By Tania Tetrault Vrga

A while back I wrote a Tough Love article about nutrition.  What follows is the programming edition.  It is part rant, part wake-up call, but entirely written with the most loving and caring intentions.  As your coach it is my job to do whatever it takes to help you get fit, strong and healthy, even if it means bringing up some touchy subjects.

Our “Back Off Week” earlier this month appears to have prompted a lot of discussion on the blog about programming, training and recovery.   We’ve noticed a clear lack of attendance when the WOD is doesn’t include either a max effort lift or a sexy metcon.  There are those who don’t feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth unless there is a 3-2-1-Go! and the opportunity to get Rx beside your name.  On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who don’t bother coming in unless we are doing a 1RM deadlift or bench press.

Trust the Programming & the Coaching

Each of us remembers the reasons why we started CrossFit, that high we get when we are lying in a puddle of sweat and chalk on the floor, the moment you rack the bar after a heavy back squat PR, or simply the support of an awesome community.  But for many of us, the best results come along with having the luxury of showing up at the gym on auto-pilot and trusting that the WOD will be just what you need, trusting that the coach will help you get through it and knowing that you don’t have to give any thought to what you should do that day.

Winnipeg has many great CrossFit Boxes.  Each one has its own vibe, and its own approach to programming and training.  At CrossFit Winnipeg, we aim to first, do no harm.  We’ve been around a long time, well…  a long time in the CrossFit World any way, and we’ve trained a lot of people.  We’ve made mistakes and we’ve learned from those mistakes.  We know how important it is not to put the cart in front of the horse.  We’ve established progressions because we know they work and they prevent injury so that you can make bigger gains in the long term.

We also invest tons of resources into education and training for our staff.  We do this so that you can simply show up, work hard, and enjoy the ride.  You don’t always have to know why we are doing something to benefit from it, but you have to trust that we have your best interest at heart.  Our programming is planned with one goal in mind, your fitness.  Everything we do has a purpose.  If you don’t believe us, just look at the PR board.  If you already knew everything there is to know about strength, fitness and programming, if you didn’t need the coaching, I suspect you could have saved yourself a lot of money by working out on your own.  But you didn’t, you came to CFW because you wanted more.

Training vs. Testing: Periodization & Structural Balance are not Dirty Words

We are lucky at CrossFit Winnipeg to have really dedicated coaching staff who understand that long term health and fitness cannot be achieved by going to full throttle day in day out, nor can it be accomplished by randomly putting together WODs just for the hell of it.  We also understand the difference between testing and training.  In testing we go all out, whereas in training, we need to include some submaximal efforts as well as skill based training to accomplish long term progress.

A good training program will vary the volume, intensity and modalities of training in such a way as to set you up for PRs when testing time comes around.  A good training program also recognizes the need for structural balance, or appropriate ratios between various lifts or parts of the musculature that surround a joint.  Often times, when an athlete is not structurally balanced, we will see that some parts of their musculature are overly strong and tight whereas others are disproportionately weak.  Just imagine someone with an impressive bench press who can’t get his arms into a proper overhead position because his shoulders are so tight.   This increases the risk of injury, causes postural problems and can lead to plateaus in training.

But don’t worry, between Yoga and Mobility and the structural balance work in the group classes, we’ve got you covered.  Trust in the program!

Skill Work: Mechanics, then consistency, then intensity

Outside of periodization and structural balance, there are other reasons why we may not want to go all out in everything we do at CrossFit.  One of the mantras in CrossFit is “Mechanics, Consistency, Intensity”- in that order!  Doing a metcon with movements that you are unfamiliar with or unskilled at is a recipe for disaster.  It has the potential to reinforce inefficient and potentially unsafe movement patterns, making you more prone to injury.

If you’re new to the movement, do you really want to be doing it for time?  That’s why most of our workouts have a skill or strength component that are not for time, but rather, for quality. We’ve also been noticing a lot of issues with posture, midline stability and core strength, so we’ve been programming with this in mind and it’s important to work on these skills in a low pressure setting.  It doesn’t mean we don’t want you to work hard, it means we want you to uses these parts of the workout to focus on quality of movement rather than quantity.

