1/19/15 Programming Check-In

Regular Programming posts will give you insight into how we design the CFNYC programming and a better understanding about what’s happening in classes, so you can get the most from your training at CFNYC, whether you attend Beginner, Experienced, or Competition WODs.

Our Programming Cycle

The basis of our yearly program template for all of our programming levels (Beginners/All Levels, Experienced, and Competition) lies in periodization for sports.  We program around the CrossFit Open, considering it our “competitive” season.  The end goal of the training cycle is to prepare members for the Open with nearly a year of preparatory strength, skill, and conditioning work.  We know not everyone is in it for “the sport of fitness”, but the Open allows us, the programmers and coaches, to check-in on a yearly basis to assess how our members are performing against one another and other CrossFit gyms across the world.

The Open is a 5 week competition in search of the fittest individuals on earth. Each Thursday night, one workout is posted by CrossFit HQ and anyone around the world can compete and post their scores to the Leaderboard. The CrossFit Open season is upon us (Registration opens January 15th, 2015), and runs from February 26th – March 30th, 2015. (More will be discussed about training and programming during the Open in future posts.)

While our training culminates with the Open each year, most people participate in CrossFit for a variety of reasons outside of competitive fitness – health, fun!!, gaining strength, flexibility, and mobility for instance. Our programming is also designed with that in mind, since the majority of our members are not paid professional athletes. They are adults with busy lives, often families and/or stressful jobs with longer than average hours.

How We Decide What to Program

When programming, we try to leverage real world sport experience and apply it to our CrossFit classes and programming. The coaching staff at CFNYC has extensive experience in not just CrossFit but also in a variety of competitive sports (e.g. Weightlifting, Gymnastics, Kettlebell Sport, Wrestling, Crew, etc).

For example, we specifically use gymnastics and dynamic movements often performed in track/cross-country in many of our warm ups.  We do this to bring up base skill or movement pattern deficiencies. For instance, you can’t perform a crawling pattern? You can’t load your bodyweight correctly onto your hands? As adults, we often lose the ability to do movements that as children we could perform with ease.  These seemingly silly prep skills allow for movement assessment, to warm up the joints, to improve mobility. In the instance of a bear crawl we can begin loading through the shoulders, arms, and wrists to prepare someone for more advanced handstand work like handstand walking.


In other areas, such as training the Squat, we use a variety of methods (rep schemes, tempo, etc) to elicit the effect we are seeking whether it’s based from our experience in Strength and Conditioning programs during collegiate athletic programs or from our Olympic Weightlifting training.  While Part A isn’t called Starting Strength, Wendler, Texas Method or Conjugate method, we do apply the principles of these programs in your training depending on the time of year.  I’m sure you all remember the infamous Back Squat Cycle which seemed to never end, and had you loading just a little more weight on the bar each week.  That’s a classic linear progression approach, a basic tenet of Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength.  It’s a simple, effective method for getting stronger.

But…because we train multiple areas, and also want to work on our conditioning, we didn’t feel it would be useful to put everyone on a strict linear progression only program, which is a distinction a lot of CrossFitters get confused about.  They wonder why they can’t do the crazy Russian Squat Cycle while starting a specialty endurance conditioning prep program and also focus on their gymnastics – every day.

What We Focused on in 2014

This is not an exhaustive list, but after last year’s Open, we realized that our strength levels were way down compared to the averages we saw for each age group in other gyms.  We focused on improving your squat and Olympic lifting as our first priorities. We then also tried to get you a faster 2 k row time, work towards your first muscle up, and saw many work towards their first non-scaled movements (i.e. real pull ups, real push ups, using RX weight in common benchmark WODs).

The squat has great carryover to many of our other movements, as well as building a general base of strength that most of our members needed to improve upon.  It’s hard to go wrong with programming the back squat consistently.  Consistent squatting led to progress and improvement in other movements (snatch, cleans, wall balls).

If we consider in the hierarchy of movements used in CrossFit, we try to choose the ones that have the biggest bang for our buck. After programming our big movements, we layer in other skills and movement variations.  We do this over the course of many weeks so that members have consistent exposure to the ones we deemed most important. When we saw improvement in the general population (WOD times posted on the blog, scores from class, etc), more advanced skills could then be cycled into the mix. This is why sticking to one track of programming is important – the skills that we program for Beginners is going to vary from those in Experienced WOD.

It’s also why journaling, posting your scores to the blog, and tracking your WOD performance is incredibly important.


“Minimum Effective Dose” and “Constantly Varied”

We consistently aim to use the simplest methods to get you the fastest results, which why sometimes a workout only has one part such as Deadlift 7×1. We expect you to come in and work really hard to pick up some heavy weight. In the good old days, (any CrossFit affiliate before 2010) most workouts were based on skill building followed by a single workout. It was rare to do multi-part workouts or full 60 minute sessions.  Sometimes we just goofed around and threw med balls at each other and called it dodgeball, but it was really fun!

Over the past few years, the popular Part A and Part B or the strength+met-con craze has taken over CF programming as CrossFit has become more mainstream.  While, it can allow for faster progression in terms of lifting and developing skills, it’s also incredibly easy for a programmer to overfill an hour with too much – too much lifting, too many repetitions and without enough emphasis on learning the skills or progressions that precede these harder workouts or movements. Even worse, now many non-Competition programs have started to add Parts C, D, E and F, prescribing workouts to members who have little CrossFit training or experience and need to heavily modify their workouts, if only to get the experience of being a “real” CrossFitter (more volume, more intensity).

Sometimes you should walk away from a long, slower workout thinking, well that wasn’t too bad, it could have been harder.  And yes, that’s the point. If we truly want to be “constantly varied”, not everyday can be a beat down, and we need to program lower intensity volume into your workouts.  Other days will leave you laying on the floor for 20 minutes, when you wonder how a simple couplet workout like pull ups and thrusters, can make you feel so terrible.

So one major programming goal is to see variety in intensity and duration in our workouts when reviewed on more of a macro scale.  Avery has posted this before on the blog, and it’s the concept of the “minimum effective dose.”  We want to program for the best results possible with the least amount of extra work necessary and least risk of injury and safety.  So that means long, medium, and short workouts – not doing too much of one thing at the expense of another UNLESS the benefit of doing that thing helps the other things by a large margin, for example Olympic weightlifting or squatting consistently.


Unfortunately, If you do not have a general strength training base (by which we mean, you’ve been squatting, pressing, and deadlifting on a regular basis for several years with full range of motion, or perhaps have a background in some sport at the collegiate level), then you are going to have to spend time building that foundation.

Complicated, rigorous, and time consuming programs only really make sense if you’re in the upper levels of competitive CrossFit. We’re referring to athletes that have a desire and realistic abilities to qualify for the SuperRegionals level or the Games.  Your training should not make you feel like you’ve been hit by a dump truck multiple times each week, nor should it mean little progress either, so finding the right number of workouts is key for each individual.

Now What?

The most common question we’ve gotten recently, is: Is there a plan? Yes, absolutely. In our next post, we’ll delve into what we’ve been programming recently (hint: preparation and skills for the Open), and the basic ins and outs of when and how to attend Experienced or Beginner WOD during the week.  In the meantime, if you haven’t been tracking your WODs, and have no idea what your 1 RM is for your squat, we invite you to check out BTWB and post your WOD times to the blog, so that some of these programming posts start to make sense through practical application as well.