The Art and Science of Programming, Part 1

Part 1 of 3:

Programming plays an important role in your health and fitness. A program that’s built on sound principles of strength and conditioning can help guide you a lifetime of fitness. Neglecting these principles can lead to plateau, injury and a decrease in performance. Whatever is programmed should always be explained with the “why” behind it. There’s always a purpose to training, and the answer is always more than just intensity. Thus the purpose of these articles is to explain this “why”, so that you can get a better of idea of how to structure your WODs.

At CFLDN, our programming is guided by three ideas:

  1. Scientific principles of strength and conditioning.
  2. The GPP methods that Crossfit is founded on.
  3. The philosophy and vision of CFLDN.

The scientific principles of strength and conditioning:
It’s said that “methods are plenty but principles are few.” This can easily be seen in the fitness market where we’re flooded with different methods to get to the same goal. Some methods are highly effective and are backed by research, while others are new and shiny but not necessarily effective. At CFLDN, we choose methods that have proven to be effective, and are backed by established principles of strength and conditioning.

The GPP principles that Crossfit is founded on.
In Crossfit, the goal is General Physical Preparedness, or GPP. GPP aims to prepare you to tackle a wide range of physical tasks, and be fit across a series of modalities. Founder of Crossfit, Greg Glassman reflects this in his definition of Increased Work Capacity Across Broad Time and Modal Domains. This is a fancy way of saying, get more, different stuff done.

The philosophy and vision of CFLDN.
At CFLDN, we want to make you fit for life. We want to teach you not just how to sweat, but how to move, and to draw the lessons you learn in the gym to make you a better person outside of the gym. And, taken from our mission statement: CFLDN is held up by our powerful pillar of individuals that unite over a common goal for higher order health.

We believe that this approach works, and makes you better, fitter human…. Want to run 5km? Easy. Can you help me move this couch? Absolutely. Can you keep up with your kids? Sure, can they keep up with me? Can you keep your cool in traffic? Well I just did that WOD so this is easy. We believe that this style of training is the most effective for all round fitness, and it creates a greater way of life.

Adding to the Intensity Paradigm…
At CFLDN, we have our own spin on Crossfits original ideas set in the mid 2000’s. While we believe in Glassman’s mantra of Constantly Varied Functional Movement performed at High Intensity, we acknowledge the pitfalls that constantly working at high intensity can bring. We emphasise the need for planning, periodisation and prioritisation within the programming to ensure sustainable improvement.

Likewise, training should vary in terms of intensity – gone are the days of going as hard and as fast as possible, all the time. Training, like life, should incur cycles of intensity, from low, medium and high. Want to run be a bull in a china shop every day? Have fun with that. Want to unleash the bull sometimes when you’re really ready for it? That’s a game worth playing.

High, Low and Reload Days:
Though high intensity training has its merits, we need to create space for intensity to flourish. This being so, an effective program should include re-load days and weeks to let the body recover, grow stronger, and be ready for the next workout. Many fitness programs neglect this fundamental biological principle in an effort to GO HARD ALL OF THE TIME, but we know from years of experience and research, that reload days and weeks are critical for lifelong health.
Reload days will look like gymnastics EMOM’s or longer aerobic workouts. These days aim to achieve a few things… refine motor patterns, promote blood flow through staying in the aerobic zone (avoiding lactic threshold), nourish the nervous system, enhance recovery from training and life stressors. You should feel GOOD after these sessions. You should leave energised, sleep well, and be ready to hit the next day.

Why we move the way we do…

Crossfit is not defined by a repertoire of movements, rather, it uses a variety of exercises to get better at a wider range of activities.
This being said, we do follow the key functional patterns of:

  • Squatting
  • Bending
  • Lunging
  • Gait
  • Rotating
  • Pushing
  • Pulling

A typical week will involve an a mixture of these primal patterns, as we look to achieve balance in the body.
We use these exercises as this how how you move your body in the real world. Eg. If you need to pick something up, you’re not going to perform a bicep curl, you’re much likely to perform something that resembles a deadlift (bending).

Focussing on functional movements has been proven to help build lean muscle mass and promote fat loss. This is due to the metabolic stress, muscle tension and damage that takes place when you do these movements. Everyone knows the feeling after lifting a heavy deadlift…. There is substantially more work being done that doing bicep curls.

Variation is critical to keeping the body and mind growing, it truly is the “spice of life!” Crossfit makes use of this idea and ensures that every day you’re facing a new physical challenge. Not only does this keep things interesting and engaging, it ensure that you’re given access to a wide range of movements that leads to a well balanced body and General Physical Preparedness.

Variation is not gospel! We still acknowledge the need to have planning, periodisation and prioritisation within the programming (we’re not drawing workouts out of a hat). So every workout has a purpose or a “why” that’s supported by the overall goal at that time.


Stay tuned for part 2 of the Art and Science of Programming!

Steve Hennessy-Maia is a Senior Coach at CFLDN. You can find him working the floor at Crossfit London, and helping clients with their fitness and nutrition through his company, Barefoot Health.

Getting through the team series: Elbow pain + tendonitis rehab protocol

With the team series in full flow now and everyone’s work volume going through the roof the coaches are starting to see a bit of an increase in elbow and wrist pain. The key preventative here is not exceeding the acute to chronic work ratio. In other words if you’re raising the amount of work you’re doing more than 10% over each four week block. For more info on this look at the work of Tim Gabbett.

At CFL the most common manifestation in this is golfers elbow (inflamation of the tendons and other connective tissue around the elbow).

Tendons are a dense type of connective tissue that connect muscle to bone. They are found at each end of the muscle where they attach to the muscle at what is called the Musculotendinous Junction.

