Love Letter - How To Design a Workout Program?

Josh Melendez
December 16, 2022
Love Letter - How To Design a Workout Program?

“The magic is in the movement, the art is in the programming, the science is in the explanation and the fun is in the community” - Greg Glassman. This is a famous quote from the creator of CrossFit. We can dissect this whole quote on exactly what he means but for today, we will only do an overview about “the art is in the programming” and I’ll try to keep it short as possible. 

Let’s first talk about what you want from your program and what factors go into that. You want the program to be effective, efficient and safe. How do you get there? You factor in the abilities of an athlete, goals of an athlete, stressors of an athlete, nutrition of an athlete, sleep of an athlete, history of an athlete, mindset of an athlete, injuries of an athlete and commitment of an athlete. There are other things you factor in such as weather, equipment, time of day and whether it’s in person or not. You obtain this information by having a sit down with an athlete and having the athlete do an assessment for you. Keep in mind, assessing your athlete and gathering information will never stop and you also want to measure, observe and repeat the program. 

So what do you think about when it comes to designing a workout program? You need to consider the modality, structure of workout, metabolic pathways and variance. There are three distinct modalities which are gymnastic, weightlifting and metabolic conditioning. Gymnastic means any movement involving just your bodyweight, weightlifting means any movement involving external loads and metabolic conditioning is any movement involving cardio capacity and stamina. Structure of the workout is referring to rounds or AMRAP or chipper or pure strength. Also are the movements complimentary or non-complementary to each other and is it a couplet or triplet or more movements? An example of a complimentary couplet is the workout “Fran”. It is complimentary because it involves a push (thruster) and a pull (pull up) movement. It is a couplet because it is two movements. An example of a non-complimentary couplet workout is power cleans and pull ups. Both movements are a pulling action. Metabolic pathways are your anaerobic and aerobic systems. There are three metabolic pathways which are phosphagen (anaerobic), glycolytic (anaerobic) and oxidative (aerobic). All three pathways are trained in CrossFit and always keep this in mind, if you improve your anaerobic pathways then your aerobic pathway will improve but it does not work the other way around. Last thing to consider in your programming is variance. Variance refers to load, repetition/distance, movements and time duration. 

How do you build the program beyond one day and how do you know if it is working? In regards to building a full program, you can build it in blocks. You choose as a coach your block and you can consider the blocks as stepping stones, this style of programming is called block periodization. It can be a 6-week block or a 3 month block or 6 month block or even longer if you want. Just know that whatever block you choose, you must measure, observe and repeat to ensure you are getting positive results. The truth about programming is this, it is all trial and error. There is no such thing as a perfect program out there. The responsibility of the coach who is programming for you is to test the programs and see if it is getting you closer to your goal. If it is not, then the coach must take a different approach and adjust your programming. But always remember this, it is up to the athlete to perform the program. If the program is not being performed as it is being delivered then the results are not valid. 

This is a very quick overview of how to design an effective, efficient and safe program. There is a lot more to it than just simply writing down a workout in 5 seconds and going for it. This is why having a coach is so crucial. There is an art behind programming and in order to get positive results, designing a program takes quality time. A lot of people don’t want to spend their time on designing programs, your coaches do. 


Josh Melendez

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