You Be The Trainer, #1

By Adrian Bozman, Tony Budding, Chris Spealler, E.C. Synkowski

In CrossFit, Exercises

June 12, 2009

PDF Article

Tony Budding created a hypothetical client and a proposed workout to challenge the programming skills of Adrian (Boz) Bozman, Chris Spealler and E.C. Synkowski. Find out what these top trainers think of the WOD and share your opinion.

Steve is 42-year-old banker and has been CrossFitting for six months. He can do most of the main-site WODs as prescribed—some of them just barely. Steve often scales workouts back a little so he can keep moving. He follows the main-site workouts most of the time and comes in for personal training once or twice a week as his schedule allows.

Today is Thursday. Steve will be in later today. It’s time to program his session. Here’s what Steve has done this week.

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: Diane scaled to 21 deadlifts (185 pounds), 15 handstand push-ups, 15 deadlifts,10 Handstand pushups, 9 deadlifts, 5 handstand push-ups. Steve’s time was 9:40.

Wednesday: Kelly as prescribed. Five rounds of 400-meter run, 30 box jumps on a 20-inch box, 30 wall-ball shots. Steve’s time was 32:45.

The proposed workout:
Kettlebell swings (1.5 pood or approximately 53 pounds)

Is this a good workout for Steve today? If not, what should be changed? Decide for yourself or continue reading the article. Compare your answer to our trainers’ opinions. Post your results to comments.

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42 Comments on “You Be The Trainer, #1”


wrote …

My first thought was Power Clean singles or triples, but I agree that the neurological demands might be too much for anything more complex. That said, we could always work on our cleans. A 1-1-1-1-1-1-1 type high technique/low volume workout is often better with the helpful guidance of a coach nearby, particularly if Steve has only been working with these movements for six months. Points from all three coaches were salient, though - lots of food for thought when programming.


wrote …

Really good article...haven't seen one like this before. Initially before reading the article I automatically thought Steve needed a heavy day due to the previous workouts the days before. I hadn't thought far enough as to what specific exercises and which pulling/pushing mechanisms Steve had already used this week. Smart trainers with good insite....making this 'ol brain of mine work on a Friday :)


wrote …

Great article! Awesome content with a great layout. Incredibly thought provoking and entertaining. Great work Tony and crew, keep more like these coming!


wrote …


Five rounds for max reps of:
Body weight bench press

1) Gives Steve's hips,legs and overhead pushing a break.
2) Allows Steve to to work on some strength with muscle groups that have not been directly affected.
3) Steve is probably begging for a breather but he still will be working hard.
4) Good for Steve to get in some pulling.


wrote …

Awesome article. Great idea to do this. I was looking at starting my own programming for myself and folks at work so this gives me a chance to pick some brains and make mistakes w/o getting anyone hurt. Based on what I have learned over the years and applying the concepts and knowledge I learned doing Crossfit over the past 8-9mo, I think pulling work is best. Maybe doing Death-by-pullups would be good for him. He gets to work upperbody strength with out overly taxing his METCON. I would include some rowing and core work (GHD or AB sit-ups and some back extension) as a warm-up or cool down work.I may be way off base and any critique would be appreciated.


wrote …

I would give him a nice short metacon. Probably something like 21-15-9 of pullups, burpees and sqauts. Or a AMAP in 15 min of 3 pullups, 5 burpees, and 8 sqauts


wrote …

It should be a max effort heavy day. 5-5-5-5-5 push press or jerks looks appropriate.


Daniel Kallen wrote …

I'd push Steve hard through Murph, especially if the weather was going to be really hot. I hate bankers.


Daniel Kallen wrote …

Really, really great article, Tony!

My trainers and I have these discussions all the time, and it always leads to better programming.

I especially appreciate your points about Steve's personal goals, his potential, and his likely quality of life concerns. We find that these are key points in keeping clients from burning out or feeling overwhelmed, and this personalization keeps them coming back-- and keeps them making steady progress.

Would it be possible to do this kind of article as a video with an actual client? I'd love to see this played out completely. Maybe track a client for a few workouts, then open up a workout for discussion. The trainer can then take the discussion into account and design and run the next WOD, which you could also film. Then we'd all see how it goes.

