Turn Off the Clock: Why You Should Program Not For Time Work at CrossFit Gyms

In today’s article, we’re going to talk about how and why CFSBK regularly programs “Not For Time” (NFT) assistance work into our weekly group classes. The purpose of these segments is to supplement our primary lifts and conditioning tests, and also provide an opportunity to approach movements not typically seen in WODs and/or develop movements we typically see in timed formats.

Before getting into the details of NFT work, it’s worth noting what it is not. Our NFT assistance segments are not warm-ups and always happen after the primary lift for the day, usually instead of a traditional metcon. In a previous article, we talked about how we program standardized warm-ups, which unlike NFT work, require simpler movements that people can jump into cold or after some very basic movement prep. This is also not necessarily dedicated “skill work,” which would involve refining more complex motor patterns (such as taking 10 minutes to practice double unders or handstands). That being said, NFT does not exclude skill-based elements and they can easily be incorporated into NFT segments.

Just because we’re not putting a clock to the work doesn’t mean we’re going to stray far from essential CrossFit elements in our programming. We want to bias functional movements and make the workload quantifiable so that progress can be tracked via load or reