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Coaches Prep Course: Group Programming by Chris Spealler - CrossFit Journal

In Coaching, CrossFit, Reference, Videos

May 22, 2011

Video Article

“We want to program for work capacity,” says HQ trainer Chris Spealler. “And that’s going to happen through this form of general physical preparedness.”

Spealler, who’s also an elite CrossFit athlete, shares his programming secrets with the group at a recent Coaches Prep Course.

“The more variance you have, the better off you are,” Spealler says.

But that doesn’t mean that we should follow the “hopper model” for programming. Random programming has its pitfalls.

“The reality is there’s probably going to be more similarities between those things than if we really had a well-thought-out plan of variance,” he says.

Spealler also cautions the trainers about programming for the Reebok CrossFit Games. While he says it’s important to fill holes in your fitness, you shouldn’t base all your programming on the events of the CrossFit Games.

Spealler says that his programming for his gym and for himself is more organic and never planned far in advance.

“What haven’t I done? What do I feel like I need to do? That’s where I go,” he says.

6min 50sec

Additional reading: Theoretical Template for CrossFit’s Programming by Greg Glassman, published Feb. 1, 2003.

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23 Comments on “Coaches Prep Course: Group Programming”


wrote …

interesting that this video on programming came up because I was just checking out the performance menu forum and they have a thread that just tears the crossfit approach/methodology/science apart (literally 140 pages on one thread, i didn't scan thru but they were typically anti-crossfit/glassman/HQ)and a newsletter/podcast on the lack of functionality of the kipping pull-up. One of the recurrent themes was the issue of rhabdo and slap tears in the community. I have acheived great results with crossfit and thru training others have seen impressive results but I also like to question why things are the way they are. I feel that the type A personality that fills the affiliate boxes across the world may play a part in this bad publicity toward Crossfit as a GPP program because of the drive to cram everything that encompasses crossfit into a very short period without a solid foundation to build upon that is reinforced by the trainer and trainee.

Some of the topics that they hit upon are that they argue against the merits of anaerobic training as beneficial to aerobic training and that the "elite fitness" strength and conditioning concept is a misnomer because no elite athletes have been produced and the functional definition of moving large loads, long distances with high intensity is also not to their liking which is odd because it is an oly lifting forum for the most part. Obviously they are strength biased but it seems the programming that Speal offers here is more in tune with a level of volume that won't fry people both physically and mentally (shorter, heavier metcons as the majority with the occoasional long day).

The question I have then is what level of volume is appropiate from the novice to the advanced( or is it just a matter of the concept of scalability and proper rest)? and is this vitriol more of an outcome of poor trainers/high enthusiasm/bad technique, etc.? I personally think because of the games the concept of technique/consistency/intensity often gets thrown out the window.

Sorry for the ramblings if they seem all over the place. (the thread is on the second page of the gpp forum)


wrote …

Brian: I've trained at 2 boxes and have yet to meet anyone who's been injured or gotten rhabdo. I'd say both are highly over-exaggerated. I'm not saying they can't happen, but surely any coach worth his salt teaches correct technique and knows how to scale appropriately. Both of which prevent those things.

Speal: I find it unusual that an athlete at your level doesn't put more thought into your programming. I would have thought all the top level guys would have a very structured regimen to hit all your needs.

The box I go to programs a Crossfit Strength Bias variant and I think they map it all out a month advance but I could be mistaken.

One thing I've often wondered about is how the program fits for people who come to the box say MWF or another that just comes Th/Sat. Your part on rotating through weeks partially answers that, thanks :)


replied to comment from Brian Hassler

Hi Brian,

Just to reply to some of your comments.

you mentioned "they argue against the merits of anaerobic training as beneficial to aerobic training " ...what CrossFit advocates is not a program that will make you a long distance aerobic athlete, but an athlete capable across all domains of physical activity.

The key point i believe is that the typical CrossFit 'couplet or triplet', will have no negative effects on aerobic capacity, but increases in strength, power, muscle mass, lactate threshold..ect...(the list goes on)....ALL these things will greatly aid aerobic efforts.

