Levels, Intent, Themes -- "LIT" – is a simple way to remember the philosophy behind Level Method programming. Each of the letters -- L, I & T -- embodies a specific aspect of group fitness programming.
The Level Method (Legion) Programming mission is to provide the best group programming, to the greatest number of gyms that have wide ranging clients and ways of doing fitness & business.
There are two important points to address before we get started.
1) In facility programming, one of the challenges is to be specific enough to be effective and get desired results, while also varied enough to be engaging, interesting… fun over the long term. Add to this the many opinions and belief systems about what’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’ programming, what there should be more or less of -- and it's clear that providing gym programming is a multifaceted challenge. We have to account for specific preferences (more strength, longer workouts) and differing and nuanced philosophies. There are different warmup preferences, equipment preferences & availability, and unique logistics. When we run our surveys, the exact same week will be ranked high or low by various gyms, based on these preferences.
2) Some members come in every day, others only on some days -- and this varies between gyms. This is a factor that can’t be controlled, and we make sure every workout is productive so no matter what day people come in, there is a good workout for them. Because of that, we don't have dedicated recovery days besides an open/rest day on Sunday. We highly suggest adjusting this as you see fit.. We vary movement patterns and loading, but based on how Themes fall (which we’ll look at later), there are times with higher loading on certain movement patterns. So, making adjustments, based on facility or individual needs, is where coaching and customization comes in. We often reiterate the benefit of tweaking and customizing our programming.
This is a clarification before we get started that no program can be totally perfect for every gym because of preferences and beliefs, and we highly suggest making adjustments if they are needed for your community. What we do is give you a super strong programming base – completely done for you – which at the same time is highly specific if you choose to make tweaks. Seen through the lens of lots of different gym owners, our philosophy will provide a clear, easily-seen focus – because our programming is LIT (lol).
The first principle of our programming philosophy is Levels -- the L of LIT. It allows everyone in class to do a workout that is appropriate for them, in terms of movement patterns, loading, and energy systems. They perform at their appropriate (and proven) Level.
This concept allows systematic individualization in a group fitness environment – that is, we individualize the group experience. To do this, we need Levels. We need a structure that lets us put “handles” on our clients, so we understand their fitness at a glance. We identify abilities and quantify performance, so we can systematically adjust and scale, based on real, dynamically adjusting data.
Levels give us an objective, big picture view of clients in terms of their fitness. But this can still be too broad, so we need a way of further customizing workouts, to get closer to the ideal. To do this, our programming uses Levels Considerations. NOTE: Pay attention to the distinction between Levels Considerations (based on the 15 level categories), and the six OVERALL Levels, WHITE to BROWN, that our programming uses.
Each workout in our programming is appropriate for all six overall Levels, and for the full spectrum of each Level – for example, from BLUE to BLUE III -- all of BLUE.
Depending on the category levels, and the workout specifics (systems, movements), the intention of a BLUE workout might not be precisely correct for a BLUE level client because of individual strengths & weaknesses. Someone might be BLUE overall, but with RED strengths and ORANGE weaknesses as shown in the below example.
Levels Considerations addresses this need for precision adjustments … the precise name would be Level Category Consideration, because all 15 of our MAP categories are considered. So we can customize a workout based on the individual levels that pertain to a workout, rather than on the overall Level of an individual.
This may sound confusing, so let’s use the example of a Breathe & Burn - Vp(p) – workout, with Deadlifts, and Pushups shown below.
A female client with the overall level of BLUE comes in with a strength in Deadlift (RED) but a weakness in UB Push (ORANGE), based on her Levels (indicated in the bottom left in image). We refer to the day's workout for appropriate adjustments around safety & consistency, and we scale it down to an ORANGE UB Push level -- in this case, to Box Pushups. But for Deadlifts we can bump it up to a higher weight, in this case bumping her to 105lbs, because she has proven competence at this level and above -- this allows an appropriate Deadlift weight, that matches our intention for the workout and produces a challenging workout that produces results.
So, for this client, she would do a workout that includes deadlifts @ 105, and Box Pushups.
Sure, she could have done the BLUE workout just fine – doing 85lb deadlifts and floor pushups – But with Levels Considerations we are able to systematically customize it, and hit the bull's-eye of the workout’s intent.
By offering such a clear structure and rule set, members can have a better understanding and help manage themselves, which is awesome. Remind them to check their specific Levels before class, to see what they should do. These self-adjustments are yet another reason to be confident that each workout is exactly right for them. Levels Considerations take us beyond normal scaling — we can provide a workout totally appropriate for anyone, and in a group!
This is something clients can’t get anywhere else. No one else can do this -- almost everyone is still working from some version of the Rx Mentality. The "Rx" idea in fitness has always identified some external goal, an ideal yet required single standard for everyone. The workout itself was the Rx … the stimulus, the prescription.
