After 14 years of participating in generalist training programs and 12 years of writing programs for both specialists and generalists, I now feel that I’ve begun to understand a little bit about the process.
Since finding CrossFit in 2002 in California I’ve worked with limited equipment, challenged space, equally challenged individuals, conflicting mindsets, and within the often polarizing and cannibalistic conventional “fitness industry”… After sifting through it all, we’ve managed to construct a training program and a brand that has a unique identity, training mindset, and physical philosophy. We’ve managed to hybridize without bastardizing the movements, concepts, and protocols I have seen to be the most important in creating and refining strong, powerful, well-conditioned, expertly-equipped generalists. There are definitely programs that create stronger athletes, and definitely programs that dole out enough attrition-based conditioning that a few of their participants become stand-outs in it, but in surveying the world I truly believe that Wolf Brigade is among the very best at creating well-rounded, gimmick-free, strong, powerful, well-conditioned, and humble individuals.
A few things I’ve learned through trial-and-error, in no particular order, and employ (or don’t employ) in the Wolf Brigade programs:
1: The concept of “core to extremity” movement, in my experience, has often lacked a lateral, rotational, or multi-directional component in execution. I found that as I got stronger and was attempting to transfer strength/ power/ coordination to combat sports, movements such as well-executed, heavy kettlebell Figure-8’s, mace lifting and swinging, and throwing heavy medicine balls to and at things in a few different directions complimented the linear strength I was building with more conventional lifts. They also added a recovery and “strength coordination” component that could not be matched and whose value cannot be over-stated. If the exclusive goal is to be as strong as possible at lifting a barbell then some of the “Odd Lifts” can help fill in the blanks, and certainly aid in insulating against injury. If you are (or if you are training) a martial artist, cop, firefighter, field athlete, or simply aspiring to be an “Expert Generalist”, and currently leaving heavy kettlebells and heavy maces out of your program, it is an oversight that you will be pleased you corrected.; In our perspective, strength without matching coordination is a half-empty glass.
2: Separating a “strength” piece from a “conditioning” piece (or at the very least, integrating them intelligently and precisely) will increase the benefits derived from each. It will also keep movement mechanics, safety, and manageability of a group at a much, much, higher level. That is old news and common sense to some of you, but somehow, to others- it isn’t. Haphazardly programming overhead barbell lifts together with mega-set sit-ups, explosive bodyweight movements, and over-repped plyometrics is to essentially guarantee diminishing returns in each. After watching barbell-based conditioning with a “work capacity” goal translate into a wiggly, flailing attrition drill more than once, we had figured out by probably mid-2005 that they were not usually intelligent bedfellows. Whether the lifts are the vehicle or the destination, for the generalist athlete either path will be better served by separating them from any sort of timed, high-rep “met con” melee- or at the very least relegating the combination to advanced/ competitive athletes.
3: If speed is allowed to be a substitute for form (or pace a substitute for position) it will become one, with most people, most of the time. Of course there are those that truly desire progress and will take time to hammer details and enjoy the process, but in this day and age in most gym environments, they will be the exception and not the rule. Few people are as patient with progress as they are impressed by numbers on a clock or math on a bar. That is a mindset that needs to be addressed, adjusted, and abandoned; though it may take some effort, those that do so will progress beyond what they may ever have expected- the small things lead to all things.
4: Environment should not be an afterthought. It should be as well-constructed as the training itself- partially because for many they are equally important, and partially because how you operate one speaks directly, in my opinion, as to how you’ll operate the other. There is a time for casual and silly, and a legitimate training room is the time for neither. This is definitely not a call-to-arms for death metal and doom-and-gloom, but if the culture of your gym is constantly light-hearted and goofy, chances are relatively high that similar attitudes are seeping into the training itself. There simply must be a line drawn between “Boot Camp”, “Super-extreme cardio kickboxing”, “Tough Mudder training”, and other casualist exercise endeavors and detail-oriented, progress-driven strength & conditioning training. Outside of training content itself, establishing and maintaining a goal-appropriate environment is one of the only ways to firmly mark that line; Someone should know the moment they walk in your door whether they have entered a fitness Chuck E. Cheese or a legitimate training facility, and (for their benefit and yours) they should be kindly but firmly helped to identify whether they want one, or the other.
5: Details are not a sometimes thing, and should not be presented as suggestions. They need to be standardized, explainable, and constantly reinforced. Here’s hoping you have method and reason behind the ones you employ- If so, articulate and reiterate them with confidence. They’ll get sick of hearing them, you’ll get sick of saying them, and there’s really only one way around it…
6: Becoming a legitimate trainer (and even more so, a true “Coach”) does not take a weekend; It does not take a week. Or a month… Or even a year. Desperation for personnel to fill out an overbearing schedule due to want for rapid growth or financial over-extension in space, equipment, or what have you, is no excuse for putting an ill-equipped party in charge of any level group class that involves weight and/ or dynamic movement. If it was “Fill the beaker with a few liquids and give it a shake” day in Science class, would you want the study hall teacher in charge of the game? Fuck no, you would not. In my opinion there is no reason or excuse for anyone with less than 6 months experience in shadowing/ group management/ movement diagnostics/ fault-finding/ multi-level programming to be running a group CrossFit/ S&C class unassisted.
Strong, safe, progressive coaching is as much a product of developing the ability to learn as developing the ability to tell… Once you have actually learned things that truly make sense to you, how you present them to the intended recipients becomes the easy part. The “coaches” I see standing in front of a group simply parroting phrases and cues from CrossFit HQ, or defaulting to the hot-button fitness words of the week are most often the ones that will run into a brick wall when faced with the need to adapt to something outside the norm. Take the time… know what you know, and know what you don’t; Embracing, enjoying, and employing high-level details is what separates excellent coaches from run-of-the-mill personal trainers.
There is no 100% correct, one-size-fits-all coaching style any more than there is for training itself, however there are things that are simply not good ideas. Being open to their identification and able to make adjustments (even if something you’ve previously employed ends up on the chopping block) doesn’t make you a bad coach- it makes you a better, progress-minded coach. We are lucky to exist in a time that contains big tidal shifts in fitness, and should be wide-eyed and thirsty to pass on the best information we can to anyone that trusts us with their health, strength, sanity, and safety.