The Method Behind the Magic (and Madness)

Tuesday, 6/30
June 29, 2015
Wednesday, 7/1
June 30, 2015



I.  Programming for Success (Or, Why Constantly Varied ≠ Random At CrossFit DC)

Whether you prefer to come into the gym clueless about what’s in store for the day, or you’re constantly asking the coaches about what’s coming up, there are a few things that you might want to know about the way we program at CrossFit DC.

From the warm-up to skill work, strength work. and the dreaded met-con, we plan each workout not only for its individual effect, but for synergistic long-term development.Casey, Kira_IMG1108

Two of the most common catchphrases in CrossFit are “Constantly Varied High Intensity Functional Movements” and “Increased Work Capability Across Broad Time and Modal Domains.” The way we interpret these concepts at CrossFit DC shapes the workouts that you see in class – and the broader programming philosophies that connect one workout to the next.

At CFDC, our approach to the concept of constant variance does not mean that we program without logic or structure.  We intermix a near-endless combination of skills, movements, loads, energy systems, and timeframes, while organizing our programming for progress across the span of weeks, months, and yearly training cycles. Progress, in this case, being a steady advancement of physical fitness, and all the general attributes that includes.

The concept of increased work capacity – basically, the ability to do more work, from lifting heavier to moving faster in a met-con – drives some CrossFitters to view every single workout as an all-out test.  There is no substitute for training with intensity –  when properly utilized.  But from a programming perspective, emphasizing intensity at the exclusion of all other methods can neglect the development of qualities that form the foundation of greater fitness.IMG_6984

That’s why, at CrossFit DC, our programming also includes a steady regimen of submaximal-effort training: EMOMs, drills and skill practice, and percentage-based strength training (more on that below).  Not every day is a max-out day.  Not every day is a no-holds-barred race.  There may be times we take a step back, take plates off the bar, or isolate movements to focus on technique without the pressure of the clock.

Our recent focus on the low hang position is a great example.  For many of our athletes, this is an awkward position to pull from, thus limiting the weight they can move when drilling.  In the short term, this can be extremely frustrating.  But the payoff comes from learning to keep the upper back tight while moving into the power position with the optimal alignment for explosive power.

In our experience, putting in the time to fix weak links, refine skills, and develop strength results in long-term progress in health, fitness, and athletic development.


II.  Zeroing In: Where We’ve Been

At CrossFit DC, we plan our class programming in 12-week blocks, each with specific areas of emphasis. By way of example, let’s take a look back at two of our most recent training blocks.

Anthony press_IMG4308Opening Up

From January through March, our focus was preparing for the CrossFit Games Open.  We know that not everyone at CrossFit DC is interested in competition, and we understand that the Open is not for everyone (although we certainly encourage all our members to consider it!).  However, the Open serves as a valuable checkpoint in our yearly structure and a useful focal point for our class programming.

Even as the Open continues to evolve in terms of skill difficulty and prescribed weights, it is generally a test of conditioning and muscular endurance.  With that in mind, our programming leading up to the Open focused on a smaller selection of exercises done at a higher pace, often for longer durations.  For instance, we integrated Olympic lifts into met-cons more often than in months past, and programmed conditioning over longer time frames.

Hanging Tough with Technique

More recently – in the training cycle that we just wrapped up, which took us from April through June – our programming focused on honing technique in the Olympic lifts and building a broad strength base.

Specifically, looking back over the past three months, we saw:

  • Emphasis on the technical details of Olympic lifts in isolated settings (that is, rarely mixed into met-cons);
  • Strength base building through volume in major lifts and accessory work (including dips, pressdowns, half-kneeling presses, high-volume deadlifts, and of course, squats); and,
  • Gymnastics elements introduced in small pieces, with a focus on core work and handstands (most notably, lots of hollow rocks and V-Ups – anyone notice that?)

For more on this past training block, click over to our recent blog post on the purpose behind our technique-heavy Olympic weightlifting cycle.


III.  Back to the Future: Previewing What’s to Come

IMG_5395As we look ahead to our upcoming programming, a few things will stand out right off the bat.

Game of Percentages

First, you’ll see a return to percentage-based strength work.

That’s why we finished off this recent technique-driven cycle with 1-rep max testing, even though we hadn’t been following the traditional load-based progression that often precedes max attempts.  Seeing the whiteboard covered in PRs has been great, but in reality that wasn’t the goal.  What we have done is establish accurate, current baselines in all three Olympic lifts (clean, jerk, and snatch) that we can now use to derive working loads, so that when we program, say, 7 x 3 snatches at 60% of your max, you’ll have specific numbers to reference.

