How to Develop Your Own Strength and Conditioning Program
Bottom Line Up Front: This article will explain a programming philosophy for strength and conditioning. It will show you how to construct a program from the ground up. This can be applied to nearly anyone with basic adjustments based on different goals but is primarily focused on general physical preparedness (GPP).
My Training History
I began lifting weights for high school football many years ago. I immediately fell in love. Over the next decade, I would experiment with many forms of powerlifting and bodybuilding, sometimes combined in the same workout. Then I joined the Army and had a new level of physical fitness requirements. I was now performing across a variety of domains that are far outside the realm of bodybuilding and powerlifting which make you big and strong but really only in a gym with barbells and dumbbells. Big and strong was not going to cut it. I spent the next many years doing regular US Army physical training in groups (this basically means a lot of running, a lot of push-ups, a lot of sit-ups, some ruck marching, and not much else). I had a strong exercise physiology background before joining the Army, so I knew this wasn’t optimal to train for combat. Unfortunately, the Army has chosen to make the 2-mile run, push-ups, and sit-ups the measure of physical fitness. Not suprising that people train to the test, which means run a lot and do a whole bunch of push-up variations and even more “abs”. It is disaster, but that is another article for another time.
In 2008 I discovered CrossFit and it opened my thinking to new concepts I had never considered. The quantification and combination of movements put together a lot of ideas that had been floating around in my head. I have since spent the next many years varying my attempts to find out what works best using this basic philosophy, which is “constantly varied, functional movements performed at high intensity!”
I initially followed the CrossFit.com main site programming, meaning I would do the workouts posted on the page. I was in a group that would do them together either in the morning, lunch, or after work, so it was easy to get into it. After a few months of this, I knew I could take these ideas and apply them using my knowledge from the past 10 years of reading about and experimenting with exercise. It took me a few years of tweaking, but I came to a system that I have used for the past few years. It is varied, functional, and intense for sure. I will explain the details and give some examples of templates for your use. The goal of this program is general physical preparedness (GPP). This means I want to be able to do anything at any time in any conditions without glaring physical weaknesses. I do not train for the Army physical fitness test. I am physically fit so I can do well at it without training for it. I can lift heavy weights and am not a “weightlifter” like I can run but am not a “runner”. I can walk on my hands and do one-legged squats and am not a “gymnast”. You get the idea.
Conditioning workouts are one or more movements done in rapid succession and are aimed at improving how your body performs under a variety of conditions. They typically involve high repetitions using bodyweight or weight-bearing movements and/or some cardiovascular endurance movements like running, rowing, or jumping rope. A conditioning workout usually results in a rapid heart rate and muscular fatigue from repetitive movements. While you will get stronger from many conditioning workouts, the goal is to perform under fatigue with a metabolic demand. CrossFitters usually call them METCONs (metabolic conditioning workouts).
Examples would be:
1. Complete 100 pull-ups as fast as possible. Record total time.
2. Run 400 meters 10 times with 30 seconds rest in between each. Record slowest interval time.
3. Complete 4 rounds of 10 push-ups, 10 pull-ups, and 10 squats as fast as possible. Record total time.
Strength workouts are done without any concern for time. Strength is the ability to move heavy things. They involve lifting heavy things for typically 1-5 repetitions. Rest in between sets is as much as is needed, normally 2-3 minutes. 5 sets of 5 repetitions in the Barbell Back Squat is the granddaddy of all strength workout examples.
Power workouts are the same as strength workouts but typically involve more dynamic movements such as the Olympic lifts (Snatch and Clean & Jerk). Power is the ability to move things quickly. It is strength divided by time, i.e. the more you lift and the faster you lift it, the more power you are generating. Any movements done dynamically (explosively) are power-oriented. 5 sets of 1 repetition at 80% of 1RM (one rep max) Snatch is an example of a power/Olympic lifting workout, although a very short one.
I combine these typically into one Strength/Power workout as separating the two is basically impossible. When I say a “strength” workout, I understand it involves improvements to both strength and power.
Most Olympic lifters (they compete in meets testing Snatch and Clean & Jerk amounts) use strength and power lifts. Their workouts are dominated by Snatches, Cleans, and Jerks, but they use a lot of basic strength movements to assist them like the Squat and Deadlift. They are called “Weightlifters”. When you hear someone in strength and conditioning say they are a “weightlifter” they don’t mean they lift weights; they usually mean they compete in Olympic Weightlifting (snatch and clean & jerk).
To further confuse this issue, “Powerlifters” actually compete only in the Bench Press, Squat, and Deadlift, which are NOT power movements. This sport should not be called Powerlifting as power is not measured directly – only strength.
