A Fitness-biased Program
We believe the aim of a good GPP program is to get people fit without wearing down their bodies.
This GPP program is built to keep your members fit for life. It’s built to encourage decades of fitness.
“Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist.”
– Greg Glassman
CrossFit prides itself on the fact that its athletes train and prepare for the unexpected. And we believe a GPP program is the best way to do that. GPP is short for general physical preparedness, and it is used to improve your ability across all areas of fitness — speed, strength, endurance, flexibility, power, coordination, and so on. It is the opposite of SPP, or specific physical preparedness, which is used to increase your capacity in one area of fitness.
GPP is non-biased, meaning not biased toward one skill or area of fitness, such as strength or gymnastics. SPP is biased, with its programming predominantly built around one area. Programming that includes a strength piece before a metcon every day is biased toward strength. It is an SPP program.
The problem with SPP is that you end up “specializing” in whatever you decide to train. And when you specialize in one area, you lose capacity in others. For instance, if you are too good at strength, you will probably have limited cardio ability (and vice versa). That’s the problem with a strength-biased program. You can get strong, but your focus on strength sacrifices other skills, such as flexibility, speed, or endurance.
This is why many professional athletes’ training consists of both SPP and GPP — they are trying to round out their physicality, but need to be great at their one thing. They follow a varied program and then target their weaknesses with a biased program. You see this a lot with CrossFit competitors. The big strong folks hit the track, and runners try to make the barbell their new best friend.
For the general public, who is not competing in any sport, GPP is by far the best option because the goal is to be more fit for life, meaning the focus is on decades of fitness, not just this year or next year. Everyday people are not competitors. They are not willing to sacrifice their long-term health in order to “win” in the short-term.
We believe the aim of a good GPP program should be to get people fit without wearing down their bodies or over stressing any one area. And, of course, to physically prepare them for whatever the world throws their way.
We are focused on overall fitness and longevity, not quick wins.
We do not write strength-biased programming because we believe you can get as strong as you need to be with a GPP program, with less risk of specializing or losing overall fitness.
Because we are a fitness-biased program, we generally only have one true focus every day. If you look at a session plan, you will see that each plan has a general warmup, skill work, a workout and cool down. Yes, there are different components to a session, but those pieces are not all workouts in themselves. There is, for the most part, one workout and then all the other pieces are built around it, to support it.
A major problem with the strength + metcon formula is that one session can include two to three workouts. When there are multiple workouts every day, there is little to no time to learn, practice, rest or coach. We see this as one of the biggest problems with many “CrossFit” programs — there are just too many workouts packed into one session.
We’re not saying it’s impossible to run a quality strength + metcon model at your gym. It’s just a lot harder to write a solid program if you’re following that formula unless you’re super knowledgeable about programming. For instance, if you look at one of our session plans, you will see that each plan has multiple components, but there is generally one main focus per day. We can look at the weekly calendar and say, “Okay, here’s our one focus for this day. Everything else we add to the session will either complement or supplement this one focus. And here’s how that fits into this week, and into this month.” Conversely, when you program both strength + metcon pieces into every session, you are doubling or tripling the complexity of focuses for the day, week and month, which makes it much more difficult for you to see the nuance in the program.
We program for the 99% because everyday people don’t need to train like competitors to get fit. Volume comes with a price.
Everyday people come to CrossFit to be better at activities they enjoy, to look better naked, to get healthier, to have a positive outlet for stress, you name it. These people are the 99%, the people who keep your business afloat. And yet, so many facilities potentially risk losing these people to burnout or injury in order to maintain pro-competition or regional appearances. Why?
From the beginning CrossFit was one WOD a day. Either a strength workout or a metcon, rarely both. That was it. No matter who you were, or how fit you were, that was the daily routine. Then CrossFit competitions came into existence, and even then it wasn’t until after the 2009 Games that people really started adding volume to handle the stressors of elite levels of competition. One thing to look at here is that volume was added in an effort to handle volume, not to strategically improve athletes faster.
The difference between everyday CrossFitters and Competitors is that one group knows the bargain they made for that extra volume, and the other group doesn’t. Competitors know that volume comes at a cost. They understand that working out twice a day is not as sustainable for decades. But they’re not concerned about the long game quite as much. They’re focused on what they have to do right now, today, to prepare for the 3-day storm that is the CrossFit Games or Regionals or whatever local comp. Their goals and their time frame for getting there are entirely different than the everyday person who wants to get fit, look better naked and be healthy well into their 90s. The art of being a competitor is to manage volume, injury and adaptation. This thin line is something that normal members should not be concerned with.