Here the muscle fibers start to become intertwined with the tissue of the tendon which ultimately attaches to the bone. The opposite end of the tendon attaches to the bone at what is called the Osteotendinous junction (“osteo” means bone) and this is what allows muscular contraction to exert force on that bone to generate movement. Tendon can become injured in a variety of ways with tendinitis being perhaps the most well known.

This is just inflammation of the tendon (“itis” means inflammation). Tendinitis can occur acutely but is probably most commonly caused by chronic overuse of the tendon that causes it to become chronically inflamed. In recent years this type of chronic inflammation is more commonly called a tendinosis.

The research on fixing tendinitis is very much pointing towards eccentric work:

– Maffulli N, Walley G, Sayana MK, Longo UG, Denaro V. Eccentric calf muscle training in athletic patients with Achilles tendinopathy, Disabil Rehabil. Advance access published 2008
– Sayana MK, Maffulli N. Eccentric calf muscle training in non-athletic patients with Achilles tendinopathy, J Sci Med Sport , 2007, vol. 10 (pg. 52-8)
– Rees JD, Lichtwark GA, Wolman RL, Wilson AM. The mechanism for efficacy of eccentric loading in Achilles tendon injury; an in vivo study in humans, Rheumatology , 2008, vol. 47 (pg. 1493-7)

In fact in a study on soccer players with adductor tendinitis loading was around 13 times better than rest and ultrasound in facilitating return to play.

So to implement a successful (and pain free) RTP we need to find a way to load you without pain. The adaption we are looking for goes like this:

initiation of movement under load -> chemical signalling -> increased protein synthesis.

This works with the cells in the tendon responding to tension, shear, and contraction. The stimulus from this forces creation of at these new tissue:

• Intervertebral disc (Setton, 05)
• Articular cartilage (Knobloch, 08)
• Tendon (Arnockzky, 02)
• Muscle (Durieux, 07)
• Bone (Turner, 1996)

Practically the Rx looks like:

1) Reduce pain (NSAIDs) and protection of injury site
2) Reducing pain through activity
a) Iso-metrics at ROM with no pain
b) Iso-metrics at mid range
c) reduced compressive loading

3) Improve Strength – Heavy Slow resistance in a non-compressive position

4) Build “funtional” strength – as above in more “normal” positions. Here you would address movement patterning issues.

5) Increase Power – Shorter duration lifts.

6) Improve Stretch Shortening Cycle – jump progressions building up to plyometrics or psuedo-plyos

7) Sports or sports specific drills

Sooooo this is A LOT of info but please feel free to ask me to clarify anything that isn’t totally clear

Understanding the Mid-line

Understanding the Mid-line

The much misunderstood “core”. It might be the most misunderstood structure in the body. There is no way that I can make a real dent on the whole subject in one short post but hopefully I can elucidate you in some small way.

When the average person thinks of “core” (which is actually a great term which has unfortunately been bastardised to the extent that it actively annoys me) it’s usually just abs on their mind. Which is fine, abs are cool, they look great and the 100% have a role to play in performance and aesthetics.


Abs and core are not synonymous.

You know that the core is way more than that. When I think of what core training involves I block it as everything above mid thigh and everything below the shoulders (abdominals in the front, paraspinals and gluteals in the back, the diaphragm as the roof, and the pelvic floor and hip girdle musculature as the bottom, inside all of this there is 29 separate pairs of muscles that help stabilise the spine and pelvis (2)). Another way to look at is everything that isn’t peripheral. Whilst I like to define it as above (mid-thigh to shoulders) for ease there is a very strong argument, which I wholeheartedly support, to include the muscles of the jaw and neck into the core, the reason why I’ll cover below (way below, I can already tell I’m going to get carried away.)

Before I go any further into it though what the core is we need to define it’s role as best possible within the confines of this article.


Whilst there is no common consensus on the exact anatomy, physiology, and methods of how to evaluate a clients “core” functionality, the role on the core is undeniable in terms of proper load balance in the kinetic chain, maximising a persons functional range of motion (proximal stability = distal mobility (7)), providing a base of support for maximises force production as well as protecting the joints by decreasing/minimising joint load, shear, compressive, and translational forces throughout the body (1,2).  From a performance point of view it’s easy to see that there is a huge benefit from training “core stability” but one of the most common pathologies we come across as coaches is a client with lower back pain.

Punjabi has described clinical instability (i.e. instability when there isn’t a structural defect cause which may necessitate surgical intervention) as “the loss of the spine’s ability to maintain its patterns of displacement under physiologic loads so there is no initial or additional neurologic deficit, no major deformity, and no incapacitating pain”(3). Clinical lumbar instability in this sense has been cited as a significant cause on lower back pain (4, 5). A meta-analysis of 39 (this is good) randomised trails that investigated treatment of chronic low back pain of non-specific origin with an exercise intervention found a “beneficial effect for strength/resistance and coordination and stabilisation exercise programs over other interventions (6). It’s worth noting in the same meta-analysis that they found little to no benefit from combining the strength/resistance work with “cardio”. From a purely anecdotal point of view with evidence I’d suggest that this is down to people losing pelvo-lumbar control when one hip is in flexion and the other extension (assuming that the cardio prescribed is running, x-trainer, cycling, swimming) and the stability in around the hips and lower back, so as you’re teaching a more stable, controlled lumbar and hip complex with the strength work you’re teaching a less stable/more unstable hip complex at the same time which results in a conflict of adaptation (the adaptation being what any intervention is actually about) and no real change hence no alleviation of lower back pain symptoms. Again, complete conjecture on my part and would need further study.

Riiiiight, I’m aware that this is getting on a little bit. So a really quick round up of this so far:

  • Core means everything which isn’t arms and legs (and even then it’s a little bit of legs).
  • Building a strong core is hugely important for increasing your CrossFit performances.
  • There is a statistically significant benefit on lower back pain from consistently performing core stability exercises.

