When I got up here to Columbia this summer, I noticed that there were a large amount of people coming in during open gym hours or late at night to follow the Invictus Competition program on their own and it worried me.

Our needs, in terms of fitness, vary by degree, not by kind.  The entire gym can be on the same program and both the best athletes and the most novice can get the same results.  Having the entire gym on one program is also very beneficial to the community aspect of a gym, and one of the many things that separates us from your typical “Globo” gym.   When you suffer together, you tend to bond.

So, in order to satisfy the needs of all of our athletes, I talked to Mike about creating a program that had different levels to it.  It was an idea that I wanted to experiment with for a while, and oddly enough Mike had been thinking along the same lines.  I sat down for a few hours and studied a few different gyms that were doing the same thing.  CrossFit Invictus has three levels called fitness, performance and competition.  OPT has 3 levels called function, being and will.  Outlaw CrossFit has their normal program and then the Outlaw Way.  And the list went on.  I decided that CrossFit COMO was ready for different levels – so we got L1, L2 and L2+ (Competitors Class).  We might rename the levels in the future to show a little more creativity. =)

In Programming Philosophy Part I, I talked about how I come up with a monthly schedule for the programming (strength, core, gymnastics, and technique).  There are basically three parts to a class at COMO: warmup, skill/strength/core/technique and then the WOD.

In this blog I talk about the differences between L1 and L2 for the strength, gymnastics skills, and the WOD.  Here is another clip from my excel that shows the first “half” of class, or the things we do before the Metcon:

l1 l2 program

The main differences in L1 and L2 for the strength or gymnastics sessions are the following:


  1. L1 is focused more on basic weightlifting movements (squats, presses, deadlifts) while L2 will experience slightly more technique based movements and complexes (cleans into front squats, jerks instead of strict press, etc).
  2. L1 normally does not work off percentages of the max lift, but rather works up in weight with each set. This lets a less experience lifter test out the waters, see what their limits are, and will often result in hitting a personal record.  Even the more experienced lifter or athlete can work off of the L1 program to find a new max lift or build a little more of the “basic” barbell strength.  L2, on the other hand, frequently works off of a set percentage of a max lift and this can be beneficial when you are at the point where setting PR´s is becoming less and less frequent.


  1. The L1 program will be basic movements to help build body awareness and technique. The focus will be on fewer reps and learning how to do things the right way.  In L1 gymnastics you will find things like pushups, shoulder taps from a pike, strict pull-ups, candlesticks, wall-squats, plank holds, etc.
  2. L2´s in this case are expected to know the kipping pullup, or the handstand pushup. We let these athletes practice more repetitions to help them continue to develop body control while the L1 builds and learns body awareness.  In L2 gymnastics you will find things like HSPU, handstand walks, kipping pull-ups, toes to bar, pistol squats and hollow rocks.

Typically, the core strengthening exercises we do, and the technique sessions, are the same for both L1 and L2.

We encourage ALL athletes to try both levels every once in a while.  There is no requirement to do the L2 strength on any given day, as long as you know how to calculate your percentages (if necessary) and you know what the movement looks like.  If you are completely unsure of what level to try, I recommend just sticking to Level 1 for a month until you become more comfortable with the movements that we do regularly in CrossFit.

For the Metcon section of class (the WOD), the differences between L1 and L2 are easy to distinguish.  Level 2 will get:

  1. More prescribed weight
  2. More advanced gymnastics movements (handstand pushups instead of pushups, pistol squats instead of air squats, etc.)
  3. More rounds or prescribed time in an AMRAP

The movements (or at least the movement patterns) will be the same for both levels.  For the WOD, we do require that an athlete be able to complete the entire workout as prescribed, in a certain time cap.  If you can´t do the entire workout as prescribed, we will have you do the L1 WOD and scale it appropriately.  It´s important to remember that you scaling can mean going down in weight or modifying to a more basic movement OR going UP to a heavier weight or more advanced movement.  You can always scale up to somewhere in between L1 and L2.  Please always ask a coach what he or she recommends if you are unsure what to try.  Remember, CrossFit is infinitely scalable and part of our job is to make sure everyone is comfortable with the movements, weights, and scaling options.

How to use the L1 and L2 system to your advantage

So going back to why we do this and how to use our levels to your best advantage.  We don´t do different levels to make our athletes feel separated from the rest of class.  In fact, I program very carefully so that everyone can continue to work together.  We do these different levels to push our athletes towards very tangible goals, and then to continue pushing them so that they always feel challenged.  Step one is to just show up and do your best!  Step two is to try and complete workouts as prescribed for Level 1.  And of course, Step 3 would be to try and complete workouts as prescribed for Level 2.  Level 2 programming (if you haven’t noticed already) is extremely challenging.  I program it so that guys like Coach Dylan (Regional level competitor) can follow it and feel challenged.  Level 1, in my opinion, is still a very challenging program to follow as prescribed.

In short, if you are in your first 3 months with us, I recommend sticking to the Level 1 program daily.  It will help you build basic strength and body awareness, and it will give you a great challenge.  Push yourself every day to try a slightly heavier weight (remember we have 2.5 pound plates!) or a slightly more advanced gymnastics progression.  Once you are able to CONSISTENTLY do the L1 program as prescribed, it is time to scale up to either L2 or somewhere inbetween L1 and L2.

Everyone in the gym should aspire to be able to hit the workouts as prescribed one day, not to show off and feel superior, but rather to continually strive for new challenges.  If you are always looking for a new way to push yourself, you´ll soon realize that you are doing things that you were never able to do before!

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