Why We Do Our Own Programming
by Erik Castiglione
Programming – it’s a constant topic of discussion in the CrossFit world. It has also allowed for the growth of an industry that has sprung up parallel to CrossFit – the outsourcing of programming. Box Programming, Comp Train, Invictus, Mayhem, Misfit, NC Fit, etc., there are numerous options for coaches looking to purchase programming for their gyms. Heck, Wodify recently established a “WOD Marketplace” where affiliate owners can purchase a program, and then Wodify will automatically import it, eliminating that aspect of the coach’s job. If I’m being brutally honest, I don’t call this working smarter, I call it just plain lazy. And my pledge to all of you is that I will NEVER outsource our programming; it will always be done in-house.
There are several reasons why I will never trust our gym’s programming to anyone outside the gym. First and foremost, unless the programmer is actually observing the workouts taking place, they cannot custom tailor the programming to the needs of the membership. Many of the purchasable programs out there are pretty solid and well rounded. However, many of them also assume that the members following these programs are already technically proficient in everything. They have very little skill development included, and don’t always provide scaling options for the more advanced movements. The better programs out there include lesson plans and provide coaches with notes and some scaling suggestions, but they still don’t include dedicated time to develop and advance your skills; you are forever scaled. Furthermore, volume and intensity need to be adjusted based on gym demographics. A gym full of gung-ho twenty year olds can handle a lot more that 40 year old working professionals with families.
Second, logistics: specifically, space and equipment. Cookie cutter programs don’t take into consideration that not every gym has every piece of equipment. At Viking Athletics, we are incredibly fortunate to have most equipment available, and the space to use it. While many of you may wish that we didn’t, we have enough bikes to regularly include in our programming. Smaller gyms cannot say the same. At my previous gym in Philadelphia, we had 10 rowers for 35 people working out simultaneously. We could never row more than 500m in a metcon because everyone had to share equipment and we needed enough other exercises to eat up time so there wouldn’t be a queue at the rowers. Limited space and equipment make for creative work arounds that coaches outside your gym cannot predict.
Third, time. Both the length of classes and people’s weekly schedules need to be taken into consideration. Comp train is a popular program, but its sessions are designed to take 90 minutes. Trying to cram it into a 60-minute class is a recipe for disaster. On the flip side, if you cut out elements of the program to make it fit into class time, you don’t get the benefit of the program. Programs that are designed for 60 minutes hopefully solve this issue, but even then, it’s possible to lose some elements of the programming. Box Programming is a very well thought out method, rooted in exercise science. Most days are strength, then conditioning, with a little accessory work thrown in at the end. The accessory work is incredibly important for correcting muscle imbalances. Yet, the 4 gyms I know of that use this program RARELY get to the accessory work, because the classes run a little long.
Members’ schedules also need to be considered. Many cookie cutter programs adhere to a rigid schedule: Monday is squat day, Tuesday is press day, etc. This works great with an individual, but not in group training. If every Monday is a squat day and you can never make class on Mondays, you’ll never squat. This leads to massive gaps in training.
One of the most common arguments I see in favor of outsourcing programming is that it frees up owners to focus on the business, and coaches to focus on delivering the “best experience possible.” In affiliate owners’ groups, when asked what sets their gym apart from other gyms using the same program, the owners always reply, “the coaching experience.” I don’t buy it. Everyone has a different coaching style, and everyone meshes with different coaches differently. You’re not always going to love every coach you work with, and this is normal. But, when every coach is following the same script, you lose a lot of that individuality that makes each coach unique. While we want you to have the same workout regardless of who is coaching, we want our coaches to deliver it with their own unique flair, rather than as a robot reading a script.
And while we’re talking about coaching, understanding programming is a HUGELY important part of the job. You cannot scale workouts appropriately or convey the goal of a workout if you don’t understand it. Learning how to program is one of the best ways to learn to understand it, even if you don’t take it up regularly. At Viking Athletics, we make sure our coaching staff understands the method behind the training.
As our business continues to grow, I may not always write the CrossFit programming. There may come a time when I hand it over to another coach who has the desire and interest. But you can be damn sure that I will never hand it over to anyone outside of our gym. For now, I enjoy it, it’s part of our brand, and it sets us apart from other gyms, and, most importantly, it works. Don’t take my word for it, just look at your results.