CrossFit Program Design Revisited

We wrote an article back when we first opened titled CrossFit Programming.  In it, we outlined our rationale for why we program the way that we do.  We've gone through two complete mesocycles of the program's template which has allowed us to collect and analyze many different data points.  Overall, we're happy with the results so far as we have consistently progressed new athletes to intermediate ones and intermediate athletes to advanced ones.  We've even had athletes enter CrossFit competitions and take first, second and ninth in their respective divisions.

But, we're always looking for ways to tinker with the design to optimize our results.  And the time has come to introduce a few new aspects to our program design template which we believe will improve the overall experience.

A Strength Bias - Continued

We unabashedly have a strength bias in our programming.  As we detailed in our article, The Need for Strength in CrossFit, having a strength focus will translate into improved results across the entire spectrum of CrossFit.  This will be not being changing.  However, how we achieve improved strength numbers will be.

As of now, we have concurrent strength programs. One for beginners which follows a simple 5x5 linear progression where each week an athlete will add 5lbs to their previous working weight.  For more advanced athletes we used a 5/3/1 periodized approach where athletes lifts were based off of their working 1RMs.

We are moving away from this design as we have a seen both physical and mental fatigue.  While we all care about our results, the best way to ensure we get the results we want is through consistency.  And, we are more likely to be consistent when a program is fun to follow.  While the program has shown to be effective, it can get monotonous.  

The set and rep schemes are always the same and lift cycles are much longer - i.e. if a new athlete joins they'll be doing back squats for three months straight.  Physically, the volume can start to add up and our bodies become conditioned to the same stimulus.  Over time, we enter the law of diminishing returns as our muscles become more efficient at moving the weight, not necessarily stronger.  So, for example, while our back squat total may increase, the crossover effect (increased posterior chain strength in other movements) is not as a potent because we've simply become more efficient at back squatting.

To remedy this situation, we're experimenting with a strength program that closely mimics the Conjugate Method.  The goal will be to increase variety in both lifts and work schemes to keep the stimulus fresh and exciting.  So, far example, instead of always doing a conventional deadlift, we'll now start to incorporate variations on the lift like sumo, wide grip, deficit and from the rack.  The rep schemes will vary but the focus will always be on building absolute strength.  However, to ensure sufficient volume, we'll also be incorporating breakdown sets which will follow a max effort attempt.  This strategy will ensure proper time under tension which is especially beneficial for new lifters.

Max effort work reps will be in the range of 1-5 with total reps per workout in the 18-30 range.  But, CrossFit isn't only about absolute strength, we're also looking to increase our power output.  To accomplish this we'll incorporate a dynamic effort day once per week that uses loads in the 45%-60% of our 1RM range to work explosive power.  We already do this when training the clean and snatch, however, we'll start to apply it to other lifts as well.  During dynamic effort training, our goal is to move the weight as fast as possible.

So, moving forward, we'll be training two max effort days and one dynamic effort day per week.

Skill Work

In our previous program design we designated one skill per month where we would dedicate six sessions to learning that skill.  The thought process was you really need repetition when attempting to learn a new skill, not constant variation.  We still believe this, however, we'll be adding two skill focuses per month.  We're making this change as the volume from trying to learn kipping pullups, handstand walks or double unders stacks too much volume onto specific muscle groups and can cause the potential for overuse injuries. Adding some variety will spread the additional load to the body as a whole.

Accessory Work

One of the big new changes to the training template will be the addition of accessory work after class. Accessory lifts are important for targeting our specific weaknesses which we don't necessarily hit when working big compound lifts which tax the whole body.  Because compound lifts recruit many muscles to get the job done, overcompensation can occur as certain muscle groups bear the brunt of the load.

Accessory lifts are focused and help to target smaller muscles groups that may be getting overlooked. Accessory work is optional and up to the athlete to complete on their own time.

Test Days

We use test days at the beginning and end of the month to gauge whether our previous four weeks of training has been effective.  Previously our tests were focused on testing our advancement in a particular modality like weightlifting, mono-structural or gymnastics.  We're moving away from modality based tests in favor of tests that have large data sets available so we have a better understanding of where an athlete stacks up against others in the CrossFit community.  To this extent, our tests will be either CrossFit benchmark wods or open wods.

Onward and Upward

We're excited about these new changes and believe they will improve everyone's results.  We know change can be hard, but it's necessary for growth.  We'll continue to tinker and play with program design moving forward as we learn more.  As Miley Cyrus likes to say, it's not the mountain, it's climb!

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