And just to respond to your question regarding volume of training ...ect... I think that the idea of scaling is a vital one. The games, as Chris mentions, definatly has scewed some views on what the CrossFit method actually is, but as he says in the video, i think if we keep in mind that we are after an increased work capacity, a GPP, then it is relativly easy to program workouts, based on this being the end goal :)


wrote …

I personally haven't seen it either but I think it is because we program more of the short metcon with the occasional long chipper thrown in. I think the SLAP tear or shoulder problems could arise from people kipping too soon without the pre-req strength in the shoulder girdle (same with the muscle up)I believe Tucker recommends 2 deadhang pull-ups as a starting point. The progressions are there but are often skipped over. I find the gymnastic wod and obviously the mobility wod are crucial to developing a solid base around core strengthening, shoulder girdle stability and body awareness in general. I think the hardest part of the program is when you put the stopwatch on a group of people, if you aren't strict on form you are asking for trouble.

I wonder about the increase of programming that adds in a strength bias. Most affiliates I've seen program in extra strength work, is this because of a deficiency on the part of crossfit mainsite programming or a just a general deficiency in their clientele? and is this extra volume worth it in the end? I am currently experimenting with the 5/3/1 wendler program and metcon training and am seeing good results but have also scaled back on the larger metcons so as not to burn myself out.


replied to comment from Matthew Summers

I agree Matt, the gist of the argument seemed to revolve around the elite title but I've never heard crossfit claim to be the sole reason an athlete/s have become successful whether it is team, endurance or a skill based sport. I think crossfit if properly scaled and taught definitely fills in the gaps in that GPP foundation. Even in Siffs book "super training" he lays the foundation with GPP, then SPP, and finally the actual sport. Crossfit supplies an excellent GPP for 99 percent of the population which I think that argument deviated from quickly because of the games (but even in the games athletes have to follow siffs formula if they want to fix any weakness the only difference is that their sport is crossfit which makes the idea of a solid foundation even more important).

Using a mix of crossfit/CFE workouts with our track team culminated in 2 regional champions and 4 regional runner ups and 10 athletes going to states (i say athletes because we begged our crossfit kids to help out the track team and they ended being the most successful while also competing in whatever their primary sport was)


Max Shippee wrote …

Love this video and the discussion. Part of that is the fact that I've programming like Spealer for a few months now, he should give me credit for stealing from me though ;)

I've been to a programming & coaching seminar with Dutch Lowry up at Catalyst Athletics in Sunnyvale, and look forward to taking the CF Coaches prep course soon. Though I think it's great to program off the cuff, I also find great value in having pattern template that's moldable, just so I don't leave something out. I think it helps with the "Wow, we haven't done a push-jerk/double-unders/knees-to-elbows/what-have-you in forever!" -syndrome.

I perceive the strength biased programming as something that people do for a generally weaker population (read:everyone). I know that many times it's clear to me that a newer client will benefit from some dedicated strength work, perhaps more so in the near future than the more varied programming. It's easier, I think, in many ways, to check form, and push the heavy numbers when you're dedicating time to specific strength training instead of trying to holler out cues during a deadlift/burpee workout. We actually had an 8 week cycle where two classes a week were dedicated to strength training (back squat, deadlift, & some bench with a simple 5 x 5 linear progression). Everyone who did it put weight on their lifts & the most dedicated moved their old 1 rep max to more than a 5 rep max. (2 clients were feeling so strong at the end they pull their "old" 1 rep max for 3 sets of 5! To borrow a K-Starr quote "Best coach in the world!")

I think it really depends on your population. And even individual athletes. We needed some strength work, and judging from the amount of improvement, it was a good idea. Those clients have maintained their strength, and are now much more happy with their times and other workouts as well. Being flexible both in your body, and with programming is going to lead to better results.

We all could learn something from each other, and I think that's the best thing about CrossFit, we're giving a lot of things a shot, from Louie Simmons to Andrew Bernstein, let's try it and see how it works! :)


wrote …

looks like mr. spealler got some new ink.


wrote …

@brian. I just recently completed the 17km Royal Marines Commando Challenge in the UK. I did it with boots and combat pants and with no specific endurance training, just my box's regular programming. That was 7km more than I've ever ran. I completed it in 1 hour 50 mins with a gym colleague. If the high intensity wod's and anaerobic work I've been doing didn't get me through that comfortably then I'd like to know what did??? As far as I'm concerned that's proof that high intensity/anaerobic training carries over to longer steady state activity.


