You work hard. You train hard. And you’re always looking for ways to improve. The best protein to take. The best shoes to wear. The best mobility move to do. And the best programming to follow or, if you’re a coach, the best programming to incorporate at your box.
With so many options out there, it’s often tough to really know which is best.
If you’ve been CrossFitting for some time, you’ve probably dabbled in a different program or two. Yes, the options are limitless—and not all of them are created equal.
Ben Burgeron is the Head Coach of CrossFit New England and creator of the popular blog CompetitorsWOD.com.
Coach B took some time to share with us what he’s learned in his 20-plus years of coaching athletes to greatness. He discusses key factors to consider when choosing which program to follow and, if you’re a coach, how to create a successful program for your box. From programming high-school strength & conditioning to coaching some of the top competitors in our sport—Chris Spealler, Lindsey Valenzuela, and 2013 Games 2nd place finishers Team CrossFit New England—Coach B has seen it all.
Many CrossFitters are on the lookout for ‘the best programming’—you’ve been in the fitness community for some time now—what, in your opinion, should an athlete look for in a good training program?
BB: It’s vital to consider your goals. Do you seriously want to go to Regionals or the Games? Then you need to realize the amount of work and lack of life balance it’s going to take to get there. You’ll need to find a program that incorporates more skills and strength work and pushes you to work on weaknesses.
Do you want to be just all-around generally fit? Doing programming from a box—even if it is mediocre—is probably ok. After all, you get the community aspect too. Also, while CrossFit is all about randomization (“constantly varied”), it’s important to look for balance. Some gyms do AMRAPs every day and may be biased to short-burners, others overtax the shoulders too many days in a row. You don’t want to get too comfortable with just one way or stick to a bias for doing things.
Something I do that’s been incredibly effective for all my athletes is to create a template for all training days. For example—generally for my competitors— Mondays will be a squat day, Tuesdays are pull days, Saturdays are longer, meatier workouts, and so on. It stays consistent, and my athletes have a general idea of what to expect while at the same time not really knowing what the workout will be.
Do you use a template for the everyday box beasts—the members—at your gym, CrossFit New England?
BB: For regular weekly CFNE gym programming, we try to incorporate:
3-4 days of couplets/triplets, 6-15 minutes long
1-2 days of strength
1 day of a long, 20+ minute workout
1 day with no shoulders
1 day with no barbell
1 day with a benchmark
How far in advance do you program?
BB: Ideally, I’d program each day and base it off how my athletes are feeling. For example, say they did deadlifts the day before and their hamstrings and low back are shot. I’d maybe lighten up the load and not do the 10-minute EMOM of heavy back squats like I had originally planned. I have programmed every which way, the day before, one week at a time, weeks in advance, or the entire month and day-by-day is still my favorite way. Since I have my template, that takes a lot of thought out of it, and then it’s really all about plugging in the specific movements.
You’ve been programing for more than seven years in this young sport—how do you advise coaches on becoming better programmers in general?
BB: This answer is multi-faceted: As stated before, you must consider your athletes’ goals. There is a big difference in programming for CrossFit ‘the sport’ and CrossFit ‘the fitness program’ and I think they often get confused. Do your athletes want to compete or take it to the next level? Or do they just want to be generally fit so they can rock climb or carry their groceries? Programming the clean & jerk every 10 days may suffice for your athletes who just want a fitness program, but for your athletes who want to improve their lifts and all-around game, you need to program movements like that more often.
At CrossFit New England, we have three different types of programming and athletes will complete a workout based on their goals. I create the regular CFNE blog WOD for our members, then the ‘Open’ and the Regionals/Games WOD on the CompetitorsWOD.com blog. Athletes can choose their program and stick to it. The movements may be similar, but there are some variations in scale and definitely more strength and skill work for the competitors.
As a programmer, become knowledgeable about the stimulus you want to target. Say for example, you have two movements: deadlifts and box jumps. Do you want more of a burner after having a heavier strength session? Then you want to program something light and quick—think a 7-minute AMRAP of 10 deadlifts at 135/95 and 10 box jumps. Want a more strength-based workout? Do those 10 deadlifts, but move that weight to 305/225 and 10 tall box jumps in a longer time domain, maybe 15-minutes.
Lastly, I suggest coaches create a template for their box. They talk about this at the Level 1 Seminar, but I think it’s all too often overlooked. Let the meat and potatoes of your program be your couplets and triplets, go long once a week, and go heavy one to two times per week. After several years of playing around with creating structure to my programming, I found something that has worked quite well and allows me to be honest and consistent in how I program, no matter what.
What separates a great coach from a good coach, and a good coach from a poor coach?
BB: Coaches should be more knowledgeable in general. We can all continue to grow. Just because someone gets their Level 1 Certification doesn’t mean they are at the top of the food chain. It’s a great course, but it is the minimum requirement that begins to open your eyes to CrossFit. Consider all the different facets of the sport. Can you coach track like a track coach? Strength and conditioning like a strength and conditioning coach? Kettlebell? Gymnastics? Coaches need to be well versed in all movements, and have the ability to see and correct movements.
Most importantly, a great coach can get inside their athletes’ heads. They know what motivates them, what pushes them, when they typically rest, their strengths and weaknesses. Do they respond better to whispering or yelling? When they are dragging their feet in through the door, do you need to give them a little push to get going, or do they really need to take a rest day? A great coach knows how to push athletes to get the best possible performance from them.
What are some things that are often overlooked in a training program?
BB: Nutrition—it’s talked about, it’s part of the Fitness in 100 Words: eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar—but I still think it’s undervalued. A lot of CrossFitters look at athletes like Rich [Froning] and see how he is pretty lax with his diet, and think they can be too. I wonder how much better he could be—that slight edge—that even he could benefit from by really focusing on eating clean. Many athletes are looking for that 1% boost that separates them from the rest. I believe nutrition can contribute 10-15 to even 20% of an athlete’s gains if they really took it seriously. Also, sleep! It’s highly overlooked. How much sleep are your athletes getting? Are they tracking their sleep? Sleep is crucial for recovery and gives athletes an extra edge.
Say I am a CrossFit member at a local box—kind of stuck, not progressing and looking for something different than the programming offered. What do you suggest, especially since open gyms are hard to come by?
BB: Following a sub-optimal program is better with lots of buddies than following the best of the best programming by yourself. And again, this goes back to goals. Do you want to compete? Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Maybe it means going to your box during non-class times, or purchasing a barbell and bumper plates to keep at home.
You are a coach and programmer for hundreds of athletes, do you have a coach for yourself?
BB: I have so many: my wife, Heather; James Hobart; Greg Glassman; Dave Castro; EC Synkowski and Derek Mohamed. Each of them has a role in directing my life, my business, my fitness and gives me inspiration and leadership. As for training, I follow the regular gym members’ programming, from our blog CrossFit New England. I am done with my days of competing. I like the role of coach.