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Competition Programming; Are You Really Benefitting?

    This is an article I have been wanting to write for a long time.  Over my years of doing CrossFit I have tried various strength and metabolic conditioning programs.  Some have greatly influenced how I do my own programming.  Many of the authors of these programs are extremely talented and gifted in what they do.  I would say that a big portion of our community, however, have been blindly following these programs thinking they are somehow better or more advanced than class programs.  I also know of many gyms that actually use these programs for their classes.  Now this isn’t always a bad idea but it must be approached with caution.  I will mention several programs in this article and it is in no way meant to demean these programs or say that my way is better but it is just an observation.  

What am I talking about when I say competition programming?  These programs are specifically designed to make you good at CrossFit.  A couple of examples of these types of programs are Comp Train, MisFit, and Invictus Athlete Program.  At DCL we have our own comp program.  I believe people misunderstand these programs or believe that somehow these programs are better than the local gyms’ programs.  A common misconception is that because you do comp programming you are somehow getting fitter than someone who is doing a local gym programming.  Let me just say that is far from the truth.  Just because the volume of the work you do is higher does not mean you are getting fitter.  Let me explain.  

Competition programming is designed to make you better at CrossFit for CrossFit competitions.  In a CrossFit competition you are going to do multiple workouts throughout the day.  These workouts will (or at least they should) include a variety of challenges or tests. They should test athletes across all three metabolic pathways, the phosphagen, glycolytic, and the oxidative pathways.  If you don’t test across all three then the competition is not testing for true fitness.  The reason you may not be getting fitter although you follow these programs is because many people blindly follow the programs.  When a workout is given, what is the point?    Is the workout designed to be done in 20 minutes or in less than five? Without the coach there you won’t know.  You don’t know the intent of the workout.  I pride myself in creating a program which meets all three metabolic pathways every week.  Many just fail to realize what the term fitness means.  Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, defines fitness as “increased work capacity across broad times and modal domains”.  Just because you do more volume does not mean you are meeting that definition.  If I do multiple workouts in a day and in every subsequent effort my intensity goes down, I am failing to meet that definition.  Athletes try to stuff several sessions into a three hour period and hope that their work capacity is going to go up, but in reality they are just wearing themselves out and burning too many calories in one session to maintain the intensity that the originator of the program intended.  Remember: intensity is the gold standard in CrossFit.  As Glassman puts it “volume is slave to intensity”.  Without intensity you are missing the point of 100% of the workouts you perform and with every effort if you give less and less intensity you are completely missing the point of all workouts.  

Another aspect that many people fail to understand is that the goal of a general CrossFit program is to make you fitter.  Part of being fit is that you show up to the gym at least six days per week and eat healthy.  We can talk about nutrition until we are blue in the face (and for more about nutrition check out our other blog series by our Coach Garrik) so we will stick to working out.  One thing I respect most about Ben Bergeron, the creator of Comp Train, is in one of his podcasts he out right says it.  If you do competition programming, you will get injured.  He doesn’t pull any punches he comes right out and says it, and I totally agree.  Now if I am injured how am I ever going to be fit for life?  All competition programming does is get you ready to compete in CrossFit.  In the competition side of CrossFit, just like any competitive sport, injuries are part of the game.  If you played any sport competitively and you tell me you were never injured, I would argue you never pushed your limits.  The counter argument is if you are injured then you aren’t fit according to Glassman’s “sickness, wellness, fitness” continuum.  Again just because you increase volume does not mean you increase intensity.  I bring this up because as you increase volume you increase the chance of injury.  If I lower intensity, I lower average power and therefore lower my fitness level.  Most, if not all, of these programs were designed to be done over an entire day over multiple sessions.  When I stuff multiple sessions into one or two hours I am opening myself to injuries.  Even with my athletes I tell them to do several sessions in order to maximize their results.  The reason Comp Train and MisFit have multiple sessions is to prepare their athletes for multiple sessions of regionals and the CrossFit games which is who their programming is designed to help.  I think too many athletes these days are jumping aboard these programs before they are ready and are opening themselves up for injuries.  In my opinion 99% of athletes have no business doing these programs because these programs were designed for the 1%.  The volume that CrossFit games athletes put their bodies through opens them up to injuries and these people are genetically gifted beyond belief.  Majority of these genetically gifted athletes retire at 30 years old which says something about the punishment these athletes put their bodies through.  Injuries are common in every sport and if you want to be fit then an injury puts your further away from fitness and closer to sickness.  

Some competition programs are created by great coaches and athletes.  I would be lying if I said I didn’t see some of these workouts and didn’t try them myself.  Some of these coaches have greatly influenced my style and I credit them for making me the coach that I am.  If you are a gym owner and you use these programs to learn from, then my hat is off to you.  Always learn from everyone you can learn from.  Learn from the great minds but also try to read into the program and try to see what the intent is and make sure it is what you intend for your athletes.  However, if it is because you are too lazy to create you own programs and make your athletes better, then maybe you should re-evaluate why you own a gym in the first place.  Competition programming is great but always make sure you understand what your goals are.  If it’s just to be fit, then you don’t need it.  

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