CrossFit Programing: Are We Doing Too Much?

Following up on my post about Online CrossFit Programming, I wanted to write some thoughts about how affiliates program classes for the general population, like you or I.

CrossFit is meant to be a conditioning-biased exercise program. Look to this pyramind illustrating a theoretical hierarchy for the development of an athlete. It comes from Greg Glassman’s “What is Fitness”, which was published 15 years ago in the CrossFit Journal.

crossfit-heirarchy-of-development

Nutrition is the most important and then it’s conditioning. Somewhere about 5 years ago CrossFit affiliates started to shift the importance and focus of their programming to be strength-biased. This probably had something to do with the rise in popularity of the CrossFit Games; people wanted to train like the elite Games athletes.

Since day 1 and still today, the WOD posted on CrossFit.com is only one workout. They doesn’t suggest performing a strength piece, a skill piece, and a conditioning piece every day like you see in almost every CrossFit affiliate around the world. If you attend a Level 1 seminar, during the programming lecture they don’t teach you how to jam pack an hour with as much exercising as you can. Sure some of the Main Site WODs are strength focused, as they should be, but the majority of days the workout is a conditioning based one. Are we causing ourselves to get injured more and limiting our potential as human beings by doing too much?

Here’s a great podcast episode with Ben Bergeron, who is one of the top coaches in the sport. He explains a lot on the topic and makes a lot of great points for conditioning-biased programming.

What do you think?

Once I finish up this Push Only program I’m following (about 4 more weeks), I might experiment with some conditioning-biased programming like CrossFit teaches us.

CrossFit Programming Services

I’ve used a couple of online CrossFit programs this year that I’ve really liked. The first is Hybrid Performance Method. For about $35/month you can choose between 8 different programs and you can switch anytime you want with a few clicks in your profile. For a few months at the beginning of the year, a couple of friends and I were following the Hybrid WOD program to prepare for the CrossFit Open. It was hands down the hardest, but also the best programming I’ve followed. We averaged about 90 minutes in the gym, 5 days a week and saw big improvements in our fitness.

After I tweaked my back, I switched over to Hybrid Push-Only, which is all about the upper body and runs 4 days a week. It rarely takes me over an hour to finish the assigned work. I’m really loving it. Bench press is the main lift, but there is also a fair amount of overhead pressing, a ton of accessory work, and a day focused on pulling strength, mainly pull-up type movements. We’ll see if I can’t hit a 300 pound bench press at the end of 12 week program. I’ve been spacing out the 4 days a week so I can still go to a 2-3 CrossFit classes. I think I’m averaging about 9 days to get through a week of the program and am finishing up week 8.

The other program I’ve used this year is Performance Plus Programming. It’s focused around gymnastics type stuff and using movements to create stability and support. It runs $20/month, has 4 workouts per week, and almost never takes me more than 10 minutes to complete. The first month was focused on shoulders, which paired up really well with the Push-Only program. I need to loop back around and repeat that month of programming before I try out the core focused month.

New Garage Gym Equipment

In addition to making my own Farmers Carry handles, I’ve picked up some new items to expand the garage gym.

I bought this 10 foot climbing rope on Amazon. The ceiling obviously isn’t high enough for rope climbs, but I can use it for legless climbs starting from a seated position on the floor or simply do rope pull-ups. Can never have too many ways to do a pull-up or hang!

An upper body lifting program I’ve been following assigns half kneeling single arm bottoms up kettlebell presses every week. When I’m at home I’ve been using a dumbbell, but it’s nowhere near the same stimulus as stabilizing the uneven weight of an upside down kettlebell. It’s a very challenging exercise; if you’ve never done them before you’ll have to start much lighter than you’d expect.

I picked up this adjustable kettlebell from Dick’s Sporting Goods plus two 10 pound plates and a 5. As pictured I took out 3 of the spacers, which are on the right side. With this combination I can adjust it anywhere from 20-45 pounds in 5 pound increments. I already have a 50# kettlebell at home as well as a 53# and 70# I keep at the gym since I use those a lot more there.