We also need to consider that Competitors generally have mastered the basics and are heavily monitored by coaches and specialists. They know exactly how many hours they will train each week and when they will recover. They put in extra time for pain management, mobility, nutrition, you name it. And they work with doctors, surgeons and specialists to help with the damage. Regular CrossFitters don’t have an entourage of experts. They are generally not as proficient with mechanics. They need more education. They need to learn about intensity (it could be argued a ton of wannabe competitors could use this education as well). They need help with finding better positions to potentiate the strength they already have, and that doesn’t require a daily strength piece.
Our programming is written by coaches for coaches, so we don’t pack a session so full that coaches can’t do what they do best: Coach. Effectively.
It is super difficult to effectively coach a 1-hour class where you truly hit a strength portion and then a metcon. Think about it. How long does it take to do a legitimate strength day? 30-40 minutes? And that’s not even factoring in the warmup or the brief. To replenish the ATP that you need to regenerate so that you can really give a maximal effort to the lift, you need about 3-5min of rest in between, and the heavier the lift, the more rest you need. So, if you have a 5×5, with 4 rest sets, which is almost 20min of rest alone (not to mention working time, transition time and coaching time), when you factor in time for a warmup, brief and a cool down, that’s an hour. Easily.
Yeah, you could slap an 8-min AMRAP behind that. You can get it done. But it’s not going to be nearly as effective. As a coach, you need to assess, scale, and check for logistics and safety, and it’s going to be very challenging to do all that effectively in the few minutes you have after a real strength workout. And by effective, we mean increasing the proficiency of movement and mechanics while pushing for speed/intensity.
By the nature of its design, the strength + metcon formula makes it much harder for coaches to give people proper instruction and attention. Not impossible, just much, much harder to coach effectively. The formula also makes it harder for coaches to be aware of what’s going on with members, which can create a barrier for developing better relationships and building community.
When a session has a singular focus, instead of multiple workouts, there is more time for lower intensity work, which translates to more coaching and more time for practicing and learning new skills. These are neurological adaptations which are required for improvement in things like coordination, accuracy, agility, and balance.
A secondary benefit is community building; after all, when coaches have more time to coach and give people more attention, that can only strengthen your community.
A strength-biased program is not the only way to get strong.
We believe the strength + metcon formula is popular because many people feel like frequent exposure to Olympic lifting is a faster way to accomplish two things: 1). Proficiency with Oly movements; 2). Gains in strength. We’re not saying that’s wrong. We just think that a solid GPP program is another — perhaps better — way to accomplish those two goals without sacrificing overall fitness.
It is our belief that if you want to specialize in top end strength, you should become a powerlifter. If you want to specialize in explosive strength, become an Oly lifter. As CrossFit coaches, we are here to train members to have an amazing capacity across both styles of strength and all other domains of fitness.
Of course, this always come back to the goals of the person. If they want to get fitter, stronger and healthier, they don’t need a strength-biased program. They will get plenty strong with a GPP program.
There are really only three groups of people who need a strength-biased program, or extra volume:
- People who want to lift more often regardless of what it does to their fitness simply because they enjoy lifting
- Power/Oly lifters
And even then, a strength + metcon formula still isn’t the only way to get that extra strength work.
Most people — the 99% of your gym or potential gym members — just need to get to the gym and workout hard, with good coaching. They need mechanics a bit of consistency and intensity, not a strength cycle.
With our program, strength days are for strength only because we believe that when you do a genuine strength workout, you need to give it the respect that it deserves. If you want true strength gains, you need to spend a lot of time under a heavy amount of weight, so when a strength day comes up, you need to focus, you need to take those days very seriously, and you need to hit that workout as hard as you possibly can. That’s how you get big, safe gains in strength without losing capacity in other areas.
One of the biggest myths around strength is that you have to follow a strength-biased program to get strong. And one of the biggest myths about switching to a GPP program is that your strength numbers will all slide downhill.
