Are CrossFit® Workouts Truly Random?

To a set of new eyes, CrossFit workouts may seem “random”, like someone reached into a hat full of different exercises, added some arbitrary numbers beside them and called them a “WOD.”

If this sentence has you scratching your head, don’t worry. We’re about to get into the nitty gritty of the reasoning behind CrossFit workout programming and why they may seem “random” (but are really the complete opposite).

Now, if you’ve been doing these workouts for a while you may be familiar with the WOD (Workout of the Day) terminology, and you’ll know that it refers to the CrossFit programming, often listed in chalk, that is up on a blackboard in the gym.

The fact of the matter is that CrossFit programming is all formulaic, despite its seemingly random appearance. In fact, it can be further narrowed down to 3 segments of movements:

  1. Monostructural
  2. Gymnastics
  3. Weightlifting

Basically, monostructural workouts refer to metabolic conditioning or “cardio”, gymnastics are bodyweight exercises, and weightlifting refers to any type of lifting including Olympic lifts and powerlifting. These are the basis of most CrossFit programming and are used to form “complete” workouts.

The purpose of structuring the workouts this way is to make them more well-rounded and ultimately, helps optimize the workout impact.

Monostructural metabolic conditioning helps improve cardiorespiratory capacity and stamina, the gymnastics or calisthenics component helps improve your muscle mind connection by focusing on coordination, balance, agility and accuracy, focusing mainly on the upper-body capacity and trunk strength.

Finally, the weightlifting component of properly designed CrossFit workouts is for increasing strength, power and hip/leg capacity.

See, you’ve almost got a full body there! ;)

There are a variety of exercises in each category, and each WOD is comprised of a few exercises with different focuses so you can go most efficiently from movement to movement with minimal fatigue. For example, you’re not spending your entire workout focusing on a specific body part or section, like an arms/shoulders day, or a core/butt day. These compound movements have the capacity to dramatically improve the human form, when done correctly.

How are CrossFit workouts structured?

For those who are used to traditional programming (like upper body vs lower body, push vs pull days), CrossFit workouts can seem random at first because they combine such a variety of exercises. If you are doing a MGW day, where all segments of movements are combined, it can seem random to run then rope climb then kettlebell swing, when really, it’s the most efficient option for a full body workout with minimal fatigue for maximum return.

And beyond this, there is actually a formula to the programming.

These workouts utilize either one, two or all three segments of movements. If you are doing a three days on one day off plan, for example, day 1, 5, and 9 would use single-modality workouts (i.e. just cardio, just gymnastics, just weights), days 2, 6, 10 would have two modalities, and days 3, 7, 11 would use all three.

This is designed to spread out your efforts while providing ample time to focus on single modalities/segments of movement in order to build skills.

So, as you can imagine, as you move towards workouts with additional elements (i.e. two or all three modalities), the total effort of each segment of the workout is much less than those days where you are focused on repeated efforts of the same movement.

Summary

As you can see, there is no cut and dry formula to exactly which exercises are performed on each day, but rather a formula to the types of movements that are focused on each day of your training cycle. Of course, this cycle works best when you have a strict workout routine and can stick to a schedule, in order to reap the most benefits.

Those attending CrossFit only occasionally or not following a 3 on 1 off or 5 on 2 off schedule will not necessarily see these patterns and therefore, the workout structures may seem more random to these individuals.

Which completely makes sense! We’re not saying you need to be a die hard CrossFit fan in order to enjoy the benefits of these workouts, but hopefully now you understand how they are structured and the “why” behind some of the movements within your WOD.

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