Group Classes vs Training Templates vs Individualized Programming

Jon Colborn & Todd Nief

Everyone has an opinion on programming and training for CrossFit.

Quibbles over the best ways to train are nothing new in any sport.

Let’s see how many different ways that people can argue over intensity vs volume in training protocols with a few Google searches.

“intensity vs volume CrossFit”

“intensity vs volume bodybuilding”

“intensity vs volume sprinting”

“intensity vs volume triathlon”

With all of these competing opinions out there, what’s a helpless, confused trainee to do?

At this point, most people training competitively for the sport of CrossFit have a coach – often one who either individualizes training for that athlete or who gives them templated training that multiple competitors of comparable skill levels (or many wannabe competitors) follow.

Most people training in CrossFit affiliates participate in group classes with programming designed for an avatar of a specific person – then either modified or scaled to enable each participant to get their training in.

Each of these training methods has trade-offs, and many coaches out there have strong opinions about which method is best. Problem is, most of these people have some sort of business incentive for pushing their favorite version of training – and a healthy dose of confirmation bias backing up their opinions.

On this episode of the SLSC podcast, Paul, Jon and Todd discuss the positives and negatives of different types of training, and also dive into how to truly individualize a training program for an athlete.

And, as it turns out, there is a bit of a business interest and confirmation bias present here as well, as Jon and Todd have an individualized training business called Legion that you can scope out if you’re interested in having a coach filter through all of the competing information out there and guide your training.

Listen Here

Learn More About Legion Strength & Conditioning

Show Notes

  • [0:25] Intro
  • [1:25] Class programming vs. Individualized programming
  • [6:41] How do we write the class programming? What does that avatar look like?
  • [8:40] What are some of the major differences between class/individual programming?
  • [11:29] Catering to what athletes like and what they don’t like.
  • [16:46] Holding hands or flying free… How do coaches approach direction and encouragement.
  • [20:11] Sometime you have to walk away from you training day.
  • [22:03] Distinction between training in CrossFit and being a CrossFIt athlete.
  • [26:27] How to individualize programs and what that actually looks like.
  • [38:17] What makes a good individual coach/program?
  • [47:02] Can a coach be a good athlete?
  • [49:47] What does it actually mean to individualize?

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Ricky Hirsch: The Jerky King of Chicago

Ricky Hirsch

You’d think that having the most successful food-based Kickstarter campaign of all time would be a great start.

But, Ricky Hirsch was disappointed in having raised only $57,000. He thought his product was so good that he was going to get millions.

Now, there’s something to be said for staying off of the hedonic treadmill and appreciating what you have. But, there’s also something to be said for hustle, pushing your limitations and boundaries, and getting out into the world and making things happen.

After spending some time in the financial industry and running a mortgage company leading into the economic destruction of 2008, Ricky started Think Jerky after playing around with some other ideas involving hot dogs, pastries, and juice (maybe not all at the same time though…)

What does it take to create a business from nothing? Is it just a great idea and endless hustle? From Ricky’s story, it seems that those things are necessary but insufficient.

Check out the full interview to discover:

  • How to start a business – even after the economy has taken you for a ride
  • How to match your vision with the existing marketplace
  • What work/life balance means to an entrepreneur
  • What challenges you face trying to grow a successful business to scale
  • What daily meditation can do for an ambitious and driven person

Listen Here

Learn More About Ricky and Think Jerky

Think Jerky flavors

Show Notes

  • [0:20] Introduction
  • [4:36] Why Kickstarter?
  • [5:42] What about your background led to Think Jerky?
  • [11:15] What was the initial vision for Think Jerky?
  • [12:58] Low sugar… Why does jerky need sugar?
  • [14:58] What has your involvement been in food culture, CrossFit, Farm to table…
  • [16:30] What did you initial pitch look like, how did that evolve?
  • [22:14] So demoing the product is the best way to get it in new customers hands?
  • [24:16] What does scaling look like for Think Jerky?
  • [28:26] What does the day-to-day look like for the Chicago Jerky King?
  • [34:25] What will enable you to grow the company?
  • [35:52] What does long term Think Jerky business look like?
  • [37:35] Tell me about the meditation practice.
  • [45:46] Work/life balance?
  • [47:37] What happens when you do reach stability in work/life?
  • [49:43] What didn’t we ask you that we should have?