More than Sit-Ups and the Breathing-Bracing Continuum,

Looking back to developmental movements when, as babies, you first started moving, the first thing that happened was you start wriggling around like a madwomen and learning to, at a very basic level, activate and control all the muscles above. To quote directly from the work of Kobesova and Kolar,

“This allows for basic trunk stabilization, a prerequisite for any phasic movement and for the locomotor function of the extremities.“(9)

So we know that not only is core stability a prerequisite for movement (from crawling, to walking, to gymnastics and lifting) but on top of that recent research into the “mind-muscle connection” shows that by  understanding what muscles we’re trying to activate, including there position and function, can improve the contraction and activation (10,11).

To start to delve into how we might address “core training” we need to move to a slightly more global view of what the core musculature actually does. As noted above above the core consists of:

  • abdominals and accompanying fascial complex in the front,
  • paraspinals (think lats, spinal erectors (lumbar and thoracic ), traps as a whole and rhomboids) and gluteals in the back (personally I’d like to include hamstrings in here as well),
  • the diaphragm as the roof,
  • the pelvic floor and hip girdle musculature as the bottom including
  • internal stabilisers of the spine and pelvis (External and internal obliques and Transverse Abdominus (TvA), Mulitfidus, Quadratus Lumbrum (QL), Psoas, Illiacus (preferably not to be thought of combined with Psoas (8)), and various ligamental structures that I’m not going into right now).

I’m our case we’ll move away from specific muscle action as soon as possible but before that we need to have an idea about what muscles are working and where they are so we can address bracing and core stiffness with some specificity as well as improved performance

*NOTE: It’s our responsibility as coaches to educate our athletes as much as will help them. I’m not saying they need to read something like this but whatever you can do to help them understand why they’re doing something is a big deal and will help create buy in and trust.*

When anybody talks about core stability a huge part of this can be perceived as “bracing”, defined as:

“anything which imparts rigidity or steadiness”


“to furnish, fasten, or strengthen with or as if with a brace.”

“to fix firmly; make steady; secure against pressure or impact”

“to make tight; increase the tension of.”(12)

Whilst it isn’t an exact comparison to what we’re talking about it nicely gets across the message that when we talk about bracing and core stability we are really talking about increasing rigidity,pressure, and tension throughout the body.

And here is finally where we can talk about application!!

When you ask most people who lift about bracing you get a lot of big breathes into the stomach, which is okay. It’s like having half the answer and is way better than hollowing which is, frankly, detrimental to sports performance (13). Application for you is tuning up or down the stiffness you’re creating as it’s applicable to you goal. If you’re doing a 2000m swim then maybe you don’t need to create the same tension as you would for a maximal loaded carry.

I know this isn’t super actionable, at least not straight away, but with some practice and consistent employment of the principles you can learn where and when certain levels of bracing is appropriate. More importantly you should now understand what you’re trying to achieve and why.


  1. Kibler, W., Press, J. and Sciascia, A. (2006). The Role of Core Stability in Athletic Function. Sports Medicine, 36(3), pp.189-198.

  2. Akuthota, V., Ferreiro, A., Moore, T. and Fredericson, M. (2008). Core Stability Exercise Principles. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 7(1), pp.39-44.
  3. Panjabi, M. (2003). Clinical spinal instability and low back pain. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 13(4), pp.371-379.
  4. Delitto A, George SZ, Van Dillen LR, Whitman JM, Sowa G, Shekelle P, et al. Low back pain. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2012;42(4):A1–57. doi:10.2519/jospt.2012.0301.
  5. Long DM, BenDebba M, Torgerson WS, Boyd RJ, Dawson EG, Hardy RW, et al. Persistent back pain and sciatica in the United States: patient characteristics. J Spinal Disord. 1996;9(1):40–58.
  6. Searle, A., Spink, M., Ho, A. and Chuter, V. (2015). Exercise interventions for the treatment of chronic low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Clinical Rehabilitation, 29(12), pp.1155-1167.
  7. Mattacola, C., Kiesel, K., Burton, L. and Cook, G. (2004). Mobility Screening for the Core. Athletic Therapy Today, 9(5), pp.38-41.
  8. McGill, S. (2009). Ultimate back fitness and performance. p.78.
  9. Kobesova, A. and Kolar, P. (2014). Developmental kinesiology: Three levels of motor control in the assessment and treatment of the motor system. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 18(1), pp.23-33.
  10. Calatayud, J., Vinstrup, J., Jakobsen, M., Sundstrup, E., Brandt, M., Jay, K., Colado, J. and Andersen, L. (2015). Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 116(3), pp.527-533.
  11. Critchley, D. (2002). Instructing pelvic floor contraction facilitates transversus abdominis thickness increase during low-abdominal hollowing. Physiotherapy Research International, 7(2), pp.65-75.
  12. Collins, W. (2011). Collins dictionary. London: HarperCollins.
  13. McGill, S. (2009). Ultimate back fitness and performance. p.75-76.

Programming 201

In the previous instalment we went over how to create the starting point to build your own gym program. Today we’re going to look at how you can use the data you collect to inform decisions about how to adjust the program going forward.

If you can take 10 minutes go back and read through the Programming 101 article to understand this in context. If you’ve already read it, well done, I’ll quickly remind you what the key points are so your memory is refreshed

  • Get assessed – hire someone or do it yourself. Figure out where and what your problems are
  • Know what adaption it is that you want to make – Have A, that is 1, clear goal.
  • Volume and Intensity – Make sure the total number of repetitions you do fall in the right zones (to start with) and the weight on the bar is in the right area to achieve the adaption you want.
  • Pick exercises that appropriately fulfil your desired adaptation goals, sets, reps and intensity. – simply put, pick exercises which fit the above criteria.
  • Keep going until it stops working.

