Programming 101: Post-Open (2016)

For those of you who follow the daily programming on the blog, you already know that the yearly programming cycle is based around this 5 week “competition”. A big congratulations to everyone who participated in the 2016 CrossFit Open. While some people argue that the Open is only designed for CrossFit professionals, each year we see our members rise to the occasion and discover during the Open that they can push themselves a little bit harder than they normally do in regular classes.

For the coaching staff, it was incredibly gratifying to see members overcome mental hurdles, achieve a PR or two, and learn new skills during the Open.


Below are some of the most frequently asked questions I’ve been asked since the finish of the Open, which hopefully will shed some light on the Programming for 2016 and some ways to think about how you approach CrossFit.

Ummm, can you remind me how the Programming works?

If you haven’t read any of the programming articles in the CFNYC Articles and Media Page then that’s a good place to start. The Membership FAQ may also be helpful.

Every week of the yearly training cycle is designed to be a progressive program in which you work on improving your skills, gaining strength, and building endurance to help prepare you to “test” your fitness at some end point in the year. If you are new to CrossFit or don’t particularly have an interest in the CrossFit Open, it’s important to understand that the programming reflects the gym’s participation in this yearly event as the test.

This isn’t to say that you won’t be tested through out the year in a variety of workouts, and the following programming post will outline some upcoming tests. But there are times during the year, where we emphasize less volume or more strength training for a reason. You can call it an “off-season” if you want, but every sport has one. After we “peak” at a competition or event, it is natural that the body will need recovery time…even though it can feel like taking a few steps backward. It’s totally normal after any competition to feel this way and it takes time to get back to a point where your lifting numbers return to their previous level(s).

What have we been doing this past month?

During the past five weeks the programming has transitioned back to our more normal mode of training (not weekly testing). This was important for members to recover both mentally and physically as a departure from the relentless testing of the Open. While many found themselves pushing the intensity and achieving notable firsts and PRs during the Open, the aftermath of the event has left some feeling a little burnt out.

16.5 crossfit

Any new changes with the Programming this year?

Only a few. Over the course of the year, we’ve seen a lot of improvements from members within their respective programming track (Beginner, Experienced, and Competition), and we already use member feedback to adjust as we go.

One major change this year will be programming in shorter 5 week blocks instead of longer 2-3 month cycles. This won’t be something you will necessarily notice, but we’ve found that the longer training cycles were very difficult for the majority of our members to adhere to – especially in Beginner WOD. A squat cycle may be three blocks long (15 weeks), but you should be able to jump in at the start of a 5 week block, and still see some benefit of that cycle rather than feeling like you missed out.

The second big change this year is the addition of All Levels classes every Friday. Besides our “Peak” workouts on Sunday/Monday and Wednesday/Thursday, the All Levels WOD is one of the most important classes of the week – if not the most important. Especially if you are new! This will generally be the only class during the week where you may see a Competition class member lifting beside a brand new Elements graduate, while both are getting in a great workout. This is a time for more advanced members to share their knowledge with newer members, and for everyone to get out of their comfort zone. Finally, it’s most likely where you will see us test classic CrossFit benchmarks. Cough, Fran, cough, cough…

A common question: How many days a week should I come to the gym?

My first response is always: it depends.

We work really hard to program a comprehensive 5 day per week CrossFit program for each track. 4-5 WODs with 2 Rest Days per week is sufficient for most people.

More advanced members may be able to tolerate (notice, I said “tolerate”) additional training in Open Gym and/or OlyWODs. Generally, coaches want to see members improve with the Minimum Effective Dosage required – anymore than that can be potentially detrimental to overall health and wellness – especially if the member has no specific competition or training goals besides being “more fit”.

What happens if I pick and choose workouts? And only come to the “hard” ones?

In the long run, you will be repeating a lot of movements or possibly not improving your weakest areas. Those who avoid their weaknesses generally see less overall improvement than those who relentlessly attack them.

It helps to think about the workouts in both a weekly and monthly context. (Some gyms don’t program this way.) If we program HEAVY squats one day and ask you to go HEAVY, we might balance that out with a monostructural movement (rowing or running) the next day, followed by a third day of gymnastics or skill work.

