Programming Philosophy

Every CrossFit box is the same and yet completely different. We all follow the same prescription, but implement it differently. At Second Wind CrossFit, I believe whole-heartedly in the basic tenets of CrossFit, which is simply a General Physical Preparedness (GPP) program, defined as “constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity.”

The goal of a GPP is to develop a fitness that prepares you for whatever life throws your way: pick up stuff, move stuff in a hurry, get off the toilet without assistance. GPP benefits soldiers and grandmothers alike.

How we program this stuff is only effective if it produces results. Results can come in various forms:

  • High performance in the gym (lifting heavier weights, getting through more reps faster);
  • Health markers (body composition, blood pressure, sleep, resting heart rate);
  • Intangibles (increased energy, confidence, “performance” outside the gym).

The concept of variance is key to programming and growing as an athlete. Variance means we are always trying to change movements, loads and durations both within a single workout and across a series of workouts to best increase your fitness. Variance is intentional; it is not random.

From CrossFit’s World Class Fitness in 100 Words:

Practice and train the major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climbs, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast.

CrossFit’s model for achieving elite fitness is elegant and simple and drives the programming philosophy at Second Wind. This blog is aimed at letting you, the athlete, have a better understanding of the specifics of the programming, to know the “why” behind what we do.

We will constantly evaluate and adjust as needed. How will we know if we need to adjust? By measuring your results.

Variance in Movement (Weightlifting)

Any given time period should see a variety of both weightlifting and gymnastics movements, with concentration on some of the basics. We will squat, clean and snatch every week. Squatting in all its forms, is the most basic strength exercise there is and is the very first functional movement we teach. Learn to love the squat, or at least make friends with it. If squatting below parallel with good form is difficult, fixing that should be your primary focus.

The olympic lifts (clean, jerk and snatch) require practice once a week at an absolute minimum. Any less and you are not likely to improve. We love the olympic lifts because of the bang for the buck. They score high on nine out of the 10 General Physical Skills.

Whatever the lift, whether it’s a squat, deadlift, thruster or kettlebell swing, your focus as an athlete should be on mastering the movement first, then increasing the load. Increasing load (going heavy) is important to stimulate the muscle growth we are seeking. Therefore, on days in which heavy lifting is programmed, the lifting is the priority for the day.

While maintaining variance in movement, there is time and occasion for targeted work. Targeting allows us to spend more time on one movement to really focus on making gains in a specific time period.

Variance in Movement (Gymnastics)

As anyone over 8 years old can tell you, gymnastics (bodyweight) movements are far more difficult than weightlifting. Pull-ups, dips, pistol squats, handstands. The words alone are enough to make many people skip the workout. That, however, would do a severe disservice to your fitness. So would taking shortcuts where gymnastics are involved. There is no substitute for mastering the basic, static gymnastics movements (ie, strict pull-up) before moving on to more advanced, dynamic skills (kipping).

Understand this: good gymnastics skills will translate to better weightlifting. The reverse is not true.

But there are some hard truths when it comes to mastering gymnastics.

  • You never will. You will always be able to improve. This is a life-long journey. Have extreme patience and celebrate the small successes.
  • You may have to go backwards to go forwards. Maybe you can currently bang out 10 sloppy kipping pull-ups in a wod. But can you do three perfectly strict pull-ups?
  • Gymnastics requires excellent mobility (joints), flexibility (muscles) and strength. None of those things come quickly.
  • The older you are when you start, the more catching up you have to do. (See #3) That’s OK. That’s OK. Remember: That’s OK.
  • Most high skill movements that require a slow and deliberate focus on quality are gymnastics moves and just as we set aside time for strength focus, we will devote more time to improving these skills as well.

Variance in Met-cons

Met-con is short for metabolic conditioning. It is any exercise stimulus that “conditions your metabolism,” which is another way of saying improving the way your body processes energy. It’s the “conditioning” in Strength & Conditioning. (Many of you often mistake the met-con for the “WOD”. The Workout of the Day involves everything we do in a given hour long session. The met-con is often the shortest part of the WOD.)

Met-cons are varied by time (intensity), number of movements and movement selection.

Time variance is important because how hard and long you work determines which energy pathway you tap into. You have three energy systems: phosphagen, glycolytic and oxidative. Think of them as short, medium and long…or anaerobic (phosphagen and glycolytic) and aerobic (oxidative). All three are always in use, but the intensity and duration of the workout will determine which is more dominant. We strive to train all three.

We do so by use of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Interval training has been consistently proven to improve both aerobic and anaerobic fitness. The shorter the interval, the higher the intensity.