These furniture movers, or SuperSliders, work really well on the rubber gym flooring. You can put your heels or toes on one of these and slide your legs in and out for core work.

“The Erg Book”

375+ of the Greatest Indoor Rowming Workouts of All Time

Won this in a Twitter contest from Concept2.

I flipped through and it covers everything you need to know about indoor rowing including setting up the rower for your body type, technique tips, 14 week training plans, and of course workouts, which are organized by skill level, training goals, time, and difficulty.

2017 CrossFit Games Open Results

As previously mentioned, due to tweaking my back, I wasn’t able to do the 5th and final workout of the Open this year. I’m feeling good to go now and didn’t want to delay my attempt on 17.5 any longer, so I did it in my garage yesterday.

When the workout was announced I knew everyone would be tricked into thinking they had to do the thrusters unbroken. It’s the beauty of the workout design. Change it from 9 to 10 reps and people would have thought different about it. I tried to convince people breaking up the thrusters would be beneficial, but nobody believed me. I certainly didn’t plan to do 10 sets of 9 unbroken thrusters.

I split up the first 9 sets into 5 reps, a strict 3 count to rest, and a set of 4 reps. I did the 10th round unbroken. It worked out great and allowed me keep a steady pace through the entire workout. I geek out a bit on split times over on my workout blog if you’re interested in that kind of thing. Finished the workout in 13:28.

While not official results, I calculated where I would have ranked this year if I had been able to submit this score. Overall through the 5 weeks I would have had 139,975 points in the Open division, ranking me 20,616 / 201,951 (10.2%) and 18,825 points in the new Masters 35-39 division for 2,455 / 38,106 (6.4%). My best year yet!

CrossFit Games Open Ranking History

  • 2012: 16,395 / 20,857 (78.6%)
  • 2013: 9,251 / 43,479 (21.3%)
  • 2014: 13,721 / 66,904 (20.5%)
  • 2015: 13187 / 118,237 (11.2%)
  • 2016: 19,060 / 139,037 (13.7%)
  • 2017: 20,616 / 201,951 (10.2%)

I don’t know why, but a bunch of these previous year numbers are substantially different in terms of participation (lower) that I’ve written about before. According to the current CrossFit Games Leaderboards it’s the data I come up with though. I always base it off the number of men who completed at least one of the workouts.

Back Update

On Sunday March 24th, I tweaked my back. I’ve been having some issues for the last year or so, but never like this. Usually I feel it happen and can continue training in a limited capacity during the same workout session. I’ll back off weights for a few days, but within a week I’m back to normal. This time was different. It literally took minutes to get out of bed on Monday morning and walking was a struggle.

When I felt worse on Tuesday morning I made an appointment to see my chiropractor. It helped a little, but not much. After getting home and sitting to work for hours, it was not easy standing back up. When I woke up worse yet on Wednesday I was getting worried. Did I have a ticking time bomb in my low back that could be set off any second? I called my chiro and he talked me down, explaining it was a good sign I wasn’t getting any numbness or tingling up or down from the area. I was so uncomfortable sitting or standing I took the day off work and spent it laying on the living room floor watching TV. Getting up off the floor wasn’t pleasant but at least I was feeling ok when I was down there.

I went back to the chiro on Thursday and he mentioned moving around while sitting on an exercise ball may help, so I actually used one as my desk chair the rest of the day and on Friday too. Finally on Friday evening I started to feel some improvement. Waking up Saturday was still a struggle and I gave up on socks after failing to put them on for several minutes. Once I was up and moving around the house, things loosened up and I saw more improvements through the day. When I woke up on Sunday I was able to get out of bed, shower, and put clothes on mostly normal.

