The Big Picture

Hello people. A post for you all about how the training you are doing now fits into the training that you will be doing later.
Apologies for the lengthy post, but please read this when you get a chance since this lays out some of the why for what you’re doing.
When I plan programming, I think of it like scaffolding. We want to climb to the top of the building to be able to wash the big crap off the statues, but first we have to get off the sidewalk. We build the first layer, then second, then the third, and so on, until we get to where we want to go. Regardless of where you’re at in your fitness, the process is the same – you’re just trying to get to the top of different buildings. Some might be higher, some might not be so high, but everybody starts from the sidewalk.
Here are my layers:
1. Strength, aerobic capacity, movement proficiency. General Physical preparedness.
2. Continue building #1, but with the addition of power (strength + speed, think olympic weightlifting and kipping movements) and more frequent high intensity efforts.
3. Continue building #1 and #2, but begin adding more complex combinations with more sport-specific skill.
Layering training like this allows for better, faster, more sustainable and more consistent progress, especially over the long term.
Games caliber athletes, Regional level athletes, the person who walks into your gym never having done Crossfit and destroys everyone – one of the things they have in common is that they have 5-15+ years of athletic experience under their belts. It might be track and field, gymnastics, water polo, weightlifting, etc, but they’ve spent a significant amount of time becoming stronger, more enduring, and more resilient to be able to walk into the sport of fitness being able to achieve a high level of accomplishment.
I’m NOT saying “Ok people, we’ll be doing track and field and gymnastics for the next three years, and then we’ll start working in thrusters and burpees.” But I am saying that in order for progress to keep progressing, we have to spend a significant amount of time on each layer in order to be effective.
Think about it – we are trying to change and improve your body AT THE CELLULAR LEVEL. What we do in the gym is literally reconfiguring your body. This is awesome, but the creation of new and more cell parts, the building of new tissue, infusing that tissue with vascular and neurological systems, and then making those systems more efficient TAKES TIME. It would be great to hit a four week strength cycle and walk away meaningfully stronger, but for most of us, that’s simply not how it works.
So to be specific, our current five day training template looks something like this (how your gym implements this schedule might be a bit different than the order here, but the concept behind is day is still the same):
Day 1 – Lower body strength
Day 2 – Aerobic power/capacity
Day 3 – Strength/Strength endurance/Structural work
Day 4 – Upper body strength
Day 5 – Olympic work/Interval CrossFitty stuff
In about four weeks, the tentative template “clicks up” to a tweak of Day 3 and Day 5:
Day 1 – Lower body strength
Day 2 – Aerobic power/capacity
Day 3 – Strength and structure/ High intensity WOD, sled/sandbag/assault/row emphasis
Day 4 – Upper body strength in a faster paced setting – short rest, more circuits
Day 5 – Olympic work/Interval CrossFitty stuff
Then around October:
Day 1 – Lower body strength and power (begin emphasis on Olympic lifting)
Day 2 – Aerobic power/capacity
Day 3 – Strength and Structure/Sport-specific work
Day 4 – Strength and structure/Sport-Specific work
Day 5 – Olympic work/Interval CrossFitty stuff
That schedule then holds up until the Open.


I used to teach 5th grade, and the day I figured out that it didn’t matter what I said to my kids as much as how they heard what I said, I became a good teacher. “Be quiet” to me was a simple command that meant, “If I hear another sound I will burn your future to ash.” But depending on the student, it might mean ” I can talk, just not as loudly as before.” Was a differing interpretation of words the culprit in every case? No. But more often than not, finding a different/better way to explain what I wanted and why was the key to moving forward.

In the same way, coaches and athletes can have different interpretations of words. A coach saying “keep your stomach tight” might get one athlete to brace themselves better, but might cause another to suck in their gut like someone just whipped out a camera at the beach.

Things get even more complicated when we start talking about things with emotional baggage like personal goals. An athlete saying,  “I want to lose weight” is probably “I want to look better”  which is actually “I need to improve body composition by losing fat and gaining muscle” which is actually “my nutrition is going to determine success more than what I do in the gym.” To get to the real meaning behind the words might take some digging, and is something both the coach and athlete need to be consciously committed to figuring out together.

As coaches, it’s our responsibility to figure out what words to use with whom in order to be the best coach for them (italics). As athletes, we might need to be better at expressing our understanding with our coaches so they can get a better idea on how to help us improve.

Process and Product

Screwdrivers and hammers. Both are tools that accomplish similar things, they just work a bit differently. There are strengths and weaknesses of each, and both can be used to create something epic. But nobody brags about their hammer or claims that it’s the only thing that can build a house. You wouldn’t say “Yeah, the house I just built is beautiful, but check out this hammer!” Focusing on the tools instead of on the process and the product is missing the point. 
Equipment is equipment and not moral high ground. Barbell Justice Warriors make it seem like you can’t test whether or not someone is fit unless you put giant pieces of rubber on a pole thing and see how fast they can lift it. The cinder-block lifting, “I train in a farmhouse in the snow of Siberia without equipment so shut up you crybabies” crew is the CrossFit equivalent of “When I was your age, I had to walk to school in the snow uphill both ways!!!”