You are welcome to come on down to CrossFit Thousand Oaks if you need subjects to film. And yes, my daughter will be happy to help with the filming.


wrote …

Tony - great article idea and delivery!

I agree with the other trainers - the volume is too great given the previous day's work. Unless he is a beast, in which case go for gold!

I think my gut reaction, with the info available, I'd get him practising and refining a skill e.g muscle up progressions and then finish with a tabata mashup (as cleverly suggested by Speal) of perhaps Double unders (or singles if unable) and pull ups.

Something short , but controllable - so if high intensity is out of the question we can slow things down and get a steady, useful workout in.

Otherwise we can push him hard, but not fatigue him too much for the rest of the week. He may have a life outside the gym he needs energy for... :-)


wrote …

Maybe some squats, 3-3-3-1-1 or/5-5-5. Or Power/Squat cleans 3-3-3-1-1or/5-5-5.
But if he only comes in once or twice a week, a skills day would be good. Practice the snatch, OHS, Muscle-ups. Anything technical that needs a second set of eyes to critique.


Jason Pelham wrote …

Chances are Steve is too fatigued to get the strength benefits or skill progression from a session with complex movements.

Steve would be better of with:

Weighted Pull-ups 3-3-3-3-3

It would be great to see what Steve had done over the last 2 weeks.


wrote …

Awesome article. I really enjoy learning more about programming and this type of 'problem solving' is a great way to illustrate principles. I love the pull-focused Tabata mash-up suggestion for the WOD. Tabatas are some of my favorite workouts since they are self-scaling, of fixed-duration, and satisfying to do.


wrote …

My call was 3x5 Back Squats. Great article, very informative with a really cool design component. Way to keep it fresh!!


Daniel Broughton wrote …

This article is exactly what we need more of. As young trainers and affiliate owners it's crucial to get the opinions and epertise of the HQ and more experienced trainers. These types of scenarios are presented at the nutrition cert as well and prove to be exponetially more valuable than a handout. Being able to discuss and know how other people are doing things is worth its weight in gold. Thanks Tony, keep them comming. -Dan


wrote …

Great article, hopefully we'll be seeing more of these!


wrote …

I believe since, since he's not able to do all the workouts as prescribed yet that he should do a heavy day. I think this would be good for any seasoned crossfitter because Tuesday was pretty heavy on back for him, and somewhat on legs. Wedensday was real heavy on legs. So Thursdays workout would definitly do a number on his legs and his back at the same time. Like I said any regular crossfitter would get smoked to life doing this, let alone someone who is still scaling workouts. So maybe, Something with pull ups or burpees. How about 21-15-9 of pull ups burpees and rows.


Edward Stedman wrote …

It would be great if this could turn into a regualr series of articles to help trainers and coaches fine tune and continue to develope their programming. I really enjoyed how this was done...having the opportunity to know the senario, going through my own thoughts and ideas (see below), and then reading what some experienced coaches/programmers rx'd.

My thoughts for Steve were similar to those of many others. I would put Steve through some technique work with some moderately heaving lifting. I would keep him away from pushing movements and movements that would overly tax his posterior chain.

Technique Work/Movement Specific Warm-Up (post general warm-up):
- w/ Weighted PVC Pipe or Training Bar go through Bergner Warm-Up & a short series of Clean & Jerk Pratice (since Steve would be moving light weight here, I'd include the jerk in the warm-up to loosen up the muscles and joints, and to help with his recovery from the previous two days).

5 Rounds (rest as needed b/t rounds)
- 3 Muscle Snatches (Use 60-70% of Steve's 1 RM for his Snatch...or whatever weight he can maintain excellent form at)
- 3 High Hang Cleans (Use 60-70% of Steve's 1 RM for his Clean...again technique is the focus here)
- Dead-Hang Pull-Ups to Failure

Post WOD:
I'd really want to focus on opening up Steve's hips and stretching all through his posterior chain and shoulders. I'd get him on the foam roller and/or Trigger Point kit. I'd also go through a series of stretches he should use on his rest day to help speed his recovery.


wrote …

This is, indeed, the first in a series of "You Be The Trainer" articles.

