The P-Word

By Chris Moore

In Rest Day/Theory

January 17, 2011

PDF Article

“Constant variation” does not mean “random.” Chris Moore proposes some ideas on CrossFit-style periodization.

Have you ever heard of a “kluge?”

It’s a computing term for an inelegant, inefficient and clumsy solution to a problem.

In his book Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind, Gary Marcus uses our own brains as an example. Think of an old house. It grows with the needs of the homeowner. With time, new additions are stacked on top of the old. Wood, wiring and pipe are added as needed, tying the structure together. If you could look behind those walls, you’d see a tangled mess. But a little fresh paint hides all that. The end result is something functional but rarely optimal.

Your mind works the same way. Primordial, impulsive structures are surrounded by late additions enabling language, planning, reason and restraint. Fresh wiring allows each part of the brain to communicate, but it’s not a perfect solution. Despite our intelligence, we remain susceptible to compulsion, obsession, delusion … all consequence of a confederate mind. As you can imagine, this metaphor applies to more than just computers and brains.



25 Comments on “The P-Word”


wrote …

If anyone finds this topic interesting (components of our mental make up) daniel dennett's book Conciousness Explained, takes the concept of our awareness about as far as anything I have ever read. He uses many of the same computer analogies to derive a theory of awareness. It is a work in the field of philosophy of the mind, but i find it has bearing on our ability to train coach and program.


wrote …

Great article. I've really been interested in programming recently. I remember watching a Crossfit video were Greg Glassman was talking about what he has learned about programming and how he can get somebody to increase their deadlift (I can't remember how much weight approx. 150lbs?) in a year by only training that lift 12 times. I think it would be awesome if you did some Crossfit Journal articles with Greg Glassman going into detail about some of the things he's learned about programming over the years.


wrote …

I agree - obviously, or else I wouldn't have put together an article on the topic. There's so much to learn, so much art, when it comes to programming and periodization.

Crossfit is ripe for experimentation. I hope more athletes will pay very close attention to it.



wrote …

Great reference to Jonathan Haidt's "Happiness Hypothesis" at the end of the article as well. There are a few CrossFitters involved in his lab at UVa, and there's been talk of doing some psychology studies on CrossFitters as well.



Jesse Gray wrote …

Great article, it's nice to see an application of periodized training to Crossfit. The myth that periodization and Crossfit cannot co-exist, that Crossfit is a completely random program needs to be debunked.


wrote …

Chris #4,

That is super cool. I found Jonathan's book to be an amazing read. I would recommend it to anyone. A must.

Jesse #5,

I agree. Everyone seems to think that periodization is a set model. That you do things a certain way. I simply think that it refers to a plan. One must know where they are, and where they would like to go. Then, you can put together your own map of how to get there. That's the rewarding bit. Many people just drift in the breeze, following any idea that comes close. That's no way to train.



wrote …

My goal for 2011 is to get a 400ld dead lift and in order for me to do that I will need to focus more on my strength training, but I am not going to sacrifice my regular wod's and fitness to achieve this. That being said I will need to focus some additional effort on increasing my strength which will translate into a 400lb dead lift and also lead to better WOD's because of my increased strength.

I understand the idea that Crossfit is not completely random, and many people don't get that. It has taken me a while to understand that but it is different for everyone. For myself I like focusing on gymnastic movements and getting stronger in that area, and as a result I am going to be sacrificing some other aspects of my training.


wrote …

Trevor #7,

You understand that certain movements are more important than others...for your definition of fitness. That's dead on. I would just encourage you to play a bit with your focus. You may indeed sacrifice your WODs a bit to get that 400 deadlift. But that doesn't mean that you cannot come back and beat previous pr's. A bit of calculated regression is not a bad thing.

Devils advocate. Best of luck in your training.



wrote …

Even if there is no visible or foreseeable programming going on in the WODs, there is lots of room for individuals to vary the routine. I am finally able to do the WODs as prescribed, but my times are awful. So for the next couple of months I am scaling all the weights to get my times in the acceptable domains. Then there are skills to master. Our gym owners started pushing the muscle up progressions as warm ups and side training. There is are so many variable to play with in CrossFit, that the author's discovery of the secret of no secret is always evident - even if you never tried to formalize a scale and skill progression, as long as you did something different constantly you will see some kind of improvement. Of course being a little more focused about it helps.

