A “task priority” workout is generally three to five rounds of two or more movements performed for time or as quickly as the participant can safely move. An example of this is a workout called “Nancy” that consists of five rounds of running 400-m and performing 15 overhead squats.
I recently caught up with Jim to ask him some questions about our campus program at University of Nevada, Reno.
HOW POPULAR IS THE PROGRAM?
Our student population is about 18,000. Each semester, about 5,000 students are Campus Wellness and Recreation members, with about 500 (10%) participating in our ECP. This is by far our most popular group fitness program, with more than 200 people a day attending one of six classes that are filled to capacity. To ensure safety, two to three coaches are scheduled for each class to accommodate the large numbers. The ratio of coaches to participants is 1:10. Recently, we invested $250,000 to expand our fitness center to provide additional space, which included an additional 2,500 sq ft to accommodate 25 participants.
We have a diverse cohort of participants, from ages 18 to mid-60s, including men, women, elite athletes, and complete novices. It is truly amazing to watch these groups come together with a common goal and to see them support each other. Such support can be described as “ferocious,” which truly is inspiring and unique to the program. I took a camera onto the floor and talked to participants. You can view the video at the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAS6EoeNBsY&feature=youtube.
WHAT KINDS OF PROGRAMS ARE OFFERED?
Our “CrossFit Pink” class is designed for women only, is coached by women, and runs at capacity each day. Again, it is truly inspiring to see young and mature women come together with a unifying fitness paradigm of “strong is the new skinny” and “what you can do with your body is vastly more important than what it looks like.”
The “on-ramp” or “Cub Corps” program focuses on progressive skill development and safe technique.
Every semester, we hold a CrossFit Challenge, which is a 3-week series, and literally hundreds of students sign up to compete. In addition, every year, we form an affiliate team to compete in regional events and in the CrossFit Open Sectionals, which is the first step on the road to the World-wide Games. This year, we had 68 students and faculty who registered and trained for months to compete.
HOW ARE COACHES TRAINED?
First, all of our coaches are experienced CrossFitters, so they have a personal understanding of the program and know how it feels to train.
They apply and, if selected, they spend several months preparing for the level 1 certification by helping an experienced coach teach classes. After they complete their certification, they are required to team-teach for a full semester while we evaluate their performance. After which they are either assigned a class or required to do more team teaching depending on their progress.
As program director, I strongly support continuing education for certified coaches, and, therefore, host certifications so our coaches can attend; we also send our coaches to other certifications.
SOME CRITICS CLAIM THAT EXTREME CONDITIONING PROGRAMS LACK PERIODIZATION AND THAT EXERCISES ARE RANDOM AND ILLOGICALLY SEQUENCED. HOW DO YOU RESPOND?
Because much of CrossFit doesn’t fit neatly into the conventional framework, people assume that it’s random. There is a method to the program, and in our campus, we methodically and intentionally move our people through training formats that are designed to target strength, power, and endurance, as well as skill development. Our goal-based program is organized in multiweek blocks. The program design is constantly evaluated and, yes, there is some experimentation with formatting, but that’s how we learn and grow.
The real movement situations that the world throws at us are not logically sequenced and orderly. I can’t even go clean my garage without an unplanned event taking place that I need to react to physically. We train for unexpected “violent actions” on the athletic field, during police and fire duties, military physical tasks, playing with your kids, or snow skiing.
HOW DO PARTICIPANTS GET STARTED?
We use an “on-ramp” program, also called the “Cub Corps,” that focuses on teaching the foundational movements and then slowly increasing the individual’s work capacity to the point that he or she is ready to join a group WOD or work independently.
Not only do we spend considerable time teaching the squat, front squat, overhead squat, press, push press, push jerk, dead lift, and clean, we also instruct the individual in gymnastic movements, such as pull-ups, box jumps, toes to bar, dips, push-ups, hand stands, jump roping, and rope climbs. We get his or her rowing and running technique up to speed, as well as his or her work capacity in these modalities. There are a variety of accessory movements, such as kettle bell swings, wall ball shots, and burpees that the participant also receives instruction in. Mobility skill building is a part of every session. Coaches teach participants to recognize mobility restrictions and teach them how to address them.
