All (Mistakenly) Bow to Fran

By Justin Lascek

In CrossFit, Workouts

February 10, 2009

PDF Article

Justin Lascek has a love-hate relationship with Fran. In All (Mistakenly) Bow to Fran, he explores the light and dark side of the most powerful of workouts.

As we all know, “Fran” is one of the classic benchmark CrossFit workouts that combines a weight lifting movement with a callisthenic movement. The rep range of 21-15-9 developed by Greg Glassman is known for its ability to improve metabolic conditioning, but it also helps maximize work capacity. The thruster epitomizes the idea of moving a “large load a long distance quickly” (another concept vital for power production), while the kipping pull-up requires a coordinated and eloquent full-body “wave of contraction” to be done quickly and effectively. Fran has captured the hearts of most, if not all CrossFitters. This bothers me.

The hype surrounding Fran is stupid. I’m as guilty as anyone for putting Fran on a pedestal, but I’ve gained some perspective on the matter. It’s just another workout that is helping me, and all CrossFitters, increase their work capacity. We can still shovel more rock than the average bodybuilder, power lifter, endurance athlete, and average person because of this.

CrossFitters shouldn’t train for one particular workout. Have you ever heard the story of someone doing Fran once a month or more to “bring their Fran time down”? What about the guy that has the killer Fran time but is mediocre at best in all of the other benchmarks? Or perhaps someone who focuses on producing an ungodly “Fight Gone Bad” score while neglecting other WODs?

People who are selective with which CrossFit workouts they finish are missing the whole point of CrossFit completely. Broad time and modal domains indeed. If a CrossFitter trains for one workout specifically, he’s specializing his ability, and that’s the opposite of what we’re trying to accomplish.



26 Comments on “All (Mistakenly) Bow to Fran”


wrote …

AMEN Brotha! I agree with you 100%. Lets see those amazing PR's in other benchmark work outs. For example, Mr. Joshua, Michael, The Badger, etc. I think Fran is an excellent work out, but doing it once a month not how things were meant to be done.


Justin Riley wrote …

First off Justin, great article. I completely agree with you that training for Fran is not the way to go about CrossFit and that cherry picking WOD's will never get you the results that this program can offer. Fran is probably held in too high a regard in this community. However I think you should acknowledge the article "A Statistical Analysis of the CrossFit Games." The article showed that a competitor's Fran time directly correlated to the Final outcome in the Games. If the Games were only Fran, minus the other events, the outcome in terms of the top ten finishers barley changed. There is a reason Fran holds high regard. The fact that you basically proved that Fran has the highest output of any WOD in your analysis suggests that it has something to offer that the others don't quite achieve. I do not personally train for Fran, but I can tell you that it will be a deciding factor for how I choose my affiliate team for the CrossFit Games this year here at CrossFit East Sac. I am not a Franattic, but if I could only evaluate an athlete based on one WOD I have to say it would be Fran, but I do agree that if you are over emphasizing Fran you are missing the point and you are missing the benefit. It is not all that different than somebody who aims to get fit by running 5 miles 4 times a week expecting to be able achieve IWCOBTAMD. Good stuff brother.


wrote …

Great article! Coming from the endurance world, I have excelled (only compared to myself) in the workouts like Cindy because the only weight required is my own. Since I began CF, I have learned to hate and love the workouts such as Fran and any other that demand moving heavy objects for time. Because of my ability to hammer out the body weight workouts, and feel good afterward, I have made the shift to trying more benchmarks which require barbells more often. Having said that, I too make a conscious effort to balance the spectrum, and I have noticed big gains in my performance. Your article will be in my gym so that I have the reminder to continue trying new workouts.


wrote …

It can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture that crossfit has painted. Nice work.


replied to comment from Justin Riley

Hey Justin (Riley),

I see the premise behind your points.