How you use the tools and what you create with them is what matters. I get where both sides are coming from – barbells are a great tool, a test of fitness and have served as a centerpiece in CrossFit for the last few years. The “cinder blocks and sandbags” crew believes you can do a lot with a little, and that huge fitness doesn’t require a huge bank account. 

But all this banter about barbell vs. other pieces of equipment is misdirection. It’s not the about the means, it’s about the process and the product. Decide what you want and then use the right tools (all of them) to get it. 





Pros and Cons

Project Warhorse is designed for people we’ve dubbed “the hardcore casual” – athletes who want more/more serious training than a typical class but also have primary goals other than becoming an elite level CrossFit athlete. Gaining strength, creating muscle, building an engine all while incorporating strongman, bodybuilding, and aerobic work into the constantly varied fitness bubble. ~There are some negatives of this philosophy of programming. “Serious athletes” are willing to throw a lot of money at coaches if they think it will help them make Regionals/the Games/win. Telling a group of people with a lot of money and competitive aspirations that we will snatch and clean and jerk once or twice a week, do bicep curls, only start kipping movements two or three months out from the Open, and do a crap ton of work where I tell you “DON’T GO AS HARD AS YOU CAN” isn’t a good way to make the most money in the soonest amount of time. 

Having two Bro Sesh days, four aerobic days, a “strongman” day and majority of the training year to be dedicated to build strength and aerobic capacity “isn’t CrossFit”. 

But there are gigantic pros. I love the training. I’m ten weeks into Project Warhorse, and there hasn’t been a day where I’ve been like “yeah, no part of me wants to do this.” Numbers that should be going up are going up, and number that should be going down are going down. I don’t hurt in a way that makes me question whether my training is good for my long term health. When I have to hit something disgusting and hard, I have the mental and physical energy to do it. 

Above all it seems that I’ve fallen in with a pretty awesome group of like-minded people. People that are serious about their training…but not too serious. We talk about getting bicep veins…a lot. So. Many. Donuts. On a weirdly regular basis, I have people that are giving me their money for programming say things like, “How I can help you more?” Crazy. I get texts from people about how they love the work and that makes me feel like running into burning houses to save cats, and I hate cats. 

It’s a cool thing, this fitness + people.

One of our primary goals in training is to make powerful movements aerobic – it’s not enough to “go fast”, we need to be able to go fast and sustain that speed over time, and that speed needs to be able to be maintained regardless of movement. “Engine building” can’t be relegated to run/bike/row – even though those are powerful tools – because neither GPP or competitive fitness is simply run/bike/row. Being able to navigate movement with different load, power, and complexity requirements is a skill that has huge carryover, regardless of training goals. ~

Today’s primary work:

A) EMOMx16
Minute 1: 12 DB snatches 50/35 (5 right then 5 left) + 5 Burpees
Minute 2: DUBS
Minute 3: 12 Wall balls 20/14 + 5 Burpees
Minute 4: Assault Bike -then rest 2 minutes before proceeding to B-

B) For 16 minutes:
Run 200m
10 Russian kettlebell swings 70/53 (tension/fast turnover is more important than bell height)
8 Strict Pull-ups

-then rest 2 minutes before proceeding to C

C) For 16 minutes:
20 Cal Row
10 dynamic push-ups (see video in tips)
5 renegade man-makers 35s/25s

Snatches and Waffles

In college we had a cafeteria that was open from 7am to 7pm, and the meal plan let you eat there as many times as you wanted. Senior year we decided we wanted to camp out in the cafeteria for the entire twelve hours it was open. We made it about six hours before we got bored and left. But it had a bunch of waffle machines, and those were awesome. 

Seeing this picture made me think about how I haven’t had a waffle in years, and that made me sad. 

snatcher: @aemd324 





Hundreds of movements in infinite combinations of reps, times, intensities, variations, loads, HOLY CRAP SO MUCH OF THE FITNESS THINGS. If you haven’t created a neat little machine called “a system” that gobbles up all of this chaotic STUFF, organizes it, and churns out improved fitness, YOU. ARE. SCREWED.

My system goes something like this: movement pattern – energy systems – transferability. Those little hyphens between the three words holding them together? Those are called “Have Fun and Do Awesome Things”. I do or don’t do things in my programming because my system tells me what to do. I choose movements, combine them with other movements, organize them into a week and then into a six week block and then into a year because my system says “do this”. There’s play involved and a lot of creativity, but the system keeps us on track. 

If you’re writing or choosing the programming for your gym, what’s the system you use to make those choices? Where are your people now, where do they need to go, and how are you going to get them there? …or are you just doing stuff? 

If you’re following programming written by a coach, what’s their system? Do you know it AND can you see it in the programming? ….or are you just doing stuff?