It takes considerable practice and attention to build CrossFit training programs that benefit athletes of all levels, and specialized programs like Masters training have their own unique challenges. In addition to discussing the ins and outs of programming from his perspective, Host Jean St-Amand also provides a complete review of a respected online programming option for CrossFit athletes – the CrossFit Linchpin Private Track program from Pat Sherwood.
Welcome to the BoxJumper Podcast! As always, I’m your host, Jean St-Amand.
Today is a special solo episode. I’ve had a couple of interviews lined up that got pushed back so rather than wait any longer to do another episode, I decided to run with an idea that I’ve been toying with for a little while – doing a review. But not just any review. A review of programming.
I’ve certainly mentioned on the podcast that not only am I a CrossFit athlete but I’m a coach at an affiliate as well. I’m in a privileged position as a coach because I get to do programming as well. When I first started coaching, the then-owner of the affiliate that ultimately became Osprey Athletics had me jump into coaching and programming from the outset, crafting my own niche by building a program specifically for the Masters athlete. Masters, in CrossFit and the way we treat it at Osprey, is anyone 35 and up. It just so happens, that age group is a significant percentage of the athlete community at Osprey – always has been. So when I was asked to establish the foundations of a program specifically for the older athletes in the club – if we truly want to call them that. Frankly, the athletes that fit the age category more often that not defy the label “older” quite handily. But regardless, a distinctive programming track for these athletes does ultimately make sense. Once you’re pushing mid-forties and into your fifties and sixties, your priorities with your fitness shift a little, as do your needs, whether you consciously recognize it or not. Core strength and midline stability, for example, always a priority for athletes of all ages, become a singular point of concern for the older athlete – why? Because we’ve simply had longer for it to deteriorate. I’ll use myself as the example. I work a desk job. I’ve worked a desk job since I was 20. I’ve not always been especially mindful of my posture either. So what happens over time? The path of least resistance – in other words, our laziness – sets in and the core muscles that are suppose to keep us upright, shoulders back, etc. when in a seated position say “screw this, it’s too much work” and they relax and let the spine curve and relax into a comfortable though not postural stable position. And so the muscles of the glutes, abdomen, low back, and upper back, that should be involved in the arguably simple task of keeping us upright check out and atrophy. Not outright, but enough that we certainly notice when we finally use them – and they get sore when we are or are not successful in recruiting them when needed. Time rolls on, and this is exacerbated.
So the older you are, depending on what you do for a living and how active you keep yourself otherwise, this deterioration, the shortening of the muscles from lack of use, and how out of practice we become at recruiting those muscles when the need is there is that much more pronounced. As a result, older athletes need to actively train this specific region of the body – just to get it back up to snuff, let alone to meet any actual athletic aspirations we might have.
There’s also the recognition that at 43, I’m not – arguably – looking at the 20 year old next to me deadlifting 450 and saying to myself “I should keep up with him”. I mean, I do kind of think that, but there are checks and balances in my head that maybe the 20 something doesn’t have. Family, work responsibilities, day to day soreness from overtraining – there are lots of reasons to avoid pushing myself beyond the brink.
Remember that CrossFit by definition is “functional movement, constantly varied, performed with intensity”. Coach Glassman was clever enough to pick the term intensity, which is deliberately specific enough to convey intent but vague enough to be proportionate to the individual and to the circumstance. A 200lb clean may feel like my 90% on one day and feel like my 110% days later. And so I can tune my intensity accordingly. And Masters athletes generally – and absolutely should – be even more mindful of that specific facet of intensity.
So, back to programming. Is Masters-specific programming required? Broadly and generally speaking, no. Every bit of programming can be scaled/tuned/dialed in as needed to fit the needs of the athlete at any given moment. That’s the beauty of the CrossFit methodology. Is Masters-specific programming helpful and appreciably different? Yes. And even more so if you train athletes that are on the higher end of that masters age group.
CrossFit programming is designed for the needs of the many – as performed in the affiliate, it’s a group fitness methodology. It’s programmed to be accessible for the average, even if the affiliate programs the Rx track for the top athletes in the club and scales for everyone else – it still means that the needs of that top athlete are reflected in the programming choices – they have to be, or they’d get nothing out of it. That makes for a very wide diversity of movements and modalities.
With a Masters-specific program, I’m able to narrow the field somewhat. One rep maxes? Generally off the table. That’s not somewhat that needs to come up for Masters athletes generally. High skill movements like ring muscle-ups or handstand walks? Not currently. I know my Masters athletes very well – I have a regular set of athletes that frequent the Masters program and it’s not in their wheelhouse yet – but I absolutely program progressions that would ultimately get them there.