Most people cannot go HEAVY three days in a row – at least for not any extended period of time without seeing a decline in their improvement or strength. The body won’t have time to recover and adapt to the training.

If there anything I can read that explains some of these principles?

If you are curious as to why we program this way, here are some important articles from CrossFit that you may be interested in: What is Fitness? and the CrossFit Level 1 Training Guide.

crossfit squat

Another one: OK, I’m already sticking to a program. How can I get better ??

1. Journal your results in class.

Or use Beyond the Whiteboard. Past the first year, just showing up to class generally won’t cut it if you’re looking to make some real improvements.

2. Adequate Recovery.

Too many workouts without adequate recovery is bad, just as is too little effort during your 7 days of working out twice a day. The stimulus is the workouts you do in class, which ultimately should lead to improved fitness (work capacity). The adaptation to the stimulus (muscle growth, strength gains, etc) will only occur during your recovery and rest.

We can program the hardest workouts in the world, but if you don’t apply first enough effort (i.e. loading, intensity, etc.) and then second, enough recovery (i.e. rest days, mobility, sleep, nutrition), then you will not see the adaptation (i.e the GAINS).

I always ask people what their sleep and nutrition look like first, before I consider more exercise if they are applying the general principles of consistent attendance and effort laid out in this post.

3. Consider moving to eWOD if you’ve been in Beginner WOD for more than a year at CFNYC.

While the Experienced WODs feature more advanced movements and higher weights for RX designation, eWOD was never designed to be the Advanced class you had to test your way into…that’s the Competition class!

Experienced means just that. You are experienced with CrossFit enough that you understand:

-the basics of loading your bar, tracking your numbers
-familiar with the Olympic lifts
-know general CrossFit terminology
-know how to scale your movements even if you can’t do them Rx (yet!)
-attend semi-regularly (3-5 days/week)

Still not sure? Talk to your coach.

4. High Intensity in your workouts; appropriate to your level.

High Intensity – If we had to choose one word that defines the essence of Crossfit, it would be intensity.  Your intensity during a Crossfit workout will determine how much power you generate, and the higher your intensity, the higher your power output.  This literally results in improvements of your overall fitness.

While coaching, I have seen people yawn during benchmark workouts like “Fran” or “Cindy” or sitting down on a box to take a break mid-WOD. Not because they were dying from the effort, but because that is what they are most comfortable doing.

Greg Glassman (CrossFit’s founder) once said, “Performance is directly correlated with intensity. Intensity is directly correlated with discomfort.”

But here’s the thing with intensity. It’s a bit of a balancing act between going too easy and too hard. If you are new and you try to go too heavy, too hard, too fast without learning how to do the movements correctly, that’s not good either.

Intensity during workouts is something you have to practice and adapt to…and it doesn’t ever get easy, even if you are more advanced.

box jump crossfit 2nd floor

How do I increase intensity in my workouts?

1. Ask yourself: do you pace too much, making every workout feel about the same? Or do you redline every workout, so much so, that you never finish under the time cap or all of your movements are ugly or inefficient at best because you refuse to scale weights?

2. Then focus on what prevents you from increasing your work capacity (fitness). It may be mobility, strength, movement or endurance related. It may also be between your ears.

Most people look to increase volume first. Our collective coaching and exercising experience tells us most people need to first get stronger and build work capacity through efficiency (move better).

Consider moving faster with lighter weights if your first instinct is heavy. If you always go light, try moving a little slower using heavier weights to achieve the correct stimulus. Time caps can help with this, but so will using your previous training results as a reference. Reducing the volume of the movement so you can do closer to RXD designation, even if it shortens your WOD can increase intensity. Don’t be afraid to experiment and keep all of these notes in your training journal.

Anything else I can do to improve for next year’s Open?

Our best advice: Pick one programming track and follow it. For a whole year.

Next, sit down for 30 minutes and do some yearly goal setting.

During the Open, many members learned they could achieve things they didn’t think were possible. Use that Open experience as your catalyst to set goals for the next year in increments of monthly then 3, 6 and 12 month goals. Make sure to check in each month and adjust that your goals are both realistic and attainable.

But also set some goal that seem lofty or impossible, and see how close you can get to them in a year’s time. You may surprise yourself.

(Next post to follow will feature a brief update on programming specifics for each Programming track for the next two 5 week blocks.)