How to Build Your Own CrossFit WOD, Regardless of Your Experience Level

Learn how to make your own workout of the day, today.

In the wide world of CrossFit, it’s easy to get lost in the excellence on display at elite levels. Legends like Tia-Clair Toomey and Mat Fraser can inspire you to work harder. But if you’re not quite on the level of a world champ, it helps to remember one of the coolest things about CrossFit — its scalability. You can design a CrossFit WOD — that’s “workout of the day” — for yourself, no matter your experience level.

Although CrossFit is a community sport, not everyone is a social butterfly. You might not have access to a CrossFit box, or you might prefer the sweet comforts of your own garage gym. Whatever your situation, building your own WOD can help you make your workout as specific to your needs as possible.

A shirtless person performs an overhead squat in a wood- and brick-walled gym.
Credit: xamyak / Shutterstock

Love box jumps but can’t quite do a handstand push-up? Putting together a personalized workout of the day can help you keep your inspiration level high. You can target your areas for improvement while peppering in movements that you enjoy to keep you coming back for more.

What is a WOD?

In CrossFit, a workout of the day is called a WOD. It’s a catchy way to describe your daily training session.  Powerlifting or bodybuilding programs generally include consistent lifts, consistent numbers, and regularly-scheduled progressions. CrossFit programs, on the other hand, are designed to be less predictable day-to-day.

That’s not to say that CrossFit programs don’t follow the principles of progressive overload — that is, strategically increasing the intensity and/or volume of your workouts to consistently stimulate improvement. Well-designed CrossFit programs do gradually increase the intensity of an athlete’s load as their work capacity and strength improve

But day-to-day, WODs are a little less regulated than something like the 5×5 program or Smolov Jr. They feature a wide variety of movement types and goals. While they’ll all test your overall strength and conditioning, some will focus more on burning out your grip while others might push your legs to their limit. Still other WODs are about moving forward despite that burning in your lungs. 

How to Build Your Own CrossFit WOD

Set a Goal

A WOD can be anything you want it to be. At this point, CrossFit has been around for well over a decade, so there’s plenty of existing WODs to base your formatting on (see below). 

The first step is to choose a primary goal for your WOD. Do you want to increase strength? Improve your conditioning? Size-up your muscles? Start with a single focus and then build from there. 

Select Your Exercises

The next step is to pick your movements. Which exercises you choose depends, first and foremost, on what your body is currently capable of. If you’re recovering from a shoulder injury, for example, now might not be the time to program a whole lot of overhead work.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The second factor with selecting your exercises is your equipment and space availability. Do you have the space you need to comfortably perform 40 feet of overhead walking lunges — without getting in everyone’s way? If you don’t have access to plyo boxes, you might swap in some intense tuck jumps instead.

Your goals will also inform your exercise choices. If you’re aiming to increase max strength with this WOD, you might opt for more barbell work — shoulder-to-overhead work, for example, or even high-rep deadlifts. On the other hand, if it’s conditioning you’re after, break out the heavy sled pushes, wall balls, and even muscle cleans.

Choose Your Weights and Reps

You know your body and your capabilities. If you know that 95 pounds is near your one-rep max for overhead presses, surely you’re not going to follow the weight prescriptions for Fran. Making a personalized WOD means that you can prescribe yourself work with the empty barbell if need be

Make sure you don’t overcompensate on the heavy side. Just because you can lift a weight doesn’t mean you should. If your WOD featuring thrusters feels easy with 85 pounds, you don’t necessarily want to jump to 135. Stick to the principles of progressive overload and up the weight gradually, upping it to between 90 and 100 pounds.

Whether you hate or love high-rep work, customizing your WOD can help you ease yourself into it — or get more of what you love. As with weights, start on the slightly lower end of the rep scheme. That’s especially important if you’ve never done a particular sequence of moves before. You can always increase the number of reps next time.

Put it All Together

The final step is to sequence all the movements and reps together, Muscle-ups can be a great burner before muscle cleans, especially if you’re very competent, confident, and experienced with your bodyweight work. But if your emphasis for the day is more on strength, you might want to opt to program barbell work before the bodyweight moves.

