Variety and MORE Can be HIGHLY Overrated. Programming for Principles not Entertainment - Part 1
Our goal as a gym staff and membership base is to understand the basic principles of WHY we program in a specific way in hopes that it leads you to more focused, fulfilling training, and ultimately, better results.
Coaches it is your objective to internalize this and drip it during each class you coach.
Members we need you to buy in and trust the process!
Remember, our current goal is STRENGTH. Strength often "unlocks" the path to higher level skills and movements. If you want to do pullups, handstand push-ups, or have a big clean and jerk. Strength is the foundation.
The article below rings particularly true NOW when we are striving to get STRONGER!
CrossFit is known for Variety and Intensity.
In fact, the actual DEFINITION of CrossFit, According to CrossFit founder, Greg Glassman is Constantly Varied, Functional Movements, Performed at High Intensity.
PART 1 - In this article we will expand on what type of variety is likely hindering our progress.
Part 2 will cover GOOD VARIETY!)
Part 3 will focus on WELL TIMED, INTELLIGENT INTENSITY
The goal is to tie everything together to show how we serve Constantly Varied, Functional Movements, performed at High Intensity as well as they ebb and flow through each year for us!
Is Chasing Variety Hindering Your Progress?
I am BIG on variety, the pursuit of well rounded fitness, and I LOVE the variance that CrossFit provides. HOWEVER, when variety becomes the sole focus, more important training principles (the ones that are most important to yielding results) are LOST.
Before we take the dive into VARIETY, we need to be clear about defining progress.
The progress that we are referring to in this article is MEASURABLE. We are talking about adding 10 pounds to our deadlift, rowing a 500m piece 3s faster, or going from 1 strict pull up to 5.
We are not talking about the way you feel during/after a training session. A common trap that CrossFitters fall into is basing the success of their workout on their emotions, their endorphins, and always thinking MORE/DIFFERENT is better. An intense CrossFit workout that drives you into the dirt can leave your endorphins soaring and your pride in yourself sky high. This is a great feeling AND it is a wonderful part of CrossFit. These workouts and going FULL SEND at times 100% have their place.
However, that FEELING is not measurable progress. If this is your only standard for each daily workout (did I do A LOT - Am I TIRED) and the metric by which you measure the overall success of a program in general - true progress will likely elude you despite crushing yourself daily. When training simply becomes chasing this "feeling" you are no longer training to make progress, you are training for entertainment.
"Any fool can make another fool tired"
Tired is not the goal, progress is the goal. Don't confuse the two!
Variety simply for Variety - Muscles don't get "CONFUSED"
You have likely heard some of these...
You have to keep your muscles guessing (RED FLAG)
You won't make progress if you do the same workout consistently
You won't make progress if you constantly repeat the same exercise
It's those who don't stick to any one program with focus, faith, and effort for more than a few weeks that never seem to make any significant progress while those that focus on quality and progression in their foundational movements quietly soar ahead.
True progress will come with patience and progression building foundational movements little by little consistently over time.
Yes, pistol squats balancing on kettlebell looks super cool and impresses your friends on Facebook.
Yes, doing the latest, trending accessory movement with your TOE SPACERS on makes a great Instagram post, but this isn't the productive variety we are looking for.
Variety does have a time and a place.
However, the biggest obstacle to progress in most people's training isn't lack of VARIETY, but rather lack of mastery.
Variety is often the ENEMY of making strength progress
Most people never experience their true potential with strength, higher skilled movements, or overall fitness because they never allow themselves enough time to get comfortable and follow progression with a particular lift or movement. They are too busy chasing those endorphins from simply doing more and going fast, wondering while those that slowed down and progressed with intention are fitter than them even though they are BLASTING every workout with 110% effort.
Who wants to perform the same old bench press and sumo deadlifts with "boring" rest in between when you can add bands, perform them on one leg, and crush yourself on bike intervals between sets?
If strength is the goal, just sticking to the basic deadlift and focusing on nailing every set with intention and adding a little bit to the bar each week is likely the best approach.
If ENTERTAINMENT/NOVELTY is the goal, cool, go ahead strap on those bands, stand on one leg, and kill those sprints between your sets.
Master the Simple Stuff
We give an award at COMPLETE called the Award of Virtuosity. This is given to our "best movers" who "constantly focus on the details." It shouldn't come as a surprise that the winners of this award are often the strongest/most capable athletes in the gym. When they move, they move with purpose. They focus on the basics and "doing the common, uncommonly well"
Mastering the basics becomes impossible if we are constantly changing things just to provide excitement or filling our program with extra movements so we do not get bored.
Achieving variety doesn't need to be fancy or excessive. Making small adjustments to your grip, stance, implement used, or adding pauses to a movement can be far more powerful and effective than introducing multiple new elements.
The mark of great programming is generally not what is in the programming, instead, it is WHATS'S NOT IN THE PROGRAMMING.
