Exercise Programming - Keep It Simple, Have Some FUN!


Exercise programming is an interesting topic.  It is a beautiful thing when done well - truly an art form.  Science based programming is important for progression and knowing when to back off, go hard, go heavy, go long/short etc.  Variance is absolutely key to the success of an athlete as well.  There are many, many things to consider when approaching a general exercise program built for the masses.  Below are answers to commonly asked questions and comments.

"Why are the WODs not longer?"

The main event, as I like to call it - usually Part B on the whiteboard - should be anywhere from 5 minutes to 20 minutes with a very small percentage outside this range (shorter or longer). The shorter the WOD, generally the higher the intensity. Once the 20 minute mark has been exceeded, the intensity level will decrease significantly.  Most of the potential gains to be made past this point will be mostly mental - not to say there isn't any point in going past this timeline, there are benefits, but it doesn't need to be done frequently.  Frequently working past the 20 minute mark could translate to sloppy movement, more potential for injury, copious amounts of repetitions that could be hard on the body and require even more recovery and rest days.

70% of your conditioning workouts should fall between 8-12 minutes, 15% up to 8 minutes, and 15% over 12 minutes. 

Many people are quick to judge a quality program because it doesn't play to their strengths or their desires.  Attending the gym only on the days you like the look of the workout will not help you to become a better well rounded athlete.

"We seem to be doing a lot of repeat movements... Why is that?"

Progression is very dependent on practice and variance.  We usually spend about 3 months on a single movement using variations (hang power, power, full, pulls etc.) to keep challenging the body and working on specific components to the same lifts.  The movements will be rotated from week to week, day to day, so anyone with a static work/life schedule will be able to get some time on a specific movement as well (i.e. Week 1 - Power Clean on Tuesday, Week 2 - Power Clean on Friday etc.).  EMOMs (every minute on the minute) workouts are really great for hitting a small amount of quality reps on difficult movements with built in rest times. EMOMs work really well with gymnastics movements as well as barbell lifts. It is important to stick to these as best as you can to truly reap the benefits.   Progression takes time.  Be patient and try to have some fun with it.

"Why are the 'prescribed/Rx' weights so heavy?"

CrossFit WODs usually come with a lbs/kg # listed per weight lifting movement. This number is not to be exceeded unless otherwise instructed by the coach. As mentioned above, there is science being performed here.  The weights listed are not 'just because' but more help to create the stimulus we are trying to achieve with a given workout.  They are also based on the top athletes at the gym - therefore, you may need to scale.  This has been the same since the dawn of CrossFit.  If it isn't safe for you to use the 'prescribed/Rx' weight loading, scaling is absolutely necessary.  Your coaches at CFO always have and always will be very clear with you on what kind of pacing should be used, how you should feel during, and even give you ballpark percentages to work with when deciding your weights.  If you are ever in doubt, ask your coach.  They will either have the answer or they will get it for you.

"The TIMECAPs are so short!  I always have trouble making it in the allotted time..."

Scaling is so important.  I like to use "Fran" as an example here:

21-15-9 For Time:

Thrusters 95/65#



Fran is the most iconic CrossFit workout ever made.  If scaled and modified correctly, it should be very fast and end with you feeling like you got hit by a truck.  If not properly scaled, it will likely result in a lot of standing around and resting.  The thrusters and pull-ups should be performed very close to (if not) unbroken with any rest or transition times being extremely quick.  If your max front squat or push press is anywhere near the prescribed weight loading of 95/65#, you should be scaling generously.  I have completed "Fran" with a PVC pipe and jumping pull-ups before and I can assure you, it is a beast no matter how you slice it.  

The point here is that scaling/modifying will both improve the chances of maintaining the desired intensity level as well as movement quality. Leaving your ego at the door is a must if you are looking for a safe and effective fitness journey.  Do yourself a favour and try scaling absolutely everything for a week or two.  Then ask yourself if you feel like your fitness has been short changed.  I would hazard a guess and say it wouldn't.

"Go Hard Or Go Home"

The following is an amazing blog post from Jon Gilson - L4 CrossFit Coach, Founder of Again Faster.

