The Purpose of Heavy Days

With today in mind (being a heavy day) we wanted to discuss the purpose of heavy days, how to approach them, and why it’s important to stick with the programming.

First of all, heavy days are programmed to develop strength and technique. Single movement heavy days are also a vital part of the program. They give the central nervous system (CNS) a rest. Conditioning workouts that increase heart rate and add metabolic stressors to the body affect the CNS and leaves it fatigued. We use single movement heavy days, where the heart rate does not get high to give the CNS a break and provide a day to develop the strength and technique stated above.

A heavy day may also be incorporated into a workout, think Holleyman:

30 Rounds:

5 Wall Balls (20/14)


1 Power Clean (225/155)

If a heavy barbell is in a conditioning piece like this then chances are the single modality day will be a gymnastics or conditioning piece. If a week is structured this way it may be advisable to take a rest day (if you don’t already) in order to rest the CNS.

When we program, we make a conscious effort to monitor rep counts each and everyday. For Holleyman, 30 cleans at 225/155 lbs means moving a total 6,750/4,650 lbs. That is on top of 150 wall balls and 90 handstand push-ups. We then program around this to make sure the rest of the week’s reps and weight balance this extreme.

If we program a 5x5 back squat day, we base this upon a 25 rep workout where the athlete aims to increase weight across each set and builds to a heavy set of 5. However, a 5x5 back squat day is not a day to then go on and build to a 1 rep max (RM). We get this feeling, we feel good through the 5x5 and we haven’t PR’d in a while. But we must understand the programming isn’t structured for that and overtraining/overreaching can result. We would never do 5x10 strict pull-ups and then want to test out our max set. It wouldn’t work and it wouldn’t be accurate. If we approach the 5x5 back squat properly, focus on good technique, and build to a heavy set of 5, finding a new 1RM afterwards is not possible.

For every long distance effort our athletes will do five or six short distance. Why? Because compound or functional movements and high intensity or aerobic cardio is radically more effective at eliciting nearly any desired fitness result.
— Greg Glassman

We say this all the time but society values the long slow endurance efforts (more is better). We consider intensity to be way more valuable. But with that we must understand is that there has to be balance. One of the goals of CrossFit is to be well balanced across the 10 Components of Fitness, which means on a strength day that is where our focus should be. The common thought on those days can be that it wasn’t taxing because we didn’t get the heart rate up so I should probably go for a run. This is a fundamental error, and one likely causing no benefit.

There is no perfect programming out there. If there was we would all be using it. But we believe in the program that we put out. We have spent a lot of time learning, messing up, and then continuing our development to offer the best program possible. It is designed to benefit you as the athlete. The coolest looking, flashiest program in the world is useless if it does not provide meaningful results to the athlete. That is our goal and that is why we structure our programming in this way.

Joseph TownsendComment