Jessica Matthews by Jessica Matthews

If you’re looking for creative ways to train smarter, not longer, look no further than some of the workout-of-the-day (WOD) formats commonly used in CrossFit. If you don’t belong to a “box” (CrossFit lingo for facility) no problem—you can still reap the many benefits of these effective and time-efficient approaches to exercise by creating your own WOD that will challenge your fitness in a whole new way.

The Couplet

CoupletWhat is It: The couplet consists of two movements performed as reps for time.

Equipment Options: Versatile equipment such as barbells, kettlebells, SandBells, medicine balls and dumbbells are great for this particular format.

Exercise Selection: Coupling movements allows for a variety of creative approaches to structuring your workout session. Whether you opt to pair opposing movements like a pushing and pulling exercise (e.g., dumbbell renegade rows and medicine ball push-ups), or opt to couple two challenging total-body movements (e.g., barbell push press and burpees) for an added challenge, your approach and equipment choice can vary depending on your fitness goals.

What’s to Love: If you’re newer to CrossFit-style workouts, Adam Stevenson, lead programming advisor and head trainer at Stay Classy CrossFit in San Diego, Calif., believes this format can work well because mentally it’s easy to tackle. That’s because, as you progress through the workout, the rounds get easier due to the fact that you are performing fewer repetitions of each move.

Sample Workout: This particular workout, which is performed for time, is one of Stevenson’s favorites.

21-15-9 reps of:
Back Squats @ 185 lbs.
Kettlebell Swings @ 53 lbs.

For this format, begin by first selecting whatever weight is most appropriate for you for each exercise. Move into round 1 by performing 21 repetitions of each of the chosen exercises. Without resting, continue onto round 2, completing 15 repetitions of each exercise, and for round 3, complete nine repetitions of each movement. Finally, record your time, which Stevenson notes is helpful in using for future reference to ensure that you’re progressing and improving your movement capabilities.

Another approach you can take to this style of workout—which is one of my favorites—is to move through 10 rounds of your selected exercises, beginning by performing exercise A for 10 reps and exercise B for one rep, decreasing one rep from exercise A and adding one rep to exercise B each round until you finish the 10th round, in which you perform one rep of exercise A and 10 of exercise B.


PushupWhat is It: AMRAP—as many rounds as possible—is all about completing a series of exercises as many times as you can within a given timeframe.

Equipment Options: Body-weight exercises work extremely well for this format and allow for you to break a sweat anywhere, anytime, whether working out at home or the gym or while traveling. Other portable equipment options, such as kettlebells, SandBells and medicine balls, can also be used to add variety and new challenge to this format.

Exercise Selection: To enhance movement efficiency, consider utilizing a variety of both tried-and-true and creative no-equipment compound exercises that center around the five primary movement patterns—bend and lift, single-leg, pushing, pulling and rotational movements. Creative variations on the squat, lunge and push-up are all great options when exploring this format and will help to maximize the movements you do both inside and outside of the gym. As you enhance your movement patterns, consider adding in equipment and exploring exercises such as wall balls, kettlebell bottoms up clean and press, and SandBell rear-foot elevated split squats with single-arm row for a new challenge. You can also try adding cardio-focused drills into the mix, such as a 150-meter run or 200-meter row.

What’s to Love: This approach is challenging yet time efficient, allowing for an effective workout in a fraction of the time. Much like The Couplet this style of workout can also serve as a benchmark for your workout, says Sarah Pearlstein, a trainer at Stay Classy CrossFit, because it allows you to easily retest yourself and track progress along the way.

Sample Workout: This 10-minute bodyweight workout is one of Pearlstein’s favorites.


5 pull-ups
10 push-ups
15 squats

The bottom line is regardless of what approach you take to structuring your own WOD, establishing proper joint stability and mobility through effective exercises such as glute bridge, hip hinge, lying figure-4 rotations, kneeling prisoner rotations, shoulder stabilization series and side lunges is key. Using these moves and others as part of a dynamic warm-up is essential to developing efficient movement patterns, which ultimately will ensure your safety and success as you break a sweat. This becomes especially important once you start adding load to movements by using equipment. With so much focus on technique and efficiency in CrossFit, Stevenson recommends that individuals research movements and educate themselves on proper form before attempting moves for time or at a high intensity.

Ready to get your WOD on? Learn how to stay injury-free during CrossFit-style workouts.

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