Because you guys are manifold there is no way I can guess what your program looks like so instead I’m going to talk about the next step in terms of principles.
Let’s make a few assumptions:

  • You followed the structure I laid out for creating a program
  • You kept track of the data in a spreadsheet
  • You kept going until you stopped seeing your numbers increasing at the same Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

Which puts you at the point where you’ve kind of stalled. You’re not seeing an increase in the weights you’re using whilst maintaining the same RPE. We’ll work from this point.

Step 1: Take a transition block.

You’ve probably heard about this importance of “deload” weeks. That is regularly planned blocks of time where you back off from higher intensity work in an effort to manage fatigue. If you’re fatigued, you aren’t recovered, and you won’t recover as well workout to workout.

A transition block is a similar method of managing fatigue but instead of being at an arbitrary time, an arbitrary length, and an arbitrary decrease in volume/intensity you’ll look at refining it just as much as you do the developmental blocks.
Let’s take a step back and address how we control the block lengths.

In Programming 101 Step 5 was to stick with it until you stopped progressing. In other words, keep going until you find out how many weeks it takes you to stop seeing results from a certain training stimulus.
For example if we use an arbitrary 6 week developmental block where you train using the same stimulus (program) for 6 weeks it will work for some people. But what happens if you stop seeing improvements after 3 weeks, you adapt really quickly? The last 3 weeks are wasted time where you could have transitioned and almost completed another development block. What about if you would of kept seeing progress if you’d stuck to the program for 9 weeks? If you stopped after 6 weeks you’re missing out upon 3 weeks of potential gains.

Neither scenario is great.

That’s why I’m asking you to track the data and have an actual time frame which is personal to you. For the sake of argument lets just say we hit it on the head with the 6 weeks.

You have a 6 week window to peak adaptation. So you can work about 6 weeks before you plateau.

We then take approximately 30% of the your window to peak adaption time as a transition block, 2 weeks in this case. If you took 9 weeks you would have a 3-week transition block etc. etc.

In terms of what happens on the transition block, the goal isn’t just to reduce fatigue. The key is to re-sensitise to the desired training stimulus. If you’re been working hard to create a strong signal to your body to grow muscle, then the stop in adaption means you are desensitised to that stimulus.

Whilst then we can manage fatigue through dropping the volume and intensity there is a call to change the stimulus as well. It doesn’t have to be a huge change, just something that allows the body to recover a little. For example, if you’ve been working purely on strength in the transition window you might look a little more at explosive power work or being more athletic overall, if you were looking purely at increasing size then your transition might be some kind of strength work?

Transition Protocol:
Length: 30% of window to peak adaptation length

For Strength goals reduce the average training intensity by 30%, the volume by 10%, and change training stimulus to a non-competitive yet different adaptation (power, hypertrophy, speed)

For Size goals reduce the average training intensity by 10%, the volume by 30%, and change training stimulus to a non-competitive yet different adaptation (power, strength, capacity).

Once you’ve completed the allotted time for the transition block you can go back into a development cycle (or peaking block).

NB – just because you’re changing the training stimulus slightly doesn’t mean that you can ignore the sports skill. If you’re a powerlifter or a weightlifter, then you still need the competition lifts (or close variation) in the transition block but you’ll just have them in a slightly different place.

Step 2: Making a new Development Block with changes

This means going through steps 1 through 5 again of Programming 101. The changes come however by making small changes based upon your training data. To understand what changes you should make comes down to understanding your weaknesses and where you’re failing.

In turn this comes down to the assessment step.

In “Programming 101” I mentioned how we take videos and observe lifts to find out where they fall apart and from this infer where what areas and exercises might be best. You should be running this exact procedure again.

Variables you might want to look at altering might include

  • Intensity ranges
  • Volume
    • Daily
    • Weekly
  • Exercise Selection (including variation)
  • Lift phase emphasis (eccentric focus, isometric focus, concentric focus)
  • Unilateral vs Bilateral

Etc. To get the most out of this you’ll need to spend a lot of time on it and on your spreadsheet (which is why you should really have a coach). With this type of data collection and analysis we must take something of a Bayesian approach. Bayesian inference, in a very basic way, says the more data we collect the higher the probability a correct inference can be made. Or, the more data we collect the clearer the picture becomes.

The classic example is firing photons at a “target” through slotted paper. At first the results appear random. They show up on the target in no clear pattern. But as more and more photons are “fired” the outline of the slots appears progressively more defined. Basically you’re more data increases your resolution.

In real words what’s this means is the more data we collect, the more development cycle you run, the better picture you can build up of what works.

Take a look this snapshot of training data:

This is a macro view of a few squat variations (we didn’t start running good mornings until later in the year) and their relationship with the competition lift.  As you can see this is a VERY small sample size but we can probably that in this situation pause squats help and eccentric squats help. Potentially blocks of paused squats FOLLOWED BY eccentric squats help more.

Now lets say we have 20 or 30 cycles of training data we’d have a very clear picture of what works and what doesn’t. Knowing this you can then program being able to make strong inferences to what will work. This being said the human body is an open system so just because you do “A”  and it works really well in January doing it again in November doesn’t ensure the same.


This way of programming takes time and for the first few blocks isn’t any clearer than traditional programming. The key is consistency to one goal over time, collecting the data and making sure you then look at it to see what’s working.  If you see that every time you add in heavy deadlifts your deadlifts goes down then you know that may be high intensity deadlifts aren’t the key for building your deadlift no matter what people say. Likewise, if every time you add in a paused bench press you hit new maximal numbers then maybe you every time you plan to hit a new record the block before should include paused bench press?

