The Importance of Individual Programming


Are you interested in competing in CrossFit?  Do you hope one day to make Regionals or podium at a local CrossFit competition?  Maybe you even have dreams of grandeur and see yourself throwing down at night in the tennis stadium at the CrossFit Games.  If you want to be competitive in the sport of CrossFit then one thing is certain, you need an individualized plan.  No one size fits all approach is going to get you where you need to be in order to reach your true potential.


As a coach and gym owner, I get the opportunity to travel and interact with a lot of CrossFit athletes.  When I talk with athletes who are “comp training” and I ask them about their training routine, I hear the same thing over and over again - they train in an advanced group at their gym and they follow some standard template like CompTraining or Invictus (there are more, but these are the most popular).


If you're serious about reaching your peak, you need an individualized plan, not a template.


I understand why gyms across the country follow these programs.  The people behind these sites are authorities in the CrossFit world. Ben Bergeron of CompTraining and C.J. Martin of Invictus have both coached very high caliber athletes including the fittest woman and man on Earth and many other Regionals / Games caliber athletes.  Additionally, one size fits all approaches is the CrossFit way - group classes with one workout scaled to meet the needs of each athlete.


While this model works well for those just looking to get into shape (i.e. exercise) it falls short for athletes that are looking to be competitive.  The reasons for this are both obvious and nuanced.


A blanket, template program doesn’t take into account your individual needs.  Each athlete is unique with his/her own set of strength and weaknesses.  One athlete may have high absolute strength and needs much attention to developing their engine while another may be the exact opposite.  One athlete may have mobility issues in one of their shoulders from a past injury and another may be disproportionately strong in their upper body pushing compared to their lower body squatting.  


How can the same program possibly take into account all of these differences?


It can’t and it doesn’t.  


Let’s take a look at a typical CompTrain workout so I can better elaborate my point.


Structurally, the workout is laid out logically with strength speed workout first, followed by absolute strength and then conditioning and core work. But, while the skeleton may be good, the devil lies in the details.


For the snatch work, do you need more or less volume?  Are your shoulders structurally sound and strong enough to handle snatch work?


For the snatch technique work, is snatch pulls what you should be working on?  Do you have issues keeping the bar close when pulling? Do your hips open fast enough?  Can you hit triple extension?  Are you able to quickly externally rotate your arms and punch out?  How’s your balance on the catch?  In short, are there other technique drills you should be doing to help improve your snatch?


For absolute strength work, should you focus on back squats?  To get stronger, you need progression, generally speaking, moving from higher TuT (time under tension) to lower TuT. Since workouts are only released daily, it’s hard to understand if a progression does exist. Also, percentage based lifting for non-advanced athletes tends to be just guessing at the desire dose response.  Very few are advanced lifters so a set/rep scheme with a desired intensity works better.  Also, there is no tempo given, so TuT can be quite variable from one lifter to the next.  A better prescription might look like: 


3. Back Squat, 7x3-4, 30X1, all tough sets, rest 3-5min


Also, how is the athlete’s proportional strength between their front squat and back squat?  Maybe they need to focus on front squats which will help them more with their olympics lifts.  Or, maybe the athlete needs to include more single leg work to either fix a muscle imbalance or to build stronger horizontal stability.


For the conditioning pieces, what is the desired intensity?  How should an athlete pace?  What should their split times look like? Understanding the above will allow for proper scaling so the athlete can achieve the proper turnover and dose-response.  Also, is this the proper volume of conditioning based off the athlete’s current conditioning levels?  Do they need more or less pieces?  Do they have the proper muscle endurance to perform the listed movements or will they fatigue and fail to get the proper conditioning?


Every workout from a template will unravel quickly when analyzed properly.  As stated above, the reason is obvious.  The workout is not tailored to anyone in particular.  It’s a template and as such falls short in providing the proper training program for the INDIVIDUAL athletes that follow it.


If you’re looking to train in CrossFit you need to work with a coach that can provide a plan tailored to you.  The coach will need to conduct an assessment where he/she can learn where you are starting out and where your strength and weaknesses lies.


The sad truth is that there is no cookie cutter approach to achieving your peak level of fitness.  There’s no ebook I can sell you or excel sheet I can give that will get you where you need to be.  If these programs don't work, why do they exist?  And what about your friend's sister's boyfriend who told you he got amazing results from following an online program?  I could be wrong, but I imagine these products exist because they make great business sense.  Each program is well know and has thousands of followers, which in turn builds each business's brand.  And, for some, a change in programming will help them make short term gains, however, in the long run they will plateau again without a program that takes their needs into account.


So, what’s your course of action if you’re looking to compete in CrossFit?  Get a coach and get an individualized plan.  There are a lot of great coaches out there. Opex, run by James Fitzgerald or Training Think Tank run by Max El-Hag are great options if you're comfortable with remote coaching options.  If you're local in the Tampa area, we also provide individualized programming by coaches that are Opex certified.


If you’re interested in learning more, check out our website:

Happy Training!

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