Is there a perfect program for CrossFit?

Meyken Houppermans, PhD. CrossFit Level 3 Trainer.
Founder and Head Coach
Programming of CrossFit workouts always seems at debate. So many programs, so many athletes, so many opinions. Is there a perfect program for CrossFit?

Spoiler alert: no. But before you freak out, there are some preconditions that can make one program more effective than the other. In this article we dive into these preconditions and explain how you can make a program work for you to get the most out of it, even if the program doesn’t match up with the preconditions of effectiveness

Let’s redefine perfect

There is no such thing as the perfect program, not in CrossFit, nor in any other type of exercise. To make it even bigger: there is no such thing as a perfect approach to any aspect in life. Because we are all unique  individuals, with unique bodies, with our own needs, wants, capabilities and limitations. (One size does not fit all). We all respond differently to exercise, nutrition and relaxation. (Why your friend loses weight and you don't). What works for the one, doesn’t necessarily work for the other. Furthermore, even within ourselves, things can change over time. What works for you right now, might not work for you in a month. Therefore, we need to redefine terms like ‘perfect’, ‘effective’, ‘wrong and right’ in relation to exercise, nutrition and relaxation. It all depends on the individual, the timing and the circumstances.

A fresh egg doesn’t make a great cake

There are some preconditions that can make one program more effective than the other. This is comparable to baking a cake: Using fresh eggs increases the chance of tastier cake compared to using rotten eggs. But fresh eggs are still not a guarantee for success. That still depends on a lot of other factors.  The same goes for programming in CrossFit.

In the long run, a program is effective when it leads to real changes in measurable, observable and repeatable results and includes testing of that. Tracking your results for a longer period of time helps to see the improvements you’ve made. It also helps to stay on track with a positive mindset. Because sometimes it might feel like you’re not improving, or you feel weak and sluggish. Focusing on the improvements you’ve made over a longer period of time helps to put things in the right perspective. Growth is  always about taking two steps forward and one step back. Focus on the two steps, not on the one.


According to the CrossFit philosophy and methodology, for a program to be effective it needs to match up with at least the following preconditions:

Variety with functional movements

Variety in movements, loads, repetition schemes and time durations, within a single workout and across a series of workouts. This doesn’t mean randomly selecting  exercises or doing crazy stuff like blindfolded standing on a ball holding a very heavy object over your head. Variety means exposing you to a wide range of challenges with functional movements, to improve your general physical  preparedness, based on a well thought out scientific exercise- rationale.

Intensity versus volume

CrossFit is: constantly varied high intensity functional movements. High intensity workouts are scientifically proven to be more effective in getting you fitter and stronger than high volume workouts (aka: doing more). It might be very tempting to workout like a pro seven days a week, multiple times a day, for several hours in a row. That is not effective, it does not make you fitter. It only makes you at higher risk for overtraining and injuries. (CrossFit and injuries: the red flags). Learning how to give it your all in that single workout, and how to develop a  consistent and well- balanced pattern of high intensity workouts versus recovery time, is key. (High intensity sports require high maintainance).


This concerns consistency within the program based on that well thought-out rationale, as  well as consistency within the athlete: stick to the program!

Heavy days and high skill stuff

A program needs to include heavy days at least once or twice a week, to develop top-end  strength and power. It should also include high skill exercises and options to work on weaknesses. CrossFit is about increasing your general physical  preparedness outside your experience.

Appropriate scaling options

Everyone should be able to follow a program, no matter what your physical or mental status is. A program (maybe moreover a coach!) should offer appropriate scaling options.  Appropriate means the scaling option matches up with the original intended goal and stimulus of the workout.

Make a program work for you

There are a million reasons why a program is always at debate: Simply because we don’t have anything else to talk about; because it makes us do stuff we’re not good at; because we’re super impatient to see results and it’s easier to blame the program than our own inconsistency with training; and of course  because we all think we’re experts in programming.

Since you now know there is no such thing as the perfect program, nor of ‘one size fits all’, you have a choice: Either you keep debating a program (read: nag about  it), feel irritated all the time and therefor negatively effect your performance and recovery; Or you find out ways to make the program work for you, enjoy the workouts and see better results. How to do that? Keep in mind: Effectiveness depends not only on the preconditions above but  also on the individual, at that time, under those circumstances.

Be consistent

Stick to a program. Put in the work. Try it for a longer period of time. Track your scores and evaluate your progress.

Listen to what your body is telling you

Your body is perfectly capable of giving you signals of its needs. Tracking your scores is great, but not everything that counts can be counted as Einstein said. Judge by feel, train smarter not necessarily harder. (Judge by feel or pee) Do you really need to back  squat today even though you woke up with a squeaky lower back? Or are split squats an effective yet safer alternative at that time under those circumstances? (Timing is everything)

Work with your coach

Consider it a cooperation. Provide your coach with input on how your doing, expect your coach to check-in with you as well. Work together to modify a program or a workout to your needs, at that time under those circumstances. Be open to coaching: ask, learn and absorb. Programming is secondary to effective coaching!

Create your own health!©