We’ll use these percentages to systematically work at increasing intensity.  Yes, we will still focus on technique – that’s always a priority at CrossFit DC.  But now, we’ll do so while training at specific workloads.

More Squats

Next, we’ll see a return of the CrossFit DC standby – the squat cycle.

In the past, we’ve used specific progressions in the back squat as a central piece of our strength work, with great results.  While nothing delivers the systematic punch of the back squat, this time we’ll take a slightly different approach.

With that, we welcome our new best friend: the FRONT SQUAT CYCLE

We’ve found that no other lift has quite the carryover to the broad variety of CrossFit movements like the front squat.  Given the importance of alignment and positioning in lifting heavy, the front squat builds leg and core strength with direct application to almost everything we do.   Tunnamedhe only thing lacking is direct work on the posterior chain (hamstrings, hips, and low back), which you can believe we’ll be addressing in our other strength work.

Just as with our Olympic lifting in this next cycle, our front squat progression will also be percentage-based.  That means that early on in this training block, we’ll test out a front squat max.  Remember, these tests aren’t necessarily validations (or condemnations) of the work that you’ve put in; they are first and foremost baselines to work from in our day-to-day training.

PRs are always fun, but the goal is to set ourselves up for the long haul – which in this case, will also include PR opportunities at the end of these upcoming 12 weeks.

Skills, Drills, Adrenaline Thrills

While our emphasis on the front squat and Olympic lifts will be a major part of our upcoming programming, you can be sure that we won’t neglect our conditioning and skill work.   Our met-cons will feature more integration of barbell work, as well as more frequent benchmark workouts – including some of the classic named CrossFit workouts, along with a few tests of our own.

IMG_3476We’ll also continue our work on basic gymnastic skills and strength, including:

  • Building and refining the mechanics of the kip through a regular progression.
  • Spending time upside down.  The handstand is a great tool for building upper body strength, along with co-ordination and midsection stability.
  • Developing core strength – the thing that holds all these movements together (literally).  While hollow rocks, V-Ups, spider planks, etc., aren’t always fun, we need to develop the strength to stabilize the midsection during other movements.  From squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses to handstand push-ups and muscle-ups, strong cores are essential to not only training safely but also maximizing our potential.


IV.  Onward!

At CrossFit DC, we have long believed that a structured progression is the best way for our members to get the most out of the hard work they put in at the gym.  With the technical improvements that we’ve seen over the last 12 weeks, we’re excited to see what happens as we integrate a dedicated strength emphasis with specific, systematic progressions.  

Of course, we’re always going to mix things up every now and then – throwing in the occasional new movement and working to keep things varied and exciting (across broad time and modal domains, that is).  

But no matter what workout we’re tackling for the day, or what focus areas we’re emphasizing during a particular training block, the goals remain the same: lifting smarter, working harder, getting stronger – and of course, having fun along the way.  

Wanna know more? Don’t forget to check out our Facebook page, follow our Twitter feed, and peruse our Instagram collection, all of which is in addition to the daily Blog of course.


  1. Jane says:

    I don’t remember signing up to have front squats be my new best friend, and I still miss my ol’ pal deadlifts. But okay.

  2. Jessi B says:

    This is the key to me:

    “There is no substitute for training with intensity – when properly utilized. But from a programming perspective, emphasizing intensity at the exclusion of all other methods can neglect the development of qualities that form the foundation of greater fitness… Not every day is a max-out day. Not every day is a no-holds-barred race. There may be times we take a step back, take plates off the bar, or isolate movements to focus on technique without the pressure of the clock.”

    It’s the foundational strength and technique days that make it so that you can make the most out of those max-out days, and use those max-out days to figure where you need to go focus (strength or technique-wise) for the next round.

  3. Mike Choi says:

    After DCW, I often read the WOD board, observe how people move in class, and most recently, I read the PR board. It’s pretty cool to see how far people have come since they started. I go to a lot of CF gyms in my travels, and our members move very well. This is a combination of smart technical coaching and programming.

    When designing the programming, Chris and Tom consider the entire year around a set of goals. Sustainable peak performance is best achieved by gradually increasing endurance and strength intensity to a max level, then testing, recovering, and starting again. Considering how many people, skill levels, and goals members have, this isn’t an easy task.

    I know because we’ve had many conversations about program philosophy. They draw from CrossFit, team and individual sports training, Westside barbell, Soviet-style periodization, and other training modalities. Chris also writes the DCW programming that has qualified three people for American Open in weightlifting and sent two consecutive teams to CF Regionals. It’s the same framework and philosophy that fills that PR board every week.