But in the real world -- where there are medical consequences -- prescriptions are specific to the person, with dosing based on individual attributes such as body weight, gender, age, etc. Coaches need to do the same thing, and “dose” people appropriately via the attributes of their Level, experience, goals.
So that’s "L" in "LIT". Levels.
When we say intent, we mean that there’s a reason for what we do, and a clear, explainable, logical method to attain a specific result.
Fundamentally, intent is about energy systems, and sensations. Energy Systems (ES) map out how the body uses various fuels (ATP, Sugar, Fat) for activity, while sensation is the way the activity is perceived by the conscious mind. They are directly related, and by identifying the sensation, we can understand what ES is being used, which tells us how effectively our method is achieving the intent. The primary question is: “How did the workout feel?”
In relation to programming, intent is about the adaptation you’re looking for. As coaches, we identify the desired outcome, and relate this in an understandable way. We identify work that elicits the desired adaptation, and we match this work with its predictable and necessary sensation. In other words, we leverage our understanding of energy systems. Energy systems are understandable and identifiable, because of how they make us feel.
We use bioenergetic notation and AKA names. That sounds complicated … but it’s just matching a sciencey name with a real world name. (We'll do a deep dive into energy systems soon.)
Briefly, in our "Coach’s Notes", assigned to every workout are three letters, V, P or E -- Ventilation, Plumbing or Electricity. There are many names for these, in classic CrossFit methodology they are oxidative, glycolytic, phosphagen. You may also know them as Aerobic, Lactic, Anaerobic. But ours (VPE) are derived from the House Analogy, a simplified way to explain high-level energy system concepts – it helps everyone understand and leverage these ideas faster.
This has been a big problem with conventional fitness-based energy-system models – the jargon and concepts are either too simplistic or too complicated. I just wanted something that worked in the real world, and made sense. So I took a pragmatic view, and framed an energy-system model -- the V, P or E of bio-energetic notation -- that is logical and can be understood quickly by clients and coaches.
We take a step further by giving the three letters (VPE) descriptive AKA names -- "Breath & Burn", for example, or "Full Body Burn." These simple names accurately identify stimulus, and help us adjust it. So, when we say "Intent", it assumes an understanding of these energy systems.
This is such an important concept.
Doing a workout in a certain way will produce predictable sensation. It can take a while to learn this. So, a specific sensation implies a specific stimulus, which produces adaptation, which leads to a specific result (hitting a goal).
Understanding all this is great, but the next necessary step is to relate these ideas to members. This is super hard to do, because some members aren’t interested, motivated, or perhaps yet able, to understand advanced concepts -- they don't need to, they may not want to, and it's not their job to.
The truth is, many coaches don’t have a full grasp on basic energy-system concepts. But this is to be expected and people need long term exposure to these ideas, and then it takes time and study to master them – but we make this process much easier.
We want to accelerate the speed that clients can understand this information, and can USE it in a practical way. Understanding allows faster learning so we can differentiate between systems and build increased awareness and clarity.
If we do this, our clients receive a huge advantage. Even if they aren’t athletically advanced, understanding these concepts accelerates all aspects of fitness. It produces deeper fulfillment, because things just make more sense … and they know more than all their friends, especially the one across the country.
When my members traveled and visited other gyms, they'd know much more than the coaches. My members wondered why things were so chaotic there, why the briefings made no sense and the scaling was all over the place. Overall it felt to them like there was no rhyme or reason, no method to the workout or to the way it was explained or described. The intent was not clear.
When our intent is clear we have the tools to explain, in simple ways that make sense and have real-world usefulness to evoke fitness adaptations by leveraging Energy Systems as experienced through the Sensations they provoke.
Finally, after the "Levels" and "Intent" of our LIT philosophy, we have "Themes".
Our solution to the very challenging problem of developing a structure to facility programming for a wide range of gyms, is Themes.
For years at my gym we would run six to eight-week cycles, where each week had a similar daily makeup. So Mondays had similar kinds of stuff, and Tuesdays had its own, distinct type of work -- etc. My background is in individualized program design, and this is the general approach, because you can control it -- you have structure.
At my gym, I had buy-in from all my members -- they loved it and it worked, they understood and participated fully. But when we brought this to facility programming, it failed – within 2 months, we had to totally overhaul our approach.
I mentioned it earlier, but it’s challenging to deliver a product to a wide range of coaches and owners, all of whom have different ideas of what “good” is. Sure, there are fundamentals, but there's disagreement even about those. The truth is, making everybody happy is impossible -- even within a single facility. Every experienced owner and coach knows this. Nevertheless, we strive for the best. It took a few years to figure out how to tackle this problem. The answer is, Themes.
Think of Themes as a high-level, less rigid template. By rotating through Themes, methodically yet varied, we’re sure to get exposure to a wide variety of “worlds” within fitness -- we keep things interesting and fun, and we layer in cool learning opportunities.
