Tunnel vs. Funnel – Training With Purpose

By t. | In Articles, Training | on January 9, 2014

If you want to be good at something, you have to train it.  Mastering a skill means hundreds, or thousands mastery of hours of practice and after that, another hundred thousand hours of practicing it well.  Becoming a master of any multifaceted discipline, requires each skill to be honed individually, then brought together as a whole.  In my military job, I had to be good many things.  Since each of those things could easily mean success or failure of a mission, mastery of each was the only option.  So to get “tuned up” on shooting we did 4-6 week shooting packages to get everyone as good as they could get at shooting.  After that, shooting was moved sideways from priority one to maintenance.  Next we would shift the focus to another skill set, train it, get proficient and repeat until it was almost time to deploy.  Just before deployment, we would do a full profile mission workup.  I did not realize it then, but we were pushing our training through a “funnel”…  broad subjects and skills then narrowing and focusing efforts towards a set mission.  The training method allowed for all the separate skill sets to be developed and the team set for combat operations.

tunnelThere are two basic ways to train for a sport…  in a tunnel or through a funnel. Let’s pretend you are a quarterback.  It is pretty easy to design a training template.  Obviously this is very simplified, but offseason is recovery/rehab and GPP strength and conditioning.  Preseason conditioning becomes focused and very skill specific.  In season you would hone your skills, but not push yourself to exhaustion.  Each game becomes the focus.

It is seemingly more complicated to train CrossFit through the funnel.  The sport of CrossFit is GPP.  There are so many different skill sets to work on that many athletes and coaches do not know how to separate the different skills and give them focus.  I believe much of that is the general lack of understanding and education of physiology.

Most CrossFitters train in a tunnel.  It is an unfocused, bouncing from wall to wall way of training towards the Games.  Their  programming tends to have no clearly defined goals or focus.  The typical CrossFit “programming” these days include a daily dose of strength, metcon, and gymnastics.  If you took ten pieces of gravel, labeled them with the ten physical skills, then dropped them down a piece of six inch pipe, the unorganized order they hit the ground is the basic equivalent of how most CrossFit athletes train.  There is no periodization, much less cycles, meso cycles, or micro cycles in their training.  Rest days are random and deloading is non existent.

Additionally, many top athletes compete at local events in what I consider the off season, September-December, and worse, preseason January – March.  Competing takes days or even weeks to recover from.  That is like a quarterback, the week before the Superbowl, jumping into a semi-pro game… “just to see where he is at”.

I consider the regional competition, the Mid-Atlantic Regional, the only event that matters. Local events waste valuable training time.  This year, since we hosted it, I did allow my athletes compete in the Legacy Series event in December.  It was an exception to one my steadfast rules…  no local competitions while training for the Games.  Our team won, but they did so by doing only what it took to win.  They never pushed to 100%.  We treated it like any other training day, not a competition.  It was the most intelligent approach to competing in the off season as I could come up with.

Being the only gate we have to get through to go on the Games, Regionals is our priority. We plan backwards towards it.  Sound funny?  Most folks plan ahead.  Backwards planning is common in some military units, but not as much in the civilian word.  I could write an entire article on backwards planning, its considerations, and how to do it effectively, so I will not go into it here.

In 8-12 week periods the training focuses on a few major components of the needed physical requirements to compete seriously in CrossFit.  The focus of the periods progress towards, or narrows, at the specific requirements for our sport.  This narrowing is “the funnel”.


Max strength and endurance are the most difficult and time consuming to develop.  They get the most time and attention in our camp.  Olympic lifting is where most athletes spend their time.  If you have the strength, I can teach you Oly technique and have you moving some serious weight in a couple of weeks.  Skeptical?  I have a 140lbs female who spent four months strength training with me.  The second time I ever had her Jerk, she hit 188lbs with ease and only a slight wobble press.  Then there is CrossFit…  what about the “metcon” workouts?  We start that stuff when the CrossFit Open begins.  It does not matter where you finish in the open, as long as it is good enough to get to Regionals.  Last year Amanda Welliver finished 32nd in the Open in our region.  If she had of competed as an individual at Regionals six weeks later, she would have finished in the top ten.  I use the Open and weeks between it and Regionals to develop the energy systems needed for the the CrossFit WODs.  So many athletes waste valuable training time during the Open.  Not only have they begun their “metabolic conditioning” earlier than they needed to, but the practice of redoing an open workout to get a couple more reps wastes even more valuable training days.


The best Oly lifters… but we only work on the lifts 2-3 months per year. Focused programming trumps randomly varied.

Some folks disagree with me.  There are obviously other ways to skin the CrossFit kitty.  I have people say “Froning (or whoever) doesn’t do that” or the “Outlaw Way says…”.   There are few Fronings out there and if you want to win in competition, you cannot copy your competitor, you have to better them.  As far as Outlaw, OPT, or any other outside programming goes, I take pride in developing my athletes.  Win or lose, I can own our results.  Trying to apply another coaches program to your athletes means you lose their vision and copycats always lose…  but that too, is another topic.

Finally, I always feel compelled to address the “hard ‘tard” CrossFitters when discussing training protocol.  You know them… they are the athletes who train on rest days, work above the loads their coach programs, only train what they are good at and never deload.  They also tend to be injured and have mobility issues.  They have all the training drive in the world, but are simply too dumb to control themselves.  That lack of control makes their tunnel wider than others, and therefore even less focused.  They are known for the one thing they like to train.  It may be their deadlift, their muscle ups, walking on their hands or maybe Oly lifting.  That makes them a gimmick as far as I am concerned.  A tunnel, or focused training program is typically the only way to get this type of athlete on course and reach their potential.

The tunnel is fun.  The funnel is focus.


One Comment to "Tunnel vs. Funnel – Training With Purpose"

  • Tanner says:

    January 9, 2014 at 3:51 pm -

    Awesome! Definitely the way we train down here in TX. We have very few folks ready to compete at regionals, so we break our cycles up and have them peak every 18 weeks or so.

    This way we get a good dose of strength, power, and speed, then have some fun testing that. Basic periodization in a CF setting.

    Great post!