John – You guys travel a lot for CrossFit Football and have seen a good number of boxes. How do boxes differ and which ones are you excited to see?

Jake L.

If you haven’t noticed, after we did our international tour we took a few weeks off to regroup and rest up before we head out on the road.

We are very excited to head to Skip Miller’s box, Front Range CrossFit, in Denver, Colorado for our next CrossFit Football Certification. Aside from Skip having a top-notch gym and me picking his brain on his unique program, we are proud to introduce our  special guest, Dr. Loren Cordain. Loren is the author of The Paleo Diet and will be speaking on Paleolithic nutrition at the CrossFit Football certification.

Dr. Loren Cordain is the leading expert on the diet of our Paleolithic ancestors. In numerous publications in the world’s best scientific journals, he has documented the dramatic health benefits of eating a diet consistent with human genetic evolution and our ancestral, Paleolithic diet. Dr. Cordain received his Ph.D. in Health from the University of Utah in 1981, and has been a Professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University since 1982.

*For those of you attending the CrossFit Football cert this is just part of the program as we enjoy having special guests, but we are also selling tickets to the event if you want to hear Dr. Cordain speak. You can click here to sign up for the cert or Front Range CrossFit to sign up to attend Dr. Cordain’s lecture.

Last year I did a speaking engagement in San Diego with Dr. Cordain, so working with him again is a treat. I am especially excited to visit Front Range CrossFit to meet Skip Miller and his team and discuss their unique approach to training. Skip runs one of the most successful S&C programs in the country and has done an excellent job blending strength in the Olympic movements, gymnastics and work capacity. As a coach/athlete it is important to meet people like Skip and team that are doing a great job of developing athletes and getting people to their goals. I asked Skip to to discuss his philosophy in regards to training.

The Story

We have known for a long time that the difference between our top CrossFit athletes and everyone else has been the amount of O-Lifting that they do. (And the amount of milk that they drink, but that is for another post.) We had been trying for a long time to figure out a way to get more of our athletes regularly Olympic Weightlifting.  And we figured out a way.

We took the additional space so that we could offer some specialty workouts in the evening.  Now our athletes can do a CrossFit workout at 4:30, and start O-lifting at 5:30.  Or do the 5:30 CrossFit workout and then do the 6:30 O-Lift workout.  The new space has 14 dedicated lifting platforms, 2 squat cages, 10 sets of squat stands, jerk boxes, pull boxes, 20 Olympic training bars and about 5,000 lbs of bumpers.  It has an entire area devoted to Mobility work.  Additionally, we offer basic, intermediate and advanced kettlebell workouts, and a structured Strength Program in the weight room every day.

Since the opening of the FRCF Weight Room we have seen a remarkable improvement in the CrossFit results across the board.  We routinely have 15 – 25 athletes do the FRCF O-Lift Program and another 8-15 doing the FRCF Strength Program each day.  They do those programs after they have done the FRCF workout of the day.  We put 75 – 100 athletes through the FRCF CrossFit WOD each day.  So about 25-35% of the athletes that come in to FRCF on a daily basis do a structured O-Lift or Strength program each day.  That has resulted in some really, really nice strength improvements as well as improvements in CrossFit work capacity.


The Program

At FRCF, we have always programmed our CrossFit workouts on the heavy side.  That has lead to many of our athletes consistently going up in weight over the prescribed weight for the workout.  For my example, I am going to use the weights that we use for a power clean that is part of a timed, CrossFit workout.

On a power clean workout at FRCF, the strongest men will usually use 225 lbs and the strongest women will use 145 lbs.  Even loaded down, those athletes will usually win the workout.  I am, in fact, trying to slow them down by loading them up with more weight than everyone else is using.  This results in most of the athletes finishing in roughly the same amount of time.  This means that all of the athletes that did the workout that day had roughly the same relative intensity.  We routinely put 75-100 athletes through the FRCF workout of the day.  It is not uncommon for more athletes to go up in weight than to have to modify down in weight.

So how does this work?

Since about January of 2009, I virtually never list the prescribed barbell weight on a FRCF workout that is heavier than 135/85 lbs. (Except for when we deadlift for reps. Then the max weight I use is 225/155 lbs.)  I am talking here about timed, CrossFit workouts.  At this point you are thinking, “135 lbs is certainly not heavy.”  Keep reading….

My rationale for keeping the prescribed barbell weight at 135 lbs or less is simple.  I have found that if I put 185 lbs/(115 lbs for the women) as the prescribed weight for a barbell movement the entire gym will try to do that weight simply because that is what is listed on the board.  It doesn’t matter how long it takes them, they are going to do the workout as prescribed.

Damn It!!!

This results in some people doing the workout in 4 minutes, and some people doing the workout in 24 minutes.  That isn’t even remotely the same workout, due to the lower relative intensity for the guy doing the super long workout.