We’re going to talk more about overtraining, retrograde performance and intensity later (and how those things affect declining numbers), so for now we’re going to list a few testimonials we’ve received from our members, many of whom were skeptical in the beginning, to show you the results other affiliates are experiencing with a GPP program:
- I just wanted to share some data with you. We’ve been using WUWO since April. We took a little heat when we went from what we had been doing, which was strength + metcon or the occasional skill + metcon, to the traditional CrossFit model that is WUWO. Over the last two days, I believe we completely silenced the critics. On Tuesday, of 20 athletes with previous Annie times, 19 PR’d. On Wednesday, of 68 athletes that came through our doors (roughly a third of our membership), 66 set a 1 rep max if they had not previously recorded one (brand new members) or PR’d. Myself included with a 5lb lifetime PR of 420. This is a mix of new athletes and athletes that have been with us since we started in our garage a little over two years ago. Thank you again for the awesome service you provide.
- I would just like to say thank you for your amazingly detailed programming. We are just heading into our 6th year of affiliation, and this is the first time we have ever outsourced programming. Before I had always seen it as cheating and I assumed I had to program to be a good coach. I was nervous about what the members would think when we told them. BUT!!! Since we signed up with Warmup & Workout at the beginning of 2016: Our membership has doubled. We have hired a new full-time coach. We have time to focus on coaching instead of programming. We have become better coaches, as we are coaching classes that take us out of our comfort zone. And my husband and I have a little more time together to spend with our family. It has been a massive success, and we would like to thank you for making our lives a lot easier and our members happier.
- I’m a biased-program coach, so for the 7 years I’ve been programming, I totally went against what they teach us in the L1. I never did mono days or gymnastics days. I love lifting heavy and slow, and frankly, CrossFit hurts, running sucks and gymnastics progressions are slow and boring. So I program the way I workout. I totally missed the chance to develop well-rounded humans. At first, I was worried. The meatheads in the gym grumbled because we were following a non-biased program. I had no idea that I was actually injuring people — barbells every day, squats 2x a week, Olympic lifts… The general public doesn’t need that, and class, the way you program it, is healthy long-term and FUN. Now my clients love it. Injuries went way down. And people feel better. I’ll never switch.
- I have to admit that when I first opened in 2011, I tried to fit as much as possible into each class, as this is the way it had been in my old box. It was a fear of mine when I first signed up for your programming. What I realise now, after also completing the Level 2, is that it was too much. Programming strength and a metcon left little time for an appropriate warm up and little time for coaching. Using your programming and what I learned at the Level 2 has brought a whole new feeling to the box. Our members are learning new skills and getting stronger and moving better because we have the time to coach them during the warm-up and workout prep. Our membership still continues to grow, and our athletes are happy. I even said to my partner last night that I do not know how we fit strength and a metcon in before. It was crazy. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and Taz for the programming. It has saved us lots of time to focus on training new coaches and building the business.
- The programming has been on point. I have made some considerable gains since starting a few months ago. My front squat 1RM is up to 355, triple at 325 with my previous 1RM being at 305. I’ve made some considerable improvements with my shoulder stability and strength even with torn labrums. Squat snatch was only at 170 but has since gone up to 205. I really appreciate your help. You guys have been awesome.
- We have been in business for nearly 9 years, and programming has always been the thorn in our side. Our programming has certainly been progressive, but so has the time dedication. WUWO came directly off the heels of our Level 2 Certification. Our change of coaching style blended seamlessly with our new programming. Having a complete daily syllabus to follow takes all the logistics out of our hands. We simply execute! A piece of the puzzle we didn’t see coming is the ease of mind knowing that our athletes are taken care of when we aren’t coaching ourselves. We train our coaches to follow the daily syllabus with precision, adding their flair, knowledge, and energy. This has created an entirely different atmosphere. The response from our athletes has been all positive. They are enjoying the warm ups and mobility. The WOD’s have more focus, so athletes have increased their intensity without sacrificing form. As a small business, paying for programming has never been in the cards. Making the decision to go with WUWO has been a great decision. The time that was dedicated to programming each month can now be divided into coaching energy and personal time.
These testimonials suggest that coaches and their members are experiencing fantastic results with a non-biased program. Some are hitting all time strength PRs; others are maintaining the numbers they had with a strength-biased program while increasing capacities in other areas of fitness.
What this has shown us is that the problem with switching to a GPP program is not in the results of the program, it’s in the psychology of change.
Get in the minds of your barbell lovers and metcon devotees.
We believe it’s possible to make everyone happy with a GPP program. Or nearly everyone. The lifters. The runners. The competitors. In the end, it’s the coaches who make or break a program.
