If we had to assign a number to it, we’d say Environment versus Programming is 80/20.
There’s a trend and belief that we need super specific ultra dialled in programming. “I’d only be better if I did more assistance work on my snatch” “I need to add in extra cardio sessions.” “I need a specific muscle up programme.” While these things are some times true, they very often aren’t where we need to start.
There’s factors that are WAY more important than the programme. Firstly, it’s the belief in it and the relationship between the coach and the athlete. There’s all the other outside the gym factors that play a huge, overriding effect on the outcome. Sleep, stress, emotional health, and yeah that whole nutrition thing. It’s easy to think that by adding in this magical exercise everything in our training will come together. We all have that tendency to want a simple and straightforward fix. Heck, we’re hard wired that way. Our brains can’t easily deal with complex systems, so we look to boil it down to one point of action.
Changing the programme can feel like the magic pill, because very often the excitement and enthusiasm you bring to the new regime, along with the belief that this will improve everything, leads to them gains. And sometimes programmes can “show” you just how awesome they are by having built in tests that show you’ve improved.
For example: If I want to get better at Fran, I can programme a bunch of workouts that specifically address that. 21-15-9 Push Press/Pull Ups, 21-15-9 Thrusters/Burpees, Thruster/Pull Up EMOMs, Row/Thruster Workouts, Front Squat/Pull Ups workouts. But these could all be at the expense of other areas of fitness. The test needs to exist outside of the programme. It just so happens we have one by the creators of what we do every February. The Open is the “purest” test of CrossFit. While local throwdowns and competitions can provide an external test, there’s biases and flaws in these. They act as a test, sure, just not a complete test. It’s still very much encouraged to enter these competitions, as they reveal ares you need to develop by pressure testing you and your training outside the comforts of the gym.
While programming is important, we’d argue that the environment you’re in will determine how far you’ll go. You could test your lactate threshold, speed-strength, power output etc. and come up with the most individualised programme in the world. But if you don’t adhere to it because training isn’t fun and you feel isolated because everyone else is doing a GPP programme and having the craic, then what’s the point?
(Just to be clear, we fully see a need for testing, smart programming, and for specific cases personalised programming.)
There’s a reason why people succeed here, they’re in an environment that’s set up to succeed. If you’re in a room full of beginners, each doing their own programme, are you really group training? If you’re in a gym where everyone is squatting north of 100Kg for ladies and approaching 200Kg plus for gents, do you think you’ll get stronger than if you were in a gym where the heaviest anyone went was 35Kg, and only with a spotter? If no one is doing pull ups/muscle ups/freestanding handstand push ups/insert movement here, how likely are you to get that skill?
Granted these examples are pretty extreme, but they serve to prove a point that by surrounding yourself with people who perform the feats you aspire to you’ll achieve more.
If you’re in a place that has 20 people each doing their own thing, how is a coach meant to give you any time of day? More importantly, how are you meant to measure up against your team mates? Not measure up in a negative way, but we’re naturally comparative and competitive beings, and we can use this to inspire us on to pick a heavier kettlebell, run a little faster, drop a band on the pull ups, and reach our fitness goals faster. Yeah, you might need to do a little extra work on your weightlifting, or add in another cardio piece once a week, or spend 5 minutes working on your double unders. These are small personalised additions that help but the majority of time is spent with the main group pushing each other on with the main programming.
If you’re in a place that makes you feel welcome, asks you to come early and chill on the couch, gives you the option of full bonus work after instead of kicking you out the door, you’re in a place that will let you succeed.