by Erik Castiglione
CrossFit is defined as “constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity,” and often “constantly varied” is conflated with “random.” However, when it comes to physical training, one of the core principles is the SAID principle – specific adaptation to imposed demands. This principle states that the body will adapt to whatever we throw at it – if you consistently run long distances, you’ll become a distance runner. So, how can we “constantly vary” our training while still allowing for enough consistency to take advantage of the SAID principle? Aren’t the two contradictory?
This is where what I call “controlled variation” comes into play. Rather than subscribing to a random approach to fitness, we choose WHAT we’re going to vary. In doing so, we can elicit the specific adaptations we want our membership to achieve. What we mean by this is that every movement you perform in a given day was chosen for a specific reason. And that reason is NEVER “because we haven’t done it in a while,” which is often the case in the random workout approach.
Random workouts lead to random results. For newbies to the fitness world, any activity is more than what they were doing previously, so even if it’s random rather than organized training, the newbie will still see results… at least, for a little while. Louie Simmons said it best: “everything works, until it doesn’t.”
On the flip side, if we repeat the same workout over and over again, we stop getting any benefits from it. If you run 3 miles on a treadmill at the same incline and same speed every day, you’ll get to a point where your body considers this to be normal, and it will stop adapting. This is called the Law of Accommodation.
So if too much variation = randomness = bad, and not enough variation leads to accommodation, how much variation is enough? According to the Law of Accommodation, after 3 weeks of the same thing, your body adapts and stops getting any benefit. So, when it comes to our main lifts, we increase the load and/or change the rep scheme each time you do them. This allows you to get the benefit of accommodation when it comes to movement form (so you get better and more efficient), while still allowing you to grow stronger.
When it comes to conditioning, if you were to perform the same workout 3 Mondays in a row, your score would improve from week to week, likely peaking on the 3rd attempt (barring any external issues like lack of sleep, or being hungover, etc.). Why? As you repeat the workout, you become more neurologically efficient. We train many different movements in CrossFit, but not necessarily in the same order. Are you good at rowing, but for some reason struggle when it’s combined with other movements? Movement order has an effect on performance. We can overcome this through repeated bouts of the same order.
Additionally, your strategy will (hopefully) improve. If it’s a workout that requires you to pace yourself and you start out too fast the first time you do it, hopefully you can fix this error the second time. Or, maybe you change up the breaks you take in each set, resulting in less rest time. These strategic tweaks come through experience.
Now, if we were to give you the exact same programming for 2-3 weeks in a row, chances are you’d be VERY bored. Many join CrossFit to get away from the monotony of typical training. The random method, while not effective at improving fitness long-term, certainly prevents boredom. Its practitioners argue that mixing things up is FUN, and that’s most important. Its most ardent detractors argue that RESULTS are fun. I say, why not both? We can mix things up enough to get results while still keeping things interesting. This is why you’ll frequently see similar movement combinations, and workouts that have a similar feel from week to week, while not being identical. It gives us the best of both worlds.
We change weights, sets, reps, rest periods, and intervals from week to week. Our movements stay mostly the same, though we rotate through our lifts. And, the workouts that we repeat are the “Girls,” the CrossFit benchmarks. Prepping for them gives our conditioning training some direction, and shows us which movements we need to prioritize. Then, we test them, to show YOU that you’re making progress. This is how we organize our training to keep things fun, varied enough to avoid boredom and accommodation, but not varied to the point that you stop making progress. Because let’s face it, while you want to have fun, you’re still here to get results. We can and do deliver both. See you in the gym.