You Be the Trainer #3

By Tony Budding, Chuck Carswell, Miranda Oldroyd, Chris Spealler

In Coaching, CrossFit

August 02, 2009

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Tony Budding’s newest hypothetical client is out of shape. She’s sore after completing her three private sessions, but you decided she’s skilled enough to join the main group—barely. But is she ready for the scheduled WOD? Compare your opinion with those of Chuck Carswell, Miranda Oldroyd and Chris Spealler.

Amy is a 34-year-old/mother of three. Amy had never touched a barbell before her first visit to your gym last week. She is 5’3” and weighs 145 lb. Amy has no formal athletic background. Over the years, she’s done some running and sporadic training at a Globo Gym.

You require all new clients to do three private training sessions to go over the nine basic CrossFit movements. Amy got wobbly at the bottom of the squats. Otherwise, she moved well. Her regular jumps were good, but she got confused when trying to jump with PVC. Amy did short workouts at the end of her three private sessions last week. They were:

Max rounds in 5 minutes of:
3 knee push-ups
5 AbMat sit-ups
7 squats
Amy got six rounds.

15-12-9 reps each of:
12 dumbbell push presses (12 lb.)
PVC front squats
Standing ring rows
Amy completed the workout in 8:14 but had to re-do nearly a dozen squats because she didn’t go deep enough.

Three rounds of:
20 deadlifts (22 lb. bar)
20 wall-ball shots (6 lb.)
Amy completed the workout in 6:26.

It is now Monday. Amy is in for her first group class. She reports that she was very sore over the weekend, particularly in her inner thighs and quads. It’s a little better now, but she’s still uncomfortable.

The scheduled class workout is four rounds for time of:
10 medicine-ball cleans
10 kettlebell swings
10 jumping pull-ups
10 burpees

You planned to have Amy use an 8 lb. medicine ball and 12 kg kettlebell. Do you stick with the plan?

Post your opinion to comments and read on to compare your answer to those of top CrossFit trainers.

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30 Comments on “You Be the Trainer #3”


wrote …

I'd stick to the plan. The workout planned would be a great active recovery workout. As long as I felt comfortable with Amy's ability I would progress her. If for some reason I had some "red flags" then I wouldn't. Having sore quads and adductor are a normal reaction for an inactive body to feel after a week of activity.


Jay Ashman wrote …

Soreness is part of any beginner's workout plan. Until you get used to the work and the movements you will be sore in places you didn't even know HAD muscles.

If she is that sore then maybe scaling down is the best bet. I don't think that 4 rounds is the best idea.

Maybe subbing a run.

The scheduled class workout is four rounds for time of:
10 medicine-ball cleans
10 kettlebell swings
10 jumping pull-ups
10 burpees

Could be:

3 rounds
200m run
5 jumping pullups
10 KB swings

something easier than the proposed one, she is new, we don't want to kill the poor girl.


wrote …

the workout is fine. just keep an eye on here. talk to her before the workout to see if she has been drinking water and has eaten properly before the WOD.


wrote …

I dont think the loads are excessive, I would probably scale the burpees back to kick backs as she struggles with knee push ups, the soreness is pretty normal and she has had 2 days recovery.
Let her form be the guide,keep an eye on her and cut a round if needed?
Good advice about water etc.


wrote …

Seems to me she could do the WOD in a scaled manner. Maybe 3 rounds instead of 4. Probably a lighter KB. Burpees would be on the knees and reduced to 5 per round. If she begs for more next time, then scale up. The recommendations of the experts would require individual coaching, not integration into the class.


replied to comment from Ben Tribble

I agree with Ben about the suggested changes (which are really entirely different WODs) requiring individual coaching rather than integration. If the coach is working solo, it's going to be tough to keep an eye on Amy and everyone else at the same time; cutting her total work volume via reducing reps, rounds, or both might be a more realistic path.

Also, it seems likely to me that some of her soreness may have come from all those wall ball shots Friday. I haven't been to a cert, but after 5 years of CF I still get sore inner thighs from high reps of wall ball, med ball cleans, ball slams and similar movements. I'd think it would be more important for her to get proper squat form nailed down before progressing much more, and eliminating med ball cleans would be the best favor you could do her traps and thighs at the moment.

