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From elitefts™ Q&A

Coach Watts,

First off, I would like to thank you for all your intelligent contributions to the training world. As you may have seen, CrossFit is here, and its impact is huge. What many people don't realize is that these competitive athletes on the CrossFit games don't just pick a workout out of hat and do that for the day. With your scholar background, how would you intelligently program an athlete looking to COMPETE in the CrossFit Games (block, conjugate, undulated, linear)?


Thank you for the kind words. The fact that you needed to tell me that CrossFit is here and how significant its impact is means one of two things.

  1. You are being condescending and think that we at elitefts™ live in a bubble.
  2. You are confirming what we both know and you trust me to talk openly without bias.

I think it's the latter. Besides, I hear about how awesome CrossFit is every single time I am on social media. I get it.

You are saying that the top-end athletes do not just randomize their workout. I cannot say one way or another and I am not going to assume what goes into anyone else's preparation at that level. I only have one question for you: have you ever seen a program written out for CrossFit?

I have never seen anything like an 8-week or 12-week peaking cycle for the games. I have never seen a program that a CrossFitter posted that helped them prepare for the open or regionals. Shit, I even googled it and I saw one article in the CrossFit journal that somewhat replicated a theoretical programming model. It also used words like "monostructural metabolic conditioning" and gave an example workout: practice handstands for 45 minutes. I realize my examples are not representative of the entire article but the point is that everything written is theoretical.

So, if they're not pulling stuff out of a hat like you say they aren't, are they using Glassman's theoretical model and plugging in specific skills and exercises? This is a serious question.

I would not say my background is as a scholar, by any means. I have been fortunate to have had experience coaching athletes and have eaten a lot of meals on plyo boxes and missed out on a lot of things because of the profession. I take pride in having an open mind to listen to everyone and appreciate the value before I question. I have no ego and I still don't know enough.

With all that being said, I probably sounded like an asshole dissecting your question. Let me preface your question with a few disclaimers. I have said this all before, but I am humble enough to realize that not everyone reads my log.

Why CrossFit is Awesome

I have had the privilege to meet a lot of people who have owned CrossFit gyms and I have to say each and every one of them were awesome people. I have done many "WODs" and have gone to of my way to learn as much as I can.

If you would have told me five or 10 years ago that soccer moms and washed-up athletes would be going to facilities to do snatches, cleans, pull-ups, and handstand push-ups, I would have told you that you were crazy.

Also, there is a standardization in CrossFit competitions that isn't as prevalent in other strength sports. A 700-pound squat isn't the same for anyone because of so many different variations. Gear vs raw,, wraps vs no wraps, tested vs not,–and then there are always depth issues. Strongman has such a variety in the specific implements. Just think of how many 600-pound tires feel so much different from each other. Like Olympic lifting, CrossFit mostly avoids these discrepancies.

I will piss a lot of people off here but CrossFit saved Olympic lifting. If Olympic lifting was baseball then CrossFit is Sosa and McGuire.

No other group of people has a sense of community like CrossFitters. As much as it annoys everyone else, none of the CrossFitterers seem to give a shit what others think about it. I am sure there is some negative banter (I've never seen it), but nothing like other sports.

Don't believe me? Go ahead and post a video of a geared squat from a competition and see how much controversy in the comments you'll see about the depth, the suit, the meet, etc.

Sorry, now to your question...

Programming for CrossFit

In my opinion, programming for CrossFit is no different that programming for any other sport or athletic competition. I am not saying CrossFit is any more of a sport than powerlifting or highland games. In fact, I wouldn't say CrossFit is a sport at all–and not for the reasons you think. You can't trademark a sport. The NFL is trademarked. Football is not. NASCAR is trademarked. Auto-racing is not. You get me? You don't get to make up a sport and then make it inclusive. But, I digress.

The first step is to develop a needs analysis. I have said this before, but if you do not know what a needs analyisis is, then stop coaching immediately. The two main components:

  1. Evaluation of the sport
  2. Assessment of the athlete

I go into detail about adapting CrossFit methodologies for sports performance here.

Looking at CrossFit competitions, there is only one constant and that is that there are no constants. These competitions are designed to be a random test of multiple, varied events. There is, however a consistency in movements. Although the energy system and the application may be extremely variable, there is still consistency. So, when evaluating the sport, I would concentrate on the constants of the games:

  1. The specific movements
  2. The benchmark (women's named) workouts

As far as the assessment of the athlete, that would be the same as any other sport. Look at prior injuries and address weak-points.

