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How to Reverse Engineer Anything

coach crossfit rehab rehab professional training Dec 05, 2022

Almost every project I work on starts with a process of reverse engineering. This concept isn’t new and can be widely applied to many realms… hence the title of this writing. Once you understand the components of reverse engineering, you can truly apply it to so many aspects of your life, business, or training. 

I have to admit, I am biased to the strength and conditioning world, if it weren’t for finding CrossFit in 2008, I don’t know that my career would be where it is today. One of the concepts I was drawn to naturally was programming. I loved the creativity I was able to express when drawing up a workout. This trait then carried over into working with my patients as a Physical Therapist. Each workout, therapy session, or block of programming came down to one initial question: What is the desired end result? 

The process of reverse engineering begins there, at the end. We need to know where we are going in order to create the roadmap of how we get there. By working backwards from the finish line and creating the structure from a macro to micro layer by layer. 

Let’s take a powerlifter who needs to hit 3 main lifts at their competition: squat, deadlift, and bench press. We know the end goal: Peak at the meet and crush some PRs. Goal established. 

The second step in reverse engineering is understanding the time frame. This information is going to help us space the intensity of training. If I don't have a lot of time to work with, I need to be more aggressive. If I have years, I can be patient and strategic. Neither route is wrong, they simply have different constraints. For the sake of this example, let’s use a six month time frame assuming this client has a training age that reflects a decent level of experience. 

So in six months, I have roughly twenty six training weeks. This becomes my macrocycle or the encompassing timeframe of the goal. 

Now let’s say I want to break up my macrocycle into smaller, more digestible training blocks known as mesocycles in the Strength and Conditioning world. In this case, let’s use eight week blocks as our mesocycles. This gives us three 8-week blocks, leaving me with two remaining weeks. Those two remaining weeks sound like a great time frame to taper and prep my client for competition (this time frame will vary client to client). 

So far in the reverse engineering process we’ve:

  1. Established the goal
  2. Established the time frame
  3. Established the milestones or training blocks within the timeframe

This leaves us to break down the structure of each eight week mesocycle into a one week microcycle (8 of them). Let’s say this client wants to train 5 days a week and their lifts rank in order of strongest to weakest: bench, deadlift, and squat. Give this information to, we are going to have them squat twice per week as their main sets. 

Monday - Squat

Tuesday - Bench

Wednesday - Deadlift

Thursday - Rest

Friday - Squat

Saturday - Lower body Accessory

Sunday - Rest

Now that we have the microcycle structure, we need to break down the session structure. This will generally be:

Warm-up - Pattern Dependent

Main work - Pattern of the Day

Accessory - Pattern Dependent

Cool Down - Intent Dependent

Next I’d break down each portion of the session, duration of the session, intent of the session (strength, accessory, recovery, endurance) and so on. 

All of this structure comes from understanding two things: the goal and the timeframe. Once you have this concept down I truly believe you can apply it to everything. For this reason, I often help the clients I work with break down business terms in the manner of how they would program someone’s strength training. The anatomy of the structure is truly the same!

Interested in learning how to apply this to your clients?

Click here to find out how!