Session: connection failed

A Theoretical Template for CrossFit Endurance Programming by John McBrien - CrossFit Journal

In CrossFit Endurance, Running

September 15, 2010

PDF Article

John McBrien offers basic programming for single-sport and multi-sport athletes who are looking to improve their endurance while training with CrossFit.

In February 2003, Coach Greg Glassman wrote an article titled Theoretical Template for CrossFit’s Programming, which provided some of the rationale behind the workout of the day (WOD) and a foundation for understanding the specifics of CrossFit programming. Today, there has in many ways been an evolution in CrossFit programming due to the creation of programs such as the CrossFit strength bias and more sport-specific programs such as CrossFit Football and CrossFit Endurance.

Using Coach Glassman’s 2003 article as an example, our goal is to provide a theoretical template or model for CrossFit Endurance programming as a means for improving not only the sport-specific capacity of an endurance athlete, but also the broad work capacity of the CrossFit athlete.

Free Download


13 Comments on “A Theoretical Template for CrossFit Endurance Programming”


Patrick Mcelhone wrote …

Did John Steger follow this template, CF 5-6x/week with 2 CFE, one interval, one stamina/TT, exclusively to run the 2:59? Did he do any other long distance training (ruck marches in prep for IOBC/Advanced Camp, long ROTC runs)?


wrote …

Nice article, John.

I'd love to see follow up articles about how to program workouts for each discipline - an actual template someone followed while training for a race - and not just how to set up one week worth of workouts. I know the belief in typical 'periodization' isn't really followed (3 weeks of building, 1 week of recovery), but starting off with 8x200m repeats and a 5K TT one week, then jumping up to 4x1000m repeats and a 90 minute tempo run probably isn't the correct way to progress. I understand the progression of technique, intensity, and volume, but that's not demonstrated here.

How would you progress yet still meet the requirements in the article of "constant variance" - utilization of different energy
pathways, time domains, etc. I don't think seeing one week is enough to say you can program running wods or write up a 12 week training program for a triathlete. Again, a follow up article that details workouts with the different pathways would be appreciated. I've been to two CFE certs and I still feel like I have a lot to learn.


replied to comment from Patrick Mcelhone


Having worked with John personally, I know that he was following a strict CF/CFE prescription specifically for the marathon. In fact, I don't believe he exceeded 10 miles in his training leading up to the race.

As for his ROTC and military-specific training, I can't speak to what the Battalion was doing on a weekly basis for PT. I've called John and will follow up with more details on anything additional that may have been a part of his weekly training (although not specifically geared towards the marathon).


replied to comment from Jen Jacobs

Thank you, Jen!

Your point about progressing from 8x200m and a 5k to 4x1000m and a 90-minute Tempo is well taken. For an athlete following the site as prescribed, this sort of progression is not unexpected and is likely something that such an athlete should be able to handle. However, for an athlete who is just beginning to foray into utilizing the CF/CFE prescription, such a drastic increase in volume so quickly is likely too drastic. It also may not provide an opportunity to develop technique and intensity progressively as well, given that a "green" athlete will likely breakdown.

This is where our understanding of an athlete's capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses comes into play; we, as coaches, must determine what kind of progression is appropriate. With that said, I wouldn't say that periodization as a concept is entirely ignored. In many ways, we are using a modified conjugate method style of periodization in our own programming with 4 different pathways to choose from. Our design is not as explicit or defined as utilizing a Westside-inspired strength bias for example, but when one considers how to program the 4 pathways for our workouts, it is to an extent being implemented in practice. Based on how my athletes are performing or progressing, for example, I may bias a week's programming towards a particular pathway or elect to use all of them to an extent.

It can be rather fruitless to write a 12-week program for a triathlete if in week one that athlete is incapable of meeting the requirements of each interval workout or of some interval workouts. So with that in mind, we program based off of daily or weekly energy expenditure. If said athlete was unable to hold the 8x200m to what I deem satisfactory, I wouldn't progress that athlete in terms of volume and may tamper with intensity to achieve a positive stimulus or improvement.