One of the questions we receive the most often is how to keep the cardio people happy AND the barbell people happy.
Let’s first focus on why people might prefer barbell work.
Some people are happiest when lifting. These people just love lifting. It’s fun for them. It makes them happy. So, for obvious reasons, they’re going to be bummed when you switch away from a strength-biased program. We have two suggestions for how to meet their needs with a GPP program: 1) Program extra barbell work a few times a week that they can perform after a workout, 2) Start an Olympic Lifting program.
People generally prefer to do the type of training they need the least. In other words, they like doing things that are comfortable for them, not things that are uncomfortable. Rarely do you have people who love chasing and attacking what they suck at. As a coach, remind everyone that they may be upset about the swap because lifting is their strength and with that removed from the daily schedule, they are now forced to confront their weaknesses (running, etc.) more often. Because they no longer start each and every session with a strength piece, they don’t get that great confidence boost before beginning an intense metcon, and that will probably sour their mood. But this is good. They must persevere. By removing daily strength work, and coaching the stimulus differently for them and coaching them into intensity, we can help them meet their fears and weaknesses head on, which is an absolute necessity if they want to see huge gains across the board. To help people with this, give them daily challenges that push them, and give focus and purpose for the workout.
Some people have only experienced a strength-biased program. To them, the strength + metcon formula is CrossFit. With this crew, it’s important to understand why they want to stick with a strength-biased program.
If they want to go back to the strength + metcon formula because they believe that’s what is going to get them strong, you’ll need to explain that strength-biased programming is one way to get strong, but it’s certainly not the only way. Non-biased programming can get you just as strong, without sacrificing capacities in other areas of fitness.
If they want to go back to the strength + metcon model because they believe that’s what real CrossFit is, you’ll need to provide some history on CrossFit and how the daily strength + metcon model has developed alongside CrossFit but is not how CrossFit programming was intended. Some would even argue that a daily strength + metcon is not CrossFit. We won’t go that far, but we will say that we’ve tried it, failed with it, and watched many other professional programmers fail with it. We personally will never use it again for the general populace. In the ten+ years we’ve been competitors, coaches, and programmers, we’ve learned that a strength-biased program is not the best way for affiliates to increase work capacity across broad time and modal domains.
Some people only come in 2x a week and want to lift on the days they attend. If someone is coming to your facility 1-2x per week, you’re going to have to teach them the same stuff over and over again because they’re not getting enough exposure to movements. No matter what program you’re using (biased or non-biased), they’re most likely not going to see the results they need to see in order to stay motivated and get involved with your community. If they’re not attending more often because they’re just starting CrossFit, coming from a sedentary lifestyle, this sounds like an issue of scaling and modifying workouts so that each person’s needs are met (so as not to burn people out or work them so hard that they need 3 days to recover). If they’re not attending more often because they have a lot going on in life, they just need to understand that lack of repetition means lack of progress. Short story shorter: These people should not be driving your programming decisions.
Some believe they get more bang for their buck with a strength-biased program. In our opinion, the strength + metcon formula doesn’t actually deliver more value, but it can feel as though it does. Psychologically, that’s powerful. In reality, it’s more like choosing quantity over quality. Yes, there’s a strength piece and a metcon piece, so people feel as though they’re getting two-for-one, but are they giving both 100% effort? And are those two pieces coached effectively? Did they receive more one-on-one instruction or coaching with the strength + metcon formula? Or are they learning more about themselves now?
Make no mistake, we are not saying there is one right way to do CrossFit. A strength-biased program can work. So can a GPP program, with less risk of specialization.
PSA to all Coaches!! You cannot coach a GPP program like you coach a strength + metcon.
Strength-biased members are trained, by habit, to conserve energy in either the strength piece or the metcon piece of their workouts. If they love lifting, they’ll give the strength piece all they have. If they’re more into cardio, they’ll hold back in the strength piece, and then give everything they have to the metcon. This is a problem when you move to a GPP program because there are no longer two workouts. Sure, with our session plans, you have multiple pieces in one session (a warmup and workout prep leading up to the workout), but there is usually only one workout per day. It is especially important, then, that you coach clients into intensity.
“Be impressed by intensity, not volume.”