There are two counter arguments about your reference to "A Statistical Analysis of the CrossFit Games" that come to mind. The first is that the particular CrossFit competition the article references is only one segregated instance of an attempt to display work capacity. We can't use one sample to make a generalization for all training. The second is that you insinuated that if a person has a better "Fran" time that they would perform better in a competition that is similar to the CrossFit games. This may be the case, if the competition is the same (or has similar) format every time. Perhaps the format of the games is going to be something we have never seen before (which I have it on good authority that it will fit this incredibly vague description). Does "Fran" predict something like "Fight Gone Bad" scores? I have no idea, but my first inclination is no because it utilizes a different stimulus within the musculature, and more importantly a different metabolic demand. The principle of specificity starts coming into play here, hence my call for a decreasing focus of it.

If I were selecting a team for a competition that could yield any fitness test, I would pick team members with a "Jack of all trades, master of none" quality with their workout. But if I did that, I'd just be picking a good CrossFitter since that phrase is indicative of IWCABTAMD.

"Fran" does offer something that other workouts don't. But the reverse is also true; other workouts offer something that "Fran" doesn't. Other time and modal domains must be explored to be successful in this methodology.

Thanks for your stimulating thoughts. Keep the gears turning.


replied to comment from Karl MacPhee

Thanks Karl.

Keep reaching out to those barbells. They are good for your soul.


wrote …

I dig her because she's short and nasty. I like getting worked up before hand, getting into a tangle with her, and then making up afterward. I'm not a glutton for met-con, so she's my kind of girl... It is love/hate. I just can't quit you, Fran!


Very interesting and well written article Justin Lascek, and thought provoking.

I have one major comment:

You largely ignore the role of the wod DURATION when comparing the average power output of the WODs. This can give a very misleading picture, simply because the shorter workouts are always going to be more intense (yield higher power output). That does not say anything about their importance relative to other wods. I'm pretty certain Coach or anyone else wouldn't have a problem coming up with a WOD that could be completed in 60-90 seconds by elite crossfitters and yield higher power outputs than Fran. Would that mean that this particular WOD was superior to all the others? Of course not, but it would serve an important purpose in working across broad time and modal domains, just as Fran does.

The whole point in IWCABTAMD is exactly that, BROAD Time and modal domains. Fran is at the shorter end of the time spectrum with very high power output, whereas other wods are at the other end (obviously with lower, but still very impressive, power outputs). Someone who overemphasizes Fran on the cost of the others would most likely perform disproportionally worse in the longer wods.

Being a good CrossFitter is all about a performance profile, posting good numbers in all the benchmark workouts and not leaving any weaknesses in the profile. That's GPP.

A comment about Justin Rileys reference to "A Statistical Analysis of the CrossFit Games."

As I saw it, a competitor's Fran time predicted the final outcome of the CrossFit games better than other events because a) Fran was one of the four events, b) The modified Grace is another Thruster-based event hence tapping more of the same as Fran does, c) The hill run didn't distinguish time-wise between the competitors as well as the other events did, d) all the events were in the 3-5 minute (Fran-time) range.

So, in essence, Fran predicted the final outcome because the Games as a whole were largely a competition in doing Fran-type of work (which has to be seen as a mistake in design, since it didn't provide a good test across broad time domains).

If we'll see this summer, as Lascek points out, that a competitor's Fran time is by far the strongest predictor of the 2009 games outcome, even though none of the events are remotely similar to Fran, then Riley's got a really strong point for the importance of Fran. I highly doubt that this will be the case though. In any case, it would be interesting to explore after this years games which of the Competitor's classic workout times (e.g. Fran, FGB, Filthy fifty, CFT, Linda, Helen, etc.) best predicts the 09 games outcome.


wrote …

I agree with you Justin. I think every workout that is posted on the website epitomizes what Crossfit is about. Fran is rough and demanding as is Helen, Linda, Grace, Tabata Something Else, and 7x1 deadlifts. They are all hard, that is the purpose of the program and that is why so many of us have drank the Kool-Aid. I think OPT said it best in his games interview when he said(and this is not a quote but a reference) that Crossfit prepares you for the unexpected and makes it impossible to prepare for a workout. Thats why if you follow the HQ WOD you will be prepared for anything and if you totally changed what was to be done at the games on gameday he would not care and do the workout. It's a beautiful thing to watch what Coach comes up with from day to day. Great article Justin.


