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Programming – Innovate or Die


Programming – Innovate or Die

Be sure to read yesterday’s post before today’s post!
5 rounds for time of:
225-lb. deadlifts, 10 reps
20 wall-ball shots, 20-lb. ball

Programming – Innovate or Die

When I was in grad school my professor Tom Daniels hammered into the minds of his students the phrase “innovate or die.”  As a coach, athlete, and business owner, I have relied on that phrase time and time again.  Innovate or die is not a schizophrenic search for th next best thing – it’s a calculated approach to making the decision of when to stay the course and when to evolve.  I have always said that if Roots and its coaching staff is doing the exact same thing it did three years ago – we’re doing something wrong.
As we move into fall, I know it’s time to evolve our programming.
Over the years, we have tried a number of different methods to program at the shop – we’ve programmed from other gyms, done programming ourselves, and followed the mainsite – – all with the intent and goal of “increasing work capacity across broad time and modal domains” (the goal of CrossFit).  We want our athletes to be good at CrossFit and the ten general physical skills so that they have a  general, physical, preparedness that enables them to do well at any sport or task life throws their way now, and long into the future.  
This is a big goal and a big responsibility – and one we have never taken lightly.  Shane and I have crafted spreadsheets – that would make your eyes glaze over – so that we can tally information on the next two weeks of programming – total reps, total time under tension, time domains, number of times below parallel, light, moderate, heavy, partial hip extension vs. full range of motion, power lifts, Olympic lifts, movements, and relative intensity, to name a few.
After a number of years and analyses, we settled on the mainsite as our primary method of programming over two years ago.  We believe in the mainsite and we know it works.  We also know it helps keep us honest in our pursuit to deliver a broad, general, and inclusive style of fitness.  It’s easy for a person’s own biases to come out in their programming.  For example, the complexity of a movement can lead to program biases.  It takes a skilled coach to be able to teach a muscle-up and a snatch in the same workout, and provide a scaled option for all within a one hour time frame.  It would be much easier at 5am to say, “eh, let’s just do pull-ups instead of muscle-ups today.”  Rather than simply not programming those workouts or movements, we went another route and demanded it of our coaches to develop as trainers.
Now many of your know that the mainsite programs three days on and one day off.  We fill in on mainsite rest days with our own programming to  make for a seven days per week schedule.
As a quick aside, and to clear up a few shop misconceptions about our programming:
– we do not bias one area of development over another (we don’t do more strength workouts than long ones, we don’t think having a bigger clean and jerk is more important than your ability to walk on your hands)
– we don’t avoid any CrossFit movements
– we don’t program specific kinds of workouts on specific days (for example, Wednesdays are not always “long”)
Now with all of that as a starting point, we have noticed that as the shop has grown older, our athletes have matured, physically and mentally, and our coaches have matured in regard to their ability to coach and teach.  Faster transition times between class segments, better understanding of movements and technique, and athletes working together, have allowed us to pack more and more into the hour – we have done a strength workout and a metcon in the same hour and we have incorporated an aggressive skill work segment into class four days a week.
A year and a half ago, we started to incorporate a strength and metcon workout four days a week.  While the shop made some strength gains, we found that as a whole – both veteran and novice athletes at the shop – began to move poorly…like really poorly.  Folks that had been beautiful movers started to shy their squat depth and round their backs in deadlifts.  At first, the coaches were really frustrated – “they know how to do it right but they’re just not doing it!”  After thinking through it with the coaching staff we figured out that the class time for technique and barbell skill/drill work had suffered with the “double” workout and therefore our movement quality had taken a hit.
While many athletes loved the strength/metcon element of class, part of being a good coach is being able to say no when it’s not in the best interest of the athlete – even if they are impressed with it.  Athletes are often impressed with volume – and not impressed with drill, practice, and technique.  We want you to love your workouts (well, most of them) but we also want you to understand the value of doing the workouts you don’t like and drilling the movements with PVC pipe to learn to move better (and prevent the possibility for injury).  The work done with PVC is not a punishment to get to the workout, it’s the foundation of movement quality and potential.  There is a “PVC pipe” in every sport and the best athletes in the world give 100% during that time of their practice – and reap the benefits. 
We then swung the pendulum the other direction and decided to incorporate gymnastics skill work into four sessions a week.  We selected The Open skills that come up every year and have hit those skills each week.
Recently, Shane and I came to the conclusion that while these were all good programs – they were all operating in the extreme (yea…we’re extreme).  “Double” workouts went from zero to four days a week and then skill work went into overdrive.
With the goal of bringing more to the class hour while maintaining our constant pursuit of solid form and technique for all athletes, in September, we’ll evolve our programming to incorporate the following:
1. Sixteen benchmark workouts and five skill benchmarks programmed on a rotating 3 month cycle
2. Consistent retest of benchmarks
3. The incorporation of a strength and metcon workout in one hour 1-2x per month
4. Gymnastics skill work 3 times per week with a focus on testing these skills. The gymnastics skills are selected based on the low-hanging fruit of the CrossFit Open.
We’ll still follow the mainsite on a 2-week delay and we will still scale for every athlete at the shop.  Classes during the week will continue to be capped at 12 athletes as this type of programming demands a smaller environment of athletes.  Every athlete, both veteran and newbie, can do this programming.
The workouts performed at the shop are a reflection of the athletes we hope to create.  They are not biased toward one of the ten general physical skills – they work all of them.  While other gyms or blogs may promote the importance or development of one of the ten general physical skills over others (say for example, strength), we will not.  We will continue to stay true to CrossFit, its goal, and the creation of athletes who can move as well as they can fast ensuring that injury does not derail their pursuit of fitness.
We’re just going to evolve and do it better.
Hold on tight, we take off in September.