This is why it is very important to consider the approach to Accessory Work/More movements during a STRENGTH PHASE
We want to avoid adding extra or new exercises simply for the sake of Doing MORE, Doing something cool, or Doing something different.
It is likely that using less variety and focusing on mastering the basics (great technique, focus, and progressive overload) + pouring full effort and intention into each set is a more effective path to progress.
Less QUANTITY, more QUALITY.
If we do too much nothing is given the effort, intention, and intensity needed to create adaptation (PROGRESS!)
TAKE A BREAK - Rest and Recovery is Vital for TRUE Strength training
Recovery between workouts and slowing down and focusing in sessions during strength development is so important and too much variety can sabotage these important principles.
YOU NEED LONGER REST PERIODS AND ADEQUATE RECOVERY DURING PURE STRENGTH TRAINING.
It is often counterproductive to add conditioning, volume, or extra movements that STEAL YOUR MOJO AND RECOVERY for what matters.
You have to be fresh for each set during training and recovering between sessions to maximize STRENGTH STIMULUS!
You should Expect to slow down and be rested in order to give maximum effort and focus to each strength set
Again, this is why in a good strength program you will RARELY see accessory work between working sets - More variety is not always better
THIS IS BY DESIGN TO HELP YOU BUILD STRENGTH AND RECOVER
Enjoy the slower paced strength sessions and lesser volume.
Embrace the opportunity to focus on lifting heavier and perfecting movement.
Tired is not the goal, progress is the goal. Don't confuse the two!
Progressive Overload Is King
Progressive overload is when you gradually increase the weight, frequency, or number of repetitions in your strength training routine on a particular movement. This is likely THE MOST IMPORTANT principle of progress in the gym and too much variety can ignore it completely.
Maybe you caught my vibe on "muscle confusion" earlier.... Your muscles never get confused. They respond, VERY PREDICTABLY to the stimulus you give them. Your muscles and your CNS (central nervous system) are actually INCREDIBLY smart. They respond to load, movement, mental focus, and many other factors and adapt accordingly. The simplest path to progress lies in progressive overload to your foundational movements. This is making small, consistent progress on those foundational movements.
The truth is, progressive overload is king. Everyone should make an effort to increase capacity little by little (increase sets or reps or both, or decrease rest intervals) – to do more work – each and every week. INCH by INCH over long periods of time.
This is the time tested, proven approach and something many lifters often overlook in favor of the more sexy or unconventional answer.
It's not the lack of a magic accessory movement, a secret mobility routine, a more intense WOD, or an extra training session that is holding you back from progress, but the lack of focus on the accumulation of small victories in the same basic movements.
Track your sessions. Try and do a little bit more work then the last time. Add a little bit more weight to the bar then last time. Take that next baby step in your pull up progression. Rinse. Repeat. Forever.
There's never a shortage of bright, shiny objects to distract our attention. Specifically when strength is the goal, constant exercise hopping and lack of focus/effort due to boredom is a ticket to being average and likely feeling frustrated with lack of progress.
Marrying yourself to the idea of muscle confusion, the latest trend and chasing variety will rarely, if ever, allow you to truly master a movement and see real, lasting progress.
It takes PATIENCE, PERSISTENCE, and GREAT COACHING but we can do it!
Let's Evolve. Own the Weight. Own the movement.
Earn the Right to Add More and OPEN THE PATH to greater things
Have you ever added 5 pounds to a lift you have OWNED before and it becomes nearly impossible. You move from banded strict pullups to attempting a strict pullups and you do not budge an inch.
What is happening? Simple. You haven't "earned" the right to increase the load yet. You haven't performed enough reps at "x" to increase to "y." Stick with the lower weight. Stick with a lesser pullup progression. Stay there. Own it.
You'll make better progress in the long run. You'll grow more comfortable with the exercise. You'll learn it. You'll respect it. Moreover, by making your strength base wider with more sub-maximal volume (60-80% of 1RM), you'll attain a higher peak when you do eventually test your max numbers and open the door to far greater potential.
I LOVE CrossFit, but it is truly RARE to walk into a gym and see someone OWNING an exercise. The emphasis is far too often placed on speed, score, and MORE, MORE, MORE. Progressions are left behind in the pursuit of intensity and an RX score.
We at COMPLETE, can evolve BEYOND this and look better, feel better, and make MORE PROGRESS than those on that spinning wheel of unsustainable epic workouts, emotions and endorphins.
We have the OPPORTUNITY to be better and take a path to bigger goals and healthier/happier bodies.
Let's take pride in owning our movements, following progressions, and placing value in the patient accumulation of small victories.
My favorite coach and strength training author of all time is Dan John. His coaching philosophy revolves around 1 simple line. "Make it SIMPLE, not easy." There is beauty in the simplicity it takes of making progress in training and we as humans, tend to overthink and over complicate.
Let's embrace the simplicity and crush these last 4 weeks of COMPLETE Strength.