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A Better Progressive Model For CrossFit


A Better Progressive Model For CrossFit

Michael Ruggeri:

In order for a sport to survive long term, it needs a model of progression that athletes and coaches can use for understanding where one falls on the ability spectrum and how to progress forward.

CrossFit in a competitive format originally started as a competition held once per year. With an increase in popularity, it expanded to two weekends per year. As the number of participants continued to grow, a qualification process was created in order to get to a regional level competition (i.e., Sectionals). Over time, this evolved into a world wide online open competition which led to the regional level prior to the world level competition (i.e.,the Games), and then most recently has transitioned to globally sanctioned events and an online qualifier to determine who would move onto the world level.  

The quick growth of the sport and effort to make it as inclusive as possible has left many believing the best training practices for Crossfit are to resemble those at the highest level of the sport.

This misaligned belief has ultimately occured due to the lack of clear structure and progression within the current sport model. At the moment, there isn’t a progressive model for athlete development. Basically, you either have the ability to compete at the highest level or you don’t.

A better competitive progression with clear goals at each level should be implemented so athletes (and their coaches) can understand their current ability levels and what needs to improve in order to get to the next level. 

Purposed levels of competition for Crossfit would be Local, State, Regional, National, World and Olympic levels as a model of progression. 

While major reform from large governing bodies would be needed to implement regional, national, world and olympic levels of competition, the two we can already begin to shape ourselves are the local and state levels of competition.

The local level competition is often an individual’s first exposure to the sport. With that in mind, goals for competition here should become focused on promoting optimal movement, creating learning opportunities, and encouraging participation within the sport. We should not be looking for max physical expression here. 

On many occasions, I’ve programmed advanced pieces for local competitions with the intent to determine which individual or group of individuals possessed the highest level of fitness in the strength and metabolic tasks programmed. 

While this logic appears to align with the goal of the sport, it’s not constructive at this level.

The reality is, at a local level, less than 1% of participants are actually capable of expressing their fitness and recovering from that expression when complex strength and metabolic tasks in fatigue based settings are imposed. The high number of scaled participants in every local competition compared to Rx individuals also highlights this.

Learning from my own mistakes and wanting to create a better foundation for the sport, local level competitions should begin to align themselves around:

  • Strict relative or absolute strength testing over strength speed or dynamic strength tests 
  • Odd object strength, as this allows the opportunity for individuals to learn movement solutions without a high risk for injury or mechanical failure (under the assumption loading is picked appropriately)
  • Athletic skills that demand intent and solid technique over metabolic fatigue
  • Simple capacity tests such as cyclical work alone or variance in circuits that focus around muscle endurance being the base limitation. 

This level of competition should take place over a single day and consist of a single event, a single event with multiple scored tasks or up to multiple events with several hours rest bt. each as a recommendation for design.

The reason for the simplistic sounding design is to allow for ample participation and let individuals get experience for the sport at a beginner level. This design allows us to get those who wish to become competitive within Crossfit to succeed and compete numerous times within a year which will encourage optimal development for the sport over time.

By restructuring the way we run local competitions to provide learning opportunities, inspire movement and motivate participation, we can create a better base of support for individuals who wish to pursue Crossfit further. 

Progressing from a local level, we would head into a state level competition. 

State level starts to challenge all levels of fitness within the sport, but not through invoking a massive amount of fatigue or high complexity. This would also start to promote amateur participation within the sport where participation may start to decrease as an individual’s nervous system and potential continue to grow. An ideal competitive scenario for athletes here would be to compete about four times per year. 

This should be where the novice trainee (who has had local competition experience) should feel at home as sport and life can still remain balanced here.

Tasks at this level should range from a single day event to multi-day/multi-event scenarios where tasks are larger in size and slightly more complex but still focus on proper expression and movement mechanics, not fundamental failure.

State level competitions should align themselves around:

  • Introducing base level dynamic bodyweight movements (but not to failure)
  • Introducing barbell cycling (but not in scenarios where efficiency is necessary or capacity is the number one goal) 
  • Testing strength speed in maximal contraction scenarios (but not in metabolic situations)
  • Continuing absolute strength testing but with greater demand than local level
  • Creating mixed modal events where the task itself requires strategy and tactics to be the determining factor of success or failure
  • Increasing the demand of cyclical activities (which should still remain the true base of cardiovascular testing at this stage)

The state level is a slightly greater challenge, but creates opportunities for those who have established a good base to possibly remain amatuer in their pursuit and continues to prepare them for higher levels of demand within the sport for the future.

A lot of the issues that exist within the sport of Crossfit today can start to be remedied through creating a better progressive model for athletes to follow within the sport. This reform does not need to start at the highest level and trickle down. As a community, we can already start the culture shift towards better competition and training practices on a local and state level.

The current model is flawed, and will continue to spit out underdeveloped and compensating individuals until a better way to progress and learn how to actually compete in the sport is implemented.

I care deeply about this sport and want to see the bright young (and old) athletes of the future develop properly and have the greatest potential for success. 

While aspects of the progression I’ve listed above seem like just a dream and will require many things outside the scope of this article, it is one I share with many others and hope to one day make a reality beginning at a local level and progressing from there.

Michael Ruggeri is CrossFit Buffalo’s lead programmer and has been a coach and competitive CrossFit Athlete for over 10 years.  He is an OPEX Associate Coach, NASM, CPT, and CES.  Having competed at both local and regional levels he now focuses on programming for and training both groups and individuals to achieve optimal health and performance.