As far as the Olympic lifting, I started Everett's 12 week technique development program in conjunction with WODs (10 hours apart during the day), which is light weight so there is no recovery issue. When I enter the next phase, strength and power development, the weights get heavier and I will have to rethink my recovery strategy and the WOD scaling. I need the WODs for GPP, but I want to specialize. So I too am learning all about cycles, recovery, and variables.

That lottery winner getting bored with life is similar to the Hawthorne effect. I'm probably not 100% on the details but here's the short and skinny - Some industrial psychologist noticed that when the light bulbs were changed in the factory, momentarily productivity increased. And when the bulbs were changed back, the same momentary increase in activity was noticed. It had nothing to do with lighting, it is the element of being studied which creates a little motivation. In practice, this is generalized as the theory that explains that any change in the workplace will cause some kind of noticeable effect in productivity, followed by utter boredom. So periodize your life, include lots of vacations and make sure work stays interesting without getting fired.


wrote …

Cain #9,

I think what we are after is optimal improvement. Regarding your quote, "as long as you did something different constantly you will see some kind of improvement", this may not reflect an optimal approach. I want to drive home the point that constant variation is not always the answer. But having said that, if your are making gains with your programming, and you're meeting your goals, then you are on track.

I think your second paragraph reflects sound thinking about your programming. In bringing up weightlifting skills, one must understand that this may come at some expense. It may mean removing some focus from the WOD. But like I said, that doesn't mean making it easy. It just means all time pr's need to be off the table while WL pr's are being pursued. This is not set in stone. Just my thoughts.

Interesting comments to close. Don't think that warrants anything from me.

Best of luck with your training, Cain.



wrote …

Great article Chris. I couldn't believe the timing of it, as I just wrote a post about periodization myself yesterday. I wish I had found yours first, cause I like a lot of your ideas. Right now, I'm on a larger 12-week block, but instead of focusing on PRs and such (I live in rural Japan and don't have access to a gym), I try to focus on a new skill (usually in gymnastics, like HSPU/planche/etc.).

I still keep some randomization in my WODs, but try to weigh movements that train that skill more heavily. You could say I load the hopper with more of those exercises. :)Then after 12-weeks I take a de-loading week.

But I like the idea of the smaller 4-block schedule with alternating intensity. In my upcoming 12-week skill block, I'm going to try separating it out into 3, 4-block schedules where I focus on 3 different lifts all building towards one skill. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thanks for the great article.


Oh yea, and if you want to see the blog post I wrote, you can check it out here.

Peace y'all.


wrote …


One, I hope to visit rural japan one day. Jealous.

Two, I think you'll really like a shorter cycle. 12 weeks is really long. I couldn't stay hungry to train for that period of time. 4 weeks is money.

Best of luck with your experiment.



replied to comment from Matthew Myers

Err, sorry, that link should be:

It's awesome how much discussion goes on within the CrossFit community, and how much everyone supports each other. Much love y'all


wrote …

Great article Chris. Thanks


wrote …

Thanks, Jay.


Ben O'Grady wrote …

Hi Chris, et al. Timely article, I was thinking about this very subject over the weekend. My background is in rowing and I use Crossfit as a way to supplement my off-the-water strength training and also as a "mental break" (a whole other subject).

In rowing, our training is periodized 100% but our training focus is on the three energy systems: aerobic, anaerobic, and ATP-PC. We go so far as to break those systems down into various zones and we train each zone. I've never heard or seen anyone talk about periodizing the 3 energy systems in Crossfit. My question is, should we be doing this also? I speculate that the majority of WODs are in the high-end aerobic to lactate threshold ranges, which helps a lot in rowing. Put another way, rowing is a power-endurance sport and, generally speaking, Crossfit is also a power-endurance sport, so the two really complement each other. However, I don't believe regular Crossfit programming does a good job of training the lower end aerobic zones or the very upper end of pure power, or the finer aerobic zones such as oxygen transport.

