What CrossFit™ Could Learn From the NFL by ryan fowler


This is a guest post by a close friend of mine, Ryan Fowler. Before a six-year career as an NFL linebacker, Ryan captained the football team at Duke University where he also completed his undergraduate and graduate studies. My hope with the blog over time is to continue to have multiple unique perspectives on training to embrace the culture of the ‘think tank.’ Ryan will be someone that will help to grow and expand the knowledge base at TTT and eventually be integrated into a more expansive role. For now, you can expect a regular blog post from him about once every six weeks. Hope you enjoy!

~ Max

I've said it a million times; "Football players could learn a lot from CrossFit™." Someday I'll explain what I mean. But, this article is about what competitive CrossFitters can learn from the NFL.

As the sport of fitness becomes more competitive, physical preparedness will no longer suffice as the only factor for success. The talent pool will begin to level out, and the deciding factors for success will be somewhat less concrete. Physical preparedness will need the accompaniment of mental and strategic preparedness.

The other day someone asked me, "What was it like in the NFL?" So, I told them..."Life in the NFL is like one continuous orgy...on cocaine hills...in a forest where money actually grows on trees.

Then she asked, "What's an orgy, daddy?" (None of that is true)

The truth is that life for the vast majority of NFL players is exceptionally structured and disciplined. Competition is fierce. A bad day at work could mean losing your job. A few more bad days could mean the end of your dream. High stakes warrant meticulous preparation, and this is where serious CrossFit™ athletes can take a cue from the NFL.

Below, I've outlined a typical work-day for an NFL Linebacker. It's not intended to be exhaustive. Rather, I present it here as a framework that we can use to make improvements to the structure of your current training regimen.


6:00AM-8:00AM - PRE WORK

Weight Room/Treatment

*All injured players (anybody who can't participate in any aspect of practice or team activities) have multiple mandatory treatment times throughout the day. Optional for everyone else.



8:00-8:30am- TEAM

-Introduce the week's opponent

*key stats, players, and tendencies


-Introduction of the game plan

*calls, assignments, verbal and hand

signal communication

*opponent's statistical tendencies

*personnel packages

9:30-11:00am- POSITIONAL

-Linebackers breakdown their assignments in detail.

*This is where true understanding starts. Most of this time we watch film of the opponent from two different angles (end zone and side line cameras). We visualize and discuss how we'd "fit" into the play we are watching. It's not unusual to spend 20 mins on one play, rewinding, slo-mo-ing, and replaying dozens of times. There's no reason to move on to the next play if we aren't 100% sure how to do our jobs against the one we are watching.

11:00-11:45- WALK THROUGH

-Abbreviated dress rehearsal of practice

*This is like diagramming using real people and real motion as opposed to Xs and Os and arrows. Like real-life chess pieces.


I know meetings aren't sexy. But they are critical. By the time we take the field for practice later in the day, we are expected to know our jobs precisely. Mental mistakes waste precious time. Good pros prepare at the same intensity with which they play. They are paid a lot to do their job better than any other candidate in the world. They make sure they know exactly what that job is and the best way to do it before they ever put on their cleats. If they don't, they will soon be gone and someone better or hungrier will do it.



12:15-12:25- Warm-up

12:25-12:40- Skill Work

*Linebackers work on stance, footwork, tackling technique, pass drop angles, key reads, engage and escape techniques, etc.

12:40-1:10- Inside Run (9 on 7)

*A "show team"(comprised of mostly second string offensive players) runs scripted running plays, (diagrammed on cards for visual instruction) against the first team defense.

1:10-1:40- 7 on 7 (pass skeleton) *Same as above but with passing plays.

1:40-1:45- water break

1:45-2:15- Special Teams Practice

2:15-2:45- Team

-Entire defense and offense practice both run and pass plays against each other.

Practice is methodically planned. The times listed above are not estimations. They are accurate to the second. Intensity of focus is always high even when physical intensity is intended to be low. Everything is filmed from two angles.

2:45-3:30- Break

*Lunch, shower, treatment for injuries

Every rep from practice is analyzed and graded by position coaches before the final film review of the day.

3:30-4:30- Film Review

-Corrections from practice

*We watch every play from practice from both a sideline perspective and an end zone perspective. Corrections are made and notes are taken.

4:30- Done

*Many players stay for more film study and discussion. All players are given video footage of every play of the opponent's last 3 games to study at home.

Now, let's look at a sample day of programming for an elite CrossFitter. Then, I'll show how we can use the framework from the NFL example to implement this program more effectively.



Squat clean clusters; rest 20 sec/rest 3 min (88% 1rm for all)

Front squat; 6, 4, 2, 6, 4, 2, 6, 4, 2; rest 4 min (heavier each wave and end at 90-95% max double on the last wave)

Rear foot elevated split squat jumps; 6-8x4/leg; rest 90 seconds btw legs

Russian KBS; 15 reps fast and explosive x5; rest as needed btw sets to recovery


2015 Regional Individual Workout #6

Now we'll look at an example of how an Elite CrossFit Athlete's day might be structured around their program. Someday, the sport may be lucrative enough that this type of regimen can be overseen and implemented by a coach. For now, it's up to the athlete.