So while nothing is completely off the table, especially with progressions, I have a more focused menu for Masters. It’s a matter of priority. I tend to program in a way that will deliver a little bit more focus on core stability – so overhead at lighter weights and unilateral work are common. We use dumbbells a fair bit. I tend to deliberately program lower weight (still using percentages and/or adjectives for how the rep or rep scheme should feel – heavy, moderate, etc.) at higher volumes. I provide time domain targets – frankly, all of these strategies could be found in ANY CrossFit class, but they are consciously part of how I program for my Masters crew. Over time, I have also gotten to know what I would consider to be the regulars in the Masters program. I know that their strengths and weaknesses are. I know what movement limitations that might have, chronic or temporary. I know what they like to work on and what they don’t. All of these things can come into play when I’m programming for the Masters class, and I give some things a little more consideration than others.
For those of you that do ANY level of programming for any level of athlete in your gym, this is going to sound pretty familiar. It’s fundamentally the same approach I’m sure most of you use. The principal difference lies in the slightly smaller sample size of athletes I have to program for and that narrower focus is what helps provide some parameters for what I program. I’m still programming group classes, but I’m not programming for the top Rx athlete in the gym and scaling from there to ensure that I have programming that will challenge the broadest sample. My high points and low points in terms of intensity, time domain, movement patterns, combinations of modalities and all slightly but noticeably narrower. It presents its own unique set of challenges, and it’s a lot of fun.
So… why do I explain what goes into programming? Well, it’s hard for me to try someone else’s programming without doing a little bit of self-analysis, layering my own experience over their programming and try to pick out details to better understand the intent behind the choices being made with the programming. Having done programming for more than 3 years now, I have an appreciation for the thought that goes into it and the time that a coach invests in developing skill in programming for a group of any kind.
So that leads me to the next thing I wanted to talk about with this episode – online programming!
Not everyone lives near a CrossFit affiliate. And even if you do, group training at an affiliate isn’t for everyone. It’s not always within a person’s budget, or they may not feel comfortable working out in a group setting – there’s any number of reasons a person might choose to incorporate CrossFit style training into their weekly routine outside of a traditional CrossFit Box. And some, even while training at a CrossFit affiliate, may seek to supplement their training with a program outside of their box.
Now, for the reasons I just cited, I’ll set aside the song and dance about how having a qualified coach physically in the room watching you perform the myriad of CrossFit movements and making corrections in real time to keep you safe. All things being equal, I do think that’s the ideal scenario – particularly for a beginner, regardless of their athletic background and experience. But again, it’s not always possible.
So what do you do if you want to follow the CrossFit methodology outside of a CrossFit affiliate – at home, in the hotel fitness room on the road or at your local gym?
Well, you could certainly do programming for yourself – I’ve done that at least once a week – and often more than that – in my own garage gym, supplementing the training I do at Osprey. More on that shortly…
But there are many sources for CrossFit programming available online as well so you don’t have to go it alone.
Starting with the site that started it all, CrossFit.com has been posting its Workout of the Day since 2001. Many a seasoned CrossFitter got their start following the programming from what we refer to as “Main Site”. The WOD’s posted by CrossFit.com provide as much variety and intensity as you could imagine – that is, after all, the CrossFit methodology at its core.
With the worldwide growth of CrossFit and the emergency of technology that makes sharing information easy and cost-effective, there are many other options online as well – quite a number of programs are available, both free and paid, to get programming delivered to you. Some programs come from big names in the CrossFit world – CompTrain from Ben Bergeron, NCFit from Jason Kalipa, Icon Athlete from Chris Spealler, Built by Bridges from Jeff Bridges, Aerobic Capacity from Chris Hinshaw, Invictus Athlete from CrossFit Invictus. Many of the top crossfit athletes offer their own online training programs you can follow. And there are programs that are not crossfit specific but followed by many elite CrossFit athletes, including Brute Strength, Training Think Tank and others. And why not – today’s technology makes brining programs to the masses easy, and its a great revenue stream for the people that run the programs – while some programs are free, they can be right on up to several hundred dollars a month.
Now, while I’ve read about many of these programs, I’ve not experienced any of them first hand. So I’m not going to address anything about the quality of any of these other programs. What I am going to speak about is the one I started recently to supplement my own training just a bit.
