My buddy Joe Bauer (aka AllAroundJoe) recently posted a blog article equating pizza eating (for quantity) to burpees (for time). Apart from the fact that it’s a cute metaphor and actually fairly accurate, it caused us to branch off a bit in our discussion of Programming.
Programming is a touchy subject for a lot of people. Most CF gyms offer their own programming in addition to CrossFit.com, but many advanced athletes still prefer to do individual programming. Mark Twight, author of the Gym Jones Manual, refers to CrossFit as excellent for building a base in general fitness, but believes that programming should be tailored to the individual and their specific requirements. This may sound like a no-brainer, but given CrossFit’s claim as “specializing in that we don’t specialize,” the similarities between the two programs end there.
I’ve preferred the Gym Jones approach in the past because, as much fun as CrossFit is, it doesn’t fall in line with my personal fitness requirements. There’s little running, and even less walking/rucking involved. Sure, the main site will tell you to “go out and play a sport,” but that seemed like a cheap catch-all to me. I’ll steal CrossFit WODs from time to time and I like to go to the local CF gym on my off days (Stoneway CrossFit in Seattle), but I’ve always felt like my own programming would suit my fitness goals better.
This is where the car metaphor comes into play. I bought a 2005 Ford Mustang GT when I was in college and almost immediately began making small modifications. As an automotive engineering major, I wanted to drive a car that reflected my passion and (supposed) knowledge base. With a relatively limited budget just out of college and the need to use the car to get to work, I was limited to simple and inexpensive improvements.
Later down the road, after I had put a fair amount of money away, I was able to sit down and plan out the car in detail. The first consideration wasn’t how much power I wanted it to have, or how much lateral grip, but rather “what am I building this car to do?” A car designed for the drag strip has very different requirements when compared to one built for a track or one designed as a street cruiser. All three might require high power output and modified suspension, but the way you achieve that power output or the geometry you employ in your suspension will vary based on the overall goal.
Without getting into the technical details, I decided on building a car for the track, meaning it had to be just as fast in the corners as it was in a straight line. Additional power, torque, or grip wouldn’t mean a thing if I couldn’t maintain or decrease the car’s weight. As the chief engineer at Lotus once said, “building a better engine makes you faster in a straight line. Reducing weight makes you faster everywhere.”
Finally, in the final execution of my plan to build a track car, I ended up replacing modifications I had already made. The original purchases were essentially wasted because they didn’t fit well with the final plan. If I had thought this process through from the beginning, I could have made better use of my money and time.
I’m sure you see where this is going. There are plenty of similarities between designing and building a race car and designing your workout programming, which I’ll spell out below:
· Have a goal in mind before you design your program. If you don’t know where you want or need to be, you can’t get yourself there efficiently. This goes back to the primary difference between Gym Jones and CrossFit programming. CrossFit will get you in great shape, but will not maximize your potential for any specific application of fitness. In addition, having a final goal in mind will prevent you from wasting time and effort on things that don’t allow you to advance towards your goal. Running 60 miles a week will not make you a champion power lifter.
· Let your final goal dictate your methodology. Most people with late-model Mustangs know that the engines respond very well to supercharging. It is the simplest way to add power without requiring a complete engine overhaul. It also adds weight and only truly adds power in the upper range of engine speed… making it ideal for the drag strip but not the track. Going with a naturally aspirated rebuild can maintain or lower car weight and provide a torque and power increase across the entire RPM range… which makes more sense for a track car. This thought is one of the biggest reasons I don’t count on CrossFit for programming. Most of the CrossFit.com WODs are relatively short in duration (think Fran, Grace) with a few exceptions (Eva, Murph). While high power output is important for a lot of people, my job requires that I be prepared to operate for an extended length of time, so the majority of my metcons are aimed at 40-60 minutes in duration. Another example of this is the ratio of Dynamic Effort to Maximum Effort. An emphasis on Dynamic Effort will prove more effective for improving strength while maintaining lean body mass, while an emphasis on Maximum Effort might create greater strength gains at the cost of increased body mass.
· Make sure the components of your program work together. Ask anyone who has built or rebuilt a car and they will tell you that they spend just as much time fixing part compatibility issues as they do installing what they’ve purchased. The big components of your program need to mesh together to achieve your goal as efficiently as possible. Doing speedwork at the track (i.e. interval training) the same day as a long metcon will impair performance. There are some techniques that can be employed anywhere, and some sets that will require recovery.
· Body composition is critical and will often dictate your methodology and nutrition. If your goal is improving sheer strength or power output, adding weight (as muscle, fat, or a combination thereof) isn’t always bad, and in some cases may be required. Chris Spealler is an absolute animal, but realized he needed to gain weight if he was going to be competitive at the CrossFit games due to the heavy weights employed in some of the workouts. However, for most of us, it is more important to maintain or lose weight and make the remaining mass more efficient. Reducing body fat and improving neuro-muscular recruitment are crucial to endurance fitness requirements, as any bit of extra mass that isn’t gainfully employed is burning oxygen. Google pictures of Ironman triathletes if you need an example. Those guys couldn’t lift a 20lb plate, but they can run a 6:00/mi marathon after a 2.4 mi swim and a 112 mi bike.
Obviously, there is more that goes into building a successful fitness program. Sometimes it’s fun and productive to train exercises and movements that don’t seem to directly correlate to your goal requirements. Sometimes it’s good to recover. Sometimes it’s good to man up and push through when you’re tired. Sometimes the sky is blue.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to let me know at [email protected].