The Difference Between *Life* and *Sport*
Written by: Coach Slater
A couple years ago, we modified our group class programming to include two levels of participation, Life and Sport. We first got the idea from our friends at CrossFit Maximus who suggested that it helped better address the fitness needs of wide array of members. Almost immediately, we found that leveled options actually made both writing workouts and running classes much easier. Here’s what all that means to you.
“Scaling” Versus “Leveled Programming”
I define *scaling* as a modification of components of an individual workout to preserve the intended stimulus of the Rx’d version. This might include decreasing the load or overall volume of the workout and substituting or assisting particular movements. The reality is that scaling happens daily, in every workout, for most people. However, *leveled programming* takes a more long-term perspective and considers the needs, abilities, and training age of everyone at Derby City. It is essentially “scaling” on a macro level. We use the common labels of Life and Sport to broadly describe our two levels of programming.
The Difference Between Life and Sport
*Life* programming is designed for all members between zero and six-plus months worth of consistent training at our gym, as well as intermediate athletes who find the Life workouts to be better in line with their capacities and goals. “Julie,” fresh out of Elements, should default to Life programming, along with a veteran member, “Clarence,” since he’s a little overweight, has a temperamental back, and is more interested in keeping up with his kids than training like Rich Froning. *Sport* workouts are designed for individuals who have spent several months to several years developing a solid foundation and are interested in pushing the envelope of their performance and capacity. Sport programming provides exposure to advanced movements and more demanding workouts.
Of course, everyone won’t fit neatly into either category in every way, but having defined levels helps you define your training goals, and provides some broader options for you to make decisions. Some days you may choose Life. Some days you may choose Sport. Having options in life is powerful.
On the slow lifts (squats, deadlifts, press), we program basic linear progressions every cycle for our Life athletes. Early in your training age, we encourage you to “find a heavy 3” or add weight to a previous week’s loads. Technique permitting, every week you should try to add a conservative amount of weight from the previous exposure until you fully exhaust your linear progression. Only then should you consider Sport level barbell lifting. In general, your ability to generate maximal effort isn’t fully developed yet, so basing lifts off a percentage isn’t recommended at this early stage. That’s why we tell you to just find a heavy number of certain days.
So, below is what a typical deadlift day might look like for Life folks:
Find a heavy 6, then a heavy 5, then a heavy 4, then a heavy 1
*Add 5-10lbs from last week’s numbers. Drop & reset each rep.
While we list percentages, that’s really designed for athletes who’ve found a true 1RM that maxes both their strength and technical ability. But, a lot of normally-Life folks may fall into Sport category with barbell lifts, allowing them to take advantage of percentage work or volume and intensity days. Sport programming might look like:
1×6 @ 72.5%
1×5 @ 82.5%
1×4 @ 92.5%
1×1 @ 100+%
*Touch & Go.
Novice training is generally boring, in the sense that there is more consistency in rep and set schemes, and we’re simply trying to build a base of strength and technique. Intermediate programming is a lot sexier to talk about and there is no shortage of productive methods that can be found around the internet. A more advanced athlete generally requires more nuanced programming in order to continue to push their numbers up.
For the Olympic lifts (snatch and clean and jerk), we’ll often modify how the movement is segmented in order to teach proper positioning in these more technical and dynamic lifts. For example, on a clean and jerk day, we might tell Life athletes something like:
Take 15min to find a heavy but perfect single of:
Clean Deadlift to Mid Hang + Hang Power Clean + Front Squat + Push Press or Jerk
This segmentation within the Life programming allows you to break apart the lifts into sizable chunks and ingrain proper positions before attempting to execute the lifts in full. We can also make considerations for movement restrictions; say you can’t front squat below parallel without caving your upper back and dropping your elbows. We might tell you to remove the front squat portion and train just the power clean, which might be your deepest stable position. Similarly, snatches can easily be programmed to start above the knee if a correct starting position can’t be obtained below the knee. You just have to stop and reorganize yourself at the mid hang before attempting a dynamic pull.
Sport athletes will often perform the full versions of the movements with sequencing that inherently requires masterful execution of the basic lift. On a clean and jerk day, we might tell you:
Take 15min to find a heavy but perfect single of:
Power Clean + Hang Squat Clean + Split Jerk
We don’t always split up the WODs by Life and Sport designations. Depending on the workout, some simple scaling can be applied and will work easily for all levels. Other times, it might be more appropriate to designate the levels, so we can simplify the scaling options and remove a movement that many people won’t be able to do. For example:
5 Muscle Ups
10 Deadlifts – 275/175
10 Burpee Pullups
10 Deadlifts – 185/125
We designate a shorter run because the work capacity of a Life athlete may still be developing, and longer runs would diminish the amount of intensity they’re able to generate in a WOD with such distance. The burpee pullups aren’t meant to develop the attributes that would bring you closer to a muscle up, but many people will never perform a muscle up and won’t get much out of doing an overscaled version of one. Instead, by programming burpee pullups for Life folks, we preserve the metabolic stimulus and save a bunch of time not having to set up 20 ring stations with a bunch of bands and monitor people who can’t even do a ring support, yet are attempting to organize an entire muscle up sequence. We tend to think that people appreciate doing something simply hard rather than doing something that ends up either being too hard, too easy, or just awkward and frustrating to organize in a timed setting. The weight on the deadlift is leveled to take into consideration the average strength ability of different levels of athletes.
Below is another example of a leveled WOD, and in this case, you should be able to quickly see which version you’ll get the most out of.
10 Chest to Bar Pullups
10 Overhead Squats – 115/75
10 Jumping Pullups or 10 Bar-on-Rig Pullups
10 Front Squats – 95/65
These two versions have clear designations between volume in chest-to-bar pullups, jumping pullups, and bar-on-rig pullups, as well as a comparable sub for people who may not be able to organize 10 overhead squats at any significant weight. I’d rather someone front squat 95lbs for reps than crumble while attempting to overhead squat a 65lb barbell.
Generally speaking, Life WODs often require fewer skills and are less ballistic versions of the Sport WODs. We can easily write a version that ends up being systemically more challenging for the athlete and requires much less setup, coaching, and modification, instead of attempting to scale more advanced or demanding movements.
Besides the lifts mentioned above, we also program levels of the Snatch and Box Jump. For the same reasons that we would modify an overhead squat, we tell Life athletes to perform Power Snatches instead of Squat Snatches. And, we say to modify a Box Jump into a Box Step Up because no one needs to suffer thru a busted up shin from a missed jump. The risk of injury for some individuals is too great with Squat Snatches and Box Jumps, and the alternatives of Power Snatches and Box Step Ups provide a similar stimulus while maintaining the flow of the class.
Got questions about what we recommend for you and why? Ask us. We’re happy to explain our rationale. Just be prepared for the answer, “It depends.” See you in the gym.