The second article will most likely appear towards the end of the month. It will feature Jenn, a 28-year-old former Division 1 field hockey player. Jenn has lots of gas and tons of heart. She wants to qualify for the CrossFit Games, in the worst way. Three other trainers will weigh in on whether Jenn needs to be held back. Once again, Tony Budding set the problem and will have the last word.

-Daniel Freedman


wrote …

As one of the 40-somethings doing crossfit, it's nice to see this example and the hypothetical considerations geared toward what this person might need/want (e.g. quality of life). The preponderance of CF literature seems geared toward the younger performers, as does the the CF Games.

Perhaps, with reference to USAW style Oly competition, perhaps the CF Games should have age groupings so that those in the 30 and 40+ bracket can also be competitive with our peers in the same age range. Pretty cool seeing 50, 60, 70+ year olds in an Oly meet getting their "competition on"!! CF could encourage this with age bracketing too!


Edward Stedman wrote …

Robert, having age brackets is a great I fully support...just as I support the idea of skills brackets (i.e. beginner, intermediate, elite).


Jeff Vale wrote …

I would either go with heavy front squats or something with pull ups and a squatting movement. Thinking those two movements haven't been worked yet in this cycle. It would also depend on the next series. Maybe you are trying to hammer the posterior chain and the push movements this round and then do the other stuff next set.


wrote …

The main problem with the proposed workout is that it falls into the trap of
Crossfit = Metcon
This proposed programming runs smack into the same problem that crosstraining in the 1980s encountered. What happened then was that instead of truly crossing over into a completely different modality of sport in the off-season, athletes merely swapped one sport for another sport of nearly identical physical demands. Tennis players took up soccer, endurance runners took up long distance cycling, football players took up rugby, basketball players started playing volleyball. Most of the time the athletes didn't even need a different shoe! as seen by the emergence of the cross-training shoe first marketed in 1990. That was probably the coffin nail that finished off the effectiveness of crosstraining. Here, the proposed workout is simply the third metcon workout in a row! That's not Crossfit, that's specializing in metcons.

I would suggest skills and drills on his weaknesses (yes, probably the Olympic lifts or gymnastics) and then finish the workout with a 1-1-1-1-1 one-rep max strength exercise. Or I'd throw him into the swimming pool. How about some indoor climbing? Jeez -- something, anything more creative and different than "squat, push, pull for time".


wrote …

Haven't read the main article yet, just the teaser, and no comments bar the first one.

My first thoughts are that this wod is a bit of a killer given what the client has already done, but okay for today given that he's coming to be trained and can give a little more, a little more efficiently, with a trainer taking him through.

He'd definitely be doing something sloooooowww and heeeeeaaavvy tomorrow, though


wrote …

with the benefit of further reading and more consideration, i amend my previous stance on the w.o.d being okay for Steve...

He'd definitely benefit more from a slower heavier day with lower rep range TODAY mixed with some pulling, and save the prescribed w.o.d for tomorrow perhaps, maybe scaled down a little from the original 50- on down, though.


wrote …

Strength day, no question.


wrote …

i thought Lynne too.

As an aside, I wanted to ask everybody about the last completed cycle on the main site, which I follow.

I'm one cycle behind and..have just completed

8 rounds of Mary - including a good amount of one legged squats
7x1 back squat, including my 1rm - hooray!

now..with sore legs and a tight lower back, I'm looking at an AMRAP that includes 15 reps of 110lb squat cleans.

I'll probably scale to 95 lb but my question is this - do I trust the programming here or not?

I believe in following main site WODs - they know more about training than me and I have experienced remarkable results. I am also a keen trainer and strong enough to get through this.

Do I think -
"well, they must realise that after the last two days my legs will be sore and I should therefore push through this"
or do I think
"my legs are stuffed, I'll do Lynne"

I guess I know the answer, so is the programming duff?

sorry for the essay but it's rare that I feel so shattered after day 2 of the cycle


Ross Blake wrote …

The dudes lower back and hips might be fried from all the deadlifts, wall ball etc.

I reckon a pull up ladder, snatch/ clean work, mobility day or even some kind of sit up wod..So many options..