As simple as it may sound, I view programming as more art than science, although science is certainly not ignored or downplayed. It is very much a black box approach that continues to grow and evolve. Use this template as a means for guiding your programming. Also check out for some examples and templates of full programs, which we will continue to grow. I also plan to expand on this article in the future.


wrote …


Thanks for the reply. It's basically everything I was thinking of but failed to include or go more into detail about. A progression such as what I mentioned wouldn't be ideal for someone just starting off, but would be do able for someone who has the training (technique, intensity) and running background.

Regarding a program, I was thinking more along the lines of a completed schedule - even of someone's last 6-9 weeks leading up to a race. Similar to this would be Shane's 100 mile program from last year and Rookie's 50K training program from 2007 in the Journal. Granted, these are written specifically for these athletes based on previous workouts, it would give readers a better idea of what a cycle might look like.

I agree, that it's very much an art form and there's not a 'one size fits all' approach. I'm sure some coaches do that, so it would be interesting to see their results.

Looking forward to future articles.


wrote …

Nice McB! Can't wait to have you down in Blacksburg for a running seminar!!


replied to comment from Patrick Mcelhone


I followed up with John and while training for the marathon, he was also simultaneously training for Ranger Challenge so he was rucking 3 or 4 times per month. Outside of what was required of him in PT and his rucking, he followed the prescription.


Dane Thomas wrote …

Thanks for the insight. I'll use it during my winter and spring training preparing for a multi-event track and field competition (shot put, high jump, long jump, javelin, 100m and 400m) in late May while getting ready to ride 300km/186 miles in under 9 hours on my road bike 3 weeks later.


Tammi Byxbee wrote …

Attended John's seminar this past weekend- I was already a believer in this method-it's just trying to convince others I know who are training injured, sick all of the time, or not reaching their goals they need to change their game plan.


wrote …

Great article. I've been hoping for something like this related to CFE for some time.

One area of CFE that's always confused/challenged me to understand was how to program with CF and make the two play nicely together.

In the theoretical CF programming guide it specifies the type of modality combinations to do on each of the days be it a 3 on 1 off or a 5 on 2 off cycle, it would be very useful to have this information mapped into the CFE programming guide. What I've always wonder about, do you do CF workouts with running for the metcon component and then not do an interval CFE workout that day or do you double up or never do running in a CF workout.

I've asked this question and a lot of people just follow the main site for the CF and for CFE workout but I've notice a couple of times where you get a CF workout with running and then you are tagged to a CFE interval workout on the same day. Given this it seems to me that there is the need to do some custom programming (using other wods or what not) and understand how to pair things.

If anyone has insight into this I'd love to hear comments.


replied to comment from Tony Mauro


If you can manage it, you'll want to likely minimize the amount of running you do in a WOD when utilizing a CFE prescription. Why? The goal should be to maintain a high amount of quality in your running workouts, which is typically found in CFE workouts more so than a metcon that has 400m or 800m repeats.

With that said, I know that some boxes, like San Francisco CrossFit when training for the Quad Dipsea, actually added more running into programming to get some more specificity with it. It ultimately depends on the athlete and the situation. If you're tagged to do a 5k on the CF main site, that is a situation where you would not want to do an interval. Always exercise judgment.


wrote …


I'm currently training for an Iron Man and wated to know if there was a week by week training schedule or book written on CFE. I've been doing CF since Sept. 2011 and love every minute of it but enjoy my triathlon training as well. I ran a marathon back in October and felt fantastic. I'm going to say it was the 1.5 month of CF.

This is what I have put together per week: CF 3x, two shorter swims, two shorter runs, I teach spin during the week 3-5x per week and on Saturday I do a long ride and Sunday a long run. I take Fridays off. Oh yeah yoga 2x week. :)

I wanted more info on the CFE, could you please send me in the right direction or if there are any books that would be fantastic.

Thanks for your help in advance. I've changed my training progam and just a little nervous, due to taking out alot of long distances but putting total faith into CF.



wrote …


Your best bet for a "training schedule" is this link: Other than that, the site is where our programming will always be.

Also take a look at our site, there are a plethora of IM athletes using the CFE method that can help answer your questions and give you advice on how to transition from a more traditional plan. Good luck!

Leave a comment

Comments (You may use HTML tags for style)