Programming at CrossFit Reach
Good morning Reach Army!
Lately I’ve had a lot of people ask me about the evolving programming at CrossFit Reach. I figured now would be a great time to provide some more insight into why we do what we do. So sit back and grab a cold beverage. You might be here for a while.
We are a CrossFit gym. We go by the CrossFit methodology of fitness.
I would like to go through a couple of CrossFit’s fitness standards and adapt that to how we program here at Reach. I will then dive into the popular strength-biased programming, which we did for years at CrossFit Reach, and provide an explanation as to why we have been shifting away from that mindset.
CrossFit has three fitness standards, but I only want to talk about the first two:
The 10 Fundamental Fitness Skills
The 10 fitness skills include cardio/respiratory endurance, stamina, flexibility, strength, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. The first four of these skills are adaptions of trainings. For example, in order to improve your endurance, you have to train movements like running, rowing, etc. In order to increase your strength you obviously have to lift weights. The last four pieces are adaptions of practice. Think of practice like achieving your double unders, rope climbs, handstand walking. Practice is usually set in a low heart rate, controlled environment, working to refine technique and precision.
The middle piece, Power and Speed, are adaptions of both training and practice. Power is what we can measure with data. Force x Distance / Time = Average Power Output. Lifting large loads, long distances, and doing it quickly. The goal here is to increase our average power output. Going hand in hand with Power is INTENSITY. What is intensity? Well, it’s power. They are interchangeable. Intensity is not blasting Volbeat, chalking up, belting up, screaming until your eyeballs pop out of my head trying to stand up a heavy clean(although that does sound intense and fun). Intensity is the amount of work we can get done (aka power output) in a short amount of time. It’s no wonder a workout like Grace or Fran hurt, and hurt a lot.
The idea behind the 10 skills this is you as fit as you are competent in each of the categories. We are trying to improve your fitness through these categories.
The Hopper Model
The second standard is the Hopper Model. Let’s say we have a hopper machine (think ping pong balls at a bingo hall) filled with a bunch of movements such as a bodyweight deadlift, a mile run, 10 strict unbroken pullups, etc. Our goal in CrossFit is to pull anything out of the hopper, no matter what it is, and perform well at that task. In a sense we don’t want any chink in our armor as athletes. We are trying to be good at performing any task. This type of fitness is broad, general, and inclusive.
Let’s take a look at a powerlifter. Generally that powerlifter is strong and great at three movements (bench, dead, squat). A powerlifter might not look like the most in shape person, and I guarantee some of their biomarkers (blood levels, blood pressure, and other aspects of health) are probably not where they should be. Now let’s take a look at a marathon runner. These people are great at running long distances, but I bet a lot of runners will have a hard time lifting 1.5x their bodyweight deadlift. Generally speaking, a marathon runner’s body is thin-looking and not where we want to be a CrossFitters.
In the hopper model, we as CrossFit athletes don’t want to be able to pull 1000lbs or run a 4-minute mile, but a 500lb deadlift and a 6-minute mile is not out of the question (and damn impressive). We want to perform well at any task that’s handed to us.
GPP vs. STRENGTH BIASED CROSSFIT
CrossFit’s prescription to achieving fitness is constantly varied, high intensity, functional movements. We know we can accurately predict improvements in work capacity across broad time, modal, and age domains through this prescription (this is called average power output aka Intensity). GPP stands for General Physical Preparedness. At CrossFit Reach we program for GPP. What I explained above, the physical skills and hopper model is exactly GPP.
It’s easy to see watch video of the Rich Froning’s, Matt Fraser’s, and Katrin Davidsdottir’s of the world and see that they are fit as hell. I don’t blame people for looking at what they do daily and want to be as fit as they are and ask “what are they doing?’. What makes them different than us is these guys are competitors. Their job is to be as fit as they can come August 1st each year. Those competitors don’t go a single day without lifting the barbell. They have prerequisites as athletes to be able to perform lifts in a certain range to compete in the sport of CrossFit. The sport of CrossFit and the general CrossFit is very different. If you have never looked at CrossFit mainsite, I encourage you to. Back in 2009-2010, Greg Glassman did program tons of strength + metcon days. He realized that wasn’t the exact way to go. It’s generally a way that provides short-term gains for long-term issues.
Our job as every day 9-5’ers is to be as fit as possible and play the longevity game. We want to look back every five years and know we are generally more fit than we were back then (increasing our GPP and overall work capacity).
I took a look back at what CrossFit Reach used to be, particularly from 2013-mid 2016. We were a heavily strength-biased gym with almost 5 of the 7 workouts per week being of the sort. We saw a trend of frequent injuries, overtraining, lethargy, and a lack of energy from a good amount of athletes. Since the goal is to increase GPP, we as a gym would be doing you, the athlete, a disservice by getting you to be able pull 500lbs off the floor and at the same time not provide you with the capacity to perform sub-4:00 Fran or 15 unbroken pullups (remember, think Hopper Model). Also, with so many ‘strength + WOD’ days we had in the past, what we observed is athletes putting their efforts solely on the first portion of the workout while they are fresh, completely missing the stimulus and INTENSITY of the conditioning piece. Pet Sherwood defines intensity as follows:
Intensity and average power are the variable most commonly associate with optimizing favorable results. Whatever you want from exercise comes faster with intensity. It’s not volume or duration or heart rate or even discomfort. Do more work in less time (without overdoing it), and you’ll get fitter faster.