I think I'd go with 3-4 rounds of:

10 squats
10 KB swings (8 kg)
10 ring rows
10 pushups (knees)

This would reinforce the movements she's learned the previous week, and only adds one new skill (the KB swing), vs. the 2-3 new skills the trainers in the article recommended. Overall volume is a little higher but the numbers really go up more on the upper body moves vs. lower body.


wrote …

Are you kidding me?? Absolutely not would I put her through the scheduled WOD. She's wobbly at the bottom of a squat, what makes you think that she can handle the rigor of doing a medicine ball clean?

Kettlebell swings are difficult for even people with respectable athletic backgrounds, in my opinion she would get quickly frustrated and even if she did have the tenacity to get through, the next day she would be in so much pain that she wouldn't even think of returning.

And then jumping pullups? After medicine ball cleans (which are difficult to perform) and kettlebell swings (that kicked her ass), jumping pullups would put her over the edge. Lastly, throwing burpees into the mix, especially at a beginner crossfitting athlete is unacceptable and IMO dangerous. You would probably lose a client as well.

This client needs at least another month or so of practice with the fundamental crossfit functional movements. Time should not be held as an important aspect of her training until she can demonstrate competence in AT LEAST the most basic of the functional movements, the squat.


wrote …

What is the extent of her soreness? The impression I get is that she is sore but not sore to the point where her range of motion is significantly hindered. I ask this becuase this has happened to me with my legs after a large volume squat heavy workout. The level of her soreness is how to scale her workout.

The volume and weights seem fine. She can take her time with this one and still be under 20 minutes which is good when your body is still adjusting to the movements.


wrote …

Would three short be enough of an Intro to Crossfit for any new client? Personally I dont think so. I had eight classes over a month, and it was still very basic but I tried a lot of different movements. She has never done any of these movements. I am not worried about her soreness, just that none of these movements are easy to get immediately. Would I have her do this? It depends on her aptitude. I would definitely cover all of the movements in the class warmup, and watch her. If she got the movements good enough, I would let her go and coach throughout. If not, I would likely cut the reps and give her more attention during the class, especially on the med ball cleans and kb swings.


wrote …

I like some of the suggestions.

I'd eliminate the med ball cleans and replace with assisted squats (i.e hands on upright to encourage good form and reduce met con effect).

Then I'd alter the burpees to an easier scaled version, and finally I'd change it to 3 rounds.

I'm looking at this senario as a solo trainer from an ease of management perspective, and at the same time keeping group cohesiveness and 'esprit de corps'.


wrote …

I think with her performance in the three scheduled sessions, I would scale this workout back. I would also be concerned about her technique on the med ball cleans, so I would make sure to review them, as to make sure her technique was sound. If they were not great, I would substitute sumo deadlifts highpull with the med ball cleans. Her workout would be done with half the reps for each exercise. I would review all of the exercises with the group, as I think perfecting the basics needs to be stressed. This allows others in the to perfect their technique,as well it allows others to naturally become group leaders and mentors. She will enjoy being part of the group.


wrote …

Without reading what the other fine trainers said, here's my kneejerk assessment.

I wouldn't allow her to perform the WOD. She's sore, and a great candidate for Rhabdo still, in my opinion. Those Kettlebell swings would bother me, with the eccentric loading inherent with the movement, not to mention that under the duress of the WOD, failure would most likely mean that Amy wouldn't be relying on powerful hip extension to power the bell up to the level of the Rx'd American Swing, but that she would start to rely on the traps and delts to assist the Kb upwards.

Further, I think that to introduce a complex movement such as the Med ball clean at intensity, really is setting up this budding CrossFitter, (Amy) up for delayed success. Better to really nail the mechanics of the squat, (depth being key here) and demonstrate consistency with the movement, than to start to ingrain bad habits that ultimately lead to the need to "deprogram" the athlete.

In my humble opinion, I would never let the cost of personal training sessions be the limiting factor with what is done with a new athlete's success. The business owner side would of course point to the various other options available, like personal coaching, but the trainer/advocate would always be thinking about how to sustain her momentum relative to her budget.

As an affiliate owner/trainer, I'd probably try and get creative, like, apply her group fees to offset short skill work sessions, or, have her attend the next Elements sequence.

Last, I'd try and change the conditions of the hypothetical Elements, moving more towards an on ramp program like Norcal or BGI Crossfit.

