Cherry-Picking and Birthday WODs: How to Stop the Madness

As a box owner or an athlete, it is your responsibility to keep things constantly varied (and not random) to keep athletic progress moving.

In a perfect CrossFit world, there is no random. I am a firm believer that “constantly varied” is a solid theology, but “random” is a dangerous and ineffective one. We train for fitness, for local competitions, for national competitions, and thus for life itself, with a constantly varied approach.

But once constantly varied turns into random, you’re just wandering around the desert looking for water.

This article goes out to box owners, programmers, and athletes alike. Random is defined as “without method or conscious decision.” Think about that – if your programming is random, you’re doing it without any method or without any active participation in its creation.

Box Owners

Any time you pull out a deck of cards, celebrate a birthday WOD, use any kind of hopper, or even so much as walk in the doors of the box and make up the day’s workout that morning, you are engaging in random programming. Any time you pull a surprise workout on your clients or add an unplanned cash-out, you’re engaging in random programming.

And yes, any time your client texts you and says, “What’s on tap for tomorrow?” and you reply, “Not sure yet,” you are engaged in random programming. Random is dangerous, but more importantly, random is ineffective.

“Programming is an art and a science, and it should also be a passion.

To the box owners: should your clients trust their fitness to a programmer who is not committed to the decision-making process required to create a proper fitness program? Conversely, should you, if you are not a coach and experienced programmer, trust your programming to yourself?


Any time you cherry-pick your workouts, you are engaging in random, rather than constantly varied training. When you pull up tomorrow’s WOD on the gym website, see “5K run,” and opt to go down to a competing box to get a better ass-kicker, you are subverting your own progress. Presumably, the run is programmed by your coach for a reason, and if you opt out because you can’t stand running and would rather do something fun, your training has just become less effective.

running, runners, 5k

When programmed correctly, you should be able to pull back to a bird’s-eye view and see a logical progression of like-kind and quality training sessions. Today may be a 5km run, but over the course of twelve weeks, you may notice that every Tuesday, there is some work toward better endurance.

What you see is a slow, but intentional upward progression. This should be supplemented by short aerobic power pieces, lactic endurance pieces, and other training during your week. But imagine if you look at the workout every Tuesday and think ,“Meh! Running again!” and just head on down to a competitors gym for “Double Grace.” Two things are happening:

  1. You are taking one piece of your own box’s puzzle and discarding it.
  2. You are taking a piece from a completely different puzzle and trying to jam it into your own.

What you end up with if you keep doing this is a puzzle that looks like a Salvador Dali painting.

Constantly Varied Does Not Mean Random

In theory, every CrossFit gym is building their own puzzle. At least, I hope this is true. And if you are constantly grabbing pieces from a multitude of puzzles – the CrossFit main site, really cool workouts people post on social media, or your own stuff just for fun – it’s like taking your salad, your fajita poppers, your salmon cakes, and your triple-chocolate cake, putting it all in a huge blender and then choking it back hoping to be nourished.

“[O]nce constantly varied turns into random, you’re just wandering around the desert looking for water.”

Box owners: programming is an art and a science, and it should also be a passion. There should be a path, a destination, and a means of testing – perhaps on an annual or semi-annual basis. Dive into the science of programming and devour every available piece of informtion. There is a method. Close up, it often looks like chaos, but if you pull back, a much more defined, logical and sensible picture should come into focus.

Athletes: I am not suggesting that the occasional drop-in WOD will hurt you. I am suggesting that failing to follow a (quality) program will get you injured, overtrained, and nowhere near your goals. I have seen it time and time again.

Random or constantly varied? Two different forks in the road. I recommend the one on the right.

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Photos courtesy of CrossFit Empirical.

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