Really, the only difference between preparing for the CrosssFit games and preparing an athlete for their sport is the specificity of the movement. Generally, someone preparing for the games needs to be proficient at the Olympic lifts, hand stand walks, pull-ups, rope climbs, and the list goes on. The movements found in most CrossFit competitions could benefit athletes, but they would all be considered GPP. A volleyball player doesn't need to perform cleans for her sport. Performing cleans will help enhance jumping ability which in turn will help her ability to play her sport. There is a difference.

Keep this in mind when you are talking about competitors for the CrossFit Games. You have to understand that if you are competing in the games you are in a very elite crowd. Just do the math. By the time the games start next year there may be at least 7,000 (some say closer to 8,00) CrossFit affiliates. Let's just say, for easy math's sake, every affiliate has 100 members. That is 700,000 CrossFitters. Now, I know not that many enter the open, but there were about 200 that actually made the games. One percent of 700,000 is 7,000. So, a tenth of a percent is still 700 athletes.

Regardless, there are two characteristics of the CrossFit games athletes that stands out more that any other CrossFitter.

  1. The are all strong. Not CrossFit strong, but strong.
  2. They have a lot of competition experience.

That being said, my two main goals for any CrossFitter looking to compete are to get stronger and to simply compete.


I am not a fan of linear periodization for even linear sports. It's just not my background. Although, Meg Richie-Stone has stated that all periodization is linear and non-linear. They all have corresponding attributes, but for the sake or argument let's just talk about non-linear schemes.

Because of the variability of the sport, I sincerely believe a non-linear model works best. For the sake of argument, let's just conclude that I would generally use a sequence like this:

  • Off-Season (before the open) – Block Periodization: addressing different fitness qualities in stages.
  • Pre-Season (after the open and before regionals) – Conjugated: addressing different fitness qualities simultaneously with an emphasis on one per stage.
  • In-Season (after regionals and before the games) – Concurrent: addressing different fitness qualities simultaneously.

Before starting the program, here would be my main goals:

1. Strength

This is the one fitness quality that all others are based on. This is the glass ceiling that must be raised. When getting ready for the "Grace" Workout for Barbells for Boobs, I noticed that the higher the 1RM the more proficient at cleaning 135 pounds. The NFL 225-pound bench test is no different. At my best I have done 225 pounds for 40 reps (short arms, big belly). I only tried the 225 test once a year for the Bench Press to Beat Breast Cancer. The reason why I could to the weight for 40 reps is because at the time, 225 pounds was between 50 and 60 percent of my 1RM. Just like cleaning 135 pounds for 30 reps is a cakewalk for a 300-pound cleaner. It will take less energy.

2. Address Weak Points

This may be technique work in the Olympic lifts, Gymnastic movement experience, or just getting some experience in the pool. Regardless, you must address what you are weak at. This is no different from powerlifting, strongman, etc.

3. Map Out Progressions and Work Backwards from Each Competition

This means programming your best WODs closest to the competition (to instill confidence) and your weakest ones early in the cycle. This also means a programming your strength lifts life you were preparing for a meet and your LSD work like you were preparing for a race.

4. The Anatomy of the Training Session

The anatomy of the training session can look the same. It is amazing how similar they usually are to a collegiate S&C session.

  • Soft Tissue
  • Mobility
  • Warm-Up
  • Technique or Skill work
  • Strength Work
  • WOD
  • Finisher (this doesn't have to always be more conditioning)

Although all of those components are present, there can be emphasis placed on each one on different days or different weeks.

The most important aspect is to create an exercise pool with each category when it comes to strength.

For example, when looking at the squats, list the exercises that are most applicable and will have the best carryover to multiple WODs:

  • Front Squat
  • Back Sqaut
  • Overhead Squat

Or, for overhead work:

  • Strict OHP
  • Push Press
  • Split Jerk

The Weekly Plan

Without writing an eBook, I will sum up what I would do. But if you look at what the top games performers are doing, it may be totally different. I am under the impression that none of those people have real jobs, they travel all over the country (and world) and train high volume constantly. I could be wrong. Remember, all components can be done, but here would be the emphasis:


  • Olympic
  • Lower Body Strength
  • WOD


  • Upper Body Strength
  • Gymnastic
  • WOD


  • Olympic
  • Aerobic


  • Lower Body Strength
  • Upper Body Strength
  • WOD


  • Olympic
  • Gymnastic
  • Aerobic


  • Events day. Multiple couplets and triplets.


  • Recovery and restoration

Again, I can go into more detail, but I feel you probably have a pretty good idea of what to do. The short answer is to do some sort of non-linear based periodization. The closer you get to the games, the more variety and the more concurrent your training should be.