Dioxide Programming

Dioxide Programming

By Justin Duguay –

As the owner of a CrossFit Affiliate, I spend an average of 15 hours per week designing programs. After 10+ years of industry experience programming for teams, CrossFit classes, individuals, other trainers and small groups I have not only accumulated more programming hours than I’d care to share with you, I have also seen the designs in action with objective data for reference.

Although the title might lead you to believe I am going to discuss how I come up with that fancy looking excel spreadsheet full of words and numbers – I decided to be a bit more inclusive. There is a notion that a good program design equals good athletes and it’s important to me that I do not feed that myth.

The programming experience for CrossFit, from my perspective, is extremely involved and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But before I start going crazy, let’s add some context:

CrossFit is a universally scalable system. This means our programs are designed for our strongest, fastest and most experienced CrossFitters. However, our objective is to appropriately scale every WOD (workout of the day) to maintain the stimulus for each individual regardless of skill level, experience or capacity.
We run classes that include competitive CrossFit athletes, beginners, intermediates, clients with health concerns, pre-existing injuries or imbalances, the list goes on…

Let’s get into it.

First, I design an 8-12 week ‘block’ of programming that simply outlines our objectives and intentions. After identifying the objectives, I will start reverse engineering the individual days.

Once I have wrapped my head around how each day is going look, be coached and how it will feel, I ‘zoom out’ and look at each specific week to consider the compound impact. I often ask myself, how are my clients going to feel going into the weekend?
With this said, I will often make small adjustments to the program the night before based on what I see in the execution of the prior day.

During the process of program design I typically have 3 main ‘technical’ considerations, to which I hold myself accountable:

  1. Diversification: I strive for diversity in movements, workout (metcon) duration, movement volume and stimulus. I want to expose athletes to a weekly barrage of brain food and tests of physical competence.
  2. Skill and Pattern Development: Have I created enough blocks of time in our week to allow clients to better learn and understand movements without being pressured by the clock? Is there enough time for us to effectively coach? Or are we just going to be time-managers for the hour?
  3. Balance (this is what I call my weekly self-check): Are we enduring fast contractions all week? Are we mixing in slow eccentrics? How many times are we opening and closing the shoulders? flexing and extending the hips? Are we rotating enough? Is there a strong mix of bilateral and unilateral work? Are we paying enough attention to joint stability and core? Is there enough light, moderate and heavy loads?…to name a few.

With all that said, and all that to absorb – I believe none of the above is what makes our program excellent. I believe all those considerations I listed and those self-checking questions should be included in the basics of program design – the bare minimum.

What makes a program great, in my opinion, is coaching. When an athlete transfers to a new box and compliments the program, it’s often because it makes sense to them. Typically, it makes sense because of the communication of intention. With that said, here some of the more important programming requirements:

  1. Keep a strong pulse on the ‘subjective’ metrics: Everyday I’ll ask our members how they feel, I want to know if they slept well, if they have an appetite and get feedback on their energy levels are outside the gym.
  2. Seasonal and external considerations: For example, as much as we’ll never admit it, winter kicks our ass. We have cold and flu season, we rarely see the sun and we endure extreme fluctuations in temperature. We all have challenges that arise in the winter months. However, life doesn’t slow down. Your job doesn’t expect any less of you, schools don’t alleviate the pressures of succeeding in the education system and most of the time we simply tell ourselves to suck it up and press on. I consider this in our program and will accommodate by incrementally scaling volume and intensity.
  3. Ensure the community is having fun: Sometimes we have to pull back the high skill, focused work, get into some team workouts and focus on the positive impact of community development. This doesn’t mean our clients are not getting more fit, in fact, community has a tremendous impact on our individual health. The objective is for our program is to help you live a better life, not deplete you.
  4. Meet individual needs and communicate the program effectively: As much as we are designing a group program, each individual will have their own personal goals and needs. It’s absolutely essential that we communicate the purpose and intention of the program effectively, not only to the group as a whole, but in a way that solves for the individual.

I believe these are the soft skills of programming and coaching that promote long-term success. However, there is one consideration that trumps them all.


Big long chippers, benchmark workouts, Olympic lifting, heavy compounds and the ‘sexy’ stuff we all know and love are the easiest to program, but are rarely the best way to solve for improved fitness.

Instead, we might need to:

  • Dig into really focused accessory work.
  • Scale a movement because your shoulders are smoked, or you sat all day and your back is locked.
  • Pull back the intensity and leave the gym with your soul in tact.
  • Focus on virtuosity with the BASICS.

It’s these elements that make or break a program.
Can our team communicate the importance of the ‘boring’ days effectively enough to create buy in?
Is it possible for our less ‘sexy’ days to be our days of greatest attendance because our members understand the value?

The reality is, we will always try to program what is best for our clients to the best of our knowledge. But no matter how many hours I spend designing programs, how many certifications I hold to my name, books I’ve read or podcasts I’ve consumed …The ONLY way for our clients to attain sustainable long-term results is through consistency and focusing on proper movement as the priority. If we can make that the foundation and intention of our daily coaching practices, we can ensure the effectiveness of the program but more importantly, the progress of our clients.

Move that success curve low and slow, my friends…

Until next time,

« Prev Post   |   Next Post »