully, now you have a clear understanding of the differences between training and testing.

If you’re someone who dedicates a good portion of your time in the gym in hopes of earning a qualifying spot at a sanctioned event or the CrossFit Games, you’ll want to make sure that every ounce of your time and energy count.

The Brute 1-on-1 coaching team is the best in the business.

With multiple games athletes, we know how to build athletes from the ground up and coach them at the highest level.

If you’re looking to take your training to the next level, click here to apply.

I’d love the chance to help you reach your goals.

– Coach El