When it comes to CrossFit® programming, there are a wide range of opinions as to what makes a great WOD. By definition, CrossFit® is “constantly varied, functional movement, performed at high intensity.” I always keep this core principle in mind when programming workouts and my athletes make great progress and avoid injuries.
To keep WODs constantly varied, try mixing up the movements so your athletes don’t get stagnant. Some great options include gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting, plyometrics and endurance, which all have a place in CrossFit® programming. Being able to program these movements differently, in different combinations, is where the art to programming takes place.
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Functional movements are movements that are performed in everyday life. CrossFit®’s use of functional movements is one of the characteristics that set it apart from other forms of sport or fitness. These movements give athletes a great advantage over those who perform single movements in isolation, so always remember the value in using them in your programming.
Some classic functional movements include the deadlift, which is like picking something heavy up off the ground, the clean, which is like picking up a child, and the pull-up, which is like hanging from an object.
High Intensity Movements
High intensity movements are the driver for the results that come from good CrossFit® programming. The best programming in the world won’t get optimal results if the intensity is left out. Good programming can also breed good intensity levels.
For example, if I program a workout as a triplet (three movements), but all movements are pressing (i.e. pushups, handstand pushups, push press), the intensity will suffer because the same muscle groups are being taxed throughout all three movements. Whereas a triplet with complimentary muscle groups (i.e. the air squat, pushup, pull-up…which make up the benchmark WOD ”Cindy”) will allow the intensity to remain high. That’s because the limiting factor in performance will be heart rate and lung capacity, as opposed to muscle failure.
Putting it Together – How to Program for CrossFit
We also want to present the “Constantly Varied Function Movement Performed at High Intensity” ideals across broad time and modal domains. This means we want to test short, explosive workouts, long, grinding workouts, and everything in between. We want to test movements at a low rep count, as well as a high rep count. Variation like this will create well-rounded athletes. Remember, CrossFit is about beating the lifter in running, and beating the runner in lifting. We want to be proficient at everything, not great at one thing.
But of course, not all class participants will be at the same level, and that’s where modifications come in. Modifications are what separate a good coach from a great coach. Great coaches should be able to determine when an athlete needs modifications, based on factors such as previous injuries, mobility issues, etc.
This is also where different programs can come into play, where athletes are able to get programming based on their specific goals. If someone is coming to the gym just to lose some weight and look better in a bathing suit, some good quality, general CrossFit® programming is perfect. For someone wanting to compete, they may need completely different programming, as would the person rehabbing a hip replacement. It all comes down to the athlete and what they want/need, and adjusting the programming accordingly.
Understanding the demands that your programmed workouts create, as well as the ability levels/limitations of your athletes should give you all of the information you need. When in doubt, scale down. Nobody ever got fitter by being injured. Always error on the side of too light/too few reps. Intensity is relative, so just because you scale a workout down, doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t working as hard.
Last But Not Least- Recovery
Recovery is vital for results, but it is a very individualized concept. Some people can go six days on, one day off, and be perfectly fine. Others may be able to only go two days on, one day off (or even two days off), to feel fully recovered. There are many factors that influence recovery (age/sleep/nutrition/etc.). The key is reinforcing to your athletes that only they know how their body feels, and that if they feel like they need a day off, they probably do. Again, it goes back to the main point of nobody ever got fitter being injured.
As long as we, as coaches, are following the basic principles of CrossFit® programming (constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement), and we are paying attention to our athletes and their needs/limitations, the results are going to come as long as they are working hard. Many people tend to overthink CrossFit® programming, but it’s really not that hard. Constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity WILL yield results.