If you really want to make the most of the effort you put into the gym you should make the effort to stick with the programming and learn what works for you. We live in an age now where no one has the time to do this which leaves you two options

  1. Make the time
  2. Pay someone to do it for you

If you have the expertise and time then it’s very much worth learning for yourself. If you don’t you should hire a coach whom understands the training process but remember when you hire a coach they’re the expert, but you are the boss. If it’s not what you want or how you want there is always another coach out there.

Programming 101

The goal of getting in the gym and working out is to change your body. It doesn’t matter what the change is, you just need to understand that you’re there, primarily, to see a change to your body in one way or another.

Typically the goal for most people is to look great naked. For others it is to be strong or improve sports performance. Maybe even a combination of all the above.

You need to figure out what your reason for being in the gym is before you even start thinking about writing your own program. Only once a goal is in place can you start planning how to achieve it.

And that is all programming is.  A long-term plan, structured in such a way to bring about (or at least advance towards) the stated goal. It can be as complex as the below to take Hikaru to the IPL Worlds

Or as simple as do 5 sets of 5 reps and each week add 2.5 kg.

Both are legitamate programming style and effective for the right person. What we are interested in though is giving you the tools to let you build the right program for you to get you to your goal.

Disclaimer: Whilst the will be as simplied as possible it is expected that you understand some basic programming principles

What you will need:

  • Excel or another spreadsheet software to track your numbers (at a push you can go pen and paper but it’s going to get complicated VERY quickly).
  • The patience and self-belief to stick to the plan you wrote
  • Self-awareness to admit to yourself what has and has not worked. You will not ever write the perfect program, best realise it now.

For the sake of ease, we’re going to assume that this program is being written with the goal of building maximal strength in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. I’m choosing this because even if the goal is merely to look good naked or as complex as building sports performance you can do much, much worse that getting brutally strong.

Whenever you’re looking at planning anything it’s always worth measuring twice and cutting once. Know what you’re dealing with to start with, where your faults and weaknesses (both physically and technically) are, and be realistic about it. Very few people are going to go from not being able to execute a competent bodyweight squat to a 100kg back squat in 12 weeks.

Step 1: Assess yourself (or hire someone to):
If you don’t know what this means its best that you hire a great coach with a track record of producing high level athletes to do this for you. If you have an idea what you’re looking for but aren’t quite certain then I’ll suggest:

  • Video 3 to 5 doubles (2 reps) of squat, bench press, and deadlift above 90% of your max. The goal here isn’t to impress yourself with half reps but to give you a realistic idea of where your lifts are falling apart
    • Squat
      • Watch out for your chest and bar staying still but your hips raising. This is a very common fault and usually can be attributed to a technical understanding issue or weak quads.
      • Not reaching depth, it’s not down to poor ankle mobility or tight hips. You’re just weak or lazy. Drop the weight and work for the long-term results
      • Are you rounding your upper or lower back? Then your need to address how strong your trunk is. If you’re not strong enough to keep a position constant through the lifts then something needs fixing there.
      • Knee collapse, a lot of people are very quick to jump in and shout weak glutes at this but more likely you’re letting your feet do something wrong. Work on planting your feet strongly and screwing them into the floor.
    • Bench Press
      • Are you not managing to reach the bar t your chest every single rep. Lower the weight sunshine. You’re just not strong enough for that weight yet. It’ll come but for now focus on moving a load that you can do well and recover from.
      • Missing or grinding reps halfway up could be down to a weakness of the chest or lacking speed off the chest.
      • Not quite being able to lock your arms out at the top. This would be an unusual issue to come across in a normal gym but it could be down to weak or fatigued triceps.
    • Deadlift
      • Can’t even get the bar off the floor
        1. It’s too heavy
        2. Your set up is wrong
        3. Your core is too weak
        4. It’s probably too heavy
      • Can’t squeeze your hips through to stand up straight at the top means that your butt is weak, or you’ve taken too much time to get the bar that far. You have the video make the call
      • If you drop or feel like you’re going to drop the bar then your grip strength is letting you down.
      • And obviously any deviation from a long, straight spine position means that all of the first points fixes AND you need to check your ego because it’s going to get you hurt.

Step 2: Know what adaptation you want to create

The most common error I see in watching amateurs (and most professionals) do their own programming is that they program by exercise. You MUST program by adaptation. I’m going to say it again so you really get it


To explain what this means. You need to understand that the exercise isn’t important, what is important is getting to the goal. The goal is the goal. The goal is always the goal. So if my goal is to have the best squat I can but what’s holding me back is quads so week I’m not even being able to hold a good position to squat then whilst my skill work might be looking at building a great squat at a lower intensity (utilising whatever technical squat progressions you adhere to) the strength work doesn’t have to be based on squatting it can just be building quad strength in whatever way works for you.

To bring this back to programming by adaptation. In this case the change that we are looking for in increasing quad strength, how we get there is completely up to you. You are not tied to any exercise, you don’t have to do any exercises. You HAVE to do what gets you the changes in your body which gets you closer to your goals.
In step 1 when I explained the common faults in the squat, bench, and deadlift it should have given you some clues to what adaptations you are trying to create.

Step 3: Volume and Intensity

This can be thought as simply as sets, reps, and weights. You need to be using the right ones for the right adaptations. There is a few ways to do this. Something like Perilipin’s table:

Where there is up and down sides. Upsides it’s super simple to use and laid out in convenient blocks based upon adaptation and % intensity. Downsides, just because a % intensity is written in at these sets, reps doesn’t mean that is the adaptation that works for you personally.

