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How to read the Training Plan?

Posted 24th November 2016 by Josh Schouten

This will be an ongoing post that will be updated over time.  I hope this helps those who are new to training to understand the programming language. Enjoy!

When you first walk into a CrossFit gym, or when you start training with a quality strength and conditioning coach, you will be introduced to the wonderful world of the exercise programming language. Yes, it’s just like a computer programming language and it can be tricky to understand at the first.

Example program:

A. Deadlift 5 x [4-5], 31×1, rest :120

B1. DB Walking Lunges, 4 x [10-12steps ea leg], 21×0, rest :60
B2. Chin-ups, 4 x [6-8], 30×1, rest :90

C. 8min EMOM of:
odd: 10 RKBS
even: 10 Burpees

D. WOD: 3 Rounds of:
400m Row
40 Double-Unders
20 Wall Balls

If it’s your first time reading this, you probably have very little idea what it all means?

It’s one thing to be able to read the program, it’s another to understand the science behind it. Far too often intermediate and advanced lifters fail to follow the exercise prescription correctly in terms of the repetition requirements and the tempo for each exercise. Taking shortcuts is never going to deliver the same results as following the intended program correctly, don’t be that meat-head who believes the only training parameter that matters is the weight on the bar.

What is RX’d?

In CrossFit, we use the term “as Rx’d” to denote that we did a particular Workout of the Day (WOD) “as Prescribed.” This means that we completed the workout as written, with no scaling or modifications, with the full range of motion (ROM).

It is not compulsory for everyone to complete the WOD at the Rx’d level, if you’re unable to lift a certain weight safely, if you are unable to perform a certain movement under fatigue (like pull-ups) then the workout can be scales and exercises can be substituted (see below)

What does A, B1, B2, C, & D. mean? How do I follow the sets and reps?

The day-to-day training program will often use different styles and formats that can include a variety of letter and numbers that dictate the flow of the session.

In the above example, you will complete 5 sets of exercise “A” for [4-5] repetitions at the rx’d tempo (explanation to come) and the rx’d rest period. After completing all 5 sets of “A”, you move to the superset of “B1” and “B2”. Complete 1 set of “B1” [10-12steps each leg], then rest :60sec before completing 1 set of “B2” [6-8] repetitions. After resting for :90sec you will then repeat “B1” and “B2” for a total of 4 sets. This alternation continues until the rx’d number of sets are completed for each exercise. For the above, this would mean 5 sets through “A”, 4 sets of the superset “B1” and “B2”, then “C” and “D.”

A workout could also go A1/A2, B1/B2, C1/C2/C3 or a workout could be A1/A2/A3/A4/A5. Nothing changes, you simply following the rx’d order of exercises, the rx’d reps, the rx’d sets. Complete all of the exercises with the same letter for the prescribed number of sets before moving onto the next “letter” in the alphabet.  I hope you know your alphabet?

How do I read the reps and sets?

We write the number of sets first and the number of repetitions second. For example, 5 x [8-10] = 5 sets of 8 to 10reps.

Understanding Set:

Gradual progressions from set to set is typically the key, usually determined by load, when tackling a workout. From set to set the muscular system will continue to recruit a great number of motor units and muscle fibres due to central nervous system (CNS) activation. Typically the weights should slowly increase from set to set, as long as correct form/technique is maintained.  Maintaining the correct tempo, and following the rules with the reps (see below), is imperative to end result of the training stimulus.  If you are using the correct methodology, then the muscle groups your targeting will be screaming for vengeance by the last set.

It’s important to remember that your strength levels depend on how well you have eaten, how much sleep you have had, relaxation time, training volume and recovery, etc.. If you’re not balancing your lifestyle and training plan correctly you will quickly plateau or even see a decrease in strength.  Nobody can train back-to-back days and expect strength and fitness to improve.

Understanding the repetition range?

