Probably you have been wondering about the benefits of following an individualized program vs. group classes. I have seen dedicated CrossFitters training at Open Gym hours on their own, headphones on and following a program written in their notebooks or cellphones. I’ve never followed an individualized program, but my husband is a coach and I’ve seen how much effort he puts in designing individualized programs for his clients, but also for the group class. He says both are effective, but they focus on different goals. I’m kind of torn about this topic because I think that best practices for each person can vary depending on their specific needs and expectations. In an individualized program, you’ll definitely be pushed to act and correct your flaws. On the other hand at a group class, you follow a regular program for the average CrossFitter and you have tons of fun working out with your friends. So what is the way to go?

In this article we are not going to answer the question whether you should workout following an individualized program or in a group class. We are going to weigh both and give you a list of the pros and cons for each.

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CrossFit: Individualized programs vs Group class

Individualized programs in CrossFIt:

Positive aspects:

  • Generally it’s designed for athletes who wish to compete in the sport of CrossFit at a moderate to serious level. Do you want to beat your mate at the next Open? this is your way to go! 
  • Individualized programs are useful for athletes who wish to achieve their maximum potential or get results the quickest way possible.
  • It’s appropriate for athletes who are injured or who have specific physical or mental conditions.
  • Max El-Hag, one of the smartest CrossFit coaches, and owner of The Training Think Tank, thinks that training alone develops a better mental adaptation, appropriate pacing and cultivates a “deep practice”. For him, this outweighs the benefit of fun and competition of group classes.
  • If you work with a coach you can get a customized program depending on your strengths and weaknesses. It’s easier to find the limits in your performance. Your coach can also use videos and analyze your technique. It’s easier to correct your flaws when you see them, right?
  • Your coach can also help you analyze the big picture. Your nutrition, rest and recovery days, changes in your habits, mood, etc.
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Negative aspects:

Cam Birtwell from Podium Sports Conditioning released a youtube video where he argues that most CrossFitters don’t need an individualized program and should not be following one.

Here are summary of his reasoning:

  • Individualized programs are more expensive. 
  • Athletes often end up training alone. 
  • There can be less hands-on time with a coach.
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Exercising in a groups class:

Benefits:

  • Research shows that the healthy actions of your CrossFitter friends have a huge impact on you. A study published in the Journal of Social Sciences found that participants gravitate towards the exercise behaviors of those around them. To add to this result, a study found that overweight people tend to lose more weight if they spend time with their fit friends.
  • There is better accountability to your CrossFit community. It’s hard to let your friends down by quitting on a workout or skipping classes. The CrossFit community is a sort of positive peer pressure. In a group class, you will improve your consistency because you are involved in a group commitment.
  • Competition makes you want to exercise more. Have you heard about the “Köhler Effect“? It’s the thought that travels in your mind telling you that you don’t want to be the weakest in the group and you push yourself harder. At a group class people who are fitter than you push you to workout harder. This study showed that those who exercised with a more-capable partner increased their plank time by 24 percent.
  • Training becomes a social event. Working out releases endorphins but did you know that you could add more to that when you are having fun? Smiling has been shown to increase endorphin levels. So when you’re in a great class with a great community, that kind of conviviality can really make you feel great. What about when you see someone do things they never thought they could until you encourage them to complete that rep? You and everybody at the gym feel great!
  • In terms of your progression, you can analyze collective results and see where are you among your peers. You can also benefit from your peers feedback. I have improved my snatches thanks to the ladies next to me acting like my mirrors.

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    Photo Credit: CrossFit Chiangmai

Potential drawbacks of group class

  • Having people around to push you can be a great thing, but it can also get you to overestimate your capabilities. This is most common in strength training. You are peer pressured to put more weights but maybe your technique is not there yet!
  • It’s hard to address your body’s specific needs. The euphoria of a group class can lower the attention you are paying to your body to see where you might have weaknesses or imbalances.
  • This study showed that training with skilled athletes made untrained women feel self-conscious and uncomfortable.

CONCLUSION

I think you can agree that all the information above makes good points supporting both kinds of practices, solo or in a group. The negative aspects are mostly outweighed by the positive. So which one should you choose?

If we try to look into the kind of practice that CrossFitters who have very high levels of success follow, they come from all kinds of mixes. Some train on their own and write their own programming. Some train on their own and have their programming written by a coach. Some train with a group and evaluate their performance based on the programming to the class. Some train with a group and follow extra programing training. CrossFit athletes (at any level) have success following a variation of individualized or group training. So far there isn’t a clear “best practice” and it’s more about individual goals and capabilities that push athletes to follow individualized programs or group classes. I think that if you are looking for improving specific skills, you should give individualized programs a try. I also think that we can have great results with all kinds of training programs by just showing up consistently. As  for many things in life, if you want to make progress, consistency is they key.


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