What I Have Found Effective (and Enjoyable)
I personally enjoy performing a variety of conditioning movements from 5 minutes up to 45 minutes using elements of monostructural cardiovascular movements (running, rowing, jumping rope) with gymnastic movements (resistance using bodyweight only like pull-ups, push-ups, or lunges) with weightlifting movements (any weight-bearing movement like barbell squats, barbell push presses, or kettlebell swings). I also enjoy a dedicated strength and power session which does not involve time or high repetitions. I like to vary the movements, the ways they are executing, and the length of the workouts. Combining these two together into training cycles is what we will discuss next.
I have gone back and forth between putting conditioning work on the same day as strength/power work and between separating them. Both have benefits and downsides.
Putting conditioning workouts with strength/power workouts allows me to get more conditioning workouts done in a given cycle. It allows me to have a separate element of strength/power improvement in each session. A downside is they will affect each other, i.e. the harder the conditioning workout is, the weaker I will be during the strength/power portion. An example session would be:
1. Perform 5 rounds for time of 10 push-ups, 10-pull-ups, and 10 air squats.
2. Perform sets of 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 repetitions of Barbell Back Squat.
Separating them allows for longer workouts with more focus on conditioning or strength/power. Doing a 45-minute conditioning workout will leave little in the tank for heavy squats or deadlifts. However, separating them will let me do both. It will also let me do a much longer strength/power workout with higher volume and intensity since it is by itself.
I end up alternating over time (months or years) as to whether I perform my conditioning workouts with my strength/power work or not. Let’s discuss the two types of workouts and then how to construct a program.
Many years ago I found an article by Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, in the CrossFit Journal Issue 06 – February 2003 entitled “A Theoretical Template for CrossFit’s Programming”. You can read it here. I had been trying to figure out how they were programming the main site workouts and could not discern a template. It seemed and still seems completely random, as in one day’s workout has no bearing on the previous day or the next day. This is atypical in exercise science. You would never see a football team’s strength coach not have weeks worth of sets and reps all outlined as each workout impacts the others. They are meant to complement each other. CrossFit preaches constantly varied, but there is a point to where it is just unstructured. I know a lot of people who just go run and do various things every morning with no overall program. This is kind of interesting in one sense, but really it’s just lazy and ignorant to haphazardly throw things together into “workouts”.
This article gives a basic structure for how to do conditioning workouts, which I immediately fell in love with and use today. It groups all exercises into three categories: Monostructural Metabolic Conditioning (“cardio”), Gymnastics, or Weightlifting. He uses M, G, and W to abbreviate them respectively. He then shows how one could construct a program that ensures equal representation of all three major categories in a variety of ways over time. Note the chart below from the article.
He rotates through workouts that involve one, then two, then three of these modalities with each variation represented. The problem with it though is it doesn’t rotate anything else like time or structure (how the workout itself will be done). He explains some options in the article, but the degree to which he controls for modality variation is far greater than anything else.
The basic template I use take for conditioning workouts involves not only the general modalities used but time and structure. I also break down the specific M, G, and W into sub-categories. I do this to ensure I don’t preferentially execute the same W or G movements every time without knowing it. There are a lot of options here, but these are the basics I am using now that represent the best I have found.
For M movements, I use four: M-Run, M-Jump Rope, M-Row, or M-Burpees. While burpees are not really “cardio” per se, I find they are so difficult and involve the whole body that I can get my heart rate very high using them. I used to only to Jump Rope, Row, and Run but added burpees recently as I wasn’t happy with them in Gymnastics.
For G movements, I have G-Push, G-Pull, G-Squat, and G-Core. Push would be any bodyweight movement pushing away from the body (push-ups, ring push-ups, ring dips, handstand push-ups, etc.). Pull is anything pulling towards the body (pull-ups, ring rows). Squat is anything essentially involving the legs either squatting or jumping (air squats, lunges, box jumps, broad jumps). Core is anything directly focused on the abdominals mostly (toes to bar, sit-ups, knees to elbow, GHD sit-ups). I don’t do any direct lower back bodyweight movements although you could use back extensions and its variations under G-Core.
For W movements, I use W-Push, W-Hinge, W-Squat. Same ideas as the G series, but these all involve weight added usually in the form of a barbell, kettlebell, or sandbag. W-Push examples would be barbell bench press, barbell push press, or one arm kettlebell overhead press. W-Hinge includes all the deadlifts, cleans, snatches, and kettlebell swings. Think of a hip as a hinge, which is where the name comes from. W-Squat is centered around back squat, front squat, and overhead squats as well as weighted lunges.