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Dr. Ben Fergus on How Being a Giant Baby Will Improve Your Performance

Ben Fergus

I've snuck into a lot of physical therapy continuing education courses that I don't belong in over the last few years. I've enjoyed putting myself in situations where I'm the least knowledgable person in the room, and trying to learn in a field peripheral to strength & conditioning has elevated my thinking as a coach in ways that I would not have anticipated.

I first met Ben at a DNS (Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization) course that he was hosting and assisting with – although I don't think he remembers me from that.

This was my first exposure to a lot of concepts that are a big part of how I train and coach people today like:
*Understanding proper breathing and core stabilization
*Understanding the value of joint centration and alignment for proper motor control
*Visually assessing not just range of motion in joints but understanding "how" the body and brain are creating motion

I remember feeling helpless and confused in this course as instructors and fellow students would watch someone laying on a table and make quick assessments of their motor control and stabilization strategies.

I was like, "Are these people actually seeing something? Or are they just making it up?"

I can imagine parallels here in terms of watching someone do a snatch at full speed. After a certain number of reference experiences, a coach can immediately see someone rushing their first pull or not getting their knees out of the way as they lift the bar. However, to an untrained observer, every rep probably looks the same. "They're just snatching. Not sure what you're seeing."

Now, not to say that my observational skills are anywhere near that of a trained clinician, but, after taking several more DNS courses, GRIP Approach courses, and getting plenty of reference experiences coaching people and trying to get clients to move better, I think I can sometimes see some of the issues and compensation patterns that were totally indistinguishable to me a few years back when I first met Ben.

Ben has created his own continuing education courses called GRIP Approach (Global Rehabilitation and Injury Prevention), and he is also a practicing chiropractor in Evanston at Cornerstone Clinics.

Through GRIP Approach, Ben takes some of the most effective – yet esoteric – concepts in physical therapy and rehab and makes them practical and accessible to healthcare practitioners, coaches, and trainers.

Ben has a huge wealth of knowledge on all things related to developmental kinesiology, soft tissue and fascial restriction and dysfunction, and the nervous system's role in controlling ranges of motion and compensatory patterns.

Fortunately, rather than just hoarding all of this information for himself, he's synthesizing what he knows and teaching it through GRIP Approach in a way that's one of the most actionable frameworks that I've seen for this type of knowledge.

Take a listen below to hear Ben discuss how he approaches assessment of clients, how he individualizes treatments for different people and different goals, where he personally goes to keep learning, and how he continues developing his craft.

Ben will also be teaching a course at South Loop Strength & Conditioning in July of 2016, so take a look below for more information on Ben's courses as well as his personal practice in Evanston.

Listen Here

Learn More About Dr. Ben Fergus and GRIP Approach

Resources Mentioned

Show Notes

  • [0:21] Dr. Ben Fergus Introduction
  • [2:26] How did you get into this field?
  • [4:35] An example of an athlete or patient that pushed you to break the standard model.
  • [7:02] Why is one person effected by an issue when another is not with similar patterning issues?
  • [10:55] What is your thought on people who are performing at a high level doing stuff "wrong"?
  • [13:27] Can you elaborate on how you assess people that come into your office? What do you look for?
  • [21:38] Why do people lose the ability to control these neutral zones of reference?
  • [24:54] Fear avoidance…
  • [28:25] How do you filter through what people really need?
  • [32:35] Mobility… Stability… What is happening in situations where you have different issues.
  • [37:18] PT exercises, joint manipulations… studies show that they work, why?
  • [40:41] What are so special about the DNS positions?
  • [46:07] How does the brain select specific ranges of motion and how do we change our ability to do that?
  • [49:58] How did training in Prague come about?
  • [54:17] How do you decide what to read, what courses to take?
  • [1:01] If you could do any study, what would be a massive win?
  • [1:04] GRIP Performance course

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James FitzGerald on Quitting Coaching

James FitzGerald

I first started coaching in CrossFit back in 2010, and at some point in 2011, I transitioned into the role of writing programming for the gym that I was working at.