At the end of every instructional period, there is a WOD that incorporates the day’s skills. Nothing builds competence like correct repetition. Initially, we are establishing baselines for work capacities in specific workouts. These workouts ramp up over time, and at the end of the 4- to 6-week cycle, we return to and retest the skills, so we can compare with baseline scores and determine the improvement.
CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH THE FIRST COUPLE OF SESSIONS?
The participant will learn the air squat, front squat, and overhead squat with a PVC pipe (see photos previously mentioned). Once we are satisfied with the technical execution of the movements, we will have the individual or class do a very basic WOD that introduces the participant to how CrossFit workouts are structured. It also allows them to see a very small glimpse of various intensities that participants may choose. This “task priority” WOD may include three rounds of running 100-m, followed by completing 20 perfect air squats. The participants are instructed to do this as quickly as possible with consideration for proper technique and their individual work capacity using their own rating of perceived exertion. Amazingly, people know when to rest and when they can work. There are WODs that have mandatory rest periods built into them, but most rely on the participant’s own work capacity and personal motivation to set the pace or work. It’s working with our natural rhythm, in tune with how the human body is designed to work.
We’ll begin by reviewing proper squat technique with the participant and one progresses to the press series (see photo). When the participant or group can competently perform presses, push presses, and push jerks with a PVC pipe (see photo), we will again build a WOD using the movements. But this time, the coaches will incorporate the squat movement, which they can perform. This new “time priority” WOD may include 10 minutes of exercises, completing AMRAP of 10 air squats, 15 presses with a PVC pipe, and running 150-m.
Coaches then may lead a WOD to develop new skills or sequentially build a progression by introducing new skills and, when ready, by increasing intensities. It’s been my experience that the participants are highly motivated by using this structure, and our adherence is high perhaps because of the focus on personal skill development, followed by the variety of training WODs, coupled with daily measurable personal challenges.
HOW IS THIS EXTREME CONDITIONING PROGRAM MARKETED ON CAMPUS?
We have a blog and use social media. But to be honest, it markets itself. Word of mouth is the best marketing on campus. You can visit our blog at: http://unrcrossfit.typepad.com/university_of_nevada_cros/.
CAN YOU GIVE US AN IDEA ABOUT PROGRAM START-UP COSTS?
With an initial investment of $10,000 to $15,000, you can purchase enough equipment to get started, provided you already have a space to hold class. The investment in all the CrossFit equipment is comparable to the cost of a couple of WoodWay® treadmills, which can accommodate only one person per session. For the same cost, I can accommodate 10 to 15 people in a CrossFit WOD.
TAKE THE CHALLENGE
HIIT and ECPs are changing fitness. Reebok’s partnership with CrossFit will strengthen its appeal to mainstream fitness. Research conducted on modifications of these types of programs with various populations (e.g., patients in a cardiac rehabilitation program) will help shape and define safe and effective programs. Campus directors who want to start a program are advised to commit to excellence and be sure the coaches are properly trained.
Be ready for it to blow up! I’ll bet that your students are already doing it, so you probably have a ready-made population and don’t even know it. In my opinion, this is the future of the fitness scene. You can embrace it or miss an opportunity.
Special thanks to the University of Nevada, Reno, Coaches.
The University of Nevada, Reno is the nation’s first CrossFit university affiliate.
1. Bergeron MF, Nindl BC, Deuster PA, et al. CHAMP/ACSM Executive Summary: High-Intensity Training Workshop
[Internet] [cited 2012 July 13]. Available from: http://www.navyfitness.org/news/25
2. Zuhl M, Kravitz L. HIIT vs continuous endurance training: Battle of the aerobic titans. IDEA Fitness J
UNR CrossFit blog
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