Brandon Nugent wrote …

Great article, and coming from someone who has a TERRIBLE Fran time (me) I have become slightly over-focused on it. Good reminder to keep things balanced.

I second Karl's comments (as I come from an endurance/adventure racing background) and because of the efforts I'm putting into the ugly workouts (the ones I don't like to do) I'm also seeing positive changes in my performances.

Looking forward to the next article.



replied to comment from Leifur Geir Hafsteinsson

Hey Leifur (your name is a mouthful for this clumsy American),

Quote from you:
"You largely ignore the role of the wod DURATION when comparing the average power output of the WODs. This can give a very misleading picture, simply because the shorter workouts are always going to be more intense (yield higher power output). That does not say anything about their importance relative to other wods. I'm pretty certain Coach or anyone else wouldn't have a problem coming up with a WOD that could be completed in 60-90 seconds by elite crossfitters and yield higher power outputs than Fran. Would that mean that this particular WOD was superior to all the others? Of course not, but it would serve an important purpose in working across broad time and modal domains, just as Fran does."

Maybe I am misunderstanding you, but you are just proving my point. I most definitely do not ignore the duration of "Fran", especially when compared to other WODs. My point is that perhaps "Fran" is on a pedestal (a concept I had initially included in my draft's title) because of its high work output. However, that doesn't let it reign over other WODs because of what you say: the purpose is broad time and modal domains. You are correct, sir, yet you are just resonating my point entirely.

I am in agreement with you that it will be interesting to see what WOD will be a "predictor" for this year's CF Games, but we cannot generalize that it will be more important to train that particular WOD to prepare for the games every year since the competition structure is subject to change.

And if it were me, I'd keep the games constantly varied so there is never a true, specific preparation. I'm sure that's what they're doing.


wrote …

Thank you to the Brandons for both of your kind words. Keep training hard!


wrote …

Liefur and Justin bring up a point that has bothered me about CrossFit: the emphasis on power over endurance (power applied over time). FRAN is a good example--a work out I really enjoy but strugle with. However, I can easily double the power output of FRAN by doing 1 rep of a 50kg push-jerk. I have long arms and can move a 50Kg weight about a meter in one rep. If I execute said jerk smartly, say in 0.5 seconds, I just generated 1.3HP (980 watts). So what? The Net Work done in a 1 rep jerk is trivial compared to that done during a FRAN work out or as compared to climbing a 14K mountain with a 45 pound pack. Power should be but one measurement of Fitness, not the defining measurement, IMHO.

(I'm a CF newbie trying to learn all I can, so my opinion should be given due weight here.)


Justin Riley wrote …

This is a great topic with great feed back, I said earlier that the Fran time was an accurate predictor for the outcome of the 2008 games as shown by the Statistical Analysis article and someone pointed out that all the events in last years games were all similar in time and modal domain to that of Fran. I agree, but what about the 2007 games, which was quite different. CrossFit Total and the hopper WOD, Row 1000 m with 7 rounds of jerks and pullups, was a bit longer in duration, than a fran. Dave Castro in a journal article pointed out that the top 3 men OPT, i forget who, and Josh Everet all had world class Fran times. So I will stand by my inclination to place Fran at the top of the list as an indicator of overall fitness. I would like to see and example of a CrossFit athlete who has amazing times/scores on most of the bench mark WOD's, but has a terrible Fran time.


Justin Riley wrote …

Again, I am not a Franattic, and I will admit that Fran does not represent broad time and modal domain, and that specializing in Fran is a mistake. I have never met a CrossFitter with an amazing Fran time that was not good at a significant portion of the other Bench Mark WOD's.


replied to comment from Justin Riley

Justin (Riley),

"Franattic" was a great term. That made me laugh.