The goal each and every day we are at the gym is to hit the required stimulus for the day. That stimulus changes daily. It can be moving lightweight fast, larger loads moderately, heavy weights moderately. The stimulus changes daily.
I really don’t want this to be misconstrued with ‘Dan hates strength’. I love strength and always have and always will. I think being strong is a vital and necessary part of your fitness. The last thing I would want is for people to think I don’t like to go heavy, because it’s simply not true. If I didn’t like strength, I wouldn’t be coaching Barbell Club, wouldn’t be active in USA Weightlifting, and wouldn’t be sending people to weightlifting meets. Please don’t get that confused.
COACHING w/ STRENGTH-BIAS PROGRAMMING
In fitness, we as coaches we want to provide, refine, and add as many tools to your arsenal as possible.
Let’s break the whole ‘strength + metcon’ piece down just a bit further and go through your typical class. Let’s say the WOD for the day is 3×5 Push Jerks @ 75% of your Max C&J, followed by an AMRAP 15 of 5 C&J 135/95 and a 400m run. The class can be broken down like so:
- General warmup
- Strength explanation
- Strength warmup drills
- Build up of your Push Jerk to percentage
- Hit your working sets
- Break down equipment
- Explain WOD and STIMULUS/SCALING (most important)
- Do some light clean progression
- Build up to your C&J
I did stretch this out a bit, but my overall point is this. It’s extremely difficult for a coach to have a two-part piece in a workout and provide the necessary coaching. What if the athlete only comes to class 3 days per week? They are not being exposed to the actual coaching piece. What you are being exposed to is a time-manager, because that’s what it starts to become as a coach. You’re managing the class in a way in which your one goal is to get all the work done in the hour.
What I’m saying is, we want to help you in your fitness. We can do that by ‘doing less’ and hitting the correct stimulus each and every day. This provides more coaching opportunities for the coaching staff, and provides you with what you paid for. We are able to see more movement, break down barbell technique, provide more efficiency tips, and overall make you a better athlete. It’s the one-dimensional piece where coaches are able to develop skills and drills with their athletes and able to make them more fit. It’s affiliates like these where people are knocking on the door begging to get in. It’s these affiliates where you see people not wanting to take a rest day. Its no wonder CrossFit New England isn’t accepting new members at this time.
WHERE WE USED TO BE VS. WHERE WE ARE
I will break it down like this. We used to be a heavily strength-biased gym where strength took precedence. Remember strength is one part of fitness in the grand scheme of things. People were missing the other important parts of overall fitness. I’m not saying strength isn’t important. We DO hit strength, and we will continue to hit strength. We can hit strength by some ‘strength + metcon’ days, some conditioning pieces where we’re lifting moderate loads quickly (think this past Monday and Tuesday, front squats, power cleans, deadlifts during Bradshaw, etc.). Believe it or not, those days are making you stronger. We will start to introduce general heavy days, where all we do is a couple of strength pieces.
Here is a better breakdown of what you will be seeing:
Used to see: 4-5 strength + metcon days per week
What you will see: 1-2 strength + metcon days per week
Used to see: virtually zero ‘all strength’ days
What you will see: at least 1 ‘all strength day’ every 3 weeks
What you will see more of: Strength and barbell cycling in the conditioning pieces, with the benefit of allowing your coach to break down movements and work with you individually to help you become a better athlete.
What I’m asking of you is to make your main priority the CrossFit class itself. You have a gym with coaches who care and want to teach, and a community that loves each other. Believe it or not a strong majority of gyms outsource their programming and have somebody else do it, not knowing their equipment situation or being at the gym daily to get a feel on how things are going and where they need to be heading.
It’s not easy to program for CrossFit. So much is involved, so many movements, stimulus’, etc. I strongly believe this is the best way to go for the future of CrossFit Reach and for your overall fitness in the game we call longevity. I’m willing to work with you guys if you feel like you do want more accessory work. I can provide squat, bench, deadlift, and weightlifting templates if you feel the need to add to your personal fitness goals. I am not against that. I have templates for Hatch, Wendler, Smolov Jr., Starting Strength, linear progressions, and tons of weightlifting programs (Barbell WOD, Hybrid to name a couple). I am not against hitting the CrossFit class hard, and then going into the corner (as long as you’re not disrupting the next class) to finish your accessory pieces, but make the class your first priority.
We are trying to make you guys the most fit in the overall spectrum of CrossFit’s definition of Fitness. I hope this writing finds you well and hope you guys have a great day!