If you’ve gotten this far in the episode, I’m going to make a guess that you’re either a CrossFitter or you’re just a person that’s keenly interested in CrossFit-style fitness training. That being the case, you may have seen one of at least a few documentaries about CrossFit, particularly the Fittest on Earth series, masterfully helmed by two names now well know in the CrossFit world, Heber Canon and Marston Sawyers, known collectively as the Buttery Bros.
In that series, there were several commentators, who were themselves the public personalities we cross fitters got to know from the coverage of the CrossFit games – they were the media team making sense of the chaos of each event. Four guys did a lot of the talking – Rory McKernan, Tommy Marquez, Sean Woodland and Pat Sherwood.
This is all to say that you’re going to now know who I’m talking about when I say Pat Sherwood. He’s the guy with the deadpan delivery of some memorable lines in all three of the Fittest on Earth documentaries. He amusingly referred to Alex Anderson as strikingly handsome. He dryly spoke of Pat Vellner’s finish in 35th place in the opening event of the CrossFit Games in 2016 but still battling back to the podium, and in so 2017, what does the rising star, phenomenal, this could be the guy that gives a run to Fraser. So in the opening event of the 2017 Games, “what does he lead off with? Hey, how about a 36th?”
Just a funny guy. And knowledgable as hell about CrossFit, having been around the sport 2005 and being on staff at CrossFit HQ for many years and is to this day.
Read: Pat Sherwood’s Reflection on 10 Years of CrossFit
Watch: Pat Sherwood instructing the Overhead Squat to a new athlete
So why I am talking about Pat Sherwood? Well, he too has an online training program. It’s called CrossFit Linchpin Private Track.
Here’s the caveat: I’m going to review primarily from the perspective of a single week of programming, which Pat provides free to anyone that asks to try the program. As I understand it, it’s the same programming subscribers to the Private Track receive (in the week received, so it’s always different). The difference, however, is that he emailed it to me, as opposed to it being delivered through the usual channel, via Beyond the Whiteboard. This means that with the free one week trial, all I get is the programming. More on all that in a bit.
So, here’s the deal. CrossFit Linchpin is a virtual affiliate. It’s not a Box you visit, it’s online programming coming from Pat. Like CrossFit.com, CrossFit Linchpin posts the Workout of the Day for free for anyone to follow. And like CrossFit.com, the free public WOD comes without much in the way of a description.
The magic happens with the Private Track, with the free trial being a glimpse of that larger world. We’ll come back to that in a bit.
After contacting Pat through the CrossFit Linchpin website to request a trial – and I have to say, he was extremely quick to respond – he emailed me back with a full week of programming in one email. Looking at the details of what I received, it included most of the elements that the Private Track is held up to include.
This means I got a complete movement by movement warm up to complete for each workout. Then the details of the workout itself, expressed in multiple ways: an Rx version, a scaled version, a limited equipment option, and in some cases a with a partner option. And with each, some relative goals were expressed, mostly in terms of time (and with some of Pat’s brand of humour sprinkled in). For example, an workout for time would have a goal time for “super fitness robots” as compared to “more realistic” times, whether for the workout as a whole or a time per round, etc.
Where applicable, most movements also included a video demo, so you weren’t left to your own devices to figure out what each movement was – and this applied to warmup, WOD, accessory and cool down movements. Some of the videos are standard fare from CrossFit.com (because Pat justifiably figures “why reinvent the wheel”) and some are videos of Pat narrating as his wife capably demo’s the movements. And then there is the daily commentary video from Pat himself. He entertainingly walks through the WOD, the variations, providing commentary and explanation, sometimes diverging a bit to answer some questions from the Linchpin community. Now at the time I went through the free trial, I didn’t have any idea how active that community was.
The free trial also included some specific accessory movements and a complete cooldown for each WOD, and again, several included video links for explanations.
So that’s the structure – what about the content?
I have to say, even with just the week I experienced in the free trial, I saw some really great things coming from Pat’s programming. Over the course of the week, I saw tremendous variety in movements utilized, different modalities, and even different expressions of intended intensity. In just a week, most of the ten general physical skills of fitness were covered – cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.
A lot of thought was clearly given to the fact that Pat recognizes that many in his community are doing these workouts on their own, some without formal coaching. The structure of the WOD and the depth of the instruction (and the videos) demonstrate a keen awareness of that fact. Pat is known for articulating that CrossFit doesn’t need to be done at maximum intensity to achieve results, and in fact for most individuals, relative intensity should be the priority to maintain longevity with fitness – in other words, we’re not competitors in the CrossFit Games, why act like we are?
In Pat’s own words…
The goal is just to get fit, make it the best hour of your day, stay safe, turn up the music, high five some people, and blow off some steam.