But mostly just a different energy system and some movements to help rebalance him out as he's still building up his work capacity..

This is fun... Hope i'm close to what the trainers recomend..


replied to comment from Nick Williams

The main site WOD is great programming, but it's programming for the entire CrossFit community with the prescription oriented toward the elite. It is up to you to modify that to meet your unique situation.

You ask if you can trust the programming. Yes, you can trust it, but that doesn't mean you should do it. Fitness is a long game, and there is no substitute for common sense. Could you overdo it with this programming? Of course. But that's true for almost anything.

Your post didn't say how long you've been following the workouts. One of the great benefits to following them is that you won't be biased by your own strengths and weaknesses. Many people skip workouts because they don't like the particulars of that workout. I believe that's a mistake. But skipping, scaling, modifying, or substituting a workout because you're wrecked seems wise to me.


wrote …

Thanks Tony

I've been following the programming for about 9 months amd am pretty much 80% on main site wods. I have to scalethe weight on some of the very heavy lifting workouts and a few of the very technical gymnastics stuff but other than that I go as r/x. Some of my times are comparatively good, others not so.

To be honest I forgot to mention that I finished yesterday with a 1x20 set of bowyweight sqauts, which may explain some more of the tightness.

I think what I'll do is go to the gym and warm up well and then guage my body and then scale back even further than perhaps I would have done. I may actually swap squat cleans to power cleans if my legs are still very sore.
You raise an interesting point about skipping workouts - I have done that a few times when I don't like the look of something (virtual shovelling).

thanks for your advice - it's appreciated


wrote …

well, just did the workout and dropped weight to 40kg and subbed power cleans for squat cleans.

happy with the change as it kept most of the effort off my quads and hamstrings.

8 completed sets and 6 power cleans in 20 mins.

appreciate the advice Tony and will listen to my body more and look to scale or substitute as opposed to change the workout completely, particularly on the third WOD of the cycle when my 37 year old frame begins to creak


replied to comment from Lincoln Brigham

Very refreshing Lincoln. With all of the emphasis on the CrossFit Games the last 2 years I think "regularly learn and play new sports" has fallen by the wayside. It seems as though many people are crossfitting to get better at crossfitting.

I'm glad to see Tony recognize and comment on Steve's quality of life.
Consistently trashed = no fun = stop coming to the gym.


wrote …

Everybody's Crossfitting to get better at Crossfitting because of the strength required to compete at the games. The required weights are getting much heavier and playing basketball or tennis or swimming or rock climbing will not take a 185# powerclean max to a 225# powerclean max, nor will it take a 365# deadlift max to a 450# deadlift max.

It appears that the programmers of the games qualifiers are as in love with the strength aspect as much as myself. Although personally I'd like to see more gymnastic movements with higher volume. More muscleups, double unders, pushups, handstand pushups. It seems that the pullup is the only gymnastic movement that is given the run it deserves.


replied to comment from jake buchanan


Agree 100% that a game of tennis will likely not substantially increase a person's deadlift. But this article is about Steve, not a person shooting for top 10 at the crossfit games. One of Coach Glassman's stated goals is the advancement of human performance and to that end the CrossFit Games exist to find the world's fittest individual. I think that we'll see more and more individuals training specifically for the Games and specializing in CrossFit, as oxymoronic as that sounds. These athletes will, more and more, specialize in squatting, pushing, and pulling for time.

But again, this article is about Steve the Banker. I'll wager that he's more interested (again, paraphrasing Coach Glassman) in being able to pick up his grandchildren, get the groceries in from the car, and make time with the ladies when he's 85 than qualifying for the CF Games. He wants to increase his work capacity and maintain that increased work capacity across his lifespan. To that end, he needs to keep coming to the gym, and I'll bet an occasional game of tennis, hooverball, or some rock-climbing will serve that goal better than another WOD of squatting, pushing, and pulling for time.


wrote …

How about giving the poor guy the day off? He really dogged it on "Kelly" so I would deduce that there is probably not much left in the tank for any training. I wonder if a 3 on 1 off schedule is even appropriate for an older guy at his ability level.