I used to use just M, G, and W, but I found I ended up doing more pushing than pulling, less core, more squatting, not enough jumping, etc. because M, G, and W were too broad. Breaking them down into subcategories really let me be more well-rounded.
I basically group workouts into three categories: Short (S), Medium (M), or Long (L). Short is anything less than 10 minutes, Medium is 10-20 minutes, and greater than 20 minutes is a Long workout.
This is one where we can get into thousands of variations. If you look through CrossFit-style workouts though, they are typically task focused or time focused. You either do some fixed task as fast as you can or you do a series of tasks as many times you can in a given time. A task-priority workout would be 100 push-ups for time. Fixed task. It ends when you complete it. A time-priority workout would be as many rounds as possible in 10 minutes of 10 push-ups and 10 pull-ups. You do 10 push-ups then 10 pull-ups over and over cycling through as many rounds as you can in the given time cap.
Even inside these two basic structures there are hundreds of creative ways to do these conditioning workouts. I have basically gotten down to three variations of a structure that I enjoy that will allow me to attain my fitness goals. I know there are more than three, but these are the three I have found easiest to program.
The first is the classic AMRAP, As Many Rounds As Possible. Like the example of above, you decide on the movements and repetitions in one round and you repeat it during the given time.
The second is the AMIRRAP, As Many Increasing Rep Rounds As Possible. In this structure, you increase what you do in each round inside the time cap. For example, we decide to use push-ups and pull-ups and increase by one rep each round for both. It would be 1 push-up, 1 pull-up, then 2 and 2, then 3 and 3, etc. until time expires. This allows for rapid succession of rounds initially then as you get more fatigued, the rounds get longer and harder. Hits a lot of metabolic ranges all in the same workout.
The third structure is Max Reps w/EMOM, Every Minute on the Minute. In this one, I typically pick one movement and do as many repetitions of it as I can in the given time. The EMOM part means every minute you stop the primary movement and do something else. This breaks up the monotony and makes it a lot more fun in my opinion. An example workout would be to complete as many pull-ups as possible in 20 minutes with 5 push-ups every minute on the minute. So when 1 min has expired, you stop doing pull-ups and do 5 push-ups. You then get back to doing pull-ups until 2 minutes in, when you do 5 more push-ups. You can use movements that are similar or very different than the primary movement. Lot of options here. Your imagination is all that is stopping you.
You will notice all of these are TIME-PRIORITY workouts. They are much easier to program because it constrains the time, usually the limiting factor in planning. The alternative is to try to string together a bunch of movements that would be a task-priority. I used to do this but it is kind of a crap shoot to do a chipper workout which is a three or more movements done in a row and get it to be the appropriate length. I can completely control the time if I make it a time-priority workout. I like chippers or tasks for time, but it is far more controlled with, in my opinion, no decrease in results.
Setting the Framework
Now that we know all the options, we can start to develop the template. We can vary this infinitely here to get the results we want. We can rotate movements evenly or we can make it uneven. We can rotate time or we can keep it the same. Here is an example of a cycle rotating evenly through all the elements above:
Workout 1 – M-Run, G-Push, W-Push, AMRAP, Short
Workout 2 – M-Row, G-Pull, AMIRRAP, Medium
Workout 3 – W-Hinge, Max Reps w/EMOM, Long
Workout 4 – M-Burpees, G-Squat, W-Squat, AMRAP, Short
Workout 5 – G-Core, W-Push, AMIRRAP, Medium
Workout 6 – M-Jump Rope, Max Reps w/EMOM, Long
Workout 7 – M-Run, G-Push, W-Hinge, AMRAP, Short
Workout 8 – M-Row, W-Squat, AMIRRAP, Medium
Workout 9 – G-Pull, Max Reps w/EMOM, Long
Notice I used Greg Glassman’s MGW rotation, added in a structure to HOW we would do the movements and added in time. See how easy this is to vary. We would do all the single modality workouts (3, 6, and 9) then do the couplets (2, 5, and 8) then do the triplets (1, 4, and 7) versus rotate through them like above. We could leave the above the same except do 3 Short workouts in a row, then 3 Mediums, then 3 Long ones for an accumulation effect. This is why this format is so open to interpretation yet specific enough to allow for detailed planning.