The training program will often prescribe a repetition range, for example [6-8]. We are always aiming to achieve the top of the rep range while maintaining PERFECT lifting form. If you can accomplish perfect form for all repetitions, the load MUST INCREASE (unless specified otherwise i.e. working with percentages). When the top of the rep range is not achieved, then the load MUST STAY THE SAME for the next set. When the bottom of the rep range is not achieved, the load MUST DECREASE for the next set. You MUST understand these principles, as strength progression are dependent upon this, failing to stay within the repetition range will never deliver the maximal results of the training program.

What is TEMPO and what the hell does 32X1 mean?

This 4 digit number represents how fast, or slow, the athlete needs to move through each repetition of the movement. There are many examples like this – 21X0/1010/50A0/etc. Each exercise can have a different tempo and an individual exercise can have different tempos in different training blocks.

For example, if a bench press or back squat is rx’d at 32X1.

The first number signifies the athlete should take 3 seconds (1 one thousand, 2 one thousand, 3 one thousand) to move the bar from the top position to the bottom position (bar to the chest in the bench press or full depth for the squat). It’s critical to remember that the first number ALWAYS signifies the lowering (eccentric phase) portion of ALL exercise, we will come back to this.

The second number signifies if there is any PAUSE (isometric phase) at the bottom position. In this example the second number is a 2, after lowering the weight for 3 seconds down, you will ause for a 2 seconds pause in the bottom position, and then lift the weight back up. If the tempo was 30X0, then you would not need to pause at the bottom of the movement (the second number is 0).

The third number signifies the time in which to lift the load (concentric phase). When this number says “X” it means to accelerate the load as fast as possible – regardless of how fast the weight is actually moving, the intention is to accelerate the load as fast as possible.

If this number is “A” it mean assisted.  For someone who can not do pull-ups we can jump up and then slowly lower ourselves back down.  The assistance in the jump, as you many not yet have the strength to pull yourself up.  We never ever use a band for assistance in dynamic exercises like a pull-up.

If the tempo is 2020, then you have to take 2 seconds to lower fully, 0 pause in the bottom position, then take 2 seconds to come back to the top (you are capable of going faster, but that is not what is being asked, so stick to the tempo). You could also be asked to do a 3010 tempo – on the bench press for example – the third number is critical because it means that for whatever the rep range is, you MUST take the rx’d time to raise the load, which would be 1 second in this example. This type of tempo does not allow for maximal efforts within sets, as you HAVE TO MAINTAIN a certain cadence rep-by-rep.

The fourth number, as you may have guessed, signifies any pause at the top of the movement. If it says 30X1 for a weighted chin-up, then you have to hold your chin over the bar for one second before lowering for 3 seconds to full arm extension.

The tempo for chin-ups and deadlifts, for example, can sometimes be confusing as these movements begin with the contraction portion first, unlike a back squat or bench press. If the tempo is 30X0, the first thing you look at is NOT the 3-second prescription, but the X, meaning that you begin with the third number for this exercise, not the first one. Yes, confusing I know, but you will get the hang of it in time. Just remember that the first number ALWAYS refers to the lowering of the weight and the third number is the lifting of the weight.

Why is the TEMPO important?

The tempo controls the speed of the repetitions and the total “Time Under Tension” (TUT). If the tempo is 3010 for a total of 10repetitions the athlete will be moving the load for a total of 40seconds (3+0+1+0 = 4sec x 10reps = 40seconds). The TUT dictates the training response for the load being lifted. There are many different types of strength and many different ways to build/train strength. The TUT is a critical parameter in determining how the muscle will respond to the exercise prescription. Failing to follow the tempo will change the outcome of the training plan and possibly lower the potential results. Stick to the tempo! Downloading a metronome on your phone can make it a lot easier to correctly count the seconds whilst performing your repetitions.

The tempo is also used to control the intensity, overload certain areas of a movement/body part, improve technique on movements, improve strength in a certain range, increase the size of a muscle and add training variety. Performing 5 back squats at 3010 tempos is a lot easier than performing 5 back squat at an 8110 tempo, and hence the weight on the bar (intensity) can be much heavier when the TUT is lower.



Countless studies have been done to support the tempo principle.

