“Constantly Varied” vs Random: Do You Know the Difference?

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by TARYN HAGGERSTONE

Constantly Varied, High Intensity, Functional Movements

Without structure people can still get a good workout, have fun and develop general physical preparedness (GPP), but it’s next to impossible to achieve full physical potential and avoid injury with this type of programming.
As CrossFitters we learn that the most effective way to train is with  “constantly varied, high intensity, functional movements.” Though I cannot speak for everyone, I do know that when I started following this method, I definitely saw it in my results. However, I think it is super important (particularly for programmers, coaches or competitive athletes) to take the time to understand the difference between “Constantly varied” and “random” in order to ensure proper programming and avoid injury.

“Constantly Varied” vs Random

When I first started CrossFit I loved not knowing what to expect every time I looked at the whiteboard. Every week I was learning new movements and seeing rapid strength and performance gains. However, the longer I stuck with it, the more I realized that CrossFit (when programmed correctly) is more than just challenging exercises combined multiple ways to “get a sweat on”; it is a method of training that may appear random on a superficial level but actually has:

1. An underlying strength program;
2. Consistent work on technical skills OUTSIDE OF THE WOD; and
3. Workouts that are specifically designed to hit each of energy pathways: phosphagen, glycolytic and oxidative (i.e. short sprints, medium length WODs, and the longer “grinding” workouts)

1. An Underlying Strength Program:

If we want to lift heavy weights safely, then it’s important to learn proper technique from the get-go AND continue to work that technique as the loads increase.
Significant gains requires proper strength programming, and this should make up a decent portion of our training, which means it can’t be something that is simply thrown into the workout or used as a filler between warm-up and WOD. (e.g. deadlifts, squats, pulls, presses).
An Underlying Strength Program

2. Consistent Work on Technique:

If we want to lift heavy weights safely, then it’s important to learn proper technique from the get-go AND continue to work that technique as the loads increase. However, because of the competition element of CrossFit (aka the whiteboard), it’s next to impossible to correct errors during WODs, which means that work on technical skill should happen before, after or during a different session altogether.

3. WODs Designed to Hit All Three Energy Pathways:

[B]y appropriately modifying the volume/loads and progressions of the workout, the same programming structure can be applicable to competitive athletes and every day CrossFitters.
Finally, we need to realize that the same movement won’t always hit us the same way, and there is a HUGE difference between the training effects of a 1 rep max clean and jerk (phosphagen), 30 Clean & Jerks for time aka “Grace”(glycolytic), and a 20+ minute Chipper that includes lifting (oxidative).

This is why programming should vary between short sprints, medium-length WODs and longer/more gruelling workouts to target each of the pathways and prepare us (as best as possible) for anything that is thrown our way.

Unfortunately, the line between “varied” and ‘”random” can become blurred because of the programming and results may suffer. Without structure people can still get a good workout, have fun and develop general physical preparedness (GPP), but it’s basically impossible to achieve full physical potential and avoid injury with this type of programming.

I know many people who CrossFit have little or no interest in competing, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, CrossFit was designed to be universally scalable, and by appropriately modifying the volume/loads and progressions of the workout, the same programming structure can be applicable to competitive athletes and every day CrossFitters.
WODs Designed to Hit All Three Energy Pathways

Yes, the average CrossFitter can get a good workout/sweat session from random programming and will see some decent results, but they will get an even better workout and superior results from structured programming, which is why it’s so important to understand that random is not the same as constantly varied.

So take a moment and ask yourself (whether you follow your own programming, train at a box or do a combination of both) whether what you’re doing will help you progress toward your goals. If not, what can you do to fix that?

Visit Taryn Haggerstone’s blog, Go Hard Get Strong for more of her thoughts on training. Follow her on Twitter @TarynHaggerston.

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