The Adaptation of Kyle Gardiner

The Adaptation of Kyle Gardiner

This blog post is about the detailed approach in the building of Kyle’s training program, which took him from 567th  in the 2014 CrossFit Open to 79th (Australia Region) after only working together for 7 months.

Kyle was 37 when he first came to me in August 2014, with the goal of going top 100 in the 2015 Open. At that time I knew how hot the competition was getting and said we would do some testing to establish the realism of the task.

The first thing any good plan has is a start point and an end point. We had the end point, top 100 in the Open, but we needed to establish the start point.

Here is a picture of the very first day’s testing from August.

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As the weeks went on it was pretty clear to see his strengths and weaknesses. His primary weakness was the aerobic side with a 2km row time of 7:29 and a 5km run time of 26.06 during week one and two of testing respectively and second to that was his shoulder stability and strength.

His strengths were his ability to move weight, partially due to his size (95kg), and also the quality of his gymnastics movements. He had very little Muscle Endurance but his movements were correct. Gymnastics and weightlifting are arguably the hardest skills to develop and master, and having these skills already moderately taken care of made things a lot easier.

If we looked at a power/endurance continuum Kyle thrived on the left and was way weaker the further he came to the right.

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Another key indicator was the length of time it took him to recover from an aerobic stimulus. With all of my athletes I monitor HRV (Heart Rate Variability) to help determine their training. It gives a great indication as to the body’s state and whether it is recovered or in the process of recovering. With Kyle there was a common trend that every time we had a high load aerobic session his HRV would significantly drop and stay down for up to four days. I could tell immediately that he wasn’t at all conditioned to aerobic training.

On inspection of his movements and motor patterns with video analysis we could see one of the main causes of his breakdown in performance came from a weak posterior chain. Whether it was pulling from the ground, squatting, rowing or running, his weak lower back, glutes and hamstrings created a tendency to favour his quads with everything and led to a huge lack of performance across multiple movements (row, deadlift, snatch) and his lower back becoming tight doing almost everything.

Here are his placing’s during the 2014 Open:

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You can see the big failures were in workout 1 and 3 which both heavily depended on the posterior chain and pulling from the ground. The workouts he did better in involved squats, gymnastics or both. All of the weaknesses discovered during testing would serve as the focus for the following six months.

Once I had Kyle’s start and end point it was time to develop a program that got him from point A to point B. The macrocycle was broken into month long blocks, and after the testing phase we only had six months to prepare which is a ridiculously short amount of time.

As with all programs I focus on the weakness of the weakness and went straight to work prescribing posterior chain activation, aerobic base and shoulder stability/strength work. There was no time to just do ‘CrossFit’, we had to hammer home the weaknesses ASAP with laser like focus!! There were very little typical CrossFit workouts prescribed, we just coordinated firing the right muscles, ran and rowed for the vast majority of the training.

Although CrossFit in general follows a non-linear model of training, and even people that compete at CrossFit will follow a non-linear periodisation, with Kyle we kept things non-linear (training all of the energy systems on a weekly basis) but within each system kept things relatively linear.


Safety, timing and control. If you haven’t read my other blogs about injuries being the biggest factor on limiting growth then it might come as a surprise to you, but a linear model of training is a lot safer. With volume gradually increasing, then decreasing with the addition of intensity, the body is use to what it is being given with the performance still increasing. My primary goal with everyone is to prevent injury (because injuries f*ck up everything).

So here is how the macrocycle looked:

Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb
Layer  1 Post Chain
Aerobic Base Aerobic Speed Posterior Chain Strength Posterior Chain
Skill Work
Layer 2 Aerobic Base Isolated Post Chain Endurance/
Posterior Chain Endurance Aerobic Speed Endurance CrossFit CrossFit
Layer 3 Skill Work Skill Work Skill Work Skill Work Skill Work CrossFit
Layer 4 Anaerobic Endurance Anaerobic Power Anaerobic Endurance Anaerobic Power Functional Aerobic Speed Endurance CrossFit
Layer 5 Strength and LME Maintenance Strength and LME Maintenance Strength and LME Maintenance Strength and LME Maintenance Strength and LME Maintenance Strength and LME Maintenance

This means that on a weekly basis ‘Layer 1’ would be done five times a week as the first part of the session, ‘Layer 2’ would also be done five times a week but as the second part of the session, ‘Layer 3’ would be done four times a week but it would be the third part of the session, ‘Layer 4’ and ‘Layer 5’ would be done three times a week as the final parts of the session (yes, strength training last).

Within each of those blocks, each layer followed it’s own little linear periodisation. So in the Aerobic Base work we built Kyle’s running, rowing and Assault Bike endurance up gradually. By the end of October he was running 10km at a 5:00 km pace and rowing 5000m at a 1:50 500m split pace.

Once we began working on his aerobic speed he became good friends with the 400m running track, spending two days a week completing his interval training. We also conducted sets of up to 10 x 400m rows which were consistently around 1:15 in duration. And when we moved into the following months we bought in functional movements into the interval training but ensured the heart rate was still high and he never stopped moving. When we re-tested his 2km Row before the Open he came in at 7:05.

Once Kyle recognised how to switch on his posterior chain and keep it switched on we followed a linear LBBS (Low Bar Box Squat) program for the month of December. The LBBS is hugely under-utilised in most CrossFit programs. I believe that for the majority of the people that have problems pulling from the ground that this exercise can fix it. The movement pattern is near enough the same but the arms and shoulders are taken out of the equation and 100% of the load goes through the back. With no deadlifting done at all his 1RM went from 190kg to 205kg (in five weeks).

To help with his shoulder stability and strength we did literally 100’s of Turkish Get Up’s and kept his pressing movements strict. We followed a predominantly eccentric (tempo) Strict Press program for his strength work which I have found builds strength quickly, especially with more isolated movements.

Once January rocked around we started to bring all of it together, his weaknesses had been severely addressed and it was time to start doing more specific CrossFit style training. The closer we came to the Open the more specific training became and the true test was the five weeks during the Open.

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The entire time on a daily bases we monitored his HRV and his HR, which helped prescribe the days training and gave me an insight into how his body was recovering from the training.

Using this method we were able to improve everything in isolation, from all of our aerobic tests, through max UB reps and other muscle endurance work and most areas of strength. The significant gain was in the aerobic domain, which brought him up to be a balanced athlete.

Kyle is a professional stunt coordinator and was working in Thailand on a movie for the majority of the program, which included long ass days on set and broken eating habits. The one thing that made everything work was his commitment. He got sick once during those six months and had a few days off but apart from that he backed up training everyday without question.

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Not many people have that sort of discipline and he must take full credit for his achievements. During one of the weeks when there was a 7km Row planned and Kyle had no access to a rowing machine we changed the program to 300 Burpees instead, and without question he went in and did them.

If you are interested in seriously excelling within the sport of CrossFit then join the Underground RX Athlete Program and notice the difference! A new training cycle starts this coming Monday after the Open so click HERE to find out more and sign up.

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