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Why You Need to be Following a Program

I’ll be the first one to admit it, program hopping is an exciting thing to do. It feels somewhat like a New Years resolution every time you start a new program. It’s full of promise of you finally reaching that new snatch or squat personal record, or finally getting the abs you’ve been working all year to see. But, program hopping is also a sure-fire way to NEVER achieve any of those things I just mentioned. Here’s why.

Contrary to what many original CrossFitters would have you believe, achieving higher levels of fitness requires planning and progressions. Yes, when you first start working out consistently you will see improvements no matter what exactly you are doing. For example, if you came into the gym just three times per week and squatted once, deadlifted another time, and overhead pressed the third day, you would get stronger. You could do 3×10 at the same weight every time, and you’d still get stronger. For a little bit. We call these beginner gains, because everyone sees them. They are great. They also don’t last.

After a certain amount of time, which is different for everyone but I would say an average of three months is normal, these improvements stop entirely. No matter how many sets of 10 at 185 you do, you simply cannot do a 225 squat, for example. This is what happens when you don’t follow a structured program. Gaining strength is a scientific experiment, based mainly on the principle of progressive overload which states that your body will adapt to heavier weights over time, allowing you to consistently lift more weight. For example, in week one you may do a 5 x 5 back squat at 70%, and then the next time you do that same set/rep scheme you add 5-10 pounds to your prior weight. This is the simplest example of progressive overload, and it works every time.

Now, how does this involve a program? If you go from program to program, doing a 5×5 strongman program one week, and then a 12/10/10/8 bodybuilding program the next, and then maybe a 5/3/1 program popularized by Jim Wendler the following week, you’re not giving your body the chance to get better progressively. Basically, you’re extending the amount of time it takes to get stronger, and that doesn’t make any sense.

This is not to say that variety is the enemy. Variety is great. Just keep it away from your strength programming. Even Rich Froning, who famously doesn’t even have a coach nor a program, says that what he does, does not work for the normal person. This is a guy who trains at minimum three times per day and almost never takes a day off. He is a genetic freak. We are NOT Rich Froning. There is no one like him. So follow a program, but leave room to have variety on your WODs. The WODs are not really even when you make your improvements. They are meant to work on skills under fatigue, get your heart rate up, and improve general conditioning. But don’t mess with the strength programming. That is extremely important.

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