Training and Skill Development


-Read through the programming for the entire session.

*Develop a clear understanding of expectations regarding the execution of each move, key emphases etc.

Ask coach or programmer any questions to clarify expectations.

9:15-9:30- FILM STUDY

-Watch examples of proper and improper execution of each move where appropriate.

*You tube can be a resource, but there are many others, including video footage of your own previous workouts.

9:30-9:45- SKILL WORK

-Unloaded/Lightly Loaded repetitions *fundamental movements that pertain to the particular workout, emphasizing perfect technique and making corrections as needed.

9:45-9:50 REST

9:50-11:00- THE “WORKOUT"

- Execution of the prescribed program as it's written.

*This period should be uninterrupted. The athlete needs complete focus and proper intensity.

NOTE: You should film your workouts. You don't have to get every rep of every set, but there is no better feedback tool than a camera, especially if you don't have the luxury of an onsite coach. Your mind plays tricks on you, but as football coaches are seemingly programmed to repeat every 5 minutes, "The eye in the sky don't lie". No matter how may times somebody tells you that your not finishing your pull, it can be hard to believe if it doesn't match what you're feeling. Cameras can save you a lot of time and make your workouts far more effective.

*** See Disclaimer at End of Post

11:15-11:45- COOL DOWN

-Post-workout nutrition, cool down, and mobility.

*Don't get lazy. If you are bad about this type of thing, ask a friend to hold you accountable.

11:45-12:00- REVIEW

-Analysis of the session

*What did you do well? What needs improvement? How will you go about getting that improvement? Write all of this down. It might be tedious, but it can provide your remote coach with important feedback and deepen your own understanding.

12:00-5:00pm- LIFE AS USUAL

-Live your life.

*If you have the luxury of working out for a living, then go home, hook up to some stim, move your dog out of your spot on the bed and take a nap. If you don't have that luxury (sucker!), then do...whatever "you people" do when you're not exercising. I can't even imagine. I'm sure it's awful.

SESSION 2 (practice)


5:00-5:15- REVIEW AND PLAN

-Same as morning session.

5:15-6:15- WORKOUT PREP

Practice the individual components of the "metcon/WOD". For example, if the WOD for this session is workout #6 from the 2015 Regionals:

5 Rounds For Time:

Row 25 cals

16 CTB pull-ups

9 Deficit HSPU

Then the schedule might look like this:

5:15-5:35- Row Practice

5:15-5:25- Mechanics

5:25-5:35- Intervals

5:35-5:55- CTB Practice

5:35-5:45- Mechanics

5:45-5:55- Small Sets- with emphasis on time efficiency and movement quality

5:55-6:15- HSPU Practice

5:55-6:05- Mechanics

6:05-6:15- Small Sets


-Plan the details

*When will you chalk? How will you break up reps? How hard will you row? What's your goal time? What's your contingency plan if you ‘blow up’?

*Practice your transitions to minimize unnecessary "down time".

6:30-6:40- FINAL PREP

- Get ready to go!

*Use the bathroom. Visualization and/or other mental preparation. Set up the equipment exactly where you want it. Set up a camera or make sure you have a camera operator.

6:45-7:00- WOD

-Do this as if it were a real competition.

*The intensity of physical exertion doesn't have to be 100% every time, but the intensity of focus and attention to detail must be maxed out.

7:00-7:20- POST WORKOUT


*Cool Down


7:20-7:45- ANALYSIS

-Watch the film

*Identify where improvements can be made. Plan adjustments to be made for next time.

7:45 DONE

Obviously, such meticulous regimenting is not realistic for most people. But, athletes who aspire to be the best should seriously consider the efficacy and efficiency of their current training habits. The sport is growing and the competition is only getting better. As prize money and other perks continue to grow, the sport will warrant and demand this kind of thoughtful preparation. There is only room for a few at the top. Those who are willing to do all the little things will soon close the door on those who settle for "good enough".

***Author’s Disclaimer: If you've never seen yourself exercising on video, prepare for a demoralizing shock. The first time I saw film of myself playing football, I thought something was wrong with the tv or vcr (yes, I'm old). I was looking for something like a mix between Dick Butkus and Barry Sanders. But the guy on the screen wearing my jersey moved more like a mix between Herman Munster and Forrest Gump (leg braces still on). If you don't like the way you sound on a recording, you might lose it the first time you see yourself do scantily clad Double Unders. When this happened to me, I immediately abandoned my programmed workout and spent the next two hours doing push-ups over a puddle of my own snot and tears of self-pity. It wasn't all bad though. The next day my mom took me shopping for my very first bra, and for the first time in years we really talked. Not "How's the weather? How are the kids? You should feel guilty for growing up and leaving me" type small talk. I'm talking, real connection

~ Ryan

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