Just my humble two cents...

CrossFit San Elijo


wrote …

I liked the insertion of semi-short duration, moderate intensity rows, and pulls vs more shrugging. Additionally, I've got to say I really like this feature and hope to see it in the CFJ rotation regularly. Very helpful/interesting.



wrote …

I would first further examine the extent of her soreness. If it is nothing but DOMS, then I would put her through a modified version of the wod.

4 Rounds:
200 meter Run (She ran at Globo Gym and has not yet run at CF Gym)
10# kettlebell Swings
10 jumping Pullups
10 Push ups


wrote …

The workout seems fine for her to do. I would make sure she gets in a good warm-up before the workout. The burpees would be on the kness. If she is struggling after 2 rounds, I would scale her W.O.D down to 3 rounds.


Jeff Barnett wrote …

Before examining the opinion of the top trainers, here's my take:

She's struggling with squat depth, which probably means her hamstrings are tight. She's also still fatigued from Friday. This is going to make the kettlebell swings very difficult, and she's going to try to muscle through them with shoulders instead of hip thrust. The burpees will also generally murder her, especially if her quads and inner thighs are fatigued, as in the problem statement. I think the medicine ball is fine at 8 lb. I would lower the kettlebell to 1/2 pood (8 kg) and reduce the burpees to 5 per round. I would keep her at 4 rounds to maintain consistency with the class so Amy can feel like she's still competing with the other athletes. This makes her WOD

4 rounds for time of
10 medicine ball clean (8 lb)
10 kettlebell swings (8 kg)
10 jumping pullups
5 burpees

It will take her a while to trudge through it, but she's eventually got to work in longer time domains than 5-8 minutes, and this WOD is as good as any for starting that progress. If I had more information I might choose to lower her WOD to 3 rounds instead of 4. Four seems like it will be challenging but doable.
After reading the trainer opinions I might have made a mistake by sticking with med ball cleans and jumping pullups, but I think I got it right by reducing the KB swings and number of burpees. My comments were designed with group integration in mind. I didn't want to have Amy doing a completely different WOD while I coached the regular WOD, so I thought scaling was best.


wrote …

I love this exercise. Thank you Tony for the hypothetical examples...I am learning alot reading the different responses.

My two cents is this: I would let her be a part of the class but with scaling. In the class warmup and right before the workout I would have her and the class work on their form on all the movements or variations of the movements for the WOD and then assess the number of rounds based on her ability to maintain proper form.

I would sub the med ball cleans with med ball squats(8lb ball)...I would use an 8kg kettlebell instead of 12kg for the swings. (after she did a few swings and I knew she was competent and understood the mechanics and form)I have seen clients pick this movement up quickly especially as fatigue begins to set in they really start to understand the "active hip" aspect of a swing

I would sub the jumping pullups with ring rows to allow the lower body some relief and I would have her do the squat and thrust aspect of the burpee maybe not the push up unless knee pushups were done with proper mechanics...

I would keep the 4 rounds but cut the reps down to 7 instead of 10's...I think that load would be a little easier to recover from than 3 rounds of 10's...even though it is somewhat close to the same volume...that based on her 60 wallballs from Friday...Iwould also reserve the right beforehand to stop her at 3 rounds if her form is starting to fail.

People progress as fast as we let them and this is no different...keeping mechanics first she can obviously pace herself with the speed of repetitions and stay out of the "red zone"...if her mindset is "i want to get better" she will be back,I have seen many times personal trainers back off what is best for the client by letting the client lead(and there is a fear the client will quit and let's face it sometimes money is the motivation...not so much for professional coaches but for what I call Hobbyist Trainers)...first the client must agree to be coachable and the coach must display a competency with the client and the class to create the element of trust...CrossFit is not easy but it is for anyone and everyone IF they want what CrossFit can give them...

I would integrate her into the class and the culture right away by giving her the same quality time and coaching the rest of the class gets...I don't think in her present condition she would be a case for Rhabdo, all I have read shows she wouldn't have the conditioning to push that hard and fast as to bring that on...


wrote …

Very interesting with the hypothetical situations. Good to see people putting lots of thought into their solutions!