Now all we have to do is apply actual movements, repetitons, and times to the template. Here is one way to execute the template we just created:
Workout 1 – As many rounds as possible in 8 minutes of 200m run, 10 push-ups, 10 barbell front squats (135 lbs)
Workout 2 – As many increasing rep rounds as possible in 15 minutes of 10 meter row and 1 pull-up (10 meter row + 1 pull-up, then 20 meters + 2 pull-ups, etc.)
Workout 3 – As many 315 lb deadlifts as possible in 25 minutes with 5 pistols (one-legged squats) every minute on the minute
Workout 4 – As many rounds as possible in 5 minutes of 5 burpees, 5 box jumps (24 inch), 5 overhead squats (95 lbs)
Workout 5 – As many increasing rep rounds as possible in 17 minutes of 10 toes-to-bar and 7 push jerks (155 lbs)
Workout 6 – As many double unders as possible in 23 minutes with 3 strict pull-ups every minute on the minute
Workout 7 – As many rounds as possible in 6 minutes of 100m run, 6 handstand push-ups, 12 kettlebell swings (53 lbs)
Workout 8 – As many increasing rep rounds as possible in 13 minutes of 1 calorie row and 1 barbell back squat (185 lbs)
Workout 9 – As many ring rows as possible in 30 minutes with 7 box step-ups (24 inches) every minute on the minute
There you have it! A series of conditioning workouts that cover all the basics of CrossFit (constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity!). Hopefully you can see the power of putting this concept into practice to program for yourself.
Strength & Power Workouts
As with the W series, I group all the weightlifting movements into three categories: Push, Hinge, or Squat. These are the same as are used in conditioning workouts. Every movement falls into one of these three basically. When you are programming strength work, the thing you are looking to control is volume, how much weight if lifted and how often. Note that I don’t include heavy upper body pulling movements as they tend to result in poor mechanics (cheating) and there is lot of upper back pulling in the G series.
Depending on whether or not you are going to combine conditioning workouts you have to decide how much volume you want. If I combine them in the same workouts, I usually only do one movement for somewhere between 10 and 20 repetitions. If I am doing sessions of dedicated strength work on its own, I can pump up the volume. Here are a few examples of constructing a program of dedicated strength sessions.
Choose the Volume
I choose a total number of repetitions to complete in a given session. Some high level strength coaches will use total repetitions AND total weight into consideration. They may say in session 1 their athlete will lift 30,000 lbs. They then divide it up into sets and reps at a given percentage. I am not concerned with this level of detail myself. I am also not concerned with percentages of maximums although if I were into more dedicated strength work I would prescribe percentages.
So let’s use 60 repetitions as the total volume. Why 60? Based on experience this is a good amount to get done in less than an hour. You can adjust volume up and down over time over many training cycles.
Choose the Structure
We have the option here of doing just Push, Pull, or Squat movements in each session OR doing some combination of them in one session. Both have merit. For our example, we will use all three.
Now we can decide how to focus these movements. We can do equal volume for each or prioritize them in each session. I like to prioritize them. I focus more volume on the first movement and rotate them over time. We basically have a three session rotation to get through all our movement categories like this:
Workout 1 – Push, Pull, Squat
Workout 2 – Pull, Squat, Push
Workout 3 – Squat, Push, Pull
By putting a category first this gives it top billing since the assumption is you will perform best earlier in the workout. I will go further by increasing the volume for each category based on where it falls.
Workout 1 – 30 x Push, 20 x Pull, 10 x Squat
Workout 2 – 30 x Pull, 20 x Squat, 10 x Push
Workout 3 – 30 x Squat, 20 x Push, 10 x Pull
This means I am choosing to do 30 repetitions for the first category, then 20 for the next and 10 for the last one. Over the course of all three workouts, it will be 60 total reps for each category (they will all get 30, 20, and 10).
Picking the Movements
While you could do many different movements to get to your 30, 20, or 10, I prefer to do just one movement. Each workout will have three movements in total in this cycle. I will focus effort around the Flat Bench Press for Push, Barbell Deadlift (DL) for Pull, and Barbell Back Squat for Squat. These will be my primary movements when the category is prioritized first in the rotation. I will next choose two more supplementary movements for each of them to be done on the other days. For Push, I will use Push Press and Floor Press. For Pull I will use Sumo Deadlift and Stiff-legged Deadlift. For Squat, I will use Front Squat and Box Squats.
