Cerebral Sunday – Programming Insights

Welcome to the first installment of Cerebral Sunday!  We coaches have a ton of information in our heads and soap boxes to stand on haha, so each Sunday we will share some of it with you. We will cover a variety of topics but the purpose of each is to give you insights on why we do things or how to do things better.  There is a long list of things we want to talk about, so let us know what interests you most and we will push it to the top!

With the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Open around the corner, I wanted to start off with the topic of programming.

Why do you care about how programming is done?

In Day 1 of your CrossFit experience with us, we described CrossFit as constantly varied, functional movements, at high intensity.  As we expanded upon the idea of constant variance we mentioned  that it is varied with purpose and not just random selection of movements, weights,  and rep schemes. Realistically you don’t NEED to know about all the theory behind our programming for it to work.  That said, understanding WHY I am having you do what you do will help you put the pieces together and can even assist you in setting the right goals and expectations for yourself at the right times.

How do we do it?

At the end of the day, programming is part art and part science.  This inherently leads to different approaches by different coaches. Even inside the CrossFit community there are tons of coaches that disagree with one another and many of them still produce amazing results.  So at the end of the day there is no one right answer but by thinking through things and constantly learning, you can definitely create one heck of a program for the community.  Thus, what I will explain below is a very high level glimpse of my own view that started forming in 2001 when I became a personal trainer and continues to evolve as I study and borrow from some of the best minds within and outside of CrossFit.

When programming, I schedule intentional biases.  I start by separating the year into phases with specific goals and then drill each phase into months and each month into weeks.    I adjust the short term (weekly) execution of the programming as we go along to respond to the strengths and weaknesses I observe in you and the rest of the community.  The key to all of this is choosing some kind of event to plan this scheduling (we call it periodization) around.  For us, that event is the Open in late February.  We will talk about it more in the coming weeks.

So here is how it comes to fruition:

  • March: “Movement Bias with Tapering” – The month of March is the Open – our competition season.  This means that each Saturday in March we will be trying to perform our absolute best on the released WOD.  It could be anything but due to the challenges of judging globally, some movements are more likely than others.  As such, our March focuses on perfecting the efficiency of these movements.  At the same time, we want to be in tip top shape for Saturday; therefore, I taper off  towards the end of the week to allow you to rest before the WOD.
  • April – June: “Perfect Movement” – Once the open is over, the slate is clean and we have an entire year to get better before the next one.  This is the perfect time to take a step back…sometimes two…and perfect our form.  As we always say, form trumps all.  Form is what keeps you safe.  Form is what allows you to maximize strength.  Form is what allows you to maximize your work capacity.  During this time frame, we will back down the intensity (load and volume) a bit, and be even more obsessed than usual with perfect movement.
  • July – October: “Strength Season” – With our newly found perfect movement, we are now prepped for the strength phase.  These 4 months are critical to our development.  Strength helps in everything we do including feats that require endurance.  We will have specific programs geared to increase our total body strength.  Weights will get heavier over time but will never be unsafe.  For those of you around this time last year, you may remember the Hatch program.  That program is a perfect example of the kind of thing we do.
  • November – January: “Met Con Strength” – This phase is perhaps my favorite.  We now use our new found strength to build work capacity beyond our previous capabilities.  In this phase, I keep weights heavier than normal but insert them into met cons.  This allows us to continue to build strength but also ramps up our metabolic conditioning.  The result is a bunch of nasty WODs that yield fit and confident members!
  • January – February: “Work Capacity” – Last but not least is the phase we are in now, the work capacity phase.  With the open just 6-8 weeks away it’s time to maximize our ability to do work.  After all, that is THE thing the open tests.  Your work capacity will already be higher than before, but not up to it’s full potential.  We back down the weights, focus on efficiency of movement and cycling, perform high skill work, and crush open-like met cons.  We will focus a bit more on the movements that are typically in the open so we can best prepare ourselves.

A few things to keep in mind

Bias doesn’t mean we cut everything else.  We will ALWAYS keep our fitness general.  We will continue to work on all 10 general skills of fitness.  We simply are strategic in working on some of them more than others at different times throughout the year.  In other words, even when we do strength we will still work met con and vice versa.  We just simply work on strength more in the strength phase than we do in other phases.

Our programming is always scalable and doable by everyone.  Everyone will always have different ability levels and limitations.  Regardless if we are lifting small weights fast or large weights slower, we will continue to scale for your individual needs.  A great example of this is heavy back squatting.  Some of you simply don’t have the squat form to handle large loads properly when back squatting.  We won’t load you up and say good luck just because it is strength season!  Instead some of you may squat to boxes, or use sleds, or simply work on squat form with little to no load.  As soon as you can hold a larger load safely, then we will help you progress 🙂

Biasing is necessary even if you aren’t a competitor.  At the end of the day, most, if not all, of us have no aspirations to make it to the Reebok CrossFit Games.  So why does biasing matter to us?  The answer is simple – without biasing we would progress slower.  Biasing gives us the variety we need to properly and completely train our total fitness.  Each piece of our fitness is related to the other and by biasing the development of one we are able to increase the potential to develop the other.  Let’s go back to the strength example.  Many members increased their front squat by at least 20 pounds during the squat cycle.  Now let’s take the WOD “Karen” – 150 Wall Balls (20/14) for time.  Think how much lighter that ball is relative to when you started the squat cycle.  You are now able to move it easier and more often, which results in higher work capacity and a better Karen time.  So by biasing your strength you have increased work capacity!  Just think of the new heights you can achieve when we make work capacity the bias!

I hope this little soliloquy was helpful and interesting to you.  If not, at least you have some new material to aid you in nights plagued by insomnia.  



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