Consult your goals to figure out what should go first, giving yourself more energy to focus on the skills or particular strengths you’re trying to build. If you’re just starting out, don’t worry too much about pre-exhaustion — by the end of the WOD, you’ll be exhausted by pretty much anything.

Factors to Consider for Designing Your WODs

Even though they’re just for the day, WODs don’t exist in a vacuum. They often serve as excellent benchmarks to measure your progress. Design your WOD today, do it tomorrow, and then repeat it next month to compare your times

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Aside from their status as benchmark workouts, they also exist in the context of a bigger program. Here’s what to consider regarding how your WOD fits in with the rest of your CrossFit program.

Experience Level

It’s okay to be honest about how much experience you have. You might have years of Olympic lifting under your belt, but that doesn’t necessarily make you a CrossFitter — yet. Your technical prowess and strength might be there. But the rigors of high-volume sets with little to no rest is a beast all its own. 

On the flip side, you might have a lot of experience performing CrossFit workouts at home but are just now transitioning into working out in a CrossFit box. That might mean you’re unfamiliar with Olympic-style lifting and the technical demands of snatching and cleaning a barbell. If that’s the case, make sure you’re prescribing yourself weights that are on the lighter end of the spectrum. That way, you can master the technique.

Equipment Access

This one’s a bit straightforward — if you don’t have the equipment, you might just not be able to do the move. That pull-up bar in your garage gym might support kipping pull-ups, but you may not have the clearance to do a full muscle-up. Your gym might be lacking plyo boxes or a glute-ham raise machine. 

In that case, you’ll want to program alternatives for the moves you don’t have equipment for. Try handstand push-ups for a full bodyweight experience instead of muscle-ups or bracing yourself with a barbell secured to a power rack to perform modified glute-ham raises.

Workout Frequency and Recovery

If you know your WOD is going to knock you completely on your butt (and leave you sore for days on end) you might opt to wait more than a day or two so you can recover before your next session. When you’re designing your WOD, consider how many times a week you intend to train. Especially if you’re new at this, you might have to design less intense WODs for yourself if you want to work out more than two or three times per week.

Alternatively, you can design your WODs to focus on your upper or lower body. That way, you can do an upper body-focused WOD while your lower body recovers from a lower body-focused WOD. This will allow you to squeeze in more overall work while letting your muscles recover. Just make sure you’re sleeping, eating, and stretching enough to recover effectively between workouts.

If you want to get a sense of what kinds of WODs are already out there, check out these examples.

Murph

Murph is traditionally performed on Memorial Day to honor its namesake, though many CrossFitters use it as a benchmark workout to test their progress. It is an intense and demanding workout. 

For time:

These exercises are either performed with just your bodyweight or with a weighted vest prescribed at 20 pounds for men and 15 pounds for women*.

Fran

This workout combines both barbell work and bodyweight work in a descending rep scheme.

For time:

  • 21 Thrusters
  • 21 Pull-Ups
  • 15 Thrusters
  • 15 Pull-Ups
  • 9 Thrusters
  • 9 Pull-Ups

The prescribed weight here is 95 pounds for men and 65 pounds for women*. Outside of competition spaces, athletes can scale the weights as needed.

Grace

Grace looks deceptively simple, as there’s only one lift involved. But the volume — and fatigue — ramp up quickly.

For time:

The prescribed weights are 135 pounds for men and 95 pounds for women*, but this can be scaled as needed.

*While CrossFit does welcome trans athletes to compete with other members of their own gender, there is not currently an official weight designation for nonbinary athletes.

Get Your WOD On

Designing your own CrossFit workout of the day might seem daunting — but then again, so does CrossFit. By crafting your own WOD, you’re giving yourself the freedom to do your own WOD and with any equipment you have access to.

You’ll also be able to prescribe your own weights and reps without feeling like you’re behind — or ahead of — the rest of the class. Take into account your goals, your experience level, and your access to equipment, and you can design the WOD of your dreams. Just bring a mop for all the sweat.

Featured Image: xamyak / Shutterstock