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CrossFit often discusses how their system “specializes in not specializing” and that life “punishes the specialist.” The common assertion is also that what we all need — elite athletes and grandparents alike — differs in degree, not in kind.

We agree, but with one important caveat: we all have weaknesses that need more work than our strengths. So while we do all need the same kind of broad, functional training, some specific aspects of that training could use more attention than others. Not for the purpose of specializing necessarily — but rather to fill in the deficits that keep us from moving the entirety of our fitness forward. The one-size-fits-all programming of many gyms necessarily leaves behind at least a few aspects of almost every athletes’ fitness.

Take, for instance, two common new recruits for CrossFit training. One is 38 years old, has run 10 marathons in his life along with hundreds of shorter distance races. We’ll call him Randy. Another is 45 years old, has never run more than two miles, and his primary fitness was football and weight training all the way through college. He’s since been mostly sedentary. We’ll call him Boomer.

So, Randy and Boomer are both in the gym. The workout of the day has a bench press portion for strength, while the metcon consists of double unders and running. Randy, being the endurance athlete, will do well during the metcon. Better than Boomer. But he won’t get as good of a workout for his needs as Boomer does. Boomer, meanwhile, will breeze through the bench press.

Both of these athletes would be better served spending just a little more time addressing their respective weaknesses than playing to their strengths. This is a crucial difference from specialization. Specialization suggests a complete and total focus on a particular area of fitness. (E.g. — gymnasts, distance runners, or Olympic lifters.) In the case of The Standard, the focus is not entirely on a particular area — it’s just weighted more heavily towards weaknesses in order to get those deficits up to par with our strengths.

And make no mistake, we all have deficits. At CrossFit Chapel Hill, we’re not satisfied by coasting along with the same amount of work on every aspect of fitness. We want to lean on the buoyancy of our strengths in order to attack our weaknesses. With that in mind, we’ve devised a CrossFit programming system we’re calling The Standard.


The word “standard” can mean many things. Colloquially you may sometimes hear it used as a synonym for “ordinary.” But our Standard is anything but ordinary. Here are the definitions that form the basis for what we’re doing.

stan·dard – noun \ˈstan-dərd\
– a level of quality, achievement, etc., that is considered desirable
– something that is very good and that is used to make judgments about the quality of other things
– a conspicuous object (as a banner) formerly carried at the top of a pole and used to mark a rallying point especially in battle or to serve as an emblem
– a structure built for or serving as a base or support

(Courtesy of

In short, The Standard is optimized CrossFit programming. It is a banner we wave. It helps you form a solid base of fitness and to eventually reach a state of strength, power, and endurance that others aspire to. By following The Standard, you yourself will become a standard by which others will judge themselves.

How it works

All athletes will commit themselves to one of three particular categories. These categories are:

  • Powerlifting – to build strength
  • Weightlifting – to build dynamic movement and explosiveness (AKA, Olympic lifting)
  • Endurance – duh

The goal is for the athlete to follow workouts only within their designated category over the course of a cycle. Cycle lengths may vary.

It’s important to note that choosing a category does not mean you are completely free from practice in the other two categories. On the contrary. This will still be CrossFit, where you will be practicing all forms of movement and strengthening all aspects of your physical fitness. The path you choose just means that your workouts will be more heavily weighted towards your personal goals.

Here’s an example of a modified workout we did at CrossFit Chapel Hill on 15-July-2014. Athletes did the endurance path of that workout, so here are examples of how a powerlifting and weightlifting path would’ve been different:

Workout portion The Standard Powerlifting Weightlifting Endurance
Warm up Run 400m, vision work
Skill Death by double unders
Strength Bulgarian split squats Front rack, heavy 5×5 KB 5×5 at moderate weight with explosive concentric movement, alternated with low/moderate weight snatch balance KB 5×5 as heavy as possible, alternated with walking lunges down the floor and back
WOD Death by deadlifts @90% 1RM snatch grip – @90% of snatch 1RM @50% 1RM – burpees for remainder of each minute
Other Good mornings 3×3, moderate weight Run 400m

See the differences? Some are subtle, some are big. But the goal is to have all athletes able to work on their individual needs while still participating in a class setting. In addition to the three focused pathways, there will also be a Daily Standard. This is for athletes who are already fairly well balanced and/or don’t have a particular path they want/need to focus on at the moment.

Choosing your path

If you’re here for regular day-to-day fitness and aren’t ready or interested in choosing a path, no worries! You can just follow that day’s standard. Your workouts will continue to be well balanced and will function just like the rest of your CrossFit Chapel Hill experience has been thus far. (That is to say, great!)

But if you’re hungry to attack your weaknesses, you now have options. If you’re looking for a chance to refine your snatches and cleans, maybe you’ll elect to do a cycle on the weightlifting path. If you’ve got a good motor and solid oly lifts but need more strength, powerlifting is for you. If everything has been great during workouts except for your lungs, try an endurance cycle.

If you’re curious to try a pathway but aren’t sure what you want to do first, not to worry — your coaches are here for you. Just ask us. We’ve been watching you since day 1, so we’ve got a pretty good idea of what you need.

Whether you choose your path or a coach steers you towards a particular one, we just ask that you truly commit yourself to it for the duration of the cycle. The purpose of The Standard programming is not to cherry pick the workouts that sound like the most fun. The goal is to hunker down and get to work on obliterating your weaknesses.

It’ll be a challenge, that’s for sure. Are you ready to bear The Standard?


-Guidelines for The Standard Test-

We have defined The Standard Test to help you figure out which path you should go down:

We begin at the end: If you score above 9:00 – automatically Endurance: We believe you should be able to do 11.1 burpees in a minute… and if not we have the track for you!!

Assuming you beat 9:00 minutes decide between weightlifting and powerlifting using the following equation:

 ____ (FS Weight)

x ____ (FS reps)

 / ____ (Snatch Max)

= X (Your Standard number)

If x is greater than 9 – You are stronger than your Olympic technique allows = Weightlifting

If x is less than 7.5 – You strength is the limiting factor in your performance = Powerlifting

If x is between 7.5 and 9 – Your strength and Oly skillz are balanced, do: The Standard or Endurance

The last part goes back to Endurance:

If your burpee time in minutes is higher than:

9 for beginners

7.5 for intermediate

6.5 for advanced

Do Endurance and get it Better!