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Programming WODs Is Hard(er than doing them!)

May 31, 2014
Photo by Tim Aguero: www.aguerophoto.com

Photo by Tim Aguero: http://www.aguerophoto.com

I just finished my first week of programming WODs for Rocket, all by myself. Well, I wrote them, then very nervously handed them to Brady for his seal of approval, which it got with only very-minor discussion and one small change. (I need a drink, that was nerve-wracking.) This momentous achievement has made me an expert in absolutely nothing, except, perhaps, how hard programming was the first time I did it. But it did make me wonder if people know how much effort we put into this. There are no whims involved here, we actually have a plan.

DAILY
First, let’s look at each day. Each day we will work some sort of skill. Sometimes it’s a lift (deadlift, snatch, you get the idea.) Sometimes it’s skill, like pistils or handstands. (Yes, I know it’s pistols, but my inner flower-child just can’t go there.) After a warm-up, that skill will usually take most of a class. So then, there’s a Metcon, short for Metabolic Conditioning. Those vary largely, and we’ll get to that in a bit. So when we’re programming, we are generally programming two parts to each day. (Except on the days when we’re scheduled to JUST do a big Metcon…..)

WEEKLY
Then, we have an 8-day rotation of moves. Why 8 days? Because some people work out on the same schedule every week. If someone always comes Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and those days are always, squats, deadlifts and snatches, that person is not balanced, at all. If the goal of our programming is “constantly varied, functional movement,” then we have to make sure that our athletes who are stuck in a routine do not get a routine workout every time they come.

Here’s how ours works, currently, for now, cuz’ I’m sure it’ll evolve: Squat, Metcon, Oly Lift, Deadlift, Squat, Metcon, Oly Lift, Kettlebell. They always go in that order. Of course, that’s not all there is to it.

THE LIFTS
Think of the MANY kinds of squats for instance. I’m not talking just Back, Front and Overhead. But any squat can be done as stop squats, super slow squats…..  Lots of ways to tackle that. The same is true of any lift. Think a deadlift is just a “thing.” What about Romanian Deadlift? Halting Snatch Deadlift? But wait, there’s more. Low-weight, Hi-rep. Low-rep, High-weight. 3RM, 1RM….. And there’s a logic to that too.

1RM (the maximum that you can squat for just one rep) is interesting information, but it also has the highest risk of injury. So we do those very rarely, if ever. In fact, we usually tell people that the only people who should be doing a true 1RM are experienced lifters. Everyone else? 2RM or 3RM and we do math to find out what their 1RM is. (2RM = 95% of 1RM.) (Yes, math is an important part of CrossFit.)

Why do we care about the 1RM if it can be dangerous? Because knowing it, even if you don’t actually do it, is a great way to increase strength. Generally, if we do a big 1RM spree (whether it’s actual or mathematical,) it’s because we’re going to program high-rep sets after that, at  x% of your 1RM, to gradually increase your strength, and then when we return to your 1RM in 6 weeks or so, you will magically be stronger than you were last time.

Well, through the magic of our careful programming and your hard work. That’s like magic that we make together. (Cue the violins and let’s call it love.)

THE METCONS
We have 2 big Metcons a week, because sometimes you just need a big cardio workout. They’re fun, and good for you. Sometimes we do benchmark WODs, but usually, we make something up based on what we’re doing the rest of the week.

We want to make sure that there’s running in there (the ultimate Zombie Apocalypse skill,) some rowing, and some highly-varied interval stuff. So if you look at our metcons – large and small – over the course of a week, or a month, you’ll see all those things.

Personally, I LOVE partner WODS. They are usually wickedly hard, and I think that they truly represent the powerful community and togetherness that I love so much about CrossFit.

And, of course, a day of kettlebells, because we love them. (By “we”, I mean “I”.) A lot. They are not only a great way to do skill work and metcons, but they have the added challenge of being unstable and needing to control them, so they’re great for focus. Some of our kettlebell work is slow and deliberate: Turkish Get-Ups, Turkish Rollovers, Kettlebells…..  Some of it is ballistic and exhausting: Swings, Snatches. And of course, anything you can do with a dumbell or barbell, you can do with a Kettlebell.  (If your wrists are bumming, you will almost always be using kettlebells rather than a bar, actually. They are awesome for subbing!) The fact that we don’t do them every day is how you know that I am only partly in charge.

VARIETY
I know, none of that sounds especially hard, but that’s because we haven’t addressed how you pair up a skill / lift with a metcon every day, and balance it out over time.

When I look at a week, I want to see all the major muscle groups worked hard at least twice. And I want to see them as close to “rested” as you can get in the context of CrossFit. Unlike most “single” sports, we’re looking for constant variety in order to not get repetitive stress injuries, and to work your whole body in ways that protects it in real life.

I also want to see a variety of delivery methods. AMRAPs (As Many Rounds As Possible,) For Time (a set number of moves that you try to do as fast as possibe,) EMOtM (moves that are every minute on the minute, with rest in between)….  You name it. Then, some short metcons, some long ones. Some that are really simple moves, some that are complicated. Some that are body-weight, some that involving using weight. Some that are just two moves, some that are lots of moves.