Themes provide the best possible overall group programming. They give us a structure to say: Okay, in these months we’ll hit THESE specific types of things. We know, for sure, nothing is missed, and we can easily communicate all this to our clients. When we plan the weeks, we can be flexible and creative within that structure.
We don't focus on one thing for too long, or get stuck in a single area of fitness. Over months, mistakes like that can result in missing crucial elements of well-rounded programming. I’ve seen this happen many times, in my own experience as an athlete, and as a coach. It’s easy to think everything is going perfectly, only to discover you’ve neglected some big area -- and you suddenly think… “oh wow, we haven't been doing that at all.” Working within a framework of Themes allows us to make sure that we're hitting these big targets.
We have 5 Themes:
- Energy System
- Electricity Discipline
- MAP Strength Progression
When we first started providing programming, we were combining the two categories of Energy Systems and Electricity Discipline -- but we evolved out of that. It just proved to be better to separate out Electricity, and have it as a constant. This refinement helped us move far past the popular formula, “Strength + MetCon”.
Energy Systems essentially alternate between Ventilation & Plumbing (we treat Electricity differently, even though it is an ES). This means that at a high level, during Ventilation months there's generally more breathing, lighter weight or longer workouts in general -- but not enough to be very obvious. Likewise on Plumbing months: we’ll have somewhat more muscular-based work. In either case, a member won’t be able to tell what we’re doing unless it's pointed out.
The Electricity Discipline is characterized by high muscular tension. It rotates between gymnastics, bodybuilding, powerlifting & weightlifting -- by which we mean not the sport itself, but the nature of contractions within those worlds. So, gymnastics might have more stability & tension, bodybuilding would be "burny" in that 8-15 rep range, while powerlifting would be more “grindy” reps in the low(er) rep range, and weightlifting is more on the dynamic side. These all require high muscular tension to some degree, but each allows for different emphases within group classes.
The MAP Strength Progression Theme lets us progress a given strength movement over 4-5 weeks, and leads into an assessment opportunity at the end of the period. These are movements like Press, Pullup, Squat Endurance, Deadlift, Weightlifting, Front Squat. For early Levels, doing the movement once per week generally builds enough familiarity to yield a Level Up. For upper Levels, it's likely that this is not enough on its own: any upper levels who are intending to assess at the end of the month should have an additional weekly session. But the bottom line is that progressions allow consistent progress on important movements.
The Virtuosity Theme is all about exposure to a wide range of “worlds” within fitness. This adds variety to the training, while simultaneously focusing on the mastery of fundamentals. Virtuosity is woven throughout the workouts of these weeks, in terms of skill work and of movements/ implements.
These are broken into 4 categories: Bodyweight/Gymnastics, Barbell, KB/UL, and DB/UL.
So, for Bodyweight/Gymnastics you'll see more basic bodyweight movements, like air squats or burpees – or more complex movements, like rings. The Barbell Theme generally includes (at higher Levels) skills like barbell cycling. KB and DB are both unilateral, but offer a variety of movements and patterns. During DB Themes we see dumbbell variations when appropriate, and during KB Themes it's generally more KB work, including things like Turkish Getups.
By organizing in this way, we don’t miss anything – and the training stays interesting. Sometimes we get complaints from people who think each month will be the same. For example, a bodyweight-themed month, with less barbell work, might get comments that the training needs MORE COWBELL … Barbell. When we work with Themes, you can see how it all fits together -- but without this understanding, things might seem lopsided or wrong.
Finally, our Fun/Cool Theme was not initially a priority, because, personally, we don't care if things are fun, or cool, or not. We care about results, and about making sure clients are doing appropriate training based on Levels.
Templated weekly structure, so people can plan their progressions systematically? Rowing Repeats, that progress week to week? Sounds good to us!
But in practice, as mentioned, this approach was a miserable failure. It can be the best training in the world, that gets amazing results -- but no matter how good it is, if clients don’t or won’t do it, it’s dead on arrival. If people feel like they’re “missing out” on the fun and cool stuff their friends across the country are doing, they might look elsewhere. So after enough feedback -- “this training is BORING and my clients are COMPLAINING” -- we added the Fun/Cool Theme.
Once or twice a year, we do a public vote on Fun/Cool Themes, so they are not static. Some that we’ve done are:
- CrossFit Girls
- The Classics
About 3x per month, there’s a workout from whatever the Fun/Cool Theme is. For CrossFit Girls, you’ll see a few of those workouts woven throughout. These can also work as events -- we generally put them on Saturdays.
That wraps up the Themes – the T in LIT. These concepts make up our primary philosophy of programming for group fitness.
But a note on Constant Improvement. Every week, our programming has a survey. We track these for feedback trends, and in response we make adjustments and improvements. Because nothing is ever perfect and constant improvement is always a goal.
If you would like to check out 4 weeks of our programming to see how it works in action, GO HERE.
If you have any questions feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com. Thanks for reading