Programming Philosophy

With this year’s introduction of the scaled division in the Open there has been much debate about programming for competitions. The British Championships will have scaling options for the workouts that require it, and just like the Open, athletes will have the opportunity to scale 1 week and RX the following week. This will allow beginner athletes to compare themselves against the best athletes around, as well as scaling in workouts to allow them to still get a thorough test of fitness. With the qualifiers for The British Championships it is our aim to have as many athletes as possible complete workouts RX; we have structured the events to challenge athletes at all levels, with the most well-rounded athletes finishing on top whilst giving athletes new to competition a chance to overcome certain movements and challenges. Putting in scaled workouts is always a potential pitfall; is it to much scaling, is it to little? This year for The Athlete Games, we decided to go with double unders in the scaled division, and sure enough we received criticism. But being competition owners is not our only job, we are also all affiliate owners, and we have seen extra effort by all those entered to crack double unders. Then we witnessed an athlete who has skipped or scaled double unders everytime they have come up, then on the day they completed the qualifier they hit multiple sets because they had been practising for the qualifier. Sometimes a little motivation is all that is needed. So if all you get is 1 double under, it is still 1 more than you would have got from always scaling them! 

Throughout the years of organising competitions we have always strived to keep our programming simple and effective. Our phylosophy is simple: a well balanced and broad range of tests will always leave the best CrossFit athletes at the top, and leave athletes with a clear sense of their strengths and weaknesses. You don't need to get creative and think of movements never seen before to test athletes. Absolute strength, strength endurance, gymnastics and classic conditioning are the cornerstone of our programming. That's not to say we have not made mistakes throughout the years, 4 minutes of back squats might be a good test for a person with a high training age, but for general population it placed too much stress on the back and neck. No doubt there are some people who will have some colourful words to describe the infamous 75's workout, incidentally a hybrid of one of the first ever workouts I wrote as a coach. But seeing the different ways to break it down depending on mental fortitude and physical strengths showed that the tactical angle added a subtle twist to an otherwise classic format. Whilst we have not tried to re-invent the wheel in terms of movements we have always strived to throw out a workout that has never been done in a qualifier but offers a good test of a certain domain. The recent example from the Athlete Games being the 20 minute burpee buy-in and row challenge; testing athletes in that time domain is quite rare in competitions, yet 20 minute workouts are commonplace in a box's programming. From social media we noticed that some people decided not to enter the competition based solely on the fact they wanted to avoid doing that workout. This showed us that sometimes the athlete’s mental fortitude can defeat them before the workout has even started! 

Over the last 3 years we have noticed that a huge emphasis in competitions is placed upon strength, and particularly Olympic Lifting. If the finals demand a test of strength so must the qualifiers. In 2014, for The Battle Of London we used a 3rm hang snatch; one issue that arose from that format is the amount of tied scores, so this year we used an EMOM to test not just outright strength but strength endurance. This helped spread out the scores a little more. In 2013 we had max effort cleans in the finals of The London Throwdown; some of the top male scores that day were 140kg, this year with Q2 we decided to test strength endurance and how well athletes could recover between efforts, and we saw multiple athletes hit 10 reps at 140kg - amazing to see how far athletes have come. 

A lot of consideration is given to the affiliate owners and coaches who have to run all their athletes through the qualifiers. We as coaches ourselves try to imagine the logistics and kit requirements of each workout and how that would play out on any given session in our gyms. This year we had a tweak in the qualifying format where we released all of the qualifying workouts together; the hope was that it would allow both athletes and affiliate owners the opportunity to plan when the workouts would be done. The major drawback of this approach was that it removed some of the weekly build up of excitement before a workout was released. It also resulted in very few athletes entering their score until the last minute, so athletes could not see how they had performed in each workout. For the British Championships we have reverted to our traditional format of 1 qualifier released each week for 3 weeks. 

Following the workouts release we always keep an eye on social media for feedback, we enjoy the negative as well as the positive. One thing is for certain, you cannot please everyone, aside from of course, the well rounded athletes who have worked on weaknesses and turned them into strengths! 

Even if you have no intention of qualifying for the finals, entering a large participation qualifier is a great tool for your training. You get to compare yourself to a huge amount of athletes, you might be in the top 10% for one workout, and the bottom 10% for another, giving you clear indication of where your weaknesses are. 

As much as we want to create a broad range of tests in our qualifiers, the biggest focus is that everyone has fun, and each box gets everyone together for the workouts. The atmosphere in a box when everyone is pushing themselves though a qualifier, hitting new PBs and getting a skill for the first time is what it's all about!