And NONE of it is random. We look at it all, en masse. Move stuff around.

On top of all that, as we’re programming, we’re doing modifications in our head. We have never had a WOD that didn’t have to be modified for someone, and as we’re programming, our heads are already thinking about what move can be substituted that will either mimic that work while avoiding a risky joint / muscle. Or something that will altogether bypass a body part and go somewhere else entirely.

Our job is, simply, to make you as prepared for your life as possible. And also for the Zombie Apocalypse. The Snatch may seem like a useless thing until you have to get a passed-out loved one overhead to toss them to safety on the other side of a wall. You’re gonna snatch that body to safety, take my word for it.

But all of the lifts also make you stronger for safely pulling kids in car seats out of the back of a car, for carrying groceries up the stairs, for chasing your dog down the street, for….. All of you, stronger, for life.

But, but, but……  how do we know when someone’s gonna show up, or take a rest day, or……  We can’t plan for that. So we don’t. But we do have some opinions as to how people pick the days they come.

DO THE THINGS THAT ARE HARD
The human tendency is to pick the WOD that looks the most fun, or that you know you’re good at (which is probably why it’s fun.) Our hope is that you will, instead, train to your weaknesses. Work on the moves that are hard for you, that’s where you have the most to gain. Have a weak low-back? Don’t miss the deadlift days.

REST WHETHER YOU WANT TO OR NOT
Yes, every WOD is a gift from the universe and you want savor all of them. Me too. You can’t. Neither can I. It’s up to you to take rest days so that your muscles can heal. You will be stronger. I promise. And if you’ll indulge me, may I humbly suggest that you don’t work out while on vacation? You don’t have to just lie on the beach swizzling cocktail umbrellas, but REST. Really rest.

Active rest is great, but it’s not real rest. At Rocket, we offer yoga, Pilates and mobility classes to our members as part of their membership. It’s our sneaky way of trying to get them to NOT CrossFit all the time. Give these over-achievers something else to do. Something mellow and nurturing that works their body in a different way and fosters flexibility. It works.

Still think programming is easy? It’s not. It’s hard as hell. But it’s also really rewarding. It’s like coming up with a great recipe and seeing people enjoying it at a dinner party. Many times a day.

When I see shit programming – stuff that is dangerous, or serves no real purpose except bragging rights – it upsets me. But I understand it, it’s a lot easier. It does, however, make me question the motive of the person doing that programming. If my goal is about YOUR health and fitness, I’m not going to program things that have a high probability of hurting you. No matter how impressive they may seem.

And remember, the CrossFit Games are a spectator sport, not a programming lesson. Trying to do that stuff is like trying to play in the NFL because you really love your Sunday afternoon pickup game. Don’t be an idiot. And if you’re programming, don’t treat your athletes like idiots. Or professionals. Most of us are neither.
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I have been impressed with the programming at Rocket for almost three years. This is the first week that I did it. That’s because Brady Collins and Jeremiah Derksen are MASTERS at it. Seriously. I am lucky to get to play with them, but they set a very high bar.
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6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 31, 2014 7:26 pm

    This overview is awesome, but I skipped reading what we are doing this week. I have learned that I should never read the workout ahead of time – workout surprises are good surprises!

  2. June 1, 2014 5:36 am

    This was great, Alyssa. The game player in me (read obsessive optimizer of multiple simultaneous equations/axes of value) thinks a fair bit about programming and its awesome to hear someone breakdown some of their process!
    One (unrelated to programming) question: Sumo deadlift high pulls. SODO (my first box) does them too and I have massive respect for you, Brady & Mike. The best box in London hands down (mine) doesn’t, and I have read a couple internet articles by people I respect who are definitely “con”. I’d love to hear why you made the decision to do them (I’m guessing it was a conscious one with some deliberation)?

  3. Alyssa Royse permalink*
    June 1, 2014 6:37 am

    Ironically, we NEVER do them. We are “mostly con” on them. But I love this WOD, so they make an appearance here. I don’t think they’re inherently bad, though I see very little point in them. And as I was writing this, I was thinking “these may get changed to regular Sumo DL.” I am generally against DL in a WOD. But these are REALLY light.

  4. June 1, 2014 8:43 am

    It is a great WoD 🙂 I’m assuming you do 1 min each movement and then a min rest between rounds? I’m trying to remember the substitution In2crossfit does… pull ups maybe?

  5. Alyssa Royse permalink*
    June 1, 2014 8:53 am

    Yup. 😉 For light weight, I’m okay with SDHP. (We’re even being REALLY sacrilegious and encouraging super light weight rounded back deadlifts as “pre-hab” for weak lower backs. 😉 ) But you will NEVER see hi-weight, hi-rep DL of any sort at Rocket. And the high-pull is just stupid. To me, it’s the perfect expression of the CF tendency to just do stupid shit because it looks cool and will cause someone else to say “woah, what was that?” It’s just dumb.

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