In exercise science, there is one principle that is indisputable: Hans Selye’s General Adaption Syndrome (GAS). Very simply, it states that the human body goes through three phases of response when dealing with stress: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion.
In the alarm phase, the body first perceives the stress and goes into “fight or flight” mode. Cortisol and adrenaline go up, so does your heart rate and your energy levels.
In the resistance phase, the body repairs itself. Heart rate returns to normal, so does blood pressure and hormone levels. Muscle rebuild happens here.
In the exhaustion phase, the stressor is applied for too long a period. The body is incapable of fighting stress and you experience major symptoms of dysfunction: fatigue, anxiety, depression, injury, burnout.
The principle is fundamentally at the heart of all exercise training: one must apply a stressor (think “heavy weight” or “conditioning work”) to the body in order to get it into an alarm phase. From there, the body must be given the chance to repair itself and come back more capable of fighting the stressor the next time around. Once that happens, we apply the stressor again, but this time to a higher degree thereby causing another cycle of repair and growth. Rinse, repeat, PR.
What does that have to do with our gym, though? Glad you asked. In the world of CrossFit and functional fitness, variance is the M.O. The Workout of the Day (WOD) changes all the time, in a seemingly infinite combination of ways, with the aim to produce adaptions in all dimensions of fitness (strength, endurance, speed, power, stamina, coordination, balance, agility, flexibility and accuracy). Spoiler alert: this works. It works in the sense that a functional fitness athlete experiences small incremental progress on many fronts.
But this is very different from the conventional training more commonly found in commercial gyms, high school gyms and athletic clubs (amateur or professional). There, one will probably see trainers applying linear progressions with progressive overload. These progressions go on for 8 to 12-week cycles and movements are not varied much within each cycle (at least not when compared with CrossFit). Olympic lifters, for example, train in linear progressions. Spoiler alert: this also works. By focusing on some certain “themes” (power development, strength-endurance) and limiting the number of movements, lifters experience potentially higher incremental progress though on fewer fronts. For example, a 12-week back squat cycle will probably yield a greater improvement in your back squat than doing 2-3 back squat workouts here and there over the course of 12 weeks, even if you mix it with other modes of training.
Here’s the thing: in functional fitness training like CrossFit, it becomes increasingly more difficult to make progress across all the fitness domains the more experienced you get. The same variance that worked for you at first, is now working against you a year later (unless, of course, you decide to invest a lot more time and energy into training and recovery).
And in linear-style training, sure you can make progress longer, but you’re concentrating on a handful of movements while ignoring others. And even if you where OK with just back squatting, rowing and doing strict pull-up work for 12 weeks, you have to be ready for when the training gets .. repetitive. Inevitably, at some point in a cycle, your motivation will wane, some parts of your body will hurt, and you will be tempted to “switch gears”.
We think there’s a sweet spot. We are experimenting with a new style of programming that we think will enable our athletes to achieve new performance bests. We call it the “3-Week Block Wave”.
What is it exactly? It’s functional fitness meets micro linear progressions — 3 weeks to be exact. We still do our usual blocks – BUILD, TILT, SUSTAIN and FLOW, but we plan them in three-week progressions, each week building on the one before it. By the end of the third week, we switch the movements.
This mainly applies to our BUILD blocks and here’s an example:
Week 1 – Start of Wave – Monday Lunge, Thursday Pull-Up, Friday Deadlift
Week 2 – Monday Lunge (+5% load from previous week), Thursday Pull-Up (add reps from previous week), Deadlift (+5% load from previous week)
Week 3 – just like Week 2 (adding load or reps). End of wave.
Week 4 – New wave! Monday Squat, Tuesday Press, Friday Clean
Week 5 – just like Week 4 (adding load or reps) …
Rinse & repeat. We do four of these Block Waves over the course of 12 weeks. Then we do Base Week and test!
What do we get from this? Why, potentially the best of both worlds of course! Progressive overload over the course of three weeks allowing every athlete to gauge their level and improve on it + enough variance in training to maintain the breadth of fitness and the engaging aspect of exercise that keeps us learning & motivated.
Little secret: most CrossFit gyms don’t innovate like this. Maybe they’re scared of changing the status quo or because they only know what they’ve always done. We owe you better than that.
We’ve already mapped out the next twelve weeks and are stoked to apply this framework so that you can see even more tangible training results than before. All you have to do is bring the grit and the consistency.
See you guys on the gym floor.