Programming: Basic Structure

Programming: Basic Structure
by Erik Castiglione

Part 1: Programming Basic Structure

This is the first in a series of articles about the CrossFit Relentless programming. I could probably talk for days on the subject, so I’m going to break it down into a series of (hopefully coherent and cohesive) articles to give everyone some insight into how and why I program the way I do.  This article will focus on how I structure the programming. Next week will talk about the why. You’re about to get a glimpse into the maelstrom that is my mind, so good luck!

maelstrom brain programming basic structure

In an ideal world, everyone would have an individualized program custom designed to help them achieve their specific goals. These programs would be divided into blocks. The smallest block could be a day or a week, and is called a microcycle. A series of microcycles, usually 4-12 weeks, creates a mesocycle. A series of mesocycles creates a macrocycle. For competitive athletes, macrocycles encompass the competitive year. For example, with American weightlifters, macrocycles usually center around the annual American Open. For Olympic level weightlifters, macrocycles are as long as 4 years.  For CrossFit athletes, the calendar year usually revolves around the competitive season: The Open, Regionals, and the Games. This is how Ben Bergeron and other Games coaches program.

microcycle mesocycle macrocycle programming basic strucutre

We are not CrossFit Games athletes. We are general practitioners who do CrossFit to enhance our everyday lives. While some of us compete for fun, most of us do not partake in CrossFit as a sport. This changes the nature of the programming. Rather than target the Open in March of every year, our goal is to increase our proficiency in the 10 general attributes throughout the year, without having to peak for a specific event. These attributes are accuracy, agility, balance, cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, coordination, flexibility/mobility, muscular stamina, power, speed, and strength. We improve them throughout the calendar year, which is our macrocycle.

CrossFit Definition programming basic structure 10physicalskills programming basic structure

It is impossible to build all 10 physical attributes simultaneously. Instead, we build one or two at a time while maintaining proficiency across all the others. That is the goal of each of our mesocycles: 4-12 week blocks targeting specific attributes. For example, in the July Programming update, I mentioned that the goal of this mesocycle is to increase strength and stamina, specifically in our posterior chains. The additional focus on our upper backs will also hopefully help alleviate shoulder issues that members have been having, thereby increasing overhead mobility. The next mesocycle will focus on something different, but will still have posterior work involved.

For most programs, a week is a microcycle. Each day of each microcycle in a mesocycle has the same structure. For example, if you followed Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program, every Monday might be squat day, with Tuesday as bench day, Thursday as deadlift day, and Saturday as press day.  The percentages change each week, but the structure of each day is the same.

If we followed this format at CrossFit Relentless, I believe it would be detrimental for our members. Everyone has a different schedule, so if every Monday was squat day, and you could never make it to Monday class, then you would never squat. Instead, I operate on a 6 day microcycle. This allows the days to rotate through days of the week, and ensures that not every week day is the same each week. I’m still able to structure our mesocycles based on 6 day microcycles, so we can still spend 4-12 weeks building specific attributes.

The 6-day cycle is as follows:
Day 1: Snatch
Day 2: Squat
Day 3: Bodyweight/skill
Day 4: Press
Day 5: Clean
Day 6: Benchmark/Longer Time Domain

By structuring the programming this way, I can ensure that everyone makes long term progress. CrossFit is defined as “Constantly varied functional movement performed at high intensity.” Constantly varied does not mean random. We still vary the movements performed, but put them within a framework that will make you a better all-around athlete, rather than haphazardly throwing stuff at you simply because it’s hard.

I hope this structure makes sense and that you’re all with me so far. I’ll get into a little more of the reasons behind the structure next week, but I’ve already rambled on for almost 700 words, so I’m going to end this article here. Enjoy your holiday weekend, and stay tuned for next week’s article.

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