Now I was on to week two and I felt better each day. I saw the chiro two more times that week. I was still leaning to one side and moving gingerly until probably Wednesday. I had been able to get on the Airdyne for some exercise through those first 10 days and it was actually when I felt the best. I slowly started adding in more exercise movements like air squats, box step-ups, and lunges.

On Monday, which was the beginning of the 3rd week, I squatted some decent weight (over 70% of my max) with no pain. I saw the chiro one last time on Tuesday. On Wednesday I did a workout with quite a bit of deadlift volume. Didn’t need to restrict any movements at this point and hadn’t felt any pain in several days.

I drove an hour down to Holly, MI on Thursday to see a PT who knows CrossFit. One of my friends recommended him and I liked the idea of seeing a PT who understood the movements. I figured I’d feel more comfortable with any plan he came up with compared to going to see a PT in an office.

During my evaluation we talked through the history of my back tweaks. Then he testing some ranges of motion and watched me do some squats, twists, bends, etc in his “office.” Took me into the gym and watched me squat and deadlift moderate loads. Then he had me do some unilateral movements with a kettlebell. Finally back to deadlifts but from a deficit. We were talking through everything the whole time.

It’s not a mobility issue for me, other than some minor hamstring restrictions at end range. He gave me a bracing and stability tip to get more neutral in my setup; I have had a slight tendency to arch more than needed. He recommended movements to strengthen and stretch my hamstrings under load, showed me a psoas release technique, and gave me some unilateral work to address imbalances I have in my low back muscles.

Turns out I was on the right track with some of the things I’ve done at different times to address this problem. Unfortunately I was never sure and didn’t stick to anything long enough to make a difference. So far I’m really liking the unilateral stuff, which in general is a weakness of most CrossFit programming. We love the barbell, but it can hide a lot of imbalances. I’m excited to see how things progress over the next couple of months.

Thruster Attack Revisited

I just finished my second go-round of the Thruster Attack program I created almost 2 years ago. I didn’t remember it hurting so much. I started on November 12th and had to stretch out this final week so today actually marks 71 days.

img_8758Basically you do thruster intervals twice a week. The days start on opposite ends of the energy pathway spectrum, aerobic and anaerobic, and meet in the middle during week 10. For specifics, read the original post (linked above). I’m really happy with how well the program holds up. I’ve seen solid improvements in my fitness both times I’ve done it and several friends who just finished or are in various weeks of the program are also seeing fitness gains.

Many of us who enjoy fitness say we’d pick a heavy squat if we could only do one movement for the rest of our life, but a thruster might be the better choice.

While I think the program as originally written is solid, I tried out some changes on myself this time:

  • During the first 3 weeks, I did 2 extra sets on the heavy days.
  • For the first 3 weeks of Tabata work I kept the rep count at 8 for every set.
  • In weeks 4-5 I started to increase the reps during later Tabata rounds.
  • For weeks 6-10 I did 9 reps for every set of Tabata work.
  • After the first week or two, I rarely did any other exercising on thruster days.
  • Until the last few weeks, I was only doing CrossFit 1-2 other days per week.

All of those changes worked well for me, but may not work for others. The rep counts were low enough in those initial weeks where I could recover fast enough to add in the extra sets on heavy days. During weeks 4-5 the heavy days were the worst and I had to break up some sets. When I originally wrote this program and was testing it out, I’m pretty sure I skipped one of those weeks due to a work trip. In week 4 I had to do the last set of 10 as sets of 6 and 4. Then in week 5 I had to go 6-4 and 4-3-3 on the final two sets. While some of the Tabata work gets boring and turns into a grind, I was never in danger of failing any reps.

How about some numbers? Over the course of 20 sessions, I completed 2,309 thrusters and moved 146,890 pounds! Warm-ups would push those over 2,400 and 150k.

thruster-attack-btwb-chart.png
Thruster movement chart from Beyond the Whiteboard

Is it overkill doing so many thrusters? Maybe. Did I want to quit? Almost every workout. Does it work? Definitely.