This Winter I decided to work on my front squat. I can’t adequately describe how much I fear and hate the front squat. It hurts. I’m bad at it. But it’s the limiting factor in my clean & jerk specifically and CrossFit generally, so I figured I better deal with it.
I did a bunch of research and found a twelve week front squat program written by the venerable Charles Poliquin. I’m now starting my sixth week and I can say that my front squat has improved. A lot.
What I can’t say is that it’s because of the programming.
Looking through my training journals, I realized that I’ve front-squatted more in the past six weeks than I have in the past six years. Twice a week, every week, grinding out reps no matter what.
It adds up, and at my level, that’s what matters. I could have rolled dice to determine sets and reps and as long as I showed up and put my work in, I would have gotten better at the front squat.
CrossFitters, especially those who wish to compete, ascribe magical properties to programming. Rudy Nielsen of the Outlaw Way, James Fitzgerald of OPEX, and others have achieved wizard status in our world.
I get it. People want to believe in magic, because it makes reality less painful. Who wants to grind when you can become awesome with a magic pill?
But for those people who think the only thing preventing you from becoming a superhero is special programming I have a few observations:
1) People love success stories and it’s awesome to root for Outlaw and Ute athletes who consistently reach the podium. But lots of people train under those systems. If the magic only works for some, is it really magic? It’s not the programming. It’s the athlete.
2) Rich Froning, the most dominant CrossFit athlete of our time follows no set programming but makes it up as he goes along, based on how he feels on a given day. What differentiates Froning from everyone else is not his programming but his volume, which is mind boggling. It’s not the programming. It’s the athlete.
3) ALL programming is based on the assumption that you are a good mover. If you are not a good mover; if you don’t have an impeccable squat; if you have any form of impingement or restriction, then accumulating volume will cause you to regress and probably injure yourself. It’s not the programming. It’s the athlete.
Occasionally people will ask me to write programming for them and I am glad to do so. I work hard at it and take it seriously, and most of my clients are happy with the outcome. But when my clients succeed, it’s because they showed up and put in their work.
It’s not the programming. It’s the athlete.