The Program GIF - The Program - Discover & Share GIFs

This week I am taking a step back from the head-splitting personal narratives that have dominated the blog these last few posts. Instead, this will be the first of what will probably be a two or three part series on the concept of “programming.” 

I’ve recently noticed a lot of curiosity about our programming at Fairwinds. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me knows that I’m more than happy to nerd-out on programming for hours.

Nerd Alert GIF - Nerd Alert Dork - Discover & Share GIFs

Programming can be the heart and soul of a good affiliate. It can be a successful coach’s secret sauce. It can be the “it” element that brings thousands of people to the party. But it can also be a community’s Achilles heel. Bottom line, programming plays an integral role in establishing the relationship between a coach and her athletes while at the same time is often absolutely worthless in determining that same coach or athletes’ success or failure. In the end, programming is a conversation. It’s the medium by which a coach or affiliate communicates intention, expectations, and expertise to the athletes under their care. Nothing more, nothing less. Therefore, like all important conversations, the what of an affiliate’s programming is often less important than how that programming is created and executed. 

Let’s take a step back for a second. Since February 2001, has released a FREE daily Workout of the Day. Even on rest days, which occur every fourth day, CrossFit offers professional articles, nutrition advice, cultural education, and a variety of other psycho-social-emotional fitness resources. I mention this to caution anyone who thinks he can program better than to gut-check that confidence. We are talking about the folks who invented this whole thing. I once had a mentor say that if you own an affiliate or have been coaching athletes for any amount of time, you should be able to say that you have followed for at least one year. If not, then you haven’t actually done CrossFit.

Looked at another way, if a multi-million dollar company that currently owns the largest fitness affiliate system in the world gives their exercise program away for free, every day, than perhaps the specific details of that programming aren’t what’s important. Actually, CrossFit believes so little in safeguarding their specific programming that they openly teach Level 1 course attendees how to program for themselves and encourage every single trainer to try it. It’s as if they are saying, “Go ahead. Give it a try on your own. When you fail, we’ll be right here for you, still giving it away for free.”

In my experience, the best programming unapologetically and consistently follows the original prescription – functional movements done consistently well at high intensity five to six times per week in combinations of couplets and triplets across a variety of time and modal domains. The simplicity and elegance of this prescription is both the reason for its success and the thing that makes it so hard to implement well. Simple seldom means easy. And people are often attracted to the fancy and complicated approach rather than the simple answer.

When we followed for one year, we ran up against a lot of frustration and questions about its efficacy. As the year wore on, people began claiming that they weren’t getting any fitter. They claimed that they didn’t feel that the programming was enough. The strict gymnastics, the seemingly repetitive workouts, and the absence of fancy time domains and complicated structures frustrated athletes and coaches. I will admit, I felt many of these same frustrations. But we had made a promise. We would do for one year and then reassess our programming structure.

We made it the full year despite the general sense of frustration. Ironically, we also had people continue to set personal bests in lifts, complete benchmark workouts faster than they ever had before, and reach new levels of fitness across a variety of movements and time domains. Bottom line, people got fitter. 

But, as I said before, programming is not actually that important. People were getting fitter but they weren’t happy. Classes weren’t as fun. Coaches weren’t as engaged. The conversation had gotten stale. So we moved away from and guess what, the conversation was fun again. And people STILL kept getting fitter.

So what’s my point? I love programming. I love having the chance to write the workouts and create opportunities for at least six weekly conversations with those of you who call yourself Creek People. I borrow, I steal, and I copy programming from a variety of places. But this isn’t a research paper. I’m not pretending that I’ve invented any of these ideas. I have no claim of ownership on burpees or snatches. And neither does any other CrossFit programmer.

I own the tone of the conversation. I own the flow, the structure, the intention of the week. I curate a value to that programming for my athletes and our coaches on the Creek.  I’ve made a promise to our community that, no matter where the programming might come from, it’s been distilled into a conversation worth having again and again.

So if you have questions about our programming, ask away. In the next few weeks, I’ll offer some insights into where I get ideas, how the process works, and what I consider effective and ineffective programming.

Until then, see you on the Creek.

-Coach Jack