The other option is to go back to the work of Helms and Morgan where the prescribe doing a total of 40 to 70 reps per muscle group per session and hitting each muscle group 2 to 3 times a week (so 80 to 210 reps per muscle group per week). If the goal is strength 65 to 75% of these reps should be at a greater intensity than a weight you can lift 6 times (that’s 52-60 reps and the bottom end and 136 -168 reps at the top end per week at above 6 rep max).  And the rest of your numbers at between your 6 and 12 rep maxes. Conversely if there goal is for muscle size then there proportions of sub and supra 6RM is inverted.

My personal preference is to use Helm’s method and a baseline and build from there.

Step 4: Pick exercises that appropriately fulfil your desired adaptation goals, sets, reps and intensity.

This is where you can start considering exercise selection. But you must be clear about your personal selection bias as well as what exercises are appropriate at what rep, sets, and intensity ranges. Furthermore, there must be consideration as to what the crossover in terms of muscle groups used in different exercises throughout the week. It’s very easy to overload the lower back when you forget that it’s a significant player in the majority of lower body movements.

To work through some short examples. It might sound great to consistently use a back squat for all your movements. After all it covers most of the lower body and lower back. Practically however have you ever tried to do multiple sets of 12 rep max set of squats at the end of a week where you have already done 150 heavy reps. The injury risk and just plain uncomfortableness makes it a bad choice. Maybe at this point you might be better off adding in some quad isolation work or leg press.

This lean towards machine and isolation work becomes even more noteworthy when you start adding in other movements, such as deadlifts, and, as previously mentioned, the lower back starts being used more. It suddenly becomes extraordinarily easy to do 300 reps of lower back work inevitably running into soreness and injury.

Step 5: Repeat the week until you stop improving

This is where you need the tracking and self-control. If you have followed the above instructions and used a little bit of good judgement, then you’ve made a pretty solid week-long program. The only to do now is to repeat it until it stops working.
This might sound counter-intuitive to do the same thing but if it’s working and you’re getting better than it’s nonsensical to discontinue. There is, however, a caveat. The sets, reps, intensity and exercise selection stay the same, but the weight should go up as needed.

This needs the introduction of a paradigm shift.

Intensity, whilst guided by % now becomes a how hard you’re trying. Say you must do 3 sets of 5 reps of squats in the first week at 80% you need to rank on your spreadsheet how hard you tried. The next week you should try work at the same difficulty but hopefully with more weight. I have people rate between 1 to 5 AND from “Easy” to “Pushing the limit” but it’s just as good to say you worked at an 8 out of 10 difficulty or a 7 out of 10 difficulty.

Please bear in mind that learning how hard you’re working out of 10 in a skill just like squatting and will take you a long time to learn. If every week the weight doesn’t go up that’s ok, if one weeks it goes down that’s also okay the trend however should be upwards (track this on a graph on your spreadsheet for ease).

When the trend stops going upwards you can consider these exercises spent for the time being and it’s time to redo the whole process again.

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Suppl): p. S135-45.

  1. S tone, M., S. Plisk, and D. Collins, Training principles: evaluation of modes and methods

of resistance training–a coaching perspective. Sports Biomech, 2002. 1(1): p. 79-103.

  1. S choenfeld, B.J., et al., Effects of Low- Versus High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle

Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men. J Strength Cond Res, 2015.

  1. S choenfeld, B.J., et al., Effects of different volume-equated resistance training loading

strategies on muscular adaptations in well-trained men. Journal of Strength and
Conditioning Research, 2014.

  1. G entil, P., S. Soares, and M. Bottaro, Single vs. Multi-Joint Resistance Exercises: Effects

on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy. Asian J Sports Med, 2015. 6(2): p. e24057.

  1. R obbins, D.W., P.W. Marshall, and M. McEwen, The effect of training volume on lowerbody strength. J Strength Cond Res, 2012. 26(1): p. 34-9.

Elite Open Preparation

As of writing there is roughly 250 days until the 22nd February is upon us. More precisely 252 days, 18 hours, 52 minutes and 27 seconds.

This date probably seems somewhat inauspicious to most but for those with something resembling memory you’ll know that this was the opening date of the 2018 CrossFit Open. That gives us only 36 weeks to prepare. In the grand scheme of things this is no time at all.

If you really want to improve your CrossFit and make a competitive run and the Open then it’s time to start considering how you’re going to train to prepare your body for it. As I’m sure you know that there is a manifold number of ways to get to any destination, but I want to give you some thing actionable that you can put into practice to help yourself out.

Have a structure that lends itself to success.

Programming within a structure that gives you the direction to have a winning performance is the biggest part of making Open prep easy. Making the right decision is hard when you have to think about what to do all the time. If you have a structure which guides you and tells you what decisions to make over and over again then the process becomes simple and you can practically fall towards success.
This is fairly useless without guidance upon how to set said structure up.

You don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been (Assessment and Testing; Weeks 1 and 2)

This means testing and assessment. You need to know where you’re strong, you need to know more where you’re weak. More importantly you need to test what’s important to CrossFit (which is pretty much everything) or at the very least figure out what the key performance indicators in CrossFit for you are.

A non-exclusive list of what you might want to test look something like:

  • Low threshold movement quality
  • Low threshold fatigued movement quality
  • High Threshold movement quality
  • Aerobic Capacity
  • Aerobic Power
  • Lactic Capacity
  • Lactic Power
  • Alactic Capacity
  • Alactic Power
  • Heart Rate Recovery
  • Postural Analysis

Once you have all this tested (and maybe a few other things) you should have a better idea of where you’re starting.

If it’s not broke don’t fix it
(Introduction Block: Exploration of Individual Time to Adaptation)

I was doing my client calls today and I was lucky enough to speak to three of the strongest people in the world in their respective sports:

Travis Ortmayer, Hikaru Komiyawa, and Katrishia Lee.

