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The Full Vindaloo

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Our take on the new programme and why we chose it

If variety really is the spice of life then things have been getting pretty spicy at Hunstman recently: weighted-sled face-pulls, legless rope climbs, reverse hypers, banded sumo-deadlifts. This is chilli chilli ramen spicy.

It was just over three months ago that I started hearing rumours that the programming at the box was about to change and I wasn’t sure I liked the sound of it. Huntsman has always had a strength bias, but now it was going to have a strength and muscle bias. Ok, I could live with that, but the whispers said that there wouldn’t be so many WODs and there would even be days when you just did body-building and single joint accessory moves. Heresy!

I love CrossFit. I want to live until I’m 110, be fit and healthy, injury free, and in half-decent shape all year round (despite eating and drinking too much of the wrong stuff all year round). I also want to have fun doing it – so bags of variety, a sprinkling of competition and bucket-loads of camaraderie please. Huntsman was already giving me all of the above.

I liked what we were already doing. It seemed to work ok. So why change it?

Three months later and my worries have evaporated. All-of-the-above hasn’t gone away, there’s just lots more of it: more variety, more fitness, more strength. It feels like we are fitting more into an hour’s class than ever before. Glance around the gym and you can’t help noticing that people are looking more godlike by the day. And their numbers are rocketing. Paul Heywood posted a 3rm OHS squat last week with what was his old 1rm.

What is this strange new programme? Why does it work? And from whence dost it cometh?

It’s a long story that I shall cut very short: it begins long ago and faraway in Russia and travels via Bulgaria to Westside barbell in Ohio, a world famous power lifting gym (it calls itself an invitation only training laboratory) founded by Louie Simmons. If Simmons didn’t exist, Stan Lee would have invented him. He is the immense legendary being who created the modern conjugate training known as the Westside System. In very basic terms, conjugate training makes strength athletes ridiculously strong, firstly by using, say, 60 different exercises where they used to use only one or two, constantly mixing up those exercises and inventing new ones. Secondly, it alternates between dynamic and maximal lifting days. You don’t need to know any more than that.

One day, not very long ago, the monster that is Westside conjugate met the beast that is CrossFit and while it wasn’t love at first sight, they soon realised they had a lot more in common than at first met the eye. “Constantly varied functional fitness” and a strength training programme that does everything it can to mix things up and keep the body guessing were a marriage made in heaven. Well, in Ohio. These seemingly incompatible training modalities got down and dirty and produced a beautiful love child called CrossFit Conjugate. The final ingredient? Jason Brown of Box Programming, who started to send CrossFit Conjugate out into the world in intelligently designed four week training cycles.

For us this all means more variety than ever. I’ve been doing Crossfit since 2010 so it’s been a while since I’ve looked at the programming over breakfast and seen something new and mysterious. There are strange new names to learn like Curtis P’s; movements that give you strange new aches and pains the day after you first try them – that must be good musn’t it?

From my point of view there are three main benefits to all this:

Firstly, it stops accommodation. The body quickly adapts to what you put it through and if you keep doing the same thing, you’ll know longer get results. There’s a lot of science behind this which I won’t bore you with (because I don’t know what it is), but by having a large menu of movements intelligently varied, you force your body to keep adapting and responding.

Secondly, you don’t get stale, or bored. Variety is fun so you are more like to drag yourself to training after a hard day’s work if you’re going to be doing something different and, with any luck, a little weird. This variety also protects you from burnout. Coach Matty was saying the other day that it’s been a long time since he has trained six days a week, but the variability in the new programme – both in movement and intensity – ensures that he is recovering properly. It’s not balls to the wall every day.

Thirdly, you are hitting everything from every angle. Accessory moves are no longer afterthoughts, they are often part of the WOD or built into warmups and finishers. You work single joints but usually in a way that keeps the fires burning as well. Conjugate CrossFit uses lots of low skill single-joint movements to prevent injury and redress our imbalances.

So if you like spice, trust in the new programming, because at Huntsman we’re breathing fire these days. In the last three months we’ve gone from Madras hot to the full Vindaloo. I can’t wait to see what the next three months brings.