How to Program a Killer WOD

October 13, 2018

Photocredit: Crossfit DC

If you’ve done CrossFit® for any length of time then you will know that it’s pretty hard to put together a good WOD.  Sure, it’s easy to put something together that will leave you wrecked for a week, but we need to ask ourselves is that really increasing our fitness?

*SPOILER ALERT* there’s more to fitness than getting wrecked.

Keep reading to find out a simple step by step process to put together a killer WOD.

Step 1: Determine Your Goal

This is the crucial step that is very often overlooked.  We need to figure out what kind of adaptation we are after, and only then can we start to figure out what kind of workout will get us there.  Broadly speaking there are three types of WODs

  • Metcon
  • Monostructural
  • Strength
Metcon’s are what we commonly associate withCrossFit®. They are a mix of gymnastics, weightlifting, and monostructural movements in the 8-15min time domain. This is going to give you the most bang for your buck. You will also get some muscular development as well as a healthy dose of conditioning.  

Monostructural is one movement that is done for energy system development.  This is commonly running, rowing, cycling, or swimming, but it could include things like kettlebell swings for longer durations.  

Strength is exactly what it sounds like.  You will be lifting heavy things in order to increase neuromuscular coordination and muscular size. Incidentally, these are the only two factors that really account for increases in strength.

For the purposes of this article, we will be covering how to put together a good metcon.  

Step 2: Create Your Outline

This is where you will determine how long you want to go with the metcon, and which muscle groups you want to target. In this case, we will be targeting our legs, and sticking to the 10-minute range. We will have a secondary goal of really developing our anaerobic capacity or the energy system that allows us to do the most work during a WOD.  

First, let’s pick our core movements.  Here we will choose wall balls and squat cleans.  Both movements will target your legs, and specifically your quads, and glutes.  In order to keep our intensity high, we need to pick weights and sets that will allow us to keep moving, minimizing rest time.  

Example Metcon:

5 Rds for Time

5 Squat Clean 135/95 lbs

10 Wall Balls 30/20lbs

50 Double Unders

In this example, we see our two core moves will really target our legs well, and we also see that the reps specified will allow the average crossfitter to keep moving without excessive rest. The double unders have been thrown in there to keep our heart rate up and give our legs a rest.


Now, this is another area that many athletes forget when planning a workout.  It’s very tempting to think up a WOD and put way too much volume in it. We need to be true to our outline and realize that more is not always better.  

In the example WOD it would be very easy to go with 10 squat cleans and 20 wall balls, but we need to think how long will that take us to do.  Normally when I program I estimate how long each round will take and make sure that jibes with what my outline dictates.

Here we see that 5 squat cleans are about 30 sec, 10 wall balls are about 30 sec, and 50 double unders will probably take around a minute.  This means each round is just about 2 minutes in length. We also have to realize that the athlete will slow after each round. Overall this will probably fall in the 10-12 minute range depending on the athlete.  

Step 3: Rules of Thumb

There is no right or wrong way to create a metcon but there are better and worse ways! Remember we want to keep the intensity high, and we don’t want a lot of downtimes. This is best accomplished using these rules of thumb

  • Keep Weights Around 30% of 1RM
  • Pair Opposite Muscle Groups
  • Big Moves Before Little Moves

These two rules of thumb allow you to keep working relatively fresh muscles. If the weights are too heavy you will need extended rest to keep moving. If you pick moves that only target the same muscles then you will fatigue much more quickly.  

Big compound movements will also create a much higher metabolic demand which helps to create that vomit inducing feeling we all know and love.  

This is why workouts like Fran are so devilish.  A thruster is primarily a pushing movement, and a pull up is a pulling movement.  The weight is moderate for most athletes, and both movements are compound in nature, meaning the use of more than one muscle group.  

Step 4: Beyond the WOD

Now you have a solid framework to design some killer metcons.  Try applying this framework to other programs you see and determine for yourself if they are a good fit for you.  If you want to learn more about putting together an overall program you should check out my Ebook, “Programming Your Fitness,” where you will learn from the latest research and my 11 plus years of CrossFit®.  

You have the knowledge, now get out there and get working!

This is a guest post from Jake Jackson, a lifelong fitness enthusiast, former Marine, and current police officer, as well as a 
CrossFit® coach at Crossfit Annandale. And the owner of Tier Three Tactical.  He writes about Crossfit, fitness, as well as a variety of topics for law enforcement, military, and tactical community.  He maintains that the mullet haircut was originally designed to keep the back of your neck from getting sunburned. You can follow Jake on Facebook or Twitter.