In typical information hoarder practice, I began to search out as much as I could find on the principles of program design. I started reading dense training manuals from Yuri Verkhoshansky, Vladimir Zatsiorsky and Louie Simmons.

I remember downloading a PDF of Zatsiorsky's "Science and Practice of Strength Training" and somehow managing to read that thing on my Kindle – which is insane and a testament to an attention span that I think I no longer have.

Throughout this process of research, I started following along with James FitzGerald's "Big Dawgs Blog" and being confused at the contrast between the somewhat silly name and the extremely technical training prescriptions that made no sense to me.

James was well known within the CrossFit community as the champion of the inaugural CrossFit Games as well as the coach to many athletes competing at a high level in the sport.

At that point in time, I wrote my own training, but I would read the Big Dawgs blog and try to understand some of the "whys" behind the complicated prescriptions of tempos and work-to-rest ratios. I remember trying to put together my own lactate power training sessions with airdyne and sled dragging and heavy touch-and-go deadlifts, and just tragically missing the point – but simultaneously feeling like this guy FitzGerald was on to something.

I've taken all of James's OPEX CCP modules through Level 2, and that – coupled with my mentorship with his younger brother Michael – has had more of an impact than anything else on my understanding of not just the Xs and Os of program design, but the big picture questions that need to be asked to progress athletes in sports like CrossFit, soccer, and rugby vs. corporate wellness clients vs. doctors, consultants, and students who are members at my gym.

In this episode, James discusses what he learned from his relationship with strength & conditioning masterminds like Charles Poliquin and Paul Chek, how he integrated those learnings into his own coaching within CrossFit, how he removed himself from his coaching role with CrossFit Games athletes, and how he plans on growing OPEX's remote coaching services as well as his own continuing education modules.

James will be at South Loop Strength & Conditioning on April 23-25th leading the OPEX Program Design Level 1 module – any coaches or athletes interested in an upgraded understanding of the "whys" behind program design should click here for more information

Listen Here

Learn More About James & OPEX

Show Notes

  • [0:23] Introduction of James Fitzgerald
  • [4:53] How did the guys that inspired you create their different systems?
  • [07:50] How do you figure out what works and what doesn't?
  • [09:39] How did you come up with the original models for training energy systems?
  • [14:32] How do you figure out what is actually limiting people?
  • [17:08] What separates the best from the rest?
  • [20:49] It's about fatigue repeatability…
  • [25:37] The concept of dampening relevant to fatigue repeatability?
  • [28:06] Nervous system fatigue; what do you think is going on there?
  • [31:08] What's the value around learning? How are you continuing your education?
  • [35:45] What personal systems have worked for you?
  • [36:39] What does the internal OPEX structure and process look like?

  • [39:10] What have you changed in terms of how deliver information based upon what you have been learning?
  • [40:52] Have you found anything that helps people learn to learn?
  • [42:22] What for you is the process that helps you actually learn, retain, implement…
  • [43:18] How do you come to peace with things that fulfill only you?
  • [46:56] What challenges do they (your coaches) have that stops them from learning/retaining new information?
  • [48:38] You recently delegated most of your coaching roll. How did you come to that decision?
  • [51:07] How do you attempt to separate yourself from OPEX?
  • [54:37] What is a potential coach going to get out of the program design course being held at South Loop Strength & Conditioning?
  • [55:36] What do you get out of coaching from OPEX?

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Greg Anderson from Southern Lord Records and Sunn O))) on How to Build a Tribe

Greg Anderson

I've always been kind of a music freak. My first foray into "non-mainstream music" came in seventh grade. I was in some sort of special math program where I was bumped up a grade into the eighth grade advanced math class. At the time, bands like The Offspring and The Mighty Bosstones were popular on alternative radio, and I loved alternative radio. I begged my mother to allow me to put a Q101 sticker on her car, and she was like "absolutely not."