Why is this important? A limiting factor in many WODs, particularly "metcons," is aerobic ability. You're sucking serious wind in long and short WODs and we're giving away time because we haven't optimized the energy systems. You could improve Chelsea and Fran both by becoming more efficient aerobically.


Ben O'Grady wrote …

Sorry, last comment was from, not sure why my name didn't show up.


wrote …

Thanks Chris I enjoyed that. Chris is a phenomenal writer and an even better coach.



wrote …

Well done.

I'm impressed by the article itself, and for Crossfit HQ for publishing it. We all know CF works, or we wouldn't be here. It's the pursuit of improvement that should be driving all coaches.

3 things that I pondered while reading this article for the first time.

1) As a coach, I have also found the 4 week mesocycle very effective in developing improvements in skill development and physiology. This 4 week cycle appears elsewhere in our natural biology.

2) There seems to be two themes in each crossfit workout Skill and MetCon. It seems that reserving periodization within the context of skill work, while embracing the constantly varied (Routine is the enemy) component of CrossFit during MetCon, coaches and athletes can develop an effective training program that utilizes both periodization and constant variety.


wrote …


Great article man. It made me want to start picking up more weight. I look forward to reading more by you in the future.


wrote …

Ben Grady #16, 17,

This is a damn interesting thought. Though, you could run into the risk of over thinking, but I'm inclined to say give it a shot.

Try adding some focus to a domain you think is lacking. Stay with it long enough for an adaptation to occur. Lay a nice coating of variety over it - focus doesn't mean doing the same thing over and over. And most importantly, keep training the other domains, just with an ever so slight reduction in training volume load. I think you will improve.

Tinker with the programming, and keep a close record of what works.

Mike 18#,

Thanks, and I'll see you in the gym, buddy.

Ben #19,

1) I agree. There's something magic about four weeks. In my own training, I love to go heavy (overall volume load) on week 1, moderate on week 2, very heavy on week 3, and very light on week 4. This has always worked for me, but as I get into my 30's, ensures I can lift heavy and still recover.

2) I agree with you. This matches my experience. I plan my strength work very close. But when it comes to assistance work, conditioning, strongman events, etc., I take a much more random approach. The real key is that, if you're pushing to make some meaningful change in skill/strength, then you MUST consider that during the MetCon. If you push everything at once, you will eventually have to pay the piper, as it were. Too few people really consider that.

Andrew #20,

Thanks for reading. I'm glad you liked it. I'm sure there will be more stuff soon.



wrote …

Great article. I have enjoyed hearing Mike talk about his gains and his new ways of training. What I heard most in his voice and during the conversation was about how much FUN he was having doing the strong man stuff while not even thinking Met-Con. Like you said "the joy is in the doing" and it was very evident that Mike was enjoying himself. I guess it should come as no surprise that as soon as he moved back to met-cons, running, etc that his gains and PR's were up across the board.

I really need to focus on periodization and having fun again. I tend to focus so much on the things that I suck at (double unders for example) that I over train, cause injury, then see a general decline in PR's. There is no "joy in doing".....and this spills over into everything else. I need to take a step back, do some new things, and find the joy again.

Great article and now I have some reading to do. I'm buying some books today. The books you referenced look awesome.

Thanks Chris,
Great article!....and a damn nice picture of Stone Fran ; )


wrote …


I think you're on the right track. It's all a matter of managing the stresses. As strong as you are, and as hungry, I imagine you just need to learn how to dial back a bit on one thing as you focus on the other. It's one of the hardest things to learn. A short term loss usually freaks people out, but that's an illusion. You'll just come back much better.

Mike would have failed if he tried to keep other plates spinning too fast during the experiment. Likewise, he cannot afford to do the strongman stuff with garage games upon us....Damn, this periodization stuff really works!

Happy reading.


wrote …

Great read - thanks for the info Chris.


wrote …

Great read - thanks for the info Chris.

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