The cycle now looks something like this:
Workout 1 – 30 x Barbell Bench Press, 20 x Sumo DL, 10 x Front Squat
Workout 2 – 30 x Deadlift, 20 x Box Squat, 10 x Push Press
Workout 3 – 30 x Back Squat, 20 x Floor Press, 10 x Stiff-legged DL
You have a lot of freedom here to choose repetition schemes. We are typically working in the 1-5 rep range for maximum strength and power gains, but adding in some higher reps also has its place. There is no right answer. You just want to make sure over time, you are varying your programming. Here are a few ways we can skin the cat for the 30 rep primary movements in each session:
Descending: 10-5-5-5-3-2 (that is 10 reps for set 1, 5 reps for set 2, 5 for set 3, 5 for set 4, 3 for set 5, and 2 for set 6).
This is keeping the sets at 5 or 6 total. This also doesn’t really matter. You could do a lot more lower rep sets like this:
Doing this though will have a cost. The implication is we are lifting heavier weights here since the reps are lower and this means higher impact on joints and connective tissue. More sets also takes a lot longer. I have done both and both have value. Again, variation is important over time. Some cycles should be 6 sets of 5 reps while others should get into heavy singles.
Note when doing the Olympic lifts (Snatch and Clean) it is best to keep the reps low for those since they are high skill movements. You can get neural fatigue (brain communicating with the muscles) and it can get dangerous. You don’t see many Olympic lifters do sets of 5 for a Snatch. For all the ones above, these higher rep ranges are fine. Our example here is just focused around the Powerlifting movements (press, squat, deadlift).
I will choose to keep the repetitions closer to the 5 rep limit for our sample cycle and execute like this:
All 30 repetition movements will be done using 10-5-5-5-3-2. All 20 rep movements will use 5-5-5-5. All the 10 rep movements will use 5-5.
This program is executable right now. You know which movements to use and how many reps for each set. All that is left is to determine how much weight you will lift.
When we are lifting heavy weights, intensity will be determined by how heavy the weights are. You could make it more intense by adjusting rest periods between sets (1 minute between each will feel differently than 3 minutes), but the assumption here is that we aren’t trying to fatigue ourselves metabolically so we will rest a comfortable 2-3 minutes between each set.
Most people will use a percentage here to let the lifter know what weight to choose so they don’t miss the target of the program by going too heavy or too light. I have been lifting weights for a number of years and I am comfortable lifting as heavy as I can on that given day. It would not be wrong to put a percentage or some guidance in with this program to ensure the right weights are chosen. For example, you could see for the Deadlift in Workout 2, 10 reps @ 50% of 1RM (one rep max), 5 reps at 65% for 3 sets, 3 reps at 80%, then 2 reps at 90%. These numbers would likely change over time. Week 1 of a program may start at these numbers and slowly creep up over 6 weeks to 10 @ 60%, 3 sets of 5 @ 75%, 3 @ 90%, and 2 @ 100% (assuming you got stronger the whole time).
Again, while this isn’t wrong, I am not competing in this sport so my guidance on this is to increase each weight used in each workout for the duration of the cycle. Progressive overload is important. You also have to factor in that I am doing conditioning workouts in addition to these strength/power workouts, and they will have an impact on how fatigued I am going into these workouts. If I were just doing these three workouts in a day on, day off rotation, I would know how I would feel each time. If you add in the conditioning workouts we programmed above in between these, you can’t know how you will feel by the third time through workout 3. I may have had a 20-minute AMRAP with a ton of box jumps the day prior. This will absolutely affect how heavy I can squat. My rule is to work as hard as I can and slowly increased over time the weights I am using. Very simple.
Putting the Whole Cycle Together
I am going to combine the conditioning workouts with the strength workouts into one full cycle. I am going to do three conditioning workouts for one strength workout. Here is the product:
Workout 1 – As many rounds as possible in 8 minutes of 200m run, 10 push-ups, 10 barbell front squats (135 lbs)
Workout 2 – As many increasing rep rounds as possible in 15 minutes of 10 meter row and 1 pull-up (10 meter row + 1 pull-up, then 20 meters + 2 pull-ups, etc.)
Workout 3 – As many 315 lb deadlifts as possible in 25 minutes with 5 pistols (one-legged squats) every minute on the minute
Workout 4 – 30 x Barbell Bench Press, 20 x Sumo DL, 10 x Front Squat
Workout 5 – As many rounds as possible in 5 minutes of 5 burpees, 5 box jumps (24 inch), 5 overhead squats (95 lbs)
Workout 6 – As many increasing rep rounds as possible in 17 minutes of 10 toes-to-bar and 7 push jerks (155 lbs)
Workout 7 – As many double unders as possible in 23 minutes with 3 strict pull-ups every minute on the minute
Workout 8 – 30 x Deadlift, 20 x Box Squat, 10 x Push Press
Workout 9 – As many rounds as possible in 6 minutes of 100m run, 6 handstand push-ups, 12 kettlebell swings (53 lbs)
Workout 10 – As many increasing rep rounds as possible in 13 minutes of 1 calorie row and 1 barbell back squat (185 lbs)
Workout 11 – As many ring rows as possible in 30 minutes with 7 box step-ups (24 inches) every minute on the minute
Workout 12 – 30 x Back Squat, 20 x Floor Press, 10 x Stiff-legged DL
NOTE: For the strength workouts, 30 repetition movements will be done using 10-5-5-5-3-2. All 20 rep movements will use 5-5-5-5. All the 10 rep movements will use 5-5.
