Programming For The People Part 2

Before we get into the nitty gritty of what the conditioning programming looks like I want to address some concerns a few members brought to my attention this week about my last article.

Does Programming Matter?

It seems a few people thought I was saying that programming doesn’t matter.  Let me say unequivocally that I don’t think that nor did I say that. Of course I think the programming you follow matters. However, I also think that it is, in fact, overrated.  Why do I think that?  Here’s an example:

In the 70’s and 80’s there were two dominant forces in Olympic Weightlifting: USSR and Bulgaria.  

Led by the Dynamo Club, the USSR had some of the all time great weightlifters in history.  Their system, known as the Coupled Sequence System (later known as the Conjugate Method), consisted of a constant variation of special exercises where variety was the centerpiece of the system.

Bulgaria, on the other hand, led by Ivan Abadjiev also produced some of the greatest lifters in history at the same time.  Abadjiev’s Bulgarian Method consisted essentially of ONLY Max Snatch, Max Clean & Jerk, and Max Squat, Every. Single. Day.  Variety was for the birds. No periodization or nuance to the program whatsoever. Effectively the polar opposite of the Conjugate Method yet was just as successful in the long run.

So how can two polar opposite “programs” produce extremely similar results?  It wasn’t drugs, they ALL did drugs. How can widely different programs in any sport produce similar results? If programming were some kind of solved system that everyone agreed on WE’D ALL BE DOING THE SAME THING! Instead, you see world class coaches and athletes succeeding with all types of programs. Programming, therefore, can’t possibly be the answer for explaining results.

Nothing infuriates me more than a coach who pretends their programming is the reason an athlete accomplishes something. I’ve coached and written programs for athletes at the highest levels of CrossFit and never once will I pretend it was the programming that did it. It was their dedication, effort and skill that got them there and it’s the same for you no matter your goal.

Anyone who tells you the programming they sell will make you a better athlete should cause you to reflexively hold tight to your wallet. Only your hard work and dedication will take you where you want to go. It’s no more the programming than it is your shoes or your post workout shake. The coach’s job is keep you safe, keep you engaged and make minor changes in technique, then stay the hell out of the way.

Again, that’s not to say programming doesn’t mean anything. It’s just that once you pass a certain threshold, like the IQ test threshold I referenced before, the marginal benefit of some fancy new program is unlikely to be worth any tradeoff.  Stripped of their “brand” (whether it’s Invictus, Comp Train, or Misfits) and randomized amongst CrossFit Games athletes, I will bet my life savings that the order of finishers barely changes.

What matters is how hard you work, how consistently you work and much you recover. Programs don’t do that, people do.  And, as I said before, “anyone says differently is selling something.”

Back to the DCF Programming...


Let’s talk about Conditioning Stimulus for a moment.  

When I look at conditioning workouts I like to keep it simple and group them into two categories of stimulus that I’m trying to elicit: Flow and Grind.

Simply put, Flow workouts are workouts that you should largely be able to accomplish unbroken.  If not unbroken than at least in giant chunks. Think of things like Wall Balls, KB Swings, Rowing, etc.  These flow workouts will be limited less by your overall strength (although that will certainly come into play) and more by your ability to supply energy to the working muscles efficiently.  The mental test of these type of workouts is how long can you keep going and pushing. They won’t be overwhelmingly heavy. They will just be long and grueling.

Grind workouts, on the other hand, are more tests of your mental fortitude as well as ability to recover quickly and get back to work.  They are usually heavy and/or awkward. Why do Hang Power Snatches (that’s more of a Flow type movement) when you can do a Full Snatch from the ground at 155.  Basically they’ll feature (though not exclusively) movements that are acyclical and hard to find a rhythm. They’ll force you to break them up which invites you to rest.  The question is how quickly will you get back to work?


We largely rely on three different structures for our Flow and Grind workouts.  They are: For Time, AMRAPs, and Intervals.

Though it may seem like semantics I think structuring a workout For Time or AMRAP greatly alters how the athlete approaches the workout.  When most people see a work out For Time they tend to burn a little hotter. In the back of their mind they’re thinking, “well if I go faster it’s over sooner.”  That completely changes their approach to the workout.

AMRAPs, on the other hand tend to be a little bit more paced.  People think, “well it’s gonna be 10 minutes no matter what so I might as well chill.”  It’s always funny to me to see how the same workout structured in an AMRAP or For Time produces very different results.

Intervals are great because it allows a lot more control and consistency.  Intervals allow people to get more work done per minute worked than AMRAPs or For Times.  By forcing you to rest most people tend to have much denser periods of work. “Rest is coming up so I’m going to push a little bit more.”  If the same work was AMRAP or For Time people often times take more frequent breaks which can really impact the stimulus from the workout.

Time Domains

Time Domains in CrossFit I think are grossly overestimated and misunderstood with most CrossFit programs.  They are a useful tool when it comes to structuring the amount of work done but in my opinion they are wholly insufficient when it comes to structuring workouts. Think about:  a one minute sprint of burpee pullups and a one minute sprint of thrusters are the same time domain, but will elicit COMPLETELY different results. So time domains are help in that they allow us more control of dosing the stimulus above.

By and large we, once again, keep things simple by trying to work <5 minutes, 5-10, 10-15, 15-20 and 20+.  Notice that’s 5 different time domains. There also just so happen to be 5 weekdays? Picking up what I’m putting down?

The funny thing here is that I genuinely planned on this being one blog post when I started.  How naive was I? We haven’t even touched on how we structure the strength parts of WOD’s.

Well In Part 3 next week we’re going to put the whole thing together and start talking about how we balance all these elements, how we structure strength, and answer some FAQ’s.

If you’ve got any specific questions you’d like me to address please let me know!  Also, I didn’t realize comments were turned off on the last post, I’ve turned them on here so feel free to leave comments (anonymous or not) and I promise to respond.

Andrew KillionComment