Sorry to stray off topic, but just had a quick question! Am still a newb and was wondering if someone could tell me where the whole 'infidel' thing comes from and what the significance is? It's been bugging me for ages!



wrote …

Good to see a mother of 3 just trying to get control of her fittness, Sore just part of the game.. Stick to the program Sempter Fi Amy


Adam Neiffer wrote …

I want to make my own comments before being influenced by reading any of the previous posts. I apologize ahead of time if it ends up being redundant.

Amy's first class workout is just as important as any of the three personal sessions. It's a great opportunity to give her a positive experience that encourages her to work hard and be a part of the gym community. Approached incorrectly, it could also be a negative experience that Amy regrets being a part of. The workout as RX'd, would be pretty ugly.

Amy might be more than a little intimidated by the group atmosphere. The workouts were difficult enough for her without the added pressure of keeping up with folks around her. And it's important to remember the mechanics-consistency-intensity progression. Amy has never, ever done a Med. Ball Clean-not one. Expecting her to do 4 rounds of 10 of such a technically demanding movement with any resemblance of proper mechanics isn't realistic. That said, she can begin building the mechanics. I'd modify the MB cleans by having Amy do explosive MB deadlift-to-shrugs. MB front squats would also be a good option, but since her quads are sore and there are burpees later, I think MB deadlifts with a shrug would be better. They'd set a foundation for the MB clean while still providing a challenge.

Since Amy is a good mover, she should have no problem picking up and executing the KB swings.

Diddo on the jumping pullups. Just set her up with a manageable height.

The burpees would be a struggle. Since she was doing knee pushups on her first day, 40 full burpees during a WOD would be a disaster. Set her up for success by doing squat thrusts (burpee without the pushup), drop her to her knees during the pushup phase of the burpee, or elevate her pushups on a box or bench. Any of these will give her plenty of challenge, and she'll finish the same day.

So Amy's scaled version of the WOD would look like:

4 rounds for time of:
10 MB deadlifts-to-shrugs
10 KB swings
10 jumping pullups
10 burpees (with knee pushups)

Amy will be spent after four rounds, but not humiliated. She'll most likely finish last, but it should be in the ballpark of everyone else. Most importantly, she'll leave with a sense of accomplishment that she participated and held her own in her first group class. She'll be back tomorrow, and in a couple months, she'll have an RX next to her name on the whiteboard.


wrote …

This was a very helpful article. I had a new client today (I read this last night). She was shaky in the bottom of the squat and had a very low level of fitness. I designed a very easy workout for her that allowed her to work on form, still feel some resistance, but not hurt her or scare her off. She'll still be very sore tomorrow, but she's not comfortable being uncomfortable yet. And that's fine. Thanks for this article. It really helped me gain insight that the best trainers around have. That's invaluable. At only $25/year, it's a steal ;-)


wrote …

Well she is definitely sore from the first three days which is common for starting CF but especially for someone who hasn't had alot of background or coming from a good base. But this will work it self out in time. Definitely need to ask about how well hydrated she is and how she feels overall. She has issues with her squat which needs to be addressed. But also her core probably needs some work too. The warm-up here is key. doing some dynamic stretches along with the functional movements for the exercises being performed today. Pay particular attention to her movements ecspecially on the squats, med ball cleans, and kb swings. Doing the warm-up with lighter weights will help with gauging her for the WO. If I need to drop the weight I will. Her WO would look like this:
7 medicine-ball cleans
7 kettlebell swings
7 jumping pull-ups
7 burpees
Shorten the rds and the reps. This way she focus on getting 7 good reps of each exercise and not get frustrated with having to redo reps. Her cool down is very important as well. PNF and roller stretches and show her how to do PNF stretches on her own. She should repeat the PNFs at least 2 more times that day and 3-4 times the next day to help with her recovery.


wrote …

i would scale her down to 3 rounds, 7 reps per movement. probably give her a 18LB KB. This should let her be competitive with the rest of the group. i would also sub med ball front squats for med ball clean until her squat depth became not a problem and she displayed less wobble at the bottom.
my wod for her
3 rounds
7med ball front squats 8lb
7kb swings 18lb
7 jumping pullups (not enough eccentric movement for rhabdo)
7 burpees.

with only 7 per round she should be able to focus on the completion and quality of each rep, and its only seven so intensity should be there.


