DSCF Strength Programming Explained

2016q4-dscf-strength-programming-preview(download the PDF version here: 2016q4-dscf-strength-programming-preview)

Starting this week, we will be beginning our next training cycle. And what better time than now to take the opportunity to explain a little bit more about how our programming is designed and what can be expected over this quarter. Additionally, we’ll discuss how to derive the greatest benefit from our programming based on your needs, especially if you are on a limited membership.


General Characteristics of DSCF Strength Programming

Division St. CrossFit’s programming has been, for the past few years, based around 13 week cycles. While each iteration has been a little bit different, they each have contributed in some way to what will be described here. Our current programming cycle incorporates 11 weeks of training (a volume/accumulation phase which transitions toward an intensification phase prior to testing) and 2 weeks of testing/deloading (deloading is characterized by a reduction in intensity [weight] and/or volume [reps & sets]). The first week tests single-modalities (such as weightlifting 1 RMs, gymnastic skills, and mono-structural time trials) and accounts for the reduction in volume of the deloading aspect of the testing week. The second week tests mixed-modal conditioning pieces (typically we have been testing CrossFit Benchmark workouts which incorporate multiple modalities); this is the deload’s reduction in intensity. Training cycles typically begin during the last week of the last month of the quarter (this allows testing to occur prior to major winter holiday breaks) and allows for four training cycles annually.


For the past few quarters we’ve employed a three-day movement pattern rotation (Monday-Friday), based on priority. This rotation runs as follows:

  1. squat
    • back squat, front squat, etc.
  2. upper body/trunk
    • press, push press, jerk, HSPU, pull-up, ring dip, push-up, TTB, etc.
  3. bending (or pulling)
    • deadlift, clean, snatch, etc.

Monday through Friday rotations occur every three weeks (12312, 31231, 23123, repeat). The exercises selected on each of those priority days changes daily as well, which creates training variation while still maintaining a progression toward greater intensity.


Conditioning pieces incorporate similar movement patterns to the day’s priority strength movement (e.g. if back squatting for strength, you may see air squats, wall balls, or thrusters in the metcon OR if deadlifting for strength, you may see deadlifts, hang/power variations of cleans/snatches, etc. in the metcon). Designing conditioning workouts around this principle allows for a number of benefits:

    • It reduces the number of movements which need to be drilled per class, which:
        • allows members to prioritize specific training days based on their needs
        • eases strain on coaches and confusion for members
        • allows for more coaching and practice of fewer movements in a single session
        • creates opportunity for muscle endurance work on an already warmed-up movement
        • etc.
    • It allows for optimal rest (72 hours) between days training similar movement patterns. This decreases the chance for overuse injuries and prevents having to work through soreness by not performing similar movement patterns on back-to-back days.
    • It allows members with injuries to avoid specific training days due to the inability to perform specific movement patterns. On the other hand, it also lets members with injuries know precisely which days to attend since they will be unimpeded by the exercises selected that day.
    • No one week is like any other so if training days are consistent from week to week, the movements trained will vary from week to week. What you will not see is a squat programmed every monday, a press every tuesday, deadlift on wednesday, etc.

Despite these reasons, this does not mean that:

    • the priority movement pattern is exclusive to that day ONLY (it’s possible it may show up in small amounts on any of the other days)
    • the priority movement pattern is the ONLY movement used that day (other movements will be incorporated each day)
    • training days should be selected based solely on preference; they should still be selected based on your fitness needs and what biases/imbalances need correcting.


As mentioned previously, strength programming will begin with an accumulation phase which is typically characterized by high volume (reps & sets) and low intensity (weight). Our first few weeks of training focuses more on absolute strength and the “slow lifts”, or the lower technique movements (squat, deadlift, press, etc.). Over the course of the training cycle, we transition toward the intensification phase which is typically characterized by lower volume and higher intensity. Throughout these weeks, you’ll start to see things transition toward more dynamic strength and the “explosive lifts”, or the higher technique movements (snatch, clean, jerk, etc.).