I don’t program in rest days. I rest when I need to or when I have to due to scheduling demands. Some people like to program in the rest days. You could easily add in rest days using a two days on, one day off scheme or maybe four days on, one day off. This depends on the person and how hard they can go for how long. I found when I really started to care about my diet, I could work much harder for many more days in a row. I used to be able to do about 3 hard sessions before I had to take a day off. I can do much more than that now, but I end up doing 4-5 workouts a week.
There are typically three types of cycles used in programming: Microcycles, Mesocycles, and Macrocycles. For our purposes here, let’s say a Microcycle is what we just created above, maybe 1-2 weeks worth of work. A Mesocycle is a series of Microcycles programmed together for an effect. No hard and fast rule here, but maybe something like a month of workouts with 2-3 Microcycles would comprise a Mesocycle. A Macrocycle is a bunch of Mesocycles put together and would span many months or years.
When choosing how you will program over time, you need to start at the highest level and then work down. A Macrocycle for me has a series of goals tied to it. A Macrocycle goal could be something like “Increase strength, maintain conditioning, maintain body fat.” You would then program according to those goals taking into account how you will eat and the types of workouts you will do.
You could program the Macrocycle like this for the first half of the year:
January – March: Strength work focused around three Powerlifts, one conditioning session using bodyweight movements only per every three strength sessions
April – June: Strength work focused around Olympic lifts, one conditioning session using bodyweight movements only per every two strength sessions
Then you could adjust gears and work to maintain strength gained during the first half of the year and focus on conditioning for the second half.
July-September: Focus on conditioning using monostructural metabolic movements, gymnastics, and weightlifting movements. One strength session per every three conditioning sessions.
October-December: Focus on conditioning using only monostructural metabolic and gymnastics movements with dedicated low-volume strength work after each conditioning workout in the same session.
Our Mesocycles would be what happens in about a month’s time. Each Mesocycle would follow the Macrocycle’s guidance. We would then program our specific Microcycles to get into detail. The 12-workout Microcycle we programmed earlier would fit into something like July-September goals outlined above.
We could repeat those 12 workouts four times in a row (four Microcycles) to make up one Mesocycle. You could vary the movements or slightly adjust the time or structure each Microcycle and still have a similarly-oriented Mesocycle.
There is some value for getting a good Microcycle down and repeating it a few times in a row. You really learn the good and bad points and can make fine adjustments week to week. Plus you have a basis of comparison and a challenge to beat your last session the next time you repeat it. Constantly varied doesn’t have to mean every single element every single time. For most people Mesocycles should vary much more than Microcycles.
Here are two Mesocycles I programmed for myself. There are a lot of details typed into the notes section accompanying the template. With the above information plus those details, you should be able to understand the program.
Note that I did not put any specific workouts in there, i.e. the template has a structure but I didn’t pre-decide what specifically I would do. I usually go into the workout that morning and decide what and how exactly I want to do it. All I know is I have to do a medium length AMRAP with jumping rope and gymnastics pull movements. I then decide exactly how long, which exact movements and for how many reps. I have tried both methods and like the flexibility that comes with just a template. This is after more than 20 years of lifting weights and caring probably too much about all of this.
Example 1 Mesocycle Template. This has strength workouts combined with conditioning workouts in each session. The conditioning workouts are constantly varied throughout. The strength work is medium-heavy in the first Microcycle then gets heavier with single reps then moves up to 6 repetitions per set which is meant as a deload (recovery) cycle.
Example 2 Mesocycle Template. This one has dedicated strength work with much higher volume. It also adjusts the length of the conditioning workouts over time. The intent is to build a baseline in the first cycle with medium length conditioning workouts and start the strength workouts off at a low level. Note it also has two gymnastics movements in many workouts to focus effort on this modality. In the second Microcycle, the length of the conditioning workouts get longer and the strength work keeps building in terms of increased weights from the first Microcycle. The third phase drops down the duration of conditioning workouts a lot and the strength workouts drop in total weight used to serve as a recovery period.
