What should CrossFit programming look like?

Updated: Nov 9


Interested in CrossFit? Not sure if the programming is right for you? Check out this quick read to see what type of programming is right for you! You might even learn a bit about the history of CrossFit in the meantime!


What should CrossFit programming look like?

What a loaded question!!! I think in order to answer this question effectively you need to understand a few things first.


What is CrossFit?

Is it people that flip tires and swing around on pull-up bars? Is it those incredibly jacked and muscular people that occasionally show up on CBS sports or my YouTube feed that are working out for a living? Is it simply a fitness program?

Yes, I am a Doctor of Physical Therapy but I am also a CrossFit Level 1 Instructor...sooooo I might be a little biased.


All valid questions to the uninitiated! To an extent, the answer is yes to all of those questions. Let’s dig a little deeper though!


CrossFit is an ideology created about 20 years ago by Greg Glassman. I think that statement is key in that CrossFit is not technically a fitness program, a group fitness class or a fad. All 3 may be true in a sense but when created Glassman set out to start something that would help individuals prevent, reduce and possibly reverse chronic diseases that plague our society such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and secondary disabilities.


As controversial as Glassman was, and still is (just check any google search for his name), in my opinion, he was targeting a market that somehow very few medical professionals knew how to address: Diet & Exercise. CrossFit laid a template for those individuals who had been told by a doctor at some point that they needed to change their dietary habits and exercise more frequently! 2 simple sentences from Glasman’s 2002 article in CrossFit Journal, set the table so to speak.


“Perform constantly varied functional movements under high intensity.”


“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.”


CrossFit’s 3 fitness Standards

10 recognized physical skills

CrossFit lists these 10 skills as cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy.

Equal ability in skill performance

In theory, your program should help you improve all of the listed skills above equally.

3 metabolic pathways

Phosphagen - 10 seconds or less

Glycolytic - 10 to 90 seconds

Oxidative - Several minutes or longer


Glassman’s Hierarchy for athletic development

Nutrition - the base and beginning for a healthy lifestyle

Metabolic Conditioning - “cardio” for all 3 of the energy systems

Gymnastics - body control

Weightlifting & Throwing - compound resistance exercises that drive adaptations

Sport - competition & community


“Well Patrick, I appreciate the lecture on the history of CrossFit but I just want to know how to program for myself or another athlete! Get to the point!”


Alright, alright...sorry for the soapbox!!


Truth is, I cannot answer that question without knowing the goals of the individual for which I am programming. So instead of leaving you answer-less, I will provide you with 3 different ways to program that are all correct for different outcomes!


Scenario 1

I have my own garage gym, just built it since the pandemic started and I am looking to start my own program to follow, but I have no idea where to start! I’ve done CrossFit but don’t have access to programming!


Answer

Easy. Go to CrossFit.com, click on the tab that says “workouts”. Boom, you are done and it’s completely free!


3 days of workouts followed by 1 day of rest

Alternates combinations of conditioning, weight training, and gymnastics in order to keep movements constantly varied.

Will incorporate movements that apply to all 10 general physical skills as well as the 3 energy systems discussed earlier!


Scenario 2

I am seriously wanting to compete in the sport of CrossFit. I am a member of a gym that has a coaching staff but there are still aspects of my training that I cannot perform (i.e. muscle-ups, heavy snatches, handstand walking).


Answer

In this scenario, I would suggest you sit down with your coach or coaches at the gym. Odds are they possess the knowledge or have the resources to attain the program that is built for you. To start, try to answer these questions first:


Are you looking to compete at the highest possible level, win a local competition, or compete at your home gym’s competition?

What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? What do I like to work on? What do I tend to skip?

How much time am I willing to spend training, recovering, and practicing?


Once these questions are answered, you will have a much clearer idea of the level of programming needed.


At KS Athletic Club, athletes that desire to compete at the highest levels have the opportunity to have individualized training developed that would include specific gymnastics, tailored Olympic weight lifting, and mobility & recovery techniques designed to enhance performance.


Scenario 3

There is no way I could ever do CrossFit, the workouts are too intense, I could never do those movements and besides my doctor told me that I should never squat or deadlift!


Answer

While we understand that it can be intimidating, CrossFit is scalable to all ability levels. It is the responsibility of the coaching staff to ensure that safety measures are taken and each individual is attaining the correct stimulus from the workout. In order to get in and out of a car or pick-up your grandchild out of their playpen, you need to be able to perform some form of a squat or deadlift! The programming for this individual looks the same! Constantly varied, functional movements, done over a high intensity...RELATIVE TO THEIR ABILITY! Of course, if you have not worked out in years you will not be at the same level as the professional athlete you see on TV! With that being said, there are medical conditions that it is important to make sure intense exercise is not CONTRAINDICATED!


One of the most popular ways to do this is something we offer through Restore Thrive that is called a “Vitality Pro Age Assessment”. This simple assessment will allow us to evaluate the systems of your body that help you perform functional movements desired in a program like CrossFit and give us feedback on any red flags that may need to be addressed prior to starting!


Interested in learning more! Contact Restore Thrive at (913) 396-9726 today!


Long story short: There is no direct answer to the original question!


The best CrossFit program has elements that utilize the 10 general physical skills, utilizes them equally, and do so through all 3 energy systems. That program may be very specific for an individual with aspirations to be one of the best in the world at the sport of CrossFit. That program may also be the generic program found on CrossFit.com that thousands of people around the world perform to become healthier versions of themselves!



https://journal.crossfit.com/article/what-is-fitness


About the author

Patrick Chandler is a doctor of physical therapy that works for Restore Thrive, LLC in Overland Park, Kansas. a suburb of Kansas City. Patrick coaches CrossFit classes 5 days a week at KS Athletic Club and provides physical therapy for clients out of the same gym focusing on staying active and living a healthy lifestyle!


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