11 Responses

  1. Rachel G

    “we also want you to understand the value of doing the workouts you don’t like and drilling the movements with PVC pipe to learn to move better (and prevent the possibility for injury).”
    I’ve worked out at 2 crossfit boxes since moving away from Boulder and Roots (I miss all of you!) and while both gyms have had good coaching and great athletes I’ve enjoyed working with, this was the biggest difference I’ve found. Both of them do a strength and MetCon workout in a class, and spend almost no time training the techniques/building up weight to be used that day. I’m so used to drilling technique pre-workout that it feels really weird to me. And I’ve noticed that, on average, the form/technique of my classmates hasn’t been as solid as it was at Roots, especially with some of the complex barbell skills.
    also want you to understand the value of doing the workouts you don’t
    like and drilling the movements with PVC pipe to learn to move better –
    See more at:
    also want you to understand the value of doing the workouts you don’t
    like and drilling the movements with PVC pipe to learn to move better –
    See more at:
    also want you to understand the value of doing the workouts you don’t
    like and drilling the movements with PVC pipe to learn to move better
    (and prevent the possibility for injury). – See more at:

  2. Marge Schreiber

    Damn happy to hear that the programming’s not “random”! In fact, brilliant minds are sitting in a room planning how to absolutely maximize that precious hour to make us all the best possible athletes that we can be. That’s what I like to hear!

  3. Bones

    Thanks to the coaches for their great efforts on our behalf. Experimentation is a cornerstone of educated evolution, and I am happy to have been a guinea pig a few times (DT at 75% = more work)

  4. Rebecca

    I Love the detailed attention to alignment at Roots! Bring on the PVC, I find it just as challenging as when we add weight and I enjoy the alignment work. I love the mind/body connection of crossfit. Thanks for all you do coaches!

  5. Maggie

    What an awesome amazing amount of information! From the outside, things can seem random, so it’s really encouraging to know that there is this level of behind the scenes thought. Maybe that’s why it’s so effective! Really looking forward to more methodical benchmarks + retests. Here’s to adapting!!

  6. I love this! So excited to track my progress and have benchmarks set (and beat!) thanks for taking the time and energy to make us the best athletes we can be. Cheers to constant innovation and the endless desire to evolve!

  7. Killer

    This is awesome. What a great learning experience for us all and for all coaches involved…Good teachers are ones who constantly pursue learning.
    I am continually impressed by Roots because you are always striving to be better. Thank you! And, see you soon!