Met-cons are programmed with a variety of durations as follows:

Short: 3-8 minutes
Med: 8-12 minutes
Long: 12-20 minutes
Endurance: > 20 minutes

The number of movements will overwhelmingly be couplets and triplets with the occasional chipper (four or more movements) thrown in. The movements themselves will be a full body and high power mix of weightlifting, gymnastics and monostructural (run, row, jump rope).

Below is an image of what might be a typical week using this template. (Click to enlarge).



Assessing Program Design

So how will we know if the program design is effective? Again, it gets results. Period. This requires assessment. You have your own assessments outside the gym, starting with a physical check up. How are your health markers? Are you tracking your progress there like you track your max squats? After that, well, how is your life? Are you able to do the things you want to do in life? Personal records happen more often outside the gym…you just have to know where to look.

Inside the gym, we have implemented The Benchmark Series. This is a set of 12 workouts, each of which will be repeated three times during the year. Results are recorded in the app SugarWOD. At the end of the year, we can look at the data and see where people have made significant improvement and where we need to do better in programming. You can see this year’s Benchmark Workouts here.

Final thoughts from Steve

Finally, there are just a few things that I want to say that are personal to me. Meaning, if you polled 100 CrossFit coaches/owners, 50 of them may agree and 50 may disagree. It’s just me and since I am the one who is ultimately responsible for what happens to you inside this gym, these are things that I feel strongly about.

I hate vomit. Thankfully, we don’t do it here much, but with Pukie the Clown as a corporate mascot, it’s not hard to see how some outside of CrossFit might be turned off by it. Pukie makes it much harder for me to sell CrossFit. So long before we opened, I added this line to our Mission Statement: Throwing up will neither be encouraged nor applauded. It means something is wrong, usually you went too hard or didn’t time your lunch and workout correctly. It doesn’t mean you’re a badass who worked harder than anyone else.

I don’t love the 1-Rep Max. Except when I do. “Maxing out” refers to doing as much as possible before failure. In weightlifting the 1-rep max (1RM) is how much weight you can lift exactly one time. Some lifts lend themselves very well to 1RM. Snatch, clean and jerk are among those because those lifts really are designed to be done one at a time. Bench press is another that’s easy to 1-rep because you have a spotter and missing just means you need help getting the bar back on the rack.

Squats and deadlifts, however, make me nervous and question their usefulness in a 1RM. These are the lifts that get sloppier and become more dangerous as the load increases to the point of failure. I far prefer a 3-rep max, which at least ensures the first rep will be high quality. It also strikes me as a more “athletic” measurement of your strength. We will program 1RM squats and deads, but not very often. There are better ways to track progress there.

I like to (make you) run. It’s no secret I come from a 20-year endurance background. I gravitate towards the longer WODs that have a running element. Those are my favorites and when the season is right, we will run. Running is the first functional exercise you ever did and you didn’t even consider it exercise. You ran because you could. Running is to the met-con what squatting is to strength. It’s basic. It’s primal. It’s more likely to save your life than a 300-pound deadlift.

I am more impressed by virtuosity than how fast or heavy you go. I work on my own CrossFit and measure my improvements the same as you. My snatch PR is technically 135, but it was so ugly that I hardly count it. I can’t wait for the day I can snatch 135 with virtuosity, and until I can, I’m not even going to attempt 140. You should approach your training the same way. Strive for elegance.

You own your workout. As coaches, our jobs are to keep you safe, instruct you in proper movement, push you when needed and hold you back when needed. That’s what we do. We instruct, advise and encourage. But when it’s go time, your workout belongs to you. What do I mean by that? Take these conversations that have actually happened.

Me: “You’ve been here three years. I know you can snatch more than that.”
Her: “I’ve been here three years and I’ve never been hurt. I’m happy with this weight.”

Me (at the end of the wod): “How many reps did you get?”
Her: “I have no idea.”
Me: “Why not?”
Her: “Because I don’t care.”

Me: “Get your chest to the floor on that push-up!”
Him: [No comment. No chest to the floor.]
Me: “Get your chest to the floor on that push-up!”
Him: [No comment. No chest to the floor.]

In each of these instances, the athlete has owned his or her workout, either by choosing the load that makes her happy, measuring fitness in ways other than the score on the whiteboard, or by ignoring movement standards and just half-assing it to break a sweat. Each person assumed responsibility for his/her own workout. For better or worse. Your coach can only do so much.

I encourage you to keep track of what you are doing by recording your workouts and how you scaled, recording your weights on your lifts and getting an annual physical.