I actually skimmed the article you referenced from Castro a little earlier today in expectation of it being brought up. I just want to point out that he was looking at one exclusive event; the 2007 CrossFit Games. The "Statistical Analysis" article looked at another specific event; the 2008 CrossFit Games. We can't generalize from one or two situations what will always the predicting factor in a methodology built around constant variation of stress. If the '09 games only consisted of 1RM's, then "Fran" would be totally irrelevant. Each year we define the "best CrossFitter" by the specific challenges of that particular competition.

That means that our definition of "best CrossFitter", as well as predictive measures, change with the type of testing we partake in because of the fact that we are constantly varied to begin with.


Justin Lascek,

I didn't mean to put words in your mouth, your article makes it very clear that you do think Fran is in danger of being overemphasized (even though you clearly demonstrate the "love" side of your relationship as well :).

What frightened me a little bit was that demonstrating data like you correctly did in table 3, where people see that Fran has the highest power output, would mistakenly lead them to conclude that Fran was somehow more important or better than the other wods (when the only explanation for its higher power is its duration). I was just trying to get that point across.

A minor point which may have contributed to my confusion: You ask in the article: "But does Fran deserve to be known as the WOD that has the highest work output?" (p. 5).

Physics sucks, I know, but for someone who spent three precious years in college studying it the terms "power" and "work" cannot be used interchangeably.

Work refers to the transformation of energy, or force applied over distance and is independent of time. In other words, if both of us do Fran, you in 2:30 and I in my typical 5:00 we've done the same amount of work (assuming our body weight, height and limb length is the same). However, your average power output is two times greater than mine, because average power is total amount of work divided by total time.

So, according to table 3 in your article Fran yields the highest average power output but (for you at least) Cindy is smoking the other wods in terms of highest work output (multiply average power and time to get total amount of work). Linda is probably up there as well :)

Again, loved the article and I hope my comments don't come across as negative (if so, I'll blame it on the language barrier and profusely apologize :).

Justin Riley: I'd be very surprised if the top three of any CrossFit games wouldn't have world class Fran times (as well as world class Linda times, world class FGB scores etc.). That's why they're top 3 - they're good CrossFitters! But that doesn't prove that Fran does a better job than other wods predicting work capacity across broad time and modal domains than other classic wods....


replied to comment from Leifur Geir Hafsteinsson


Ah, I see your point. Yes, if I lacked the emphasis in the article, then the fault is mine.

If I incorrectly used the terms power and work, then the fault is still mine, albeit accidentally.

I've made a calculation for "Linda" (like the one you mention), and I even tweaked it (in Excel) to be calculated relative to the individual's body weight as well, so that different sized athletes could compare. It's absurdly crude, but interesting nonetheless.

I would assume is "Fran" still the largest power output for you, Leifur?


wrote …

Your only as good as your worst workout.


wrote …

Hey guys no big deal or anything but I was mention in the article.

This is A.C., not whatever the name says. Once again n o big deal.


Matthew Crabtree wrote …

Great article, power output is a very useful tool but it seems to me to have a significant limitation. I venture that the reason Fran has such a high power output is because of the large VERTICAL distance the weight and body is moved during the workout. Which is great but, Cindy for example, doing pushups for a large portion of the workout in which the vertical movement is not as large (as doing a squat or thruster) will have a much lower power output even though it is just as taxing. So I guess I'm saying the power output is a neat tool and useful, it just doesn't speak to the difficulty of a workout because it emphasizes vertical movement so much.

High power output is awesome, but shouldn't be the exclusive measure of a good workout. Carrying a weight, or a person, a horizontal distance (fireman's carry) is no easy task, but would generate a low power output, and would get lower as time elapsed b/c there would be no further change in vertical displacement.

Matt, only a 6:09 Fran time though


wrote …

I love that CrossFit brings out so much thorough and insightful analysis and that this theory element is also stressed in this community. It adds a very interesting dimension to what we are all trying to accomplish here, as well as legitimacy.