replied to comment from Brian Hassler

I have always found it interesting, and very telling, that some other sites dedicate such an amazing amount of time and effort into bashing CF, yet we feel no need to go on a 100 page rant bashing them. They like to fill their pages with terrible stories and scary scenarios that are rarely backed up by actual facts. I know my point of view is just one person, but I have been doing CF day in and day out for almost 6 years. I know a TON of CrossFitters, and none of the people I have ever trained with got a slap tear or anything else. I find the scare tactics employed by some of these sites to be quite transparent. It seems they are very scared and intimidated by CF, but we are not bothered by them in the least. We are too busy changing the face of global fitness, improving lives, and building cool, supportive communities to engage in such pointless sophomoric behavior.

Just my two cents on the matter. Now it's time for me to go do some CrossFit.


replied to comment from Pat Sherwood

Well said Pat. Most critisisms I hear come across as childish rants of sour grapes. One even went so far as to say what we did in our gym couldn't be that big of a deal if grand mothers could do it. Yet he never came back in after he got his ass handed to him by "Eva" yet the grand mother still does. Odd.

I tend to come at this not from the elite athlete perspective but as an over 40 vet who is trying to keep folks out of my creases as long as possible (Stolen from Chuck Carswell). From that stand point CrossFit does make me a better doctor, hunter, father and boyfriend.

I'll never be in the olympics or the games but I do know that I function better as a paleo CrossFitter and strict endurance of body building could never do that for me.

The programming aspect that Chris talks about is nice to hear because it lends validity to what we try to do at our gym. Hit the areas where people are weak and do things that we haven't seen in a while.

Add my two to yours and now we're on our way to a nickle. Woot!



replied to comment from Pat Sherwood

Hey Pat,

I enjoy your work. But in this instance, I have to respectfully disagree. Crossfit is predicated on the notion that other forms of working out are crap compared to Crossfit. In general, all "other" forms of working out are classed as long slow distance or bodybuilding or a bad CF knockoff. Furthermore, there is a "we know best" and "we have the data to prove it" thing going on, but then it's rarely supported with any actual facts. Criticism is denied as logically incorrect, as opposed to proving the idea the critics targeted.


replied to comment from Pat Sherwood

I have to agree Pat. I scanned through about 20 pages looking for the epiphany, the magical program that this guy had created and I found nothing. I have nothing against something with an opinion pro or negative but what I found laughable was that they offered no other option. I think you have said it in speeches and/or videos that if someone comes and rocks a wod or wins the games and says all he did was hula hoop and roller blading that you'd go get a hula and roller blades (i'm paraphrasing obviously and not trying to put words in your mouth). This applies to affiliates and trainers too, the ones that create success amongst their clients will thrive and the ones that don't will not.

I contend that it is volume and restoration that create beasts of fitness (at any age) but what often gets overlooked in that equation is the restoration aspect. I vaguely remember somewhere it saying that you should train for 8 weeks and take a half cycle (cut volume, intensity and/or both) and after 12 to take a cycle off. Any thoughts on this? and what are the chances that the journal could address this issue, I mean you do have some pull right?


replied to comment from Matt Solomon


I think this is a phenomenom across the board. If you are a powerlifter you look down on those that aren't (just go to t-nation), if you are a bodybuilder you look down on those that aren't, etc.. It is kinda like the Under Armour slogan, "We must protect the house".

Like I said to Pat, I'm open to other methods as long as you can give me a reason for whay you choose to do that (hypertrophy training may be necessary for some athletes and/or just a goal of a clients and as Jim Wendler mentions the one thing you can take from bodybuilders is the idea of training for symmetry aka erasing weaknesses which sounds pretty familiar to me). Just like the other day, when an athlete that I train came in and asked to work on power cleans, I asked her why and instead of the typical cause "I like them" or "just because" she said she felt they were a weakness and she wanted to work on her technique.
I couldn't argue with that answer.

AS for the facts, I can see that sde of the argument which eventually may be answered with the new project they have going on but again you can't argue with all the anecdotal evidence as seen in things the sherwood chronicles.


replied to comment from Matt Solomon

I think you bring up a valid thought and for some they may perceive CrossFit as this. "If it's not powerlifting, or bodybuilding, it's under a large umbrella of CrossFit" but I think it is important that we make the separations from CrossFit and other strength and conditioning programs.