wrote …

After only 3 introductory sessions you think it is okay for a client with basically no athletic background to do even just 40 medball cleans & 40 kb swings with sore legs and wobbly air squats? Hmm.. no. And to top it off jumping pullups & burpees? No.
In her 3 previous sessions, each WOD was more reps than the one before it. This proposed WOD follows in that same tradition. How about a WOD with more of a row/run factor, and less total reps-maybe some of the same movements, but cut reps, for example:

3 rounds:
Run 400/Row 500
12 jumping pullups
10kb swings
8 burpees

-I left out the med ball cleans as her air squat alone was wobbly. Put the movement in her warmup, though, as skill work, instead of a timed WOD.
Brandon Crossfit NE Georgia


wrote …

I would have Amy pull back for a day and have her do some monostructural work such as rowing, running or skipping rope followed by mobility drills. Amy is clearly the type that will walk away from CrossFit because it is "too hard" or "painful." As Amy progresses, she will be accustomed to working out while sore and embrace the soreness because of all of the gains that she made. Amy has certainly not seen anything but soreness and pain after 3 workouts and will equate CrossFit as torture and not as something that will improve the quality of her life.

AJ from Brooklyn


wrote …

Definitely drop the WOD to three rounds.

Change MB cleans to either MB front squats or just air squats, with the focus on form & depth, rather than time. Maybe a form of squat therapy, like facing-the-wall squats.

Introduce her to KB swings & see how well she picks them up. Some people "get it" right away, some people struggle for months. If she gets it right away, drop the weight to 18lbs. If she doesn't get it right away, drop it from her WOD, and practice it another day.

Replace jumping pullups with knees-to-elbows if she has the core strength for those. If not, ring rows or band-assisted pullups. Any of those options will build toward pullups without beating up the legs today.

I'd keep burpees, but just focus on the functionality of getting flat on the ground & back to standing. No pushup necessary, and have her either squat thrust down, or even lunge down.

Finally, 7 reps per exercise.


I totally agree with John Wilson. Need to let her be a part of the class and cutting down the reps and scaling the weight as needed is obvious. And many of you must have missed the part where it said she learned med ball cleans in her 3 private sessions. I would have here do
7 med ball front squats
7 kb swings
7 jumping pullups
7 burpees

If the box is the right heighth jumping pullups shouldn't be a problem. And then you always have the option of cutting it downd to 3 rounds. If you totally change the workout she might feel singled out, and it would be more difficult to coach with a single trainer.


wrote …

Although sore this is something that all first time crossfitters go through, hell must experienced crossfitters are still sore after workouts I know I am. Unless the tenderness in her legs are interfering with her ROM on the movements and the "form" is suffering the proposed workout is fine with scaling. I would have her perform the following to maintain her as part of the group setting:

10 MED BALL DL Shrug
10 KB Swings (8kg)
10 Jumping pullups
10 burpees from knees.

This workout would provide enough of a stimulus for her to feel included in the group however the modifications provided would also allow her to get through the workout without killing herself.


wrote …

In my humble opinion without reading what other people wrote above, I'd probably scale as follows:

3 rounds for time
10 wall squats: instead of the MBC (her form will probably go to crap in these since it did previously in the beginner wod with her squats. Going to proper depth or going to the depth she can in good form facing the wall. (since she missed that quite a bit in her previous wods)(she couldn't do one squat consistently let alone two in a MBC)

10 KBS (if she shoes good technique in controlling an external object.) Also keep this exercise to keep the hip function in creating power to an object since we omited the wallball)

10 Ring rows (as jumping pullups has a higher eccentric contraction and for a beginner client they can be susceptible to rhabdo with these kinds of movements - remember Strength, skill then intensity)

10 burpees (elevated to a box for the hands or modified on ground level but step backs)

All of these suggestions I made with one of CrossFits motto's in mind "Mechanics, Consistency, Intensity) You can't have the latter before the first.

Also with the idea in mind that for my clients (and myself included) I want them to be in it for the long hall. Not everyone wants to go to the games next year. Some people don't want to be that sore and some do, but I'd rather keep their body sound and safe, I could be a little overly cautious, but I have to remember, most people can't do what I do (or what we do) and this kind of a modified work out that i made for them is a lot!

Niki (CrossFit Voltage)


wrote …

Also trying to salvage the movements in the wod as best I can so she still feels like she is doing what the group is doing.

Niki (CrossFit Voltage)

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