This is just one way to program workouts for one set of goals. Hopefully you can use this to understand the method behind my madness and come to your own conclusions about how you want to exercise. If you do not feel comfortable doing this on your own (most people will not be able to do this effectively), there are a lot of places you can find very detailed programs that will focus on what you NEED to do and what you LIKE to do. Your program should probably have elements of both if you want to be physically fit. If you love running but you know you have glaring weaknesses, you need to recognize that and seek out programs that will diversify you. At the same time, if you hate the new program, you are likely not going to continue to use it anyway. Some people just want to lift heavy weights and their “cardio” is the walk to and from the gym. It is your life and your mission! Choose it wisely.
QUESTION: How do you program your own workouts? Do you follow someone else’s programming? Post thoughts to comments.
- CrossFit.com: Main site, hub of the CF community. I read the WoD every day to see what they are up to with the programming.
- Competitor’s Training: This site is a very high level program aimed at CrossFit Games competition. This programming is very challenging and very interesting. Lot of unique ideas on how to do things here.
- CrossFit Football: Combines elements of strength and power with the conditioning aimed at athletes but very applicable to most people. Very similar to what we set up in our example above. Check out the Training link and then the Training Archive for the free workouts.
- CrossFit Endurance: Slant towards more endurance but still has elements of functional movements and styles woven in.
- Iron Major CrossFit: Fort Leavenworth’s own affiliate, these are programmed usually by Army officers who are stationed there for a month at a time. Posted for free for your use.
- CrossFit Weightlifting: Mike Burgener is one of my heroes and has integrated with the CF HQ to make this site. This program is similar to CF Endurance in that it is Olympic Weightlifting slanted but includes conditioning workouts as well.
Note that many CrossFit gyms that do their own programming post their daily workouts to their web site for free. You can search out a CF affiliate on the internet and probably find free workouts in hundreds of places.
Olympic Weighlifting Programs
- Catalyst Athletics: Greg Everett has a ton of resources here including free training templates as well as a free daily workout. Go here for the archived full programs. Excellent information. I would go here first if I were going to do a serious Oly program.
- Wendler 5-3-1: Basic structure Jim Wendler developed. It is the basis of some of my strength programming for sure.
- Smolov: Very prescriptive progressive program aimed at strength improvement.
1 October 2019 @ 09:01
GPP concept is great, but it seems that is not taken to the full extent it was meant.
More or less Crossfit philosophy is being prepared for the unknown and unexpected. So at some time reality has to kick in.
The continuum seems to be:
Decathlon elements——— Gymnastic elements ——— MMA e.——— obstacles course e.
As a sport scientist noted: 3d and athletic bench marks seem to be missing in CF:
High jump (hip actually moving vertically) 40 inches.
Broad jump 8 feet.
40 yard dash [to try to get to sports average]
Medicine Ball back toss (for height and also for distance) Army is now into this.
In Gymnastics scale up to:
Mushroom spins (training apparatus for pommel horse work)
Low long parallelettes walk and pirouettes.
Basic tumbling and falling work.
Breakfalls are very important. What good is to push press your body weight if cannot jump over waist high obstacle diving and rolling on landing safely to break the fall?
Bone conditioning is sometimes a good thing, as in real life conditioned bones offer some protection against injury. [think shin and forearm conditioning in heavy bag as example].
Then real world 3D movement:
American ninja warrior elements, some parkour elements, football accelerating speed and dodging elements [yes, tackling and being tackled included], climbing stuff, etc.
The movement phase could even be paired to practice rescue type skills:
One arm heavy row to simulate helping someone out of problem. [think TRX power row c dumbell].
(I saw once a person being “cleaned” (weightlifting type move) out of an opening that was not seen due to low light, and the rescued person had fallen into).
Fireman’s carry, extricating a rescue dummy using baby ladder through simulated window, etc.
Maybe some of the above could be used as other programming elements that would aid in refining the fine framework you have developed.
1 October 2019 @ 19:22
Hamilton, very interesting thoughts I hadn’t considered or seen previously. I appreciate the feedback! Point taken regarding implementing more real-world/3D elements for true GPP.
2 October 2019 @ 07:23
You are welcome.
There are a lot of sources that can offer good ideas for adding certain elements to weekly training:
Ranger olympics, Firefighter competition, ANW, Parkour, calisthenics, street workout, fitness standards for firefighters that actually fight forest fires, Lumberjack competitions, strongman events (e.g. standing power throw (back) of keg for height), USMA indoor obstacle course, obstacle races, MMA drills, UDT underwater navigation, etc.