Are there other programs out there that are effective, absolutely. In fact I think for those of us that are truly trying to improve either our own or our clients fitness levels we need to take a look at what some of the more effective pieces of other programs involve. I think the difference lies within what our definition of "fitness" is. And this is something that I believe CrossFit does better than anything else. I'm not discrediting other programs or saying they aren't useful, but in the biz of increasing work capacity across broad time and modal domains I don't think there is anything better or more effective to do it than a healthy dose of CrossFit.

Having said that I know that I take some of the training methodologies from other programs and use them to improve my GPP by attacking my weaknesses. The Westside Barbell method is a perfect example of this for me. Believe it or not I do accessory work that involves movements that are single joint and very specific. Things like skull crushers, jm presses, etc, but my goal in doing this is to improve my strength since that tends to be a weakness of mine in the competitive world of CrossFit. So the end state for me, is still increasing my work capacity.

For 99% of the people that walk into gyms day in and day out I don't think they need to take this approach. Keeping things simple and giving them strong CrossFit programming is going to garner some awesome results. I saw it in myself and see it in my clients on a daily basis.

When it boils down to it I think we just need to establish our goals and define what they are. For CrossFit's definition of fitness there is nothing better than the stimulus of constantly varied, functional movements, at high intensity. Moving large loads, long distance, quickly has to be there to make it happen.

I know personally I don't want to communicate that other programs are junk. Most of us that are working to improve our fitness take training methodologies from other specialist since they are SO good at them. This isn't wrong or a character flaw to be a specialist of some sort, it's simply a choice. And those goals are different than ours for fitness in CrossFit.

Thanks for the respectful and honest comment on the page. Cool to open up lines of communication and create discussion on topics like this and not get too heated about it. Good luck with the training!


wrote …

Journal folks, we need a like and dislike button for comments. I think people would be pleasantly surprised.

Speallers comment "like"


wrote …

You know that feeling you get right before you do or say something? The one where you know this will probably come back to bite me...I'm feeling it now.

@ Brian - Love the question, and I always enjoy people having sincere questions making people really think about their methodology, and then dive into it looking for proof

@ Speal - You're post summed it all up nicely. Also, you're awesome. 2011 Games all the way.

@ Matt and Pat - Pat, always enjoy seeing your stuff on the journal, you are hilarious. Anyway, I feel like you both fell into the trap of believing the remarks/opinion's of a minority = the majority, or the entire ommunity. I subscribe to the "their are idiots everyehwere" belief. There are idiots in all fitness realms. Crossfitter, Powerlifter, runner - you always have that guy that thinks he is god's gift, and so anything that he/she does is perfection, and everything else is useless. The rational majority may still believe that they have the best program (for them, their needs, etc) but will readily admire and laud the approaches and methodologies of other more specialized fitness regimes. Case in point - I got a strongman buddy who has been using a Crossfit approach to the conditioning aspect of his training. He loves it, but he focuses on the powerlifting lifts first and foremost. I need to work on strength, and while Crossfit is my focus, do focus more on strength and take cues from him on how to max out squat, deadlift, press etc. I picked off his plate, and he picked off mine.

Just my very long two cents



replied to comment from Chris Spealler

Thanks for the thorough response and being open about your own methods. Look, I agree that Crossfit is a very excellent GPP program. It's been the central focus of my training for almost 6 years now (everyone once in a while I do month of specific training, or life keeps me too busy - but CF is the mainstay). I add in things because I feel they are useful to me, or I just like them. Despite having specific goals in mind, many programs are regularly described as inferior, and the people who do them as idiots wasting time. I have friends that really like triathlons. They don't care if they can back squat 400 or 500. Simply no interest. They ARE fit, and would smoke many (maybe most?) crossfitters at triathlons or marathons. It's what they do. Yes, Fran would ruin them. But by the average person standard, they are strong and very athletic. And from a health care perspective, they are healthy. And fit! I think the CF definition of fitness is a good target. It's fun. But many people don't agree (with the fun component especially).


replied to comment from Matt Solomon

Personally I hope to not communicate that other methods are inferior "just because". I also am impressed by triathletes and fully admit that they would smoke me in that realm. I would be drowning in the water while they were on the run portion of their competition. But from our stance, and our definition of fitness in CrossFit, training as a triathlete would to increase our GPP would be inferior. No doubt about it. Just as they have no desire to squat 400 lbs, I have no desire to compete in an Ironman Triathlon. Does this make either person less of an athlete or person... absolutely not.

