What Program To Follow
Anyone whose had the displeasure of having a conversation with me in the last few months know that I’m sort of obsessed with programming. I like to think that I’m pretty good at it and that I am pretty well versed in the subject. I love reading about what the best are up to and how they train their athletes and themselves.
This extends a bit beyond Crossfit to weightlifting, powerlifting, endurance, track sports, and strength and conditioning for real sports. I have my own personal feelings on what is best and its far from a one sized fits all approach.
Whenever someone approaches me with a goal the first thing I always consider is how realistic the goal and their timeline is.
Sometimes the question answers itself. I remember a conversation I had last summer that went like this:
Athlete: “Matt I want to go to the Crossfit Games next year, can you program for me.”
Me: “Sure, but I first see how you do in the (insert name of local throwdown here) first.”
Athlete: “Do I have to do RX?”
Me: “….um you said you wanted to go to the Games, right?”
Athlete: “Well I don’t think I can do RX right now”
This was followed by an awkward silence where I gently pointed out and she accepted the realization that she wouldn’t be “Games Ready” after a years worth of work.
People often see stories of athletes like Emily Bridgers, Jenny, Lebaw, and other “dark horses” who come out of relative obscurity to achieve great success in the Crossfit Games.
Its a HUGE logical fallacy to think that just because Athlete X is going to the Games after a mere year of Crossfit than I can too.
This isn’t meant to discourage you. However, take a honest look at yourself and at them.
A persons performance in semi-professional adult recreational competitive exercise is the sum of a few things. An athlete’s Crossfit and pretty much every other sport’s success is the sum of a LIFETIME’s worth of: training, competition, diet, recovery practices, technique instruction, ingrained movement patterns, kinesthetic awareness, consistency, genetic potential, and work ethic.
I know. That’s a lot of stuff right there.
I’ve made some huge gains in the past year plus. The sad truth of the matter is that a better athlete putting in the same level of work could make the same gains in half of the time.
You know why Iceland Annie had a top 16 finish after six months of Crossfit? Its partly because of her Sayan genes that for some reason make Icelandic women Crossfit super heros. Its partly her mental focus with the workouts that pushes her. It’s mostly the fact that she’s been working her ass off her whole life.
How long did it take for her to get her first muscle up? Half of a day. Jeff Tucker started working with her a few hours before the final WOD of the 2010 Games in Aromas. Later she got her first muscle up in the final Game’s chipper.
Last year, Jenny Lebaw had a big goose egg of muscle ups at NorCal Regionals. A few months later she won a workout with muscle ups in them at the Games.
I’d rather people look at guys like Jeremy Thiel (3rd overall at the Games in 2010, 97th in the South Central Regional in 2012) and Josh Everett (2nd in 2009, didn’t qualify this year) and others. The growth in popularity and exposure has brought in many more real athletes to the sport.
I don’t point this out to kick you in the nuts and shatter all of your dreams. I point it out to force everyone to realize that if you do not have that level of training experience and that genetic potential the road is going to pretty hard for you.
I like to joke that I know I’m not ever going to ever be good enough to make Regionals on my own. If I was I wouldn’t have been picked towards the end for recess basketball.
So back to programming.
I remember when I first started Crossfitting (back before there was a Games mind you), that there were a lot of people pointing out how dumb program chasing is. Every college male at one point watches “Pumping Iron” and follows Arnold’s personal routine for a few months and fizzle out because they don’t see any gains.
Was there anything wrong with his program? Obviously not because he was winning every title and contest.
So what gives?
Exactly zero of those people are Arnold.
You know who else you are not: Dan Bailey, Rich Froning, Michelle Kinney, Brandon Phillips etc.
Following their program will not make you them.
Granted smart programming is smart programming. So when you look around the web you’ll see that there are a few names that keep popping up for the creme of the Crossfit crop.
First is the original champ James “OPT” Fitzgerald and Rudy Nielsen of Outlaw Crossfit. You also see Ben Bergeron, CJ Martin, Brian MacKenzie and a few other names come up a lot.
I honestly don’t know who in that list is the best. I know for sure that they are all much better at it than I am. I also know that they don’t train novices. Train is the wrong word. It would be more accurate to say they don’t take brand new athletes and groom them for competition.
I’m sure they all have tons of novice and intermediate clients, but that’s not the target audience for their Games preparation programming.
So who or what should you follow?
First you need to look at yourself for a long hard time.
Can you do every work out your gym as prescribed (both weights and gymnastics)? Does the thought of competing in a local throw down RX terrify you? Is Crossfit your first competitive experience?
If you said yes to any of those questions, than you are not ready and you need to stay with your gym or crossfit.com’s basic programming until you build a base. People often make the mistake of getting too serious too fast and piling on too much training. Its more than their bodies can handle and they get hurt, burnt out, or regress.
If you can identify one or two weaknesses, than its simple to add supplemental work to get you to the point where you are a competitor. Some supplemental running or lifting or skill work usually does the trick.
If you said no to all of the questions and are nipping at the heals of being your boxes Thunderdome champion, than you need to take a hard look at yourself and start shoring up your weaknesses.
An intermediate fitness athlete’s program has to be focused on weaknesses. If you are already strong, starting Max Effort Black Box or the Texas Method or the Outlaw Way may not be as productive as following a more engine based program like Crossfit Endurance or OPT. The same is true vice versa.
Chris and I have pretty different perspectives on programming. He has a lactate and oxidative bias. In his eyes, doing a little more is better. I have a strength bias with a boner for stupid human tricks. I think people get more from shorter, more intense metcons with a higher skill component.
The thing is we’re both wrong. We’re also both right. The same is true for every box owner and even the super coaches listed above (at least for their generic programs).
The intermediate athlete needs to address their weaknesses.
Eventually you hit a point where you are exceptionally good at nearly everything. These are the very small percentage of the population who are at least Regional level competitors. (I wouldn’t have said that last year, but this year I think that the level of competition is on a new plane).
If you’re at this level than what the hell are you wasting your time for on this site! Seriously, its something I don’t have any experience with. From what I see, the focus than becomes on increasing skill and efficiency of movement.
Those athletes are so close to their genetic potential across all aspects of fitness that it takes a tremendous amount of time and work to see any neurological or physiological adaptation. So most of their increased capacity comes from finding more movement efficiency.
That’s my observation at least.
The biggest take away is that the program that you are following right now does not mean much of anything until you’ve been following it for a significant (relative to your athleticism) amount of time consistently working on it.
The good news is that so long as you are consistently setting personal records and improving your performance what you are doing is working. Keep it simple and stick with it until its not working and then start to tweak.