What weight do I start with for each exercise of the workout?

The loading percentages will depend on a number of different parameters associated with the exercise and you as an individual athlete – training age, training status, gender, muscle group, exercise selection, number of reps, the tempo, the rest periods, etc.. Athletes should ALWAYS warm-up to a weight they feel comfortable lifting with perfect form for the first working set.

After completing the first set of the specified exercise the athlete can decide to increase the load, keep in the same, or decrease the load  (see the details on repetitions above). Move up on weight every set if you are moving well on every single repetition, otherwise stay with the same weight or decrease the weight.  Movement quality should ALWAYS been the number one focus throughout the training lifecycle.

RM – Repetition Max:

We use RM to describe your best performance in a certain exercise. If you’re new to training you can possibly set a new RM every single day you set foot in the gym. If you’ve been lifting for a number of years the RM’s will become harder to reach.

A 1RM is the largest load you can lift for a particular exercise. Let’s say you manage to deadlift 120kg for 1 repetition, this is now you new 1RM Deadlift. We can also have a 5RM, 10RM, or 3RM when we lift a new load for this particular number of repetitions. It important to realise that a 1RM should only be considered valuable if it was performed in the last 1-3months. If the RM was performed 3+months ago, maybe before you went on holiday, chances are your strength has dropped and this calculation it not accurate. On the other hand, if the RM is 3+months ago and you have been training a particular lift over the last 3 months, there is a good chance this weight may have increased.

Personally, I’m not a massive fan of a 1RM test as maximal loads are often performed with questionable lifting form. Establishing a 3RM, on the other hand, allows the athlete to perform 1-2 repetitions and then decide if their form is good enough to attempt the 3rd and final rep.

Once you know you 5RM, 3RM or 1RM you can use these scores to calculate certain percentages and maximise the results of your training program (see using percentages).

PB – Personal Best:

Your personal best may not be your current 1RM. “Back when I was 18 I deadlifted 220kg”, but when I reached the age of 40 my deadlift 1RM was 180kg. The PB is 220kg (best lifetime lift), but the current 1RM is 180kg.

Using Percentages?

Often percentages can be used in the training program:

A. Deadlift 5 x [4-5], 30×0, @70%, 75%, 80%, 82.5%, 85%, rest :120

B. 10 EMOM of:  2 Deadlift @70% – move the weight fast

There are many different ways to build strength and improve conditioning.  The science behind getting strong and perform well is not all about the max effort lifts.  Moving the weight well and controlling the tempos can significantly improve your performance.  Percentages are used to dictate the specific load to be used during the workout for each exercise.  Typically the percentage is calculated from your 1RM, for example if you can deadlift 100kg for 1RM, you would use 100kg to calculate the percentages for your deadlift in “A” and “B” above.

The coach designing your program will have a periodised plan to help you improve your strength over the months ahead, failing to stick to the percentages is not going to deliver the desired result. Strength takes months and years to build, not weeks and certainly not days.  Be patient and stick to the percentages to achieve the best results.

The WOD Weights?

If you are performing a strength component of the workout like:

Back Squat 5 x [4-5], 40×0, rest :90

If your best 5RM is 100kg for the Back Squat, then the optimal loading would be 80/90/95/100(4)/100. If you’re having a bad day and you’ve not had enough sleep your strength might be down and you may struggle to perform 5 repetitions at 95kg. Then shutter down there. You are not being productive. Today is not the day to chase a PB, lower the weight and focus on the quality repetitions and allow the body the chance to get some rest and recover. The chance to set a new PB might be next week, don’t be that fool who chases the weight and ends up injured.

If you are to perform the back squat within an A1/A2/B1/B2 style workout, for 5 sets of 4-5reps each set, then the following loading should occur – 80/85/90/95/100(4). If the following happens – 80/85/90(4)/95(3). Then you are done after set 4, shutter down. You DO NOT DO SET number 5. Arguably, you should stop after set 3, or keep the weight the same and make sure you hit the repetitions required.

