November 27, 2020

A program’s effectiveness depends on who it is designed for, but too often the program comes first and coaches ask anyone and everyone to be working on the same things.

When you are looking for a coach to work with an important piece to consider is their ability to help you as the individual. In a sport like CrossFit you’re only as good as your weaknesses and your coach should have an understanding of what your strengths and weaknesses are so they know what to prioritize in your training program. This is where working with a one on one coach is necessary as opposed to following an Online blog or other types of group programming.

When I start with a new athlete the first thing we do is have a brainstorming session (consultation) basically to let the athlete get everything they believe they need to work on out there. I want to find out where they want to be (ie what are their goals), what they need to work on (where do they think their weak areas are), what the obstacles they are facing (work, stress, schedule, environment). This allows me to have an idea of what we need to look at to help them achieve their goals, so this conversation informs the lineup of tests (assessments) we are going to look at. The data will always tell a more accurate story than anything, and the longer we work together the more data we can collect. The more data we collect the more opportunities we can see for improvements.

Without these steps you’re entering into a program hoping and wishing rather than assessing and progressing. You are hoping that the program happens to address your areas of weakness, but most likely your going to feel frustrated that you can’t complete the work the way it was written out or are not achieving the intended stimulus of the workout. The blogs hope is they can help a certain person, most likely someone who is already pretty good. That person can see progress and then they can showcase them to get more people to follow along because if it helped them why can’t it help me.

The problem with this approach is the program came before the person. I’ve seen it way too often when the athlete thinks they just need to work harder, focus more, put in more work outside the blog to catch up, etc… But the truth is it won’t lead to progress until they step back and address what's holding them back. The successful athlete in the long run will focus on their process, do the things they need to do to progress. Not what a blog says they need to do.

The number of factors that make individuals different are more than we could ever count but I’ll just start with some examples I’ve seen recently. The reasons why some things work for some and not for others could be a very long list as well but genetics, age, training age, recoverability, physiology, schedule, etc could all play a role.

I had an athlete recently who needed to work on absolute strength. Their conditioning numbers were very competitive, their movement was great, their strength numbers were balanced and their battery tests were good they just needed an improvement in their absolute strength maxes. We went to work on getting stronger, we started with a programming that was very basic and I have seen work well for many people in the past.

We ran the strength cycle for 3 months and he was able complete the sets and reps, he trained hard and we kept track of his sleep and nutrition information to make sure we had good data. After the 12 weeks he saw little to no improvement on his maxes. Not even small pr’s, the numbers didn’t budge at all.

The difference between following this program on a blog vs working with a coach is what we do with the information. We looked at the programming we did, made some notes on what they felt they needed to adjust and I gave my feedback based on what I was seeing. From this we were able to make a few adjustments to the programming, the most obvious one being they seemed to respond better to more total sets and reps per week than a lower volume approach. And they like to eat very “clean” which is great but the amount of vegetables and foods that were very low in caloric density caused him to feel very full and undereat often.

We made adjustments based on this information and the next strength cycle we ran resulted in a 40 pound improvement on the Back Squat, 30 pound improvement on their Snatch and really solid improvements across the board. Taking this information and continuing to build on it will be the key for long term success. It’s a never ending process of strategy, execution and assessment.

When working with an athlete it’s important to know the outcome (ie the goal) and use data to inform what the process is that is going to be best for them. The process should be a collaborative approach between me the coach and the athlete. The daily communication and regular consultations are important to this point. The most informed, data driven, principle based, evidenced backed programming in the world doesn’t do any good if the athlete doesn’t believe in what they’re doing. Or if they don’t even know what they’re doing (ie just doing something because that's what the blog said).

Taking this a step further the program should be adapting to the athlete on a day to day level. If the athlete wakes up and their shoulders are unusually stiff and sore and we had planned on doing Muscle Up work and Overhead Squats that day we will adjust the workout and they layout of the week to match what is best for the athlete. This communication and flexibility is key to getting the outcomes that are best for the athlete.

The athletes who are serious about their goals are all moving toward this approach. Know your outcome -> Define a Process to move you toward that outcome -> Use data to refine that process over time and tailor it to you. And do all this while being flexible to the day in day out stressors in situations that are unique to you and your life.