Go Hard Or Go Home

Last Sunday, I gave the Programming lecture at an L1 in Boston. 

After going through six days of well-balanced workouts, aimed specifically at general physical preparation, the cornerstone of the CrossFit method, I was approached by an aspiring Games competitor. 

"I can tell that's not enough for me," he said, the implication that the workouts we'd programmed represented insufficient volume and skill development for him to progress as an athlete. 

The WODs, in order:
Push Press
Filthy Fifty
Six Rounds for Time: Row 250m, 15 Wall Ball

He saw low volume, low coordination movement, and assumed inadequacy. He was wrong.

The vast majority of your training time, regardless of your aim, should be spent at general physical preparation, embodied in simple couplets and triplets, strength training, and the occasional long-duration effort. Short, hard, intense. 

This intensity is much more important than volume. Remarkably more important. 

For the newer trainee, this means no two-a-days, no four-WOD Saturdays. No flash-in-the-pan volume accumulation.

Volume accumulation, the method by which athletes are able to endure ever-more reps within any given time period, is not the product of a week of training. It is the product of a lifetime of training, years of consistent focus. 

Competitors must treat intensity and volume accumulation like two different things, each with a different trajectory. Intensity is created in the moment, embodied through intelligent programming that allows for maximum output. Volume is accumulated over months and years, an extraordinarily gradual layering of intense workout upon intense workout.

Don't confuse the two.

If intensity and volume accumulation are confounded, the result is generally setback: injury, movement deficiency, short-term success at long-term cost.

I see it constantly, the rapid preparation for a looming contest consisting of a sudden, massive increase in volume, imposing huge loads on unprepared physiology.

Hear me now. If you're an aspiring Games competitor without years of volume accumulation through high school and collegiate training, without significant time under a skilled, veteran CrossFit coach, and you pursue volume with aplomb, you're going to crush yourself. 

Stop setting your sights on the 2014 Games. Aim at 2016, 2017, 2018. Give yourself adequate time to develop a base of general physical preparation, to identify and remedy your movement deficiencies at their root level, to acquire new skills, to accumulate volume in a sensical way.

Go hard, and then go home. Be consistent in your training, but never overzealous in frequency. Never confuse simplicity with inadequacy. Never confuse volume with intensity. 

Success is a lifetime pursuit. Treat it that way.

Long Term Perspective - CrossFitting For Success

Check out this amazing blog post from CrossFit Verve.

For most CrossFitters, their fitness journey is a means to a healthy and fit lifestyle. But as an athlete develops a comfort level with participation, long-term perspective can be blurred by whiteboards and new skills and PRs. Immediate gratification is not only a distraction but also a danger in some instances. A journey that began as a means to health can end with injury and aggravation. But avoiding a few common CrossFit mistakes can keep any athlete on track!

1. Neglecting Progressions

Everybody wants to learn butterfly pull-ups and pistol squats and handstand push-ups, but not everybody is ready to dive into those movements headfirst. The key to safe and proper movement is respecting progressions. If you can’t do a strict pull-up, you’re not prepared for kipping pull-ups and neither are your joints and muscles. If your pistols are only manageable on your toes, your mobility probably needs some work before you tackle a workout that might result in rough knees. Your coach should always keep an eye on your progress and guide you through proper progressions. But it’s also an athlete’s responsibility to stick to instructions and progression plans.

2. Inappropriate Modifications

As a coach, I always instruct my athletes on not only the movements and standards within a workout but also on the main goal. Sometimes we want you moving fast and other times slow. Sometimes we want to condition your lungs and other times we want to build strength. Knowing the goal of a workout is wildly important to your success. An athlete going too heavy or too light with weight, or selecting a movement that is either too easy or too difficult, can change the entire experience. CrossFitters need to look to their coaches for guidance on every workout and aim to achieve it. A 10- to 12-minute workout should be 10 to 12 minutes (or close to) for everybody, regardless of abilities. A “light” workout should be light for everybody, regardless of strength. Make sure you’re not taking your workouts into your own hands by making inappropriate modifications that alter the foundation of your training that day.