I'm speaking from my own experience. I'm almost a cookie-cutter version of Steve - 40 years old, can do some WODs rx'd some not (usually the weights are scaled down), have about 9 mos experience.

I have come to the conclusion that I just can't do Crossfit 5 1/2 days a week. Currently, I am on a 4 day a week schedule: M,Tu,Th,F. By the time Saturday rolls around, after working out 4 out of the last 5 days, I am whupped. On Monday I am fresh and ready to get some again. I seem to be able to stick with this schedule. Trying to go for three WODs in a row just made for sporadic training as I wore down to a nub pretty quickly and had to take several days off.

I think the number of WOD a week is something else that can be considered for scaling especially for a masters level athlete.


wrote …

I'm thinking like Matt on this one. At 52, I'm an "older guy." On the third day, I often like to work at stretches, mobility, skills & drills. I've been CrossFitting four 1/2 years, able to do WODS as rxd, but sometimes not for three rxd WODS in a row without scaling back the intensity. I don't like to do that since intensity is where the "good stuff" is. I seem to enjoy better intensity/results when I make the third day one of active rest. Alibi: I recently aquired a foam roller from Stewart Venable of CrossFit Results (thanks Stewart!), and what a difference in recovery.


wrote …

I have not read the rest of the article yet but I'd go with a 5's back or front squat day. Guys fried from Diane and Kelly murdered poor Steve. Poor dude's been metcon'd hard this week. Kewl article.


wrote …

This dude needs to man up and get through the kettlebell swings and push-ups! Seriously, that is what CrossFit is all about - that third brutal day where you think you just can't make it but then you do! As a trainer you should question his manhood and push him through. This will build his mental toughness for when challenging WODs pop up again - he will remember these three days! Old guys like Col. Monroe need to get broken off just like the young guys. (Just kidding sir!)

Okay, seriously, I like a five rounds of 1 weighted PU, 3 strict, 5 kipping, rest 2 minutes in between rounds. No time component, task orient and keep track of fouls as the metric so the next time he can compare fouls instead of time (observable, recordable, repeatable). A sense of accomplishment is good after the times he posted.

Maybe you decide to just stop him at three rounds. This is a good day to talk about nutrition, since he is probably hurting, he might be receptive if he has been resistent to this point.


wrote …

What comes next depends on the guy's physiology and body type. "Kelly" at that time would have been a supreme effort if for example he's 6'tall, 9%bf and weighs 275lbs ,there are too many variables not knowing or seeing the guy, to accuratly prescibe what comes next.


wrote …


Awesome concept. Keep em coming! The interactive aspect, along with the rationale from several coaches, is a great idea.

Another cool idea would be a video showing a couple real clients actually deadlifting (or pressing, etc), then having coaches review the film and discuss whether they would step in to lower weight, make refinements, or what they would have allowed in an actual session or group workout.

The thing all coaches struggle with (whether they acknowledge it or not) is that when you coach inside your own box, it is easy to believe yourself. However, it can be difficult to get feedback when you maintain a busy coaching schedule or do not have access to other coaches that are more experienced than yourself.

Good coaching is synonymous with good judgment. Contributions like this facilitate the development of that judgment. This is badass!


wrote …

My I am off to see what some of the wonderful CF trainers had to say. Really, Really great idea for an article!!!

Since wednesday was such a long workout and diane is no slouch, I believe that Thursday should be used mostly to practice skills, namely olympic lifting. Steve will be practicing the snatch today. The reps will be kept low to focus on form and explosiveness (singles and doubles). Also, since the snatch is one of the most difficult lifts to learn it is nice to be able to do it in a one on one training session.

If time permits or if steve really has his heart set on doing a metcon a short 10 minute or less metcon. An example would be AMRAP in 7 min of 7 med ball cleans and 7 burpees.


wrote …

I agree with many of the comments posted. I am similar to "Steve" age wise, I'm 44. But have been training for almost 6 years. Lincoln's point struck a nerve with me and really mirrors where my workouts have been headed in the past year. Learn and play new games is an important part of the Crossfit mix that we as trainers shouldn't lose sight of.
Great article!! Love the dialogue and reading this informed discussion has been thought provoking and validating.

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