When the volume of the workout increase, and there is minimal rest, our bodies will start to fatigue. The high volume workouts (WODS) are not the time to test your strength or break yourself. The WODs should be designed to test your fitness and have you moving a load that you are comfortable moving with good form for the total number of repetitions required in the workout duration. DON’T BE A HERO, think about the workout and your ability to perform the Rx’d movements.

Performing a workout that contains deadlifts and toes to bar is going to fatigue you grip very quickly. When our grip starts to fatigue our ability to deadlift is dramatically lower and those who have failed to strategies their workout often end up with terrible deadlifting form, a sore back, possibly an injury.

How should I progress if the workout calls for…?

A. Back Squat 5 x [4-5], 40×0, rest :120
In these workouts, you warm-up to a challenging load for 5 reps of back squats at a 40×0 tempo. If you know your 1RM (repetition maximum) or 5RM for the Back Squat, it will be easier to calculate the weights to work with. The reps could be any number with this style of workout, the rules will still apply. For this workout, you could have a loading sequence that looks like this: 100kg x 5, 105×5, 110×5, 115×4, 115×4. Each set has to be hard, with the next set being harder than the previous unless you fail to make the repetition bracket.

If the workout is:

A. Deadlift, 5 x [5,4,3,2,1], 30×0, rest :120
In this workout, each set should be VERY hard. You may even fail on a certain set, this is not a warm-up to try a 1RM. A PB may occur with this, but each of the sets 5,4,3,2,1 should be maximal efforts for those sets. If your best Deadlift is 150kg, then your sets may look like 125kg x5, 130kg x4, 135kg x3, 140kg x2, 145kg x1. Or is the goal is to PB you might increase the increments a little faster 125kg x5, 135kg x4, 140kg x3, 147.5kg x2, 152.5kg x1.

If the workout is:

A. Bench Press, find 1 RM
You are being asked to find a 1 repetition max (1RM). Now is not the time to working to fatigue in the sets leading up to this. If your PB is 100kg for the Bench Press, then your set scheme could look something like this, following a good warm-up – 50 x5, 60 x3, 70 x2, 80 x1 90 x1, 95 x1, 100 x1, 102.5 x1, 105 x1, 107.5 (failed). The goal is to get up to a heavy weight quickly, with the fewer sets the better, as for most people, this will allow the central nervous system (CNS) to warm-up and be prepared for the important sets.

Touch and go (TNG)

These repetitions are often used in barbell cyclic movements like hang cleans, push-press, and power snatches. The idea is not to put the bar down, but cycle through the specified number of repetitions unbroken if possible

B. 8min EMOM of:
5 TnG Power Cleans + 5 TnG Push-Press

The aim is not to pause in the bottom position of the movement, simply touch the weight on the floor/shoulders/bottom position and then immediately lift the weight again.


What does 1-10 rep ladders mean? It means that you MUST complete each number of the ladder in UNBROKEN reps, for 1, then for 2, then for 3, and so on, up to 10, or the rx’d number. The rules are that if you are doing a 1-10 ladder of anything (chin-up for example), then you MUST not come off the bar until the number of reps that you are currently on is completed. i.e if you have just completed 8 unbroken reps, then you must rest before you can attempt to complete the 9 unbroken reps, and so on. If you made the 9 reps, unbroken, then you have to do the 10, and you are done. If you stop (what is considered a stop should be clarified on that day by the Coach) the set of 10 at rep 7, then you MUST redo the set of 10. And, you are not done until the set is completed, unbroken.


When a complex of movements are rx’d, such as:
A. Power Clean/Hang Power Clean/Front Squat, 5 x [1+3+5], rest :180sex.
The way you would read this workout is for you to do 1 Power Clean, then immediately do 3 Hang Power Cleans, then immediately do 5 front squats. There is no rest between exercises, and no rx’d tempo in this example. These complexes can vary in length, the shorter:
A. Press/Push Press/Push Jerk, 5 x [1+1+1], rest: 180 sec
or the longer
A. Power Clean/Front Squat/Push Press/Back Squat/Push Press, 7 x [1+1+1+1+1], rest as needed.