Justin, thanks for the insightful and thought-provoking article.

My 0.02: I think we can have it both ways as long as we think of Fran as an arbitrary symbol that, for whatever reason, has gained the most notoriety. There's no reason it could not have been Linda, Helen, or any of the other WOD's, but it certainly helps to have one benchmark for which the community has a good feel. Regardless of what WOD one were to choose as the reference point, I think it'd be hard to deny that having a good "bell curve" workout is helpful in getting a rough assessment of what kind of CF'er an individual is. Obviously it's never the be-all-end-all, but in my opinion it is still a useful piece of data to have and can very quickly tell you a decent amount about someone's overall relative fitness.

Re: CF games and Fran
I think this quote from one of Leifur's replies earlier does a great job of summing up my thinking on this. He said:
"I'd be very surprised if the top three of any CrossFit games wouldn't have world class Fran times (as well as world class Linda times, world class FGB scores etc.). That's why they're top 3 - they're good CrossFitters! But that doesn't prove that Fran does a better job than other wods predicting work capacity across broad time and modal domains than other classic wods...."
EXACTLY. This ties into what I was saying above. My suspicion is that there are several WOD's besides Fran that would would find correlate nicely with CF games performance as well as Fran. Probably not true for all of them (for some of the reasons outlined above and examined outside of this topic, which I won't get into herein), but enough to prove that Fran just happens to be the standard bearer of CrossFit and, in and of itself, tells nothing more than any other WOD.

All that aside, I understand that the main point in the article was that overemphasis of TRAINING with Fran is counterproductive to what we are trying to do at CrossFit. My examination and scattered comments above more or less assume the athletes are training truly IWCOBTAMD, without bias.


wrote …

Justin, Great think piece, and you obviously stirred up some folks w this, well done.

I've never been at risk of putting Fran on a pedastal because I like the name Elizabeth quite a lot more, and coincidentally, my Eliz times are more competitive than w Fran. But you make the point well - Fran is different due to her high power output, but limited due to her high power output and relatively short duration, therefore, not the whole picture of an athlete. Thanks, Paul


wrote …

Great article Justin.In my short time devoted to the main site WOD's and the Journal I have noticed that 'Fran' has become the 'Bench Press' of the Crossfit community. A friend of mine recently took a trip to Vancouver, Canada.He and his wife are soon to move there from the UK to work and they wanted to spend two weeks looking for potential work contacts.Being a qualified personal trainer and interested in all aspects of fitness as well as MMA my friend decided to visit a Crossfit facility in order to see what an affiliate gym was like.Although his experience was undoubtedly positive he did notice some of the member's obsession with 'Fran', being asked on a number of occasions 'so,what is your Fran time??'.On his return my friend and I talked about his Crossfit experience and came to the conclusion that 'Fran' is now the crossfitters 'Bench Press'.Dont get me wrong, Fran is a fantastic workout and deserves its place as a benchmark WOD but it should not be hailed as the Crossfitters ultimate workout or ultimate test of fitness.Dont get me wrong, whenever I see Fran come out of the hopper for my next WOD I do get a slight rush of adrenaline knowing that i'm in for 5 minutes of serious pian as well as a feeling of elation if I beat my PB.To be honest, I dont care what the guy sitting next to me benches but what I do care about is that the whole ethos of 'Crossfit' is not compromised by this obsession with 'Fran'.


wrote …

Ah, who cares? Crossfit, and all other workouts, are for fun and fitness.

What matters most is what you do that makes other people's lives better. Neither Fran nor any other wod saves anyone's life or makes their neigborhood safer or puts food on their plate or educates their child etc.

If Crossfit helps you do this better, that is the real payoff.


wrote …

By the argument presented here, because I like doing extra wall balls, box jumps, thrusters and pullups to become more competitive, I have lost the true spirit of Crossfit? What about practicing for a 5k, is that cheating also?

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