Not sure if PJ (USAF Pararescue), have special drills to develop rescue skills.
There is a publication that lists the skills needed according to MOS.
My problem is to know how to program so that if a particular event taxes a particular muscle group, how can I know what normal crossfit exercises to avoid that day.
By extension, how to program a weekly microcycle without overworking a particular muscle group or chain.
If you are able to figure out how to integrate the above to MGW training in a microcycle, I would highly encourage you to write a small book and offer it in Kindle or Ibooks, as the information would be very valuable.
Kind regards. (Keep up the excellent work).
2 October 2019 @ 07:56
I will think about it. It’s a good idea. My quick analysis is that this would be very similar to how we train athletes right now. There is strength and conditioning that supports the special skills (grappling, boxing, etc. for MMA fighters for example). For them, the strength and conditioning training is a supplement to the main effort, which is their sport. For what you are proposing, it’s more like integrating special skills into the GPP construct if I understand what you are saying. In this case, the MMA drills, strongman, lumberback or Parkour would be equally important. I think the rationale that goes into programming for athletes applies. I would look at the energy systems and skills trained in one of these non-traditional strength and conditioning sessions then ensure they are not repeated before or after that session in the cycle. A lot of times, there isn’t an overlap but just controlling for fatigue. For example, I don’t think there are many conflicts with Parkour and my current training, but I’d much rather do the Parkour session the day prior to a heavy lower body day than the day after or two days after due to fatigue and soreness in the legs/glutes. Same with any MMA components. Good discussion! Thanks again for the thoughts and ideas.
3 October 2019 @ 08:25
Example of integration:
Masking tape across jump box, then do one leg jumps (alternate), but the ball of the foot has to land on the masking tape. (whole different game).
Instead of kipping pull ups, some days modify to do traversing and changing levels across.
Have you tried to do burpees using balance foam? whole different scenario. How about the front break fall variation of the burpee?
Step ups are good for legs, but not many do climb ups and downs from hanging cannon ball grips and bar.
The burpees jump box overs I do adding a 180 spin while jumping over.
Other times, I do jump box, with back break fall into a mat below after landing back… whole game changer LOL.
Wall balls: I sometimes do with lower weight, but in a boxing stance n throw the ball up with the rear hand (simulating a high right cross), then when catching the mb, I switch guard to south paw and throw up the ball using left… continue switching (adds more rotational and unilateral stabilization).
See specially from page 17 on. Many good ideas can be developed from it.
I would suppose US Army should have similar pub. (or you could develop a similar inquiry for your critical units).
Crossfit is great, but it could be further improved to help particular operators (first responders, soldiers, etc. prepare better).
Ages ago I had to Scuba dive under a ship using firefighting equipment. Scandinavian AGA SCBA was available. In the manual it said that it was designed to withstand 10 feet of underwater use.
I donned it and went down, when trying to equalize ears, I had to lift the mask to do it, and to my surprise the mask went to positive air displacement, so no water entered the mask, I was able to equalize and continue.
The above example is to show that GPP (normal scuba) can help you with SPP (scuba with firefighting equipment) when the conditions need it. [bad parallel example, but you get the idea].
It is good to know that some brands of firefighting equipment are designed to also do damage control (which is another good area to practice).
When I was a volunteer EMt at Gorgas US Army hospital. I heard there was a Jungle combat medic course. In the course medics had to navigate jungle terrain that had obstacles, carrying a simulated injured soldier.
Keep in mind that there was no gps then, it had to be done with map, compass and normal land navigation.
No dummy was used, a heavy real soldier was to be carried, (could not drop him or have serious mistakes), imagine that, and add to the formula mud, bugs, thorns, etc.
In my mind now reflecting, such operators had really applied GPP, to real mission situations, the way crossfire ought to prepare modern operators for the present day challenges.
With a little imagination, a lot of the real life 3D components can be added to the WOD so the possible application of what one is doing can be practiced.
The application of training conceptual framework can be increased so that in facing the unknown and unexpected a more positive outcome can be achieved more times.
My own non-expert opinion of course.
3 October 2019 @ 08:51
Lot of really good ideas here. I appreciate the continued clarity to reinforce your point. We do have manuals specifically aimed at targeting physical training to combat skills. Our Fm 7-22 aims to do this precisely. GPP baseline, then SPP Soldier skills although it doesn’t spell this out in those terms. Problem is few use it. Our new ACFT will force people into better GPP training. The SPP will come with unit drills/field exercises.