9 Steps to Programming for Known CrossFit Events

With CrossFit now no longer in its’ infancy, we’ve learnt a lot about have taught us a lot about ‘known event’ preparation. Here, we break down the step-by-step approach to this vital phase of training and practice.

For the majority of the year, programming for CrossFit athletes is about preparing for the unknown. A strong bias towards weakness eradication, but broad programming none-the-less.

Then, one day, everything changes.

Imagine you’re studying for an exam. Before the exam, the teacher gives you the questions. Now, do you continue to study EVERYTHING you’ve covered that year, or do you study and prepare specifically for the tested material?

When competition events are released, we choose to study the tested material.

In this article, we discuss how we followed this process for the 2018 CrossFit Regionals Competition.

How do we do this?

There are several steps we go through, this is a basic overview of this process. It’s different for every single athlete.

Begin at the end. Regionals day 1. Then work backwards. The tapering protocol is different for different athletes, but you can find a basic overview of the research here. Read What to do in the Days Before a Competition for a more detailed overview of the four focuses for the final week of preparation; training, movement preparation, nutrition and mental. For the final three days before the competition, adhere to Range of Motion’s Pre- Competition Movement Preparation guidelines.

Once you’ve built in a taper, however much time you have left is the time you’ve got to work with. In this time, begin by evenly distributing whole events. That is, doing the entire event as it would be done on the day. The amount of time you have will determine how many times you complete each event. In some cases, certain events don’t need to be done in their entirety, though this is rare. This would apply when preparation time is low, or when the event is of such a high neuro-muscular fatigue rating that it will negatively impact overall preparation.

Sometimes the entire event is a skill. Event four (moderate and light weight snatches, and burpees) from the 2018 CrossFit Regionals is an example of this. This event is a skill because each element is highly dependent on the others, and each individual element is low complexity. We would define this as being an event with low complexity and high organisation, where parts are interdependent. We talk about the relationship between organisation and complexity as it relates to learning, practicing and training movements in ‘Part or Whole? How to Train Movement‘. In this case, we would train the event by doing the event (unless the loading or complexity of movement is an issue for the athlete, which is unlikely in this example). If, on the other hand, we see the event as being dependent on the completion of individual skills (as is the case with higher complexity or high loaded movements), we would call the event low organisation. In this case, benefit will be found more in the deliberate and isolated practice of individual skills. Event three of the 2018 Regionals (MU, handstand obstacle and pistols) would be an example of this.

Program whole events that have a low neuromuscular fatigue rating (we discuss this concept here in the context of training waves to maximise training stimulus without overtraining) often. Program high NMF rated events less often. Allow 90% of full recovery between attempts (this will be based on the individual athlete’s recoverability).

With the events classified into high or low organisation and high or low skill, and the ‘whole events’ evenly distributed through the remaining time, we can identify limiting factors for each event for that individual athlete. The limiting factor is the thing that most compromises the athlete’s ability to excel in that event. Examples of limiting factors in events three and four we’ve discussed above may be:

  • Event three: Muscle up stamina and handstand obstacle skill.
  • Event four: Cardiorespiratory endurance (particularly glycolytic energy pathways and the anaerobic threshold, read: Training Aerobic, Lactate and Anaerobic Thresholds) and power snatch strength and stamina.

With the limiting factors established, write training sessions to target each of the limiting factors in isolation. For example, if you’ve identified bench press skill, strength and stamina as limiting factors for a female athlete in Event 2, Linda, the following sessions may be completed:

  • 5×6 bench press at 50kg.
    Reps 1, 3, 5: 5s eccentric lower, fast up.
    Reps 2, 4, 6: Fast lower with hard bounce.
    Rest 3 mins after each set.
    After the final 3 minute rest, complete 21 bench press for time (60kg) in unbroken sets of three.
  • 10, 9, 8… 3, 2, 1 bench press at 60kg (don’t have to be unbroken).
    Rest 100, 90, 80… 30, 20, 10 seconds after each set.

Evenly distribute these ‘limiting factor’ sessions through the program, ensuring they don’t interfere with the ‘whole event’ completion you’ve already programmed.

Then, build in LOTS of low intensity practice and skill work. This should have very little impact on the body’s ability to recover, and should focus more on performance of the skill. The benefits of this are considerable and wide ranging, as we discuss in Skill Development: Changes in the Body and Brain.

As a result of practice we expect to see:

  • Rapid unfreezing of limb segments (more coordinated movement).
  • Changes in existing movement patterns.
  • Changes in muscle recruitment patterns.
  • Reductions in required energy cost.
  • Visual and conscious attention changes.
  • An improved ability to to self-identify errors, and make the corrections needed to resolve them.

If you have any room remaining under the ‘overtraining threshold’ for that athlete, fill it with cardiorespiratory conditioning pieces, preferably interval-based matching the time domains of the events. Use movements from the events in the competition for this. This ensures the adaptations (increases in mitochondrial and capillary density etc.) are specific to the muscle groups required. For example, we would utilise rowing, double unders, running, burpees, light snatches and air bike for the 2018 Regionals. You’ll notice not only are these movements highly cardiovascular, but they will minimise neuromuscular fatigue.

Finally, we need to remove any training not contributing to event success. Efficient programming isn’t about how much you can fit in, it’s about how much you can remove.

Athlete programming is HIGHLY individual, but some principles are common. A well planned, intelligent and deliberate approach to ‘cramming’ for competition will ensure that the long commitment, sacrifice, dedication and hard work of an athlete is rewarded.

Dan Williams

Dan Williams


Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology. He has worked with many thousands of individuals along the full spectrum of health, and has coached at The CrossFit Games. He regularly presents to corporate and fitness industry groups and mentors Fitness Professionals.