Hard not to agree with that!
In addition to the variety, there were some interesting progressions, and the limited equipment options were absolutely on point. I’m lucky enough to have two extremely complete gyms at my disposal. Osprey Athletics, the box at which I train and coach, is extremely well equipped. And my own garage gym has almost everything I could need, with a couple of small exceptions. But not everyone has a lot of gear. So Pat has cleverly programmed the WODs to be tailored not just to have a scaling option, but an option for people that have access only to some basic equipment – generally described as a couple of dumbbells (with no particular weight favoured), a jump rope and a pull-up bar. Honestly, that’s a pretty reasonable ask if you’re going to be doing CrossFit training.
Now, wth the free option that he posts daily, all you get is the Rx workout – no description, no scaling or limited equipment options, no links to the videos he thinks will help you figure out what you’re supposed to do, no warmup, cooldown or accessory work. No frills. Just the workout.
In the private track, you get all of that – and the free trial was a one week taste of that. The private track, beyond the one week free trial, you pay for. It’s $10 bucks a month US. What do you get for the money? Well, all the great stuff I’ve already described, first of all, but you also get into the Linchpin Private Track group on Facebook, which is a 1000-member strong community of other folks following the program and providing feedback and encouragement to one another. Oh, and you get a subscription to Beyond the Whiteboard, the CrossFit-centered fitness tracking app, which itself is $8 per month US. Want to now how your Fran time compares not just to people in your gym but people around the world? Beyond the Whiteboard is the place to get that data.
And on top of that, rather than receiving your workouts via email, like you do during the trial, you receive the WODs, with all those layers of information I’ve described, directly within the Beyond the Whiteboard app – where you can then instantly record your results and see the results and posts from others in the Linchpin Private Track.
So after I tried the free trial, I jumped on board for a subscription – you can cancel at any time, so I figured why not see what the extra would bring? And it’s not because I’m looking to do all my workouts on my own in my garage – not at all. I’ve come to prefer the group workouts I get at Osprey – it’s my home box. The owners are good friends of mine, I feel connected to the community, I know everyone’s name, I coach there, i program for my Masters crew there. But i do still workout at home once or twice a week, and I thought some outside benchmarks on my fitness through an extended community would be a positive addition to my routine. I’m part of several CrossFit-related communities on Facebook already, so this would be another avenue for me to be plugged into the greater CrossFit world.
So what have I found? Well it’s been about 3 weeks since I joined the private track. Already, I’m witnessing tremendous support from within the community. The posts and messages have been positive, supportive, encouraging, instructive – very much like you want from your physical affiliate. But these people are spread out all over the world, all with different levels of experience, skill, and levels fitness. Some have never set foot in a traditional box, others are, like me, neck deep in the affiliate community. But they bond over CrossFit. And whereas I have seen some CrossFit communities occasionally spiral down a negative thread or two, whether it’s about the changes to the games season this past year, or overtly negative assessments of whether a particular rep caught on video constitutes an egregious violation of what would be considered a “good rep”, I have not experienced anything of the sort with the Linchpin Private Track community. People video themselves making an honest attempt at a lift, a gymnastic movement, a complete workout, and the community responds positively. Tips and encouragement abound, not just from the community but from Pat himself. It’s early for me to be able to say definitively, but my suspicion is that it’s symptomatic of what Pat brings to the group. His video commentaries are a pretty good clue – he’s very upbeat, never without something funny yet positive to say, and I think the behaviour of the members of the community reflect that leadership.
So all in all, my very first online programming experience has been great. Will i dabble in others for comparison’s sake? I honestly have no idea. I certainly can’t try every program that’s out there. CrossFit Linchpin’s private track seemed pretty low risk from the outset, and I was impressed with the free trial enough to give it a shot and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much value there is in the program. If you’re on the hunt for an online program, whether as your primary form of programming, or like me, something to supplement your programming, I’d encourage you to give Linchpin private track a good long look. Check it out at crossfitlinchpin.com. Worth mentioning is they have a nutrition track as well that’s available for an extra $10 per month. It’s not something I was looking for at the time – at least not yet – but I thought I’d at least mention it. Touch base with Pat by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for a free week – there’s nothing like trying something on to see if it fits.
That’s it for this episode of the BoxJumper Podcast. I hope you liked geeking out on programming talk for a bit. Some of the interviews that got pushed back are on the horizon very soon, so I’ll be back with another episode – and maybe more than one – quite soon.
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Thanks for tuning in. More cool fitness topics are coming up. Until next time, stay healthy, WOD happy and WOD often.