CrossFit.com Programming Analysis: Part 3

CrossFit.com has been posting a single Workout of the Day (WOD) on their main page since 2001. This seemingly innocuous act has snowballed into the most disruptive fitness movement the industry has ever seen. It has led to over 9,000 independently owned CrossFit® Affiliate Gyms, and over 200,000 competitors in the Sport of Fitness™.

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the programming based on Workout Modality. In Part 2, we looked at Movement Selection and Frequency. In Part 3, we are looking at Workout Selection and Frequency.

Workout Selection and Frequency (2008-2013)

The biggest trend we’re seeing in the CrossFit.com programming is a departure from the historical practice of frequently repeating workouts. This represents a huge paradigm shift.

Here are some overall stats (2008-2013):

  • Total Unique Workouts assigned: 771
  • Total Workouts assigned only once: 521
  • Total Workouts assigned more than once: 250
  • Number of Workouts assigned at least once every year: 22

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There is a clear difference between the 2008-2009 period and the 2010-2013 period in regards to workout repetition. In the former period, only 58% of the 131 workouts were not repeated. In the latter period, 84% of the 246 workouts were not repeated. We also see a huge decline in the number of times a workout was repeated in the latter period, with very few workouts being assigned more than twice.


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We can see that starting in 2010, there was a huge departure from the historical practice of frequently repeating workouts. Beginning in 2003, CrossFit.com began regularly assigning “Benchmark Workouts“. According to Coach Glassman, the intention of these workouts was to “measure and benchmark your performance and improvements through repeated, irregular, appearances in the ‘Workout of the Day'”. I was frankly very surprised when I saw the paradigm shifting away from repeating workouts in 2010. I’m not sure the reasoning, but this is a pretty dramatic global shift in programming.

One possible explanation is that Benchmarks are merely tests that don’t need to be repeated as often as they once were. This would support the idea that workouts designed to “test” fitness are not necessarily the best workouts for developing fitness. I’m not sure I agree with this, but this is not the first time I’ve heard this idea proposed.

In 2008, 57 workouts were assigned more than once. In 2013, only 36 were. In 2008, there were 74 workouts assigned only once. In 2013, there were 210.

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In 2013, most of the repeated workouts were only repeated twice that year, and 75% of the WODs weren’t repeated at all. In 2008, 26% of the workouts were assigned only once. The remaining 75% were assigned an average of 3.6 times.

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The majority of the workouts we see being repeated in the Top 30 most assigned by CrossFit.com are “Lifting” workouts and “Girl” Benchmarks. This makes sense for the Lifting workouts, as strength is an important component in CrossFit’s idea of fitness. The “Girls” are CrossFit’s Benchmark workouts, and they can only function as such if they are repeated. We see a lot of “Heroes” in the overall programming, but most of them aren’t repeated very often. The top runs we see repeated are 5k and 10k time trials, which are also good benchmarks.

The top 5 most assigned workouts during this period were Run 5k, CrossFit Total, Michael, Cindy/Mary, and Fran. Not a bad mix of workouts: A run, some lifts, a Hero WOD and two Girls. In the chart below, you can see the trend away from repeating workouts, especially among the top workouts. Interestingly, “Helen” is the only workout in the top 10 to be assigned as many times in 2013 as it was in 2008.

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Girls

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Fran was assigned every two months in 2008, but only two times in 2013. Fran, Cindy/Mary, and Lynne were the most assigned Girls in 2008. Helen, Elizabeth, and Jackie were the most assigned in 2013.

Heroes

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Michael and Nate both saw pretty substantial drop-offs after 2008. In 2008, these top Heroes were assigned a total of 24 times. In 2013, they were only assigned 4 times.

Lifting

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Even the Lifting workouts, which are still relatively popular, have seen a decline. The CrossFit Total was assigned 9 times in 2008. In 2013 it was only assigned 3 times. Overall, these top Lifting workouts were assigned over 50 times in 2008 and 2009, and around 25 times each year from 2010-2013.

Conclusion

When I began looking at the data for this article, I honestly didn’t expect to see this type of decline in repeated workouts. My gym (CrossFit Kinnick) followed CrossFit.com programming from when we opened in 2007, until sometime in 2010. At that time we decided to try our hand at programming for our members, while still following the general programming ideas that we had become familiar with from the Main Site. I still regularly look at the WODs on CrossFit.com, but I guess I didn’t notice how much more infrequently they were assigning these top WODs. I wonder how many other casual observers missed this as well?

3 Comments

  1. Kyle S.

    I know this post is old but this level of assessment is amazing! It would be interesting to compare this data with comparable data from 2013-present. Do yall know when you will run this again?

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  2. Josh

    I second this notion. It would be cool to see these three parts with an annual update if it wouldn’t be too complicated. What I find fascinating is that most CrossFit Gyms do not appear to program in a similar fashion.

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