One of the eighth graders in my math class (Justin K was his name) somehow found out that I was enthralled with the ska and punk bands nudging at mainstream success, and he suggested that I check out Less Than Jake. I went to Beautiful Day, the local record store, and purchased "Losing Streak." I was completely blown away that a band could be so good without being on the radio, and my life changed in that moment.

Justin gave me other recommendations including Operation Ivy and Slapstick, and within months I had ordered pretty much everything from the Asian Man Records catalog.

From this point forward, I became a music freak – obsessively researching bands and genres and getting my ears on anything that I could find. This was in the advent of file-sharing, so I used Napster, Kaazaa, album thank you lists, John Peel playlists, and recommendations for charismatic and borderline cyber-bullying internet forum users.

At some point, as an older, darker, more depressed teen with a taste for heavy metal, I stumbled into the music of Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson. This was probably a year or so after Sunn O)))'s "Flight of the Behemoth" came out. I quickly started back-tracking and checking out all of their other slow and bizarre projects, and I had a particular taste for Khanate and Burning Witch. At the time, I was familiar with Black Sabbath and a bunch of technical death metal and metalcore bands, but had pretty much no knowledge of doom metal. The idea of contemporary bands purposefully playing slow and non-technical riffs was insane and mind-blowing to me.

I also came across Thorr's Hammer a few years later while searching for bands influenced by Celtic Frost, and only later learned that the same slow-playing weirdos Greg and Stephen were responsible for that band as well.

Recently, my band Like Rats released an album on Greg's label Southern Lord Records. To have a person who unknowingly shaped your development and opinion of music put his name (and some of his own $) behind your project makes me feel a little bit weird if I actually think about it.

Greg graciously agreed to take some of his time to discuss his own creative process – and how this differs between his bands, how he built a tribe of like-minded people who want to hear whatever he puts out with his label or with his bands, and how he thinks about marketing and growing his business in a subculture that frowns heavily upon any sort of calculated or disingenuous salesy bullshit.

Even though this post and podcast are appearing on a gym's site, I considered myself a musician long before I considered myself a coach, so I think it's valuable to dig into the same mindsets and processes that we look for in elite coaches, athletes and therapists in areas outside of fitness. Just one insight gleaned from another industry or field can be game-changing when applied in an arena like coaching or performance.

Listen Here

Learn More About Greg and Southern Lord Records

Show Notes

  • [0:17] Introduction of Greg Anderson
  • [2:50] How do you create the music?
  • [6:08] How do you have quality control of what you release?
  • [13:42] During the editing process, is there one lead creative voice or is it a collaborative process?
  • [17:33] A basic history of Southern Lord
  • [28:46] How do you approach marketing without crossing a line you don't agree with?
  • [33:46] Do you do anything to create a following with the music you want to hear?
  • [36:44] A story about Scott Walker
  • [46:47] More information on Southern Lord and Greg's bands

Resources Mentioned

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Joe Heiler of

Joe Heiler

As a strength & conditioning coach, I've received some of the best continuing education by playing around in areas that I don't belong in. Courses geared more towards physical therapists like DNS, the SFMA, and Sahrmann's courses on Movement System Impairment Syndromes have profoundly impacted how I look at coaching and movement.

Joe Heiler has spent the last several years interviewing these folks and making these conversations available on his site

This time, we turn the tables on Joe and learn how and why he started Sports Rehab Expert, how he accumulated such an all-star line-up of interview guests, and how he integrates all of the different approaches discussed on his site into his own practice – Elite Physical Therapy located in Traverse City Michigan.

I had a great time with this conversation, since I'm a continuing education junky and I'm always curious how people decide which pieces of knowledge to pursue, which pieces to integrate, and which to discard.

Joe has spent countless hours supplementing his own knowledge with these expert conversations while still practicing himself as a physical therapist and integrating all of these pieces into his own work with patients.

This process is applicable not just to physical therapy, but to anything where there's a blend between tacit and explicit knowledge required to execute at a high level.