3. Too Much, Too Fast

Stronger, faster and more complex … it’s what we want as we progress. But there is such a thing as too much, too fast. In the initial stages of CrossFit participation, an unconditioned body (and oftentimes even a conditioned one) will require a different kind of recovery than one that’s been at it for a year or two. In addition, if strength is the entire focus and technique is left in the peripheral, big jumps might be possible but bad for your body. There is no healthy and quick solution to physical development, so take your time and allow yourself to explore the process as you go.

4. Forgetting Foundations

You learn a skill. Then you complete it on repeat, fatigued. There’s a good chance that not every rep was perfect. And while that’s common, it’s something that should be considered daily. Only perfect practice makes perfect, so if you find your form is losing its former glory, it might be time to take a step back and revisit all the cues and tips you began with. Practicing bad habits are the surest way to wind up with injury. Keep the foundations of your lifts and movements in the forefront of your mind to keep yourself healthy and progressing.

We all have greedy moments in our CrossFit experience. But if you’re able to hold yourself accountable to just a few very applicable best practices, your end goal will have a much greater rate of achievement. Remember why you CrossFit … for most of us, it’s to be a better and healthier version of ourselves. Silly mistakes and lax fundamentals aren’t worth letting go of your goal. Laser focus keeps you moving forward the right way.

Intensity - Don't get comfortable!

Recently we posted a workout that was in a CrossFit Journal blog post regarding intensity.  The workout looked like this:

For Time:

100 Wall Balls

Each time you break, stop and do 13 burpees before continuing with the wall balls.

This workout reeks of intensity due to the incentive given by the burpee penalty.  After your first set of burpees, you don't want to see them anymore so you push hard to get large sets of wall balls done.  What is the purpose?  To push through that comfort zone barrier and prove to yourself that you're capable of so much more than your mind allows you to think.  If you go into that dark place - that really uncomfortable place where the pain is - you will survive. What's more is you'll be fitter for it - both mentally and physically.   We're not saying to push out crappy reps.  What we're suggesting is that you can go faster and you can go longer. 

Here is the article I am referring to:

Elliptical Syndrome Cripples Fran, Helen

Give it a read - it's relatively short and full of really great info.

- Mike



The Magic Pill

For the first blog post, I felt it fitting to revisit a post I wrote a year or so ago.  I feel it will always be relevant and is a good refresh for a lot of people.

The Magic Pill


What if I told you there were two ways to become rich in a year and all you had to do was decide which way to proceed?

Option #1 requires you to work only a single day over the next year.

Option #2 requires you to work every day within the same year.

Which one would you choose?  Obviously we would all take Option #1.  It’s a no brainer.  The problem is that Option #1 doesn’t exist - at least not to the 99.9% of us who didn’t win the 50 million dollar jackpot last week...

Let’s apply this same idea to fitness.  The “easy way” is portrayed on television and Internet ads all the time.  It’s actually kind of painful seeing some of the recommended videos on my YouTube homepage or the side scroll of my Facebook newsfeed - “Lose 30 pounds in a week without exercise! Just buy this jiggly thing that you stand on 10 minutes a day for $1000!! That’s all!!!” 
And do I really need to remind you that someone actually invented the shake weight?

I digress, but you get the idea.  My point is that for some reason people actually fall for these gimmicks.  They truly believe this is what will cure what ails them.  I am sorry (but not sorry) to have to burst that ridiculous bubble, but - IT. TAKES. HARD. WORK.  - A lot of hard work.  Forever.

To get stronger, you have to start with the basics and strength train on a very regular basis.  For technical lifts you need to work technique over and over and over.  These things just don’t appear overnight.  They don’t happen by accident. 

The same principle applies to nutrition.  There is no MAGIC PILL.  You need to eat real food.  You need to weigh and measure it.  You need to do this for a long time.  The results are guaranteed but you have to follow the guidelines ‘to a T’.  I promise you there is no healthy fad diet, pill, weight loss promise other than eating clean and healthy and controlling the portions of the 3 primary macro-nutrients.

I know I am preaching to the choir here.  We have a roster full of hard working careful people at our gym.  It’s always good to have a reality check once in a while to keep us grounded and remind us to focus on the basics.  Keep up all your hard work and keep it to baby steps.  Everything comes together over time :)