You are right in your comment about your buddies that compete in triathlons being more fit, strong, and athletic than the average population. I don't disagree for a moment and respect them for their dedication and training that gets them there.
BUT, as our definition of fitness states in CrossFit, we should be able to do "fran" and run a marathon. Maybe not the best at either one, but capable of both. That's the goal.

I do think there are people within the CrossFit community that look at other programs as inferior. Powerlifting, endurance, whatever. But I think part of it may be a lack of education, respect for others goals and training, and a passion for what they do specifically.

I don't know that I understand your comment on the definition of fitness as being a good target and "fun". I do think it's pretty tough to dispute that it's evidence based when it comes to measuring our fitness. Pretty simple, times, reps, loads, all there to gauge where you've been and where you are going. Good conversation...


wrote …

Shouldn't this information be taught at the Level I Course?


replied to comment from Chris Spealler

I meant that, the CF definition of fitness is a "good target" from a general public fitness and health perspective. As you said, it's probably good for 99% of the population (unless they just don't care, eg some triathletes I know). Being able to run a marathon and do Fran is good. CF makes people capable and functional for sports AND activities of daily living (which is more important to many people than the carryover to sports).

I think it's fun to suffer through a workout like Fran. As painful as it is during a tough workout (CF or other), you probably do too. Even if CF wasn't as effective as it is, I'd probably still do it because I'm not in it for the end result - I'm doing it because I like it. (The end result is a bonus to me!)

I think the evidence for measuring health is not nearly as effective as it is for measuring fitness. The definition can include all aspects of fitness (any exercise/rep/weight/power output etc) it can not, and does not, measure all aspects of health.

The health is fitness over time concept is very clever, but it's more like a forecasting model (to borrow from the weather/climate analogy) than a hard definition because some aspects are outside the realm of what it's saying.


replied to comment from brent currie

I wondered how many comments I'd have to scroll through to see who else was thinking the same thing (ink wise). I was only talking about having not seen anything from Chris for a while then this pops up. Cant wait for the games to see him in action again


replied to comment from Matt Solomon


I have to disagree with your disagreement. I spend a lot of time explaining and defining CrossFit to various populations. Never have I uttered anything even remotely resembling "Crossfit is predicated on the notion that other forms of working out are crap compared to Crossfit". I have never heard any of my seminar staff say anything of the like either. I'm sure that you just typed that up and did not mean for it to be taken literally, but I must say, it is a rather bold and ridiculous claim. What CF is truly predicated upon has been written about many times here in the CFJ. I see no need to go down such a well traveled road at this time.

As far as the "we know best" thing you refer to, I would have to agree with that. I think we do know best, at least in the realm that we are concerned with, which would be General Physical Preparedness and what we consider Fitness. Any time another population of fitness enthusiasts such as power lifters, long distance runners, olympic lifters, tri-athletes, gymnasts, sprinters, etc has been brought up the conversation usually goes something like.......Wow, a 1000 pound dead lift is mind boggling and amazing, I have nothing but respect for that persona and the blood, sweat, and tears that went into achieving it, however, that is not what we are chasing, and by our definition of fitness, that individual is not fit. There is no "holier than thou" stigma attached to it. It just is what it is. That guy with the 1000 pound dead lift probably thinks I'm laughably weak, and that's ok. He comes from his community and I come from ours.

As far as data goes, I have not been writing things down, but I have done approximately 170 Level 1 seminars. At roughly 50 people per seminar, that is 8,500 people I have been directly exposed to and heard the stories of improved fitness, blood work, health, quality of life, performance in sports, pure strength, etc, etc. Maybe in the world of statistics, that is not considered data, but, I have a habit of believing what I witness with my own eyes and what I hear with my own ears.

I post all this with complete respect and enjoyment of the mature dialogue that has been taking place on this forum. I don't expect all of us to agree, actually, I don't want everyone to agree. That is a sure way to stop creative thought and debate. Let's keep this stuff coming.

Thanks everyone.


wrote …

Two thumbs up to Chris and Pat. Your responses are intelligent, humble and right on point.

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