List the weight at 135 lbs, and then selectively tell the stronger athletes (who can handle the heavier loads without slowing down too much) to go up in weight.

For instance, on a recent workout at FRCF that involved power cleans, more than 65% of the athletes that did the workout went heavier than the normal weight of 135/85 lbs.  That is very common at FRCF.  And the people that go the fastest on the workouts always use the heaviest weights.  The actual percentages of the last several FRCF workouts that involved power cleans look like this.  The percentages listed are the percent of the athletes that used that weight during the workout.

Men’s weight/Women’s weight
225/145 lbs 8%
205/135 lbs 10%
185/115 lbs 16%
165/105 lbs 34%
135/85 lbs (prescribed weight) 20%
Less than prescribed weight 12%

Yes, we do other stuff besides power clean.  For simplicity sake I just thought we should stick with one barbell movement.

Our consistently heavy programming, coupled with a heavy emphasis on the O-Lifts, has produced the following results.  91% of the men that have been training at FRCF for longer than 12 months have at least a double bodyweight deadlift.  We have found that the men reach the double bodyweight level and the women hit roughly 1.85 times their bodyweight in 8-12 months, with no emphasis on the deadlift, with regular FRCF programming.  (In fact, we only deadlift heavy 7 times in 2009 and 3 times so far in 2010).  We use the deadlift to check our strength compared to the last time that we pulled heavy.

We have 6 men pull over 500 lbs, 27 men over 400 lbs.  We have 6 women over 300 lbs.  One of those, Kristen Olson, will pull 400 lbs with no additional deadlift training by the year’s end.  With one exception the men pulling over 500 lbs came in deadlifting less than 400 lbs.  None of the women over 300 lbs started with a deadlift over 200 lbs.

The back squat numbers look roughly the same, but the men that are pulling 500+ lbs are squatting 400+ lbs, the men that deadlift over 400 lbs squat more than 300 lbs etc.  For some reason the women consistently squat a higher percentage of their deadlift numbers then the men.  We have about twice as many women squat 200 lbs as women that pull 300 lbs.  Both Jasmine and KO will squat 300 lbs by the year’s end.  (Both of those are high bar back squats).  We have 6 men and 3 women that do Grace under 2:00 (that is with a judge that decides whether each rep is good or not).  Eleven men do Grace under 2:30.  That is what happens when 135 lbs is considered lightweight.

Everyone always makes a big deal out of Jasmine’s 1:53 Grace time that is listed in her stats on the CrossFit Games website.  The funny thing is that her time is the third fastest women’s Grace time in the gym.  Cori’s is the fastest at 1:39.  We have 6 men C&J over 300 lbs.  We have 3 women who C&J 185 lbs or higher, with Jasmine just under 200 lbs.  We have a total of 3 athletes that started O-Lifting with us that have now totaled enough to qualify for USAW Senior Nationals.  Three other athletes are super close, and will be there by 2011.  None of them knew what a Snatch or a Clean and Jerk was before joining FRCF.

The thing to remember is, the above results are achieved by our athletes are accomplished without the loss of their work capacity or CrossFit skills. They can do C2B pull-ups, HSPUs, muscle-ups, lunges, box jumps, burpees, air squats etc.  And they can do them well.  They aren’t specialists by any means.  They just consistently lift heavy in their timed, CrossFit Workouts.



Every CrossFit Affiliate comes at scaling a little differently.  At FRCF the overriding point of scaling is, of course, safety.  You have to be able to move the weight in a safe way in order to use that weight in a workout.

The second point we are trying to achieve is to have each athlete complete the workout in roughly the same amount of elapsed time.  So it doesn’t matter what the weight is, we want the time for the workout to be in the same ballpark from athlete to athlete, regardless of the fitness level of the athlete.  Every workout at FRCF has a purpose.  It is not just a random grouping of exercises.

When we program, we are looking for a specific intensity level for that day.  The time in which you accomplish the workout largely determines that intensity level.

Many people are way too concerned with the weight that they are using.  If two people do the exact same exercises with the exact same rep scheme and the first person goes 10 minutes and the second person takes 20 minutes, it wasn’t the same workout at all.  Because of the time difference, the intensity was so different that it was a completely different workout.  An easy way to adjust how long the workout takes, and by extension the intensity, is to adjust the weight.

That is why some of our athletes go up in weight, some of our people use the listed weight, and some of our people go down.  We are trying to keep the time of the workout roughly the same.  If you are looking for a percentage, we try to keep everyone within roughly 30% of the fastest times.  Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we don’t.

For some workouts, we simply list the weight as light, medium, heavy or very heavy.  When we do, these are the definitions.

Light – you never need to drop the bar to complete your set Medium – you may have to drop the bar on the last couple of sets Heavy – you will have to break most sets Very Heavy – you are doing singles from your first rep

But the thing to always remember is: we are most concerned with the relative time it takes an athlete to complete the workout.  We want the intensity to remain the same for all of our athletes for that workout.