– Greg Glassman
Give people targets. Fran, for example, is a workout most of the general population can finish in roughly 7 minutes or less. This classic demands 21-15-9 reps of thrusters and pull-ups. Provide athletes who are trying to break into that time domain with a roadmap: “Do the 21 thrusters and 21 pull-ups in no more than 2 sets each, and the break can be no longer than 5 seconds. At the end of that round, the clock should read no more than 1:30 or 2:00.” Their goal should be to get comfortable with being uncomfortable so that they can get those 3 more reps in, even when they desperately want to stop; that’s how they’ll get fitter and break through ceilings and plateaus.
Educate on what “intensity” is. Don’t rely on technical terms and definitions. You can give the formula if you want but talk like a normal human being. Keep it simple. With that in mind, intensity is simply doing more work in less time. But not at the expense of mechanics. Even though it’s kinda mathy, you can do this by showing athletes the power equation. Tell them:
Power = Intensity, and Intensity = Results.
What is Power?
Force X Distance / Time
Force is a weight, distance is the distance it travels, time is how fast you do it. You can lift heavier or you can move faster but to see the best results, you need to do both. Remind them that when they go heavier, it causes them to rest more, and when they’re resting, their intensity is 0 because, well… they are resting. :-)
Test ’em. In CrossFitters In Cars episode 1, Wes Piatt and Pat talked about educating members on intensity, and Wes shared a really fantastic way to chart members’ intensity. When they complete an on-ramp or foundations class, Wes records their body weight and then has them perform a 1-minute Air Squat Test. He calculates their intensity and graphs it for them. He does this quarterly, so every 3-4 months, each member of his gym is expected to come in, give their weight, and perform a 1-minute Air Squat Test. He re-graphs their intensity and compares it to previous tests. This simple test gives you an opportunity to educate your members on intensity and keep track of how they’re doing. Genius. The basic takeaway is that they should be recording their workouts and make sure they are pushing those paces. If you are doing the same workout and moving faster, you should be seeing more results.
Brief the stimulus differently. A few months ago, I was coaching a workout and decided to change things up a little bit. The workout was a 400m Run, 10 Push Jerks, 4 Rounds. I said, “Okay everyone. Look at today’s workout. Think about which of those two movements — running, push jerks — is harder for you.” Then I asked, “Who thinks the run is harder?” About half the class raised their hands. “Who thinks the jerk is harder?” The other half raised their hands. And then I briefed the workout like this: “If you think the run is harder, I want you to run faster. The run is not your rest time. You will give the run everything you have. If you think the jerk is harder, that’s where I want you to push today. Go unbroken on those 10. Don’t put the barbell down. Because this is showing you your weakness, the thing you don’t like. Typically, people use their weaknesses as their rest time. It’s when you pull back on the gas a little because you know it’s harder for you. So today we’re going to switch up the mentality and work harder on your weakness.” Yes, their times will probably be slower. But there’s a psychological benefit to pushing that threshold and building capacity in the area, which is going to carry over into everything else they do. Specific focuses on any workout should make the workout harder and more purposeful in general.
Long story short: We believe a GPP program will get your community fitter than a biased-program will.
We believe in longevity over quick, short-term gains. We believe in a sensical approach to risk and reward.
We know this is a controversial topic in the industry. We know there is a lot of emotion around the ‘to strength + metcon, or not to strength + metcon’ subject. We don’t want to insult anyone or to put ourselves in the place of rightness. Like we’ve said, there is no one ‘right’ way to do CrossFit.
Our only hope is that you take what’s useful from this page, and throw the rest away. Maybe you’ll think more deeply about your ‘why.’ Maybe this will kickstart conversations about different programming philosophies, as there is no one-size-fits-all approach to programming.
If you want to read more about what other folks in the functional fitness world think about GPP programming, here are some articles that you might find interesting —
- Volume, It Comes At A Cost. Chris Spealler’s blog.
- An Open Letter to the Big Dogs. The CrossFit Journal.
- An Open Letter to the Met-Heads. The CrossFit Journal.
- A Deft Dose of Volume. The CrossFit Journal.
- Programming for GPP. The CrossFit Journal.
- Programming Pitfalls. The CrossFit Journal.
- Programming as Culture. The CrossFit Journal.
- Biasing vs. Targeting in Programming. The CrossFit Journal.
- CrossFit and GPP. The CrossFit Journal.
- No Intensity, No Results. The CrossFit Journal.
- Intensity and Its Role In Fitness. The CrossFit Journal.
- Limited Membership, Limited Fitness? The CrossFit Journal.
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