Travis is, literally, one of the Worlds Strongest Men (you know the ones you watch on TV at Christmas)  and professional strongman. Hikaru and Kat are but International Elite Powerlifters. They are however very different athletes. Travis is something of a lightweight in WSM at 6 foot 4 and, currently, 315 pound (22 and a half stone or 143 kilo) but he is also pushing the envelope age wise (also worth noting a male of western Bavarian heritage). Roo and Kat are both sub 56kg and 5 foot on a good day and of Japanese and Korean backgrounds respectively. You could not think of a more different trio of people. It should seem self-evident that Travis should work the same way as the girl (even putting aside the sports differences).

It’s way simpler even than gender differences. The whole point of any kind of training is to challenge the body to adapt to a stimulus. Too much or too little of a stimulus and we don’t adapt or may even have a negative change. On top of this each person takes a different amount of time to before a given stimulus, of exercise protocol, stops eliciting a change in the body. For example, there would have been a time when you were a baby that walking would build and strengthen muscle. Now you’ve walked so much that it’d very unlikely that just walking would build muscle.

To go back to our diversity trio Travis has to change his exercise selection every 3 weeks, if he spends more time on it he doesn’t see any greater benefit. Hikaru however takes 9 weeks to cease adaptation. Kat, as similar as she seems to Roo takes only 5 weeks to stop seeing improvement from one thing. Let’s compare Hikaru to Travis, if Roo relied of just assuming Travis’ program was right she would miss out of 6 weeks (!) of improvements she could see. Likewise, if Travis tried Roo’s programming he would stop seeing improvement after 3 weeks and potentially waste 6 weeks he could be spending doing something else that would bring improvement.  

The same lies both ways for Kat although she isn’t closer to the norm (4 to 6 weeks) but then if you look at the actual amount of work Kat does she keeps improving under a total stimulus that’d crush a less genetically gifted person. This point being that it’s not just how many weeks you do the program for before you stop seeing improvements but also how often you do each exercise and exercise “family”. Kat has about between 12 and 15 “exposures” to a movement, I’ll let you figure out how often that means she is doing each lift.

With all that prelude, now it comes to the implications to your training. If you know and test how long it takes you to can makes the most of every single on of these short 36 weeks count. You won’t have wasted weeks or even wasted days. Every week will be one week closer to your best CrossFit Open performance.

A castle is only as strong as it’s foundation
(Forge Block: Building the engine and structure that you need to perform)

The Open is, for most, the pinnacle of their CrossFit life each year. It’s the time of the year where performance matters the most and isn’t just a case of recording a benchmark to judge or measure themselves by.

In regard to creating a program structure this mans everything that isn’t the open (i.e. the next 36 weeks) is a chance to build up the capacity to work at a higher level in the open. In the context of CrossFit working at a higher level often means in a higher amount of force output in a given time. The problem, or at least potential problem, here becomes that training consistently becomes trying to display peak output rather than working to develop peak output.

If you take the below graph we are looking at a theoretical work output (just using Arbitrary Units for power output) against Heart Rate. Bearing in mind this is just an example to demonstrate the importance of building general aerobic work capacity base and that red indicates reaching past anaerobic threshold (where the performance stops being aerobic and becomes unsustainable) look at “what the  “pre-training” curve tells us.

  • Anerobic threshold occurs at 150 beats per minute and at 60 Arbitrary Units of power.
  • Work below 150bpm and 60AU is sustainable
  • Work Above 150bpm and 60AU is unsustainable


Figure 1

Now let’s consider briefly how aerobic training works:

If we are smart and precise about how we combine the different ways we approach aerobic training there is a ton of different variables we can manipulate to keep improving our work capacity even after 2 years of consistent training (Fig 2. is modified from the work of Saltin, B et al.)

Figure 2

The result of this smart and precise approach to aerobic work capacity is shown in the the “post-training” curve in Fig. 1. If we follow the same process as with the “pre-training” curve and look at what it tells us:

  • Anerobic threshold occurs at roughly 160 beats per minute and at 90 Arbitrary Units of power.
  • Work below 160bpm and 90AU is sustainable
  • Work Above 160bpm and 90AU is unsustainable

Please remember these are just example numbers and not wouldn’t necessarily mean a 50% increase in power output at threshold. But, if you look at the cumulative effects of all the different systemic adaptations of smart aerobic training a 50% increases over a 6 to 12 (up to 24+) month period isn’t unreasonable.
On top of building this general capacity to perform work time the “Forging” blocks are the ideal time to start building structural integrity and resilience. I’ve written a short amount upon the importance of structural integrity already but to quickly sumarise: Unless you have the muscle mass and strength to hold a position statically you have no busines trying to lift near maximal weights dynamically. This time away from the open is best used to development size, mid-range strength, and movement skills so when it comes to the point swhere you want to sharpen yourself and abuild to a peak performance you are capable of, not only, much more but doing that heavier and higher level work in a safer and more efficient way.

Hitting a target consistently means a lot of reloading
(Tempering Block: Re-sensitising to the primary training stimulus)

As mentioned earlier each individual has a certain amount of time or exposures to a training stimulus before they stop having a positive change. Once this adaptation window is closed the body needs a chance to re-sensitise to the training stimulus.
In this case it is a very positive opportunity for you to practice more some of the more esoteric aspects of CrossFit. When we’re looking what we should do whilst re-sensitising to the main training goals it’s everything different; a chance to brush up on multi-planar movements, dedicate more time and recovery to skill-based exercises like weightlifting and gymnastics, maybe even have a foray into more game-based training.  In short, you’re doing things that will undoubtably benefit your main Forge blocks but are different enough that they won’t challenge the same systems in the same way.