It also means we want to see you using Open Gym time wisely.  Hitting long metcons and 1 rep max every single week during Open gym may interfere with strength and conditioning progressions in the CFW program and can stall your development over the long term.  Consider using that time to work on skills or going to mobility class instead.

Maintenance: Beware Overtraining & Underecovering

We see it all the time, you’ve just started CrossFit and it has literally changed your life, so you figure, if a little bit of CrossFit can do this, imagine what a beast I will become if I train every day and add in some double days!  That logic is flawed.  The law of diminishing returns definitely applies.  Improvements in strength and conditioning are achieved by exposing the body to controlled stressors that provoke an adaptation.   However, the adaptation can only occur once the body fully recovers from the stressors.  It’s absolutely critical to allow the body enough recovery time to create the “supercompensation” effect.  If you’re constantly going hard and not getting enough rest, how can your body adapt?

So what does that mean from a practical perspective?  As a general guideline: minimum two rest days per week if you’re healthy and injury free, more if you are working through some issues.  This is not to say you won’t benefit from an Unlimited Membership, but make sure that you take a few days days without any heavy lifting or sweaty metcons.  Instead, enjoy the summer!  Go for a walk, work outside in the garden, play some sports, or come to Yoga or Mobility Class.

You’ll also need to become pro-active in your recovery.  At CrossFit Winnipeg we use a lot of training techniques that are used by professional athletes.  We work hard, we run, jump, squat, throw and lift heavy.  Professional athletes have access to massage therapists, athletic therapists, nutritionists, ice baths, compression clothing and all kind of other tools many regular folks don’t use on a regular basis.   What the athletes realize but the rest of us often forget, is that the body requires a lot of “maintenance” to reach its full potential, so if we are going to train like athletes, and we need to recover like athletes.  That means doing the mobility work and creating a network of healthcare professionals such as chiros, athletic therapists, massage therapists, who can help you with basic physical maintenance.

Programming Streams: Set Goals and Priorities

It’s important to know why you CrossFit.  Maybe you want to have more energy, get faster or stronger, or maybe you just want to look better naked.  You will get out of CrossFit what you put into it, but if you know what your goals are, you can make informed decisions about your training.

We can use different training techniques to achieve specific goals by manipulating hormones such as testosterone, cortisol, growth hormone, and even insulin levels.   One of the reasons CrossFit is so powerful is that it “changes your hormonal milieu”, as CrossFit founder Greg Glassman would say.  At CrossFit Winnipeg, we understand that hormones play a important role in how you look, feel and perform and that we can manipulate those hormones by adjusting your training.  This is why we’ve created Goal Oriented Programming and the Health, Fitness and Performance Streams.

Health – For the individual looking for overall health and longevity.  For anyone just starting out in CrossFit, anyone under a lot of stress, or anyone suffering from illness or injury. Other individuals who would benefit from this programming include anyone with chronic or recurring injuries or joint pain or anyone who is overweight.  Lastly, anyone wanting to focus on skills and strength over endurance may find this programming stream more appropriate.

Fitness – For the fitness enthusiast who has no health problems or orthopedic issues and wants a good mix of skills, strength and energy system training.

Performance – For the individual with no health problems or orthopedic issues wanting a greater challenge and wanting to compete at the sport of Fitness.  Athletes must demonstrate all benchmarks before switching to the Performance Stream.

Strength – Any individual looking to get stronger should try to plan their workouts on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays.  You can also do the Health version of the metcon if you don’t mind sacrificing a bit of endurance for the sake of getting stronger.

The Take Home

Check your ego at the door.  Set priorities.  Work hard and work smart. Listen to your coaches.  Trust the program.  Do the maintenance work.  Take days off.  Rest.  Play. Recover. Repeat.