Understanding the rx’d repetitions, and if there is any rx’d rest between reps, is key.

Clusters :

Another example can be a cluster format of receptions:
A. Back Squat, 5 x [3.3.3], 30×0, rest :15sec between 3’s, rest :180sec

The athlete performs 3 UNBROKEN back squats and then racks the bar and rest for 15seconds. They then unpack the bar and perform another 3 UNBROKEN back squats before racking the bar and rest for another :15sec. They then complete one more set of 3 UNBROKEN back squats before finishing the cluster set and resting for :180sec before repeating. Each set actually contains 9 repetitions with a small amount of rest between them.

AMRAP – As Many Repetitions As Possible:

We can use AMRAP to prescribe a duration if time allowed for an athlete to perform a certain task. For example:

C. 10min AMRAP of:
5 Pull-ups
10 Push-ups
15 Air Squats

The athlete must perform as many repetitions as possible in 5minutes. Each round would be 30 repetitions (5+10_15 = 30), and if the athlete managed 5 rounds + 5 push-ups + 5 squats in 5minutes, the total number of repetitions would be 160.

AMRAP could also be used for a strength endurance aspect of the training program:

C. 3 x AMRAP Chin-ups, 2min rest between sets

The athlete will perform as many unbroken chin-ups as possible when they can not longer perform a repetition the set is over

AMRAP (-2)

If you were supposed to do chin-ups, AMRAP (-2), then that is understood as ending the set 2 rep shy of max, to ensure a higher speed of repetition throughout the set, and also to feed into the next set, and to control intensity.

EMOM – Every Minute On the Minute:

Ever Minute On the Minute is designed as a way to keep athletes moving for a set period of time.

C. EMOM for 10min: 5 Deadlifts, 20×0

This EMOM will involve a total of 50 repetitions of deadlift, the athlete’s goal it to perform 5 deadlifts every minute for 10minutes. Each time the clock ticks over to the next minute, the athlete will complete 5 deadlifts and then rest for the remainder of the minute.

The EMOM abbreviation can also be written as E2MOM (E#MOM) where the working interval number (#) is not every minute but ever 2minutes in this example. (E3MOM, E5MOM, etc… as also examples)

It is also possible to create a workout that has different actions each minute:

C. EMOM for 10min:
even: 5 Deadlifts, 20×0
odd: 10 Burpees

In this workout the athlete will perform 5 deadlifts on min 0:00, 2:00, 4:00, 6:00, and 8:00. On the off minutes 1:00, 3:00, 5:00, 7:00, 9:00 the athlete will perform 10 burpees

C. EMOM for 12min:
first min: 5 Deadlifts
second min: 10 Burpees
third min: 5 Power Cleans
fourth min: 10 Push-ups

In this workout, the athlete will continue to work though the 4 exercises minute after minute until 12minutes has passed. 4 exercises for 12 minutes is 3 rounds of each exercise.

AHAFA – As Heavy As Form Allows.

This allows each athlete to scale the workout based on individual capacity. Quality movement is always the fastest way to the best results, If your form starts to breakdown, it is too heavy. Check your ego at the door and make sure you are moving well so that you don’t injury yourself.

Scaling & Substitutions

The only WOD’s that will need to be scaled are the ones in which there is a movement involved that has a progression. For example, a bench press does not have a progression, the weight just changes. A push-up has a progression. From incline push-ups to push-up on the floor (on your toes), to deficit push-ups. A deadlift does not have a progression, the weight just changes. A chin-up has a progression, from weighted, to unweighted, to a barbell in the rack, to ring rows, and never with a band. Banded pull-ups are NEVER allowed at Momentum Training as they a bullshit exercise.

Always aim to find an intensity (load) and an exercise that you can confidently perform during the workout. As the volume and fatigue increase the bodies strength endurance is tested and nobody can maintain a high level of strength under such fatigue. The smarter athletes will always play is safe as there are no prizes to be won, sponsorship money, to medals in the gym.