Please don’t let the briefness of this summary detract from the importance of each Tempering Block. This is still training for the open. Just because you might be training at a slightly reduced intensity or volume it doesn’t mean that you’re not working towards something or progressing towards a serious goal.

Refining the process
(Sharpening Block: Maximal Strength, Power, Lactic and Alactic Capacity and Power)

This is where you get to see the reward for the patience and perseverance you’ve put in. When the time is appropriate and you’re ready move into learning to display everything you’ve been working for. This might only happen 2 times in the 36 weeks and then again in the direct lead up to the open.

It’s where you’ll focus on the hard work; maximal strength, maximal power, short duration capacity work at high intensity. It’s intensity driven and therefore recovery demanding. You need to coordinate the drive to go heavy and the mental resilience to keep learning how to work within your new work output capacity.

When you switch into the higher threshold work the adaptations that your asking your body to adapt to switch from being structural to being neural. Without going too in depth it turns into coordinating and using what you’ve built more efficiently.
On paper this block is the most fun, in reality it’s the hard work and grind that sets you up to peak. The downside is that after the session being “tired” turns into being “fatigued”. Think of this a soft and hard tiredness. When you’re “tired” the chances are you’re starting to move fairly quickly into a state where you can recover, when fatigue hits it’s you digging yourself into “recovery hole“ and you then need to be actively working to fill in that hole with recovery work and extra.


You have all the info now to build your own plan to get the best possible physical preparation for next years CrossFit open or critique the any program that you’re doing so you can understand the reasoning and purpose around what you’re doing.

If you do have any questions on any of the above please just drop me an email (alex@crossfitlondonuk.com)

If this way of coaching makes sense and you want to prepare for the open with me keep you eye’s open for the my Open Prep Class where you’ll go through all of the above from an in depth assessment all the way through individualised programming within the classes.

TrainHeroic and Daily WOD Blog

Hopefully you’ve all had a chance to download our shiny new programming app called TrainHeroic. The reason we are investing a lot of money into Trainheroic is simple. It is one of the best user interfaces and most complete training apps on the market today. Mike has used this personally for almost two years and highly recommends it.

The purpose is not an online leaderboard. Although many of you may wish to use it for this function, the purpose is a more complete training diary. When you open the app there will be a section on coaches notes. This indicates the intended stimulus of the day. As members of a CrossFit gym, it’s very easy to get lost in the super high intensity and the number or reps completed. This is not how you get fitter.
Although this may blow a lot of people’s brains across the room, any training method has to be sustainable and if you come in and crush yourself day in day out, you will be gone within 16 months. That’s not a random statistic, that’s the average lifetime (fitness lifetime, you’re not going to die) of someone who undergoes high intensity training everyday.
The app has a section after you put in your numbers for the day whereby you can record how it felt, what went wrong and more importantly, what you learnt from the session. If you did not learn anything from the session, I won’t hesitate to ask why you’re here and not at fitness first. This means that you should be able to hold your coaches accountable for learning something, but it also means we get to hold you accountable for not performing bad reps, and wanting to improve.
Going forwards there will be a higher standard that you will be held to in your fitness endeavours and this app is to help you track and look back at your history.
You will see a section for numbers, please fill in everything that you know going forwards and for those that know their personal bests already, fill those in as well.
IF you do wish to use the leaderboard function, please make sure you are entering your data accurately, for a lot of people the leaderboard is not important but for those who take the competitive side seriously it can be upsetting when someone accidentally enters their data wrong.
Above all, remember that you are here to self improve, wanting to simply beat the person next to you over and over is just a desire to inflate your ego. Focus on yourself and build up the people around you.
That being said, we are going to be changing the way we deliver the WOD to you daily. As of Monday the 5th of February, you will be receiving an email directly into your inbox with that day’s training. We will be stopping the daily WOD Blog and the weekly spreadsheet in the FB group as we want you all to use the app. There will always be a minimum of one week’s programming uploaded in advance so if you need to plan out your week you will still have the opportunity to do this.
If for any reason you do not want to receive emails or push notifications you can flick the “Leave Me Alone” button in the Account > Privacy section of the app:

Coaches Mike & Nick

Programming overview w/c 29 January 2018

WEEK 5/16
Programming for Crossfit London in Bethnal Green, E2 w/c 29th January 2018
Registration for the 2018 CrossFit Open is LIVE! More information coming soon.
Programming photo attached.
Clean & Jerk and squat.
Snatch and squat.
Ring MU, TTB, push-up.
Pullups, bar MU, midline.
Deadlift & bench.
Front & side splits.
Chest/bridge/hip flexors.
Level 1 – midline, inversions.
Level 2 – handstand hold/press, levers.
Level 1 – midline, handstands, pullups.
Level 2 – handstand hold/press, flag.

Programming overview w/c 22 January 2018

WEEK 4/16
Programming w/c 22nd January 2018
Registration for the 2018 CrossFit Open is LIVE! More information coming soon.
Programming photo attached.
Clean & Jerk.
A. T2B; B. Thrusters; C. 18.Zero (DB snatch/burpees; bike/DUs/lunges.
A. Ring MUs; B. Clean complex; C. DB snatch, wallballs, row, HSPUs.
A. HSPUs, burpees, DUs; B. Snatch; C. Open 17.3.
Clean & Jerk and squat.
Snatch and squat.
Pull-up, ring dips, midline.
Ring muscle-ups, HSPUs, static holds.
Squat and press.
Front & side splits.
Chest, bridge & triceps (for front rack).
Front & side splits.
Level 1 – midline, handstands, pull-ups.
Level 2 – aerial conditioning, handstand hold.
Level 1 – midline, inversions.
Level 2 – aerial conditioning, handstand hold.