Last month, a lot of you attempted Fran for your first or second time ever. While it’s not a workout we program all that often, it’s never too early to start preparing for the next Fran Jam. When I say think of a four letter word, starting with “F”, that you scream when you’ve been brought to the floor, beaten down into a pool of your own hot sweat? Yeah, that’s what I thought of too: FRAN! Fran is easily one of the most well-known CrossFit benchmark workouts and for good reason. The workout itself is beautifully simple and yet, incredibly difficult. The 21-15-9 structure, coupled with the difficulty and demands of the two movements make this CrossFit “girl” a real, uh, challenge.
What is Fran?
“If a hurricane that wreaks havoc on a whole town can be Fran, so can a workout,” Coach Greg Glassman just about sums it up for us. We can also thank him for concocting Fran. He was a competitive gymnast and after piecing together a home gym in his parents’ garage, he set out to create a weightlifting workout that would “make you sit on your ass and gasp for air simulating a two minute ring routine.” He wasn’t satisfied with the recommended strengthening exercises – lateral raises and curls – to help gymnasts improve their performance on the rings because he felt that they did not simulate the same feelings and demands of gymnastics ring work.
He basically stumbled into creating the now-famous thruster; finding that when he brought the bar to your chest, dropped down as low as possible and then drove it to overhead multiple times, he was brought to the point of exertion similar to his ring work. He paired these “thrusters” with pullups as he already had a bar installed and came up with the 21-15-9 structure. He freely admits that when he completed the workout that would be known as “Fran” for the first time, he vomited all over the garage floor. Little did he know that eventually CrossFitters the world over would do the same.
So you may ask how in the world could I ever do this horribly daunting workout? Well, no sugar-coating – it’s a killer. But find solace in the fact that it truly is a killer for everyone and even the elite CrossFitters out there, though they turn in phenomenally fast Fran times, still struggle through it. Also like most things in CrossFit, it is scalable and any CrossFitter can give it a go. If you can’t do the prescribed weight, do less! If you can’t bang out the pullups, use an assist band or do jumping pullups. If you can’t get through the sets unbroken, take a break and know that most people can’t either. If you don’t think you can finish, well suck it up and keep going; that’s what I imagine Fran would say anyways.
Though this is definitely a toughen up and bang it out style WOD, there are ways you can prepare and give yourself a fighting chance at Fran. For starters, make sure you’re paying enough attention to your mobility. Both thrusters and pullups demand a challenging mix of strength, flexibility and coordination, so make sure you’re not ignoring your rolling and stretching! Mobility is a critical part of prepping for Fran. Check out the mobility wod video below to hear some great tips and stretches to get you ready for Fran.
Also, pullups are one of those movements where if you get them down, you can save a heck of a lot of time, so focus on improving your pullup fluidity, endurance and cycle time. To bolster your thruster skills, weekly strength work will certainly help; try doing 3 thrusters on the minute for 12 minutes consistently once a week, adding five pounds each week. Additionally, some CrossFitters recommend completing “heavy Frans”, focusing on strength building and then switching back to the prescribed weights and going for speed. Another key of the workout is your grip strength, which allows you to stay on the bar longer; try working on yours with fat bar pull ups and deadlifts as well as farmers walk and sand bag carries.
Some tips on how to approach Fran:
- Come at her with a plan – determine how you’d like to break up your sets before you start. Although the goal and fastest way to complete Fran is to do everything unbroken, your time will suffer greatly if you go unbroken on the first set of 21 thrusters and deplete yourself completely.
- Stay mentally tough during the round of 15 – these thrusters and pull-ups seem to bring most people down so get your game face on and make sure you have someone watching that will remind you to “KEEP GOING!”
Some tips to keep in mind during Fran:
- Don’t shoot for a full front rack position – you can let your elbows drop a bit, which will set you up better to shoot the bar overhead.
- Focus on full thoracic extension – keep your weight in your heels and your shoulders & chest up and extended, no slouching! This will help to spread out the load to all your different leg muscles as opposed to just burning out your quads.
- Don’t put the bar down during thrusters– try to rest in the rack position. If you drop it, you’ll just have to clean it back up, wasting precious time and energy in the process. Instead take your quick breaks during pullups – the time to hop back up on the pullup bar is a whole lot quicker than doing a clean with tired legs.
- Don’t pause during the workout waiting for your breath to return because it doesn’t until well after the workout.
All in all, Fran is the perfect kind of CrossFit fun. She calls on quintessential CrossFit movements in an extremely challenging format and it will never get old or easy; she, like CrossFit, demands constant growth and improvement.
So get out there, get your Fran on and then work your butt off again and again to bring that time down!