In general, weights should get heavier as the training cycle progresses. This may happen on almost a session to session basis by priority movement. For instance, the final weights used in a previous deadlift training session may be used as guidance to start the next training session for the same movement. To be more precise, if the previous deadlift training session called for sets of 10 and today’s session calls for sets of 8, then the weight selected today should be heavier than the one used in the previous deadlift training session. Thus the weight gets heavier as the weeks progress and the number of reps per set decrease.

As an aside: When multiple sets are prescribed for the same rep scheme, they can be performed at either a single weight (“straight sets”) or they can increase in weight across each set of the same number of reps (“progressive sets”). Some rep & set schemes may be repeated throughout the training cycle as well and both approaches may be used at different times for the same programming on different days. For example, a back squat of 2×6,5,4 will appear twice in our programming. The first time around, perhaps straight sets should be used in order to stay within the rep range. Then, the second time around, progressive sets are used to go a little heavier than the previous session of the same reps & sets.

As the training cycle progresses, shorter rest periods transition to longer rest periods and the tempo varies throughout the entire cycle (leading to greater metabolic changes and increases in force production). On Saturdays, general, full-body conditioning workouts take place. They are typically longer duration partner or team “sweat” workouts, typically incorporating work/rest periods.


How to Read DSCF Strength Programming

Division St. CrossFit’s strength programming is written in the following way:

“sets x reps (tempo), rest”

Sets are the number of times the indicated number of reps are to be performed while reps are the number of times the movement is to be performed in a single set. Tempo is the pace, speed, or duration at which repetitions are to be performed. Tempo is typically written with four numbers, which represent the number of seconds each phase of the lift should be performed:

  1. eccentric phase (where the muscle lengthens under contraction – sometimes referred to as the “lowering” phase)
  2. isometric phase (pause)
  3. concentric phase (where the muscle shortens under contraction – sometimes referred to as the “raising” phase)
  4. isometric phase (pause)

An “X” indicates “explosive” in intent, which may not effectively be explosive if the weight is sufficiently heavy. Rest dictates how frequently sets are to be performed or how much time to take between sets. Basically, the line above should be read:

“Perform A sets of B repetitions at a tempo of WXYZ, performing one set every C minutes.”


Sets and reps may be indicated by ranges within which the number of repetitions should be performed to achieve the desired dose response. The amount of weight used is indicated by the rep range which should be achieved (also potentially by a recommended percent range of your 1 RM). If more than the indicated range of reps can be performed, then the weight should increase. If less than the indicated range of reps can be performed, the weight should be kept the same and the same number of reps should be attempted to be repeated in the next set. Additionally, you should make note of the over-estimation for the next training session in which this movement is performed so that appropriate adjustments can be made. Beginners, or those of low-training age, should steer toward the higher end of the rep ranges. Advanced, or those of high-training age, should steer toward the lower end of the rep ranges. The number of sets performed may vary based on external factors (sleep, stress, caloric consumption, hydration, etc.) and motivation/energy on any given day (based on “feel”).


dscf-balanced-strength-worksheet-2016q4-christopher-james(download the Excel template here: dscf-balanced-strength-worksheet)

In order to optimize your training at Division St. CrossFit, use the above “Balanced Strength Worksheet” to assess your current strength balances and biases. We’ve recently completed testing on nearly all of the possible movements we can check in this worksheet so those numbers should be at-hand (if you happened to miss any, look to complete those tests during an upcoming Open Gym session). This worksheet will provide ratios for specific sets of movements where accepted standards and norms have been established to let you know which ones of yours are outside of those trends. The instructions are provided in the worksheet but some interpretation will be required to understand which movements should be prioritized in your training. Additionally, please do not overreact to seeing red on your worksheet. For instance, the above completed worksheet is mine (Coach JJ’s) and, as you can see, there are more than one red cells. But what this worksheet is saying is that, for balanced fitness, I should prioritize raising my deadlift strength as well as my bench press in addition to my back squat (which I’m interpreting as increasing strength overall). I also notice my biases toward Olympic weightlifting but that makes sense. Regardless of what the worksheet ends up saying for you, it should be used to get a better grasp on an aspect of your fitness as well as, with the programming description above, what to do about it.


Hopefully this has been a helpful explanation and will arm you with the tools to maximize your training at Division St. CrossFit. Please let us know if you have any questions – enjoy!

by JJ Christopher in Coach's Tips

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