Programming for the CrossFit South Arlington Athlete (Part 2)

In this second-part of a two-part series, we talk about the main ideas behind CFSA programming year-long and, specifically, for the next few months. You can find Part 1 here.

In the first installment of this 2-part blog series, we discussed some of the history of CrossFit programming and the importance of a strength-bias in any gym’s training plans. So how does CFSA incorporate strength work for its members? Well, the easy answer would be to make sure we have strength work, 5 days a week, year round. But that’s not as sustainable as we’d like.

First, anytime we have strength work on the whiteboard, we end up with less time left over for the metcon*. Having short and fast workouts is great and an essential component of a comprehensive training strategy; but at some point in the year, we also need to target medium and long time-domain workouts in order to build a complete athlete.

Second, around late February, the CrossFit Open comes around. It is an opportunity for thousands of CrossFitters around the world, including us, to test themselves at the sport of fitness. It is an important milestone for any box, especially for gauging the fitness improvements of its members. For those of you who have done the Open, you know that those 5 weekly workouts thrown at us by CrossFit HQ do not involve very heavy weights; instead, they are medium to long range workouts with a bias towards a high volume of repetitions. What does that have to do with strength training? It means that, in the 3-5 months leading up to the Open, we cannot afford to focus solely on strength. Other fitness skills such as stamina, cardiovascular endurance and gymnastics in higher volume (to name a few) become the main target of our efforts.

So we have a need for a strength bias, but we cannot sustain it all year. What’s the solution? It’s simple and you probably have guessed it already: the training year starts out right after the Open with plenty of strength development and continues that way during the summer. In some instances, training might take the shape of a defined cycle (e.g. 3-month long) with progressive loading and a peaking/testing week at the end. In other instances, training might gradually shift into a phase of frequent strength work plusshort metcons, then gradually shift out of it toward the end of summer. The former is what we all saw this past summer: a well defined strength cycle with a performance week.

As we move forward through 2017 and early 2018, what you’ll see is a combination of longer workouts, higher repetitions and increased gymnastics volume. You will still see strength work 2-3 times per week, the purpose of which is maintenance of the gains you made over the last few months. You will also be hit by another day or two of Olympic weightlifting (snatch, clean or jerk.) One technique that allows us to pack more training into the hour is to superset movements, i.e. to alternate between two movements so that we’re working on one muscle group while another rests. Look for supersets in your training during the fall months.

One last thing: CrossFit as a fitness regimen is great at developing General Physical Preparedness (GPP). At any point in time, it makes you ready for anything: you can go for a long hike, carry heavy groceries or help a friend move furniture. This is how we want you to be year-round; always ready for the known, unknown and unknowable in life. For that, we have to keep the stimulus constantly varied, at a high intensity, using functional movements. Even when we’re favoring strength work, we won’t completely give up on the conditioning. Conversely, when we’re going into “Open season”, we won’t give up on the strength work. The CFSA athlete is a complete athlete who is just as capable inside the gym as they are outside of it.

* metcon = the Metabolic Conditioning piece of the daily workout (it typically comes last)

Programming for the CrossFit South Arlington Athlete

In this first-part of a two-part series, we talk about the history of CrossFit programming and the ideas behind planning out programming for a crossfit gym year-round. Next week, we will discuss the main training focus of the next few months at CFSA.

Most of you have just completed our summer strength cycle, crafted by Coach Bobby and designed to develop peak strength and power. You went through progressively more challenging strength work, five days a week, for a good 12 weeks, culminating in the explosive performance week where you got to test out all your new strength gainz (we hope you PR’d!).

This leaves you wondering, what’s next? Is the strength work going to end? Are you going to lose out on your hard earned contractile potential? Will all workouts going forward be just jumping jacks and mountain climbers led by coach Spandy? The prospects are terrifying. In this post, we hope to clarify what comes next as well as how we got here in the first place.

Let’s start at the very beginning. Back in the Paleolithic age, Man used dumbbells made of chiseled stone to do Push Presses and Snatches. Just kidding, we’re not going back that far. We’ll just rewind time back to the mid-2000s. Bear with us, it’ll make sense in a second. Back in 2005, only 13 CrossFit affiliates existed worldwide. All programming happened on crossfit.com, everyone used it, everyone called it the “main site”. This main site followed the original pure CrossFit formula “constantly varied, functional movement, executed at a high intensity”. It evenly targeted all 10 general fitness skills: Strength, Speed, Power, Endurance, Stamina, Agility, Balance, Coordination, Flexibility, Accuracy. One day you would see Fran posted as the WOD, the next day would be a Deadlift 1RM and the following day would be a 10K row. It was 3 days on, 1 off, with not much more design beyond that. No cycles, no training focus, not even for a few days. Everyone thought it was the sh*t.

(Actually, the main site still follows the same formula to this day and it is adhered to by thousands of athletes. Don’t let this blog post fool you, the programming there is still a gem and one could be a successful crossfitter for a very long time just following the main site workouts. Check it out.)

Fast forward a few years to the late 2000’s. By now, a few dozen or hundred gyms exist, several of which have been experimenting with their own programming for a while now. One thing seems to become clear to many: strength matters. It doesn’t just matter like all the other 9 fitness skills matter, it matters quite a bit more. Why is that? Two reasons: First, strength has numerous benefits: increased force production (obviously), weight loss, bone density, cardiovascular health, injury prevention, combating aging, diabetes, you name it. Strength also supports almost all other movements in crossfit: Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, running. Yes, even running. Mark Rippetoe once famously quipped: “Stronger people are harder to kill … and more useful in general”. What better reason do you need to be strong?

The second reason for investing in more strength training is simpler: building strength takes time. Weeks and months of blood, sweat and tears. It needs so much time, in fact, that you probably need to find a way to incorporate it throughout your entire year of programming as a CrossFit box. Because, if you ignore it for a while, you’ll need a long time to build it back up. We hear you asking: isn’t that the case for all the other “domains” of training? Actually, not really. Strength endurance, cardiovascular endurance, stamina, volume gymnastics, all of these can deteriorate quickly but can be re-built fairly quickly. Don’t believe us? Skip working out for 3 weeks, then come back and do 3 rounds of 400m runs, 20 thrusters and 15 pull-ups. Let us know how it goes. In the meantime, however, we would bet you your deadlift will not get weaker. Actually, you might unexpectedly PR on your first day back! Lost your wind and need to get it back? Give us 4-6 weeks of CrossFit couplets and triplets in the 5-15 min range and we’ll get you all sorted out.

The point is: a CrossFit gym’s programming needs to prioritize strength. How do you do so? We’ll talk about that in next week’s post. Stay tuned!