Listen Here

Learn More About Joe, Sports Rehab Expert & Elite Physical Therapy

Here's a great interview that Joe Heiler did with Gray Cook on how Gray practices in his own facility:

Show Notes

  • [0:39] Introduction of Joe Heiler
  • [4:02] How do you prioritize what information you want to consume?
  • [9:10] How do you decide when you can use a certain protocol to fit your model?
  • [10:59] What is your process for getting what you want from a client?
  • [15:05] What are you thoughts on figuring out different types of mobility issues?
  • [17:55] How to get people to adopt new movement strategies at high intensity or max loads?
  • [24:51] How do you get buy-in when someone pushes back?
  • [27:28] What does a typical week look like for Joe Heiler?
  • [31:24] Using the SFMA in practice.
  • [34:41] What led to the start of
  • [37:16] How did the interviews start?
  • [40:26] What are some of the under appreciated interviews on the site?
  • [45:04] What business lessons have you learned between the site and the PT practice?
  • [47:30] How do you educate people on the value of a PT professional?
  • [52:25] Where can people find out more about the site and Joe?

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Michael FitzGerald on What Metrics Actually Matter for Performance in CrossFit

Michael FitzGerald

Michael Jordan had Phil Jackson and Tim Grover.
Muhammad Ali had Angelo Dundee.
Michael Jackson worked with Seth Riggs.

Many of the greatest performers of all time in sports, business and entertainment got where they are not only from talent and work ethic – but also from their training with a coach who was able to guide them on their journey.

As someone who coaches athletes myself, I obviously see the value in coaching, and Michael FitzGerald has been my “coaching” coach.

I originally reached out to Michael a few years ago when he first offered a “program design mentorship” on his blog, and we worked together for almost a year. I would design a program for a theoretical situation (critique Spencer Hendel’s training, write a program for Chris Spealler, etc.), then he would tell me what made sense about my designs and what didn’t.

From there, Michael started coaching me as an athlete, which, on my end, is a continued learning to see how he designs programs, how he targets specific adaptations, how he waves volume and intensity, and other nerdy, meta things.

In this interview, we get into some of the nitty gritty aspects of program design for CrossFit performance as well as some of the psychological barriers that can limit athletes from achieving their top performance.

Listen Here

Learn More About Michael & Optimum Performance Training – Calgary

Show Notes

  • [0:30] Introduction
  • [4:01] Creating new training protocols for the sport of Fitness
  • [11:44] How has training for the Sport of Fitness changed over the years?
  • [17:41] What metrics matter for CrossFit performance specifically?
  • [21:04] How do you train high level repeatability?
  • [28:37] The ins and outs of testing repeatability and high level fitness
  • [50:25] How do you get buy in from athletes that want to compete and are used to more traditional programming/testing?
  • [55:00] How do you deal with the psychological barriers athletes create when testing?

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Elisabeth Akinwale on Mental Toughness in Competition and How to Coach like a Social Worker

Elisabeth Akinwale

In addition to being a five times CrossFit Games competitor (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015) with two top ten finishes, Elisabeth Akinwale is a mother and a former social worker.

Elisabeth is very self-aware and articulate about her experiences competing, coaching (in her new role as head coach at Brick Chicago) and balancing priorities in her life.

She has a lot of insight into the mental edge of competition (it's not just always about pushing harder) as well as the psychology behind motivation, accountability and game day performance.

Listen Here

Learn More About Elisabeth

Show Notes

  • [0:00] Introduction
  • [1:02] New life as Head Coach at Brick Chicago
  • [4:21] Working with Chad Vaughn
  • [7:28] How do you deal with the mental chatter?
  • [10:47] Do you purposely attempt to detach from performance with outcome?
  • [14:24] Do you have a mindfulness practice?
  • [21:31] Background as a social worker and application of those skills within the coaching setting.
  • [31:24] What does your conditioning look like right now?
  • [38:37] The glamor of being a professional athlete may not be what you think it is.
  • [41:21] Where do people go to find out more information on Brick Chicago and your seminars?

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Why Training Harder Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Training Better

Alex Nettey & Ashley Jordan

If you start taking a look at fitness celebrities on social media, their timelines are full of inspirational quotes.

There's all kinds of stuff out there about pushing harder, never quitting, never backing down, and not making excuses.

While having grit and a willingness to endure short-term pain for long-term progress are both essential for people looking to achieve maximum results in fitness and in competition, like most things, there is a pendulum that can swing too far.

Many highly motivated people – including both CrossFit competitors and Type A professionals – really want to improve.

They want to push hard.

They want to get results.

If a bit of extra work, time and suffering will get them to their goals faster, they want to take that extra step.

However, there's often a disconnect and an assumption that, in order to get better results, they need to just keep pushing harder.

In most of these people, there's no shortage of a willingness to suffer or a willingness to do additional work in the gym.

However, adaptation over the long-term is much more complicated than this.

Improving in the gym is not a linear process, and going harder in training day-to-day does not necessarily mean that your overall progress will improve. Adding five pounds to your working sets on your back squat today doesn't mean that your max will improve when you test it next. And, especially for competitors, it doesn't mean that you're going to perform at a higher level when you step out onto the field for your next event.

Over the last few months, we've been hosting group training events at SLSC that have been attended by some very high level athletes – folks who have competed individually at the CrossFit Games for multiple years, top ten Regionals finishers, multiple year affiliate team members, and folks who are consistently in the top 200 in the Open in their region.

As we've hosted these sessions, we've heard feedback from people who are surprised that the athletes at the next level up from them aren't killing themselves on a day-to-day basis. They're doing the same type of training – just with more weight, better times, better movement, and better recovery. They still take their two minute rest between sets of back squats. They still have good lifts and bad lifts.

It's not about pushing more during training – it's about progress over time, maximizing your own potential, and showing up to compete on game day.

Listen Here

Show Notes

  • [0:00] Introduction
  • [4:45] What is the biggest mistake being made by competitors in terms of going too hard?
  • [7:33] What do you want to see from athletes and what mentality do they need to do day-to-day?
  • [16:18] Does training in a group allow you to push yourself harder?
  • [22:34] It's not that you shouldn't push hard, you should do it when it's appropriate.
  • [25:28] As a coach, how do you address an athlete going too hard?
  • [30:00] For a competitor, when DO they need to be going harder?

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Mike Kesthely of Dynamic Nutrition

Mike Kesthely

Back in 2013, Mike Kesthely effectively closed Dynamic Nutrition down. He had consulted with several CrossFit Games level athletes on their nutrition and had lead nutrition seminars for OPEX (formerly OPT). However, his full-time job as a firefighter and the pending birth of his second child caused him to reevaluate his priorities.

Fast forward a few years, and Dynamic Nutrition has risen from the ashes. By bringing Jason Phillips onboard, Mike has re-energized his company and has expanded into supplementation, seminars, and group coaching in addition to the one-on-one consulting that he has always done.

He's still working with CrossFit Games athletes and he's still obsessively researching best practices in nutrition.

In this interview, learn how Mike runs his company (despite hating the business-side of things), how Mike sifts through the endless stream of information to provide the best coaching he can to his clients, and how he works with the best fitness athletes in the world on both a tactical and a strategic level.

Listen Here

Learn More About Mike & Dynamic Nutrition

Resources Mentioned

Show Notes

  • [0:14] Introduction of Mike Kesthely of Dynamic Nutrition
  • [7:30] Saving Dynamic Nutrition from death
  • [14:50] When did your mindset change towards keeping Dynamic Nutrition going?
  • [16:44] How do you make it work, being a fire fighter and running a business?
  • [22:05] What do you do for yourself to manage stress?
  • [26:14] Do you practice any mindfulness practices?
  • [28:34] You seem obsessive with your research, Why?
  • [35:07] How do you manage using PubMed?
  • [40:20] What is your framework for looking at the stresses people apply to themselves?
  • [43:49] How do you track stress with clients?
  • [53:59] How do you handle athletes that possibly have issues caused by stress/over-training/over-reaching?
  • [1:00:00] Let's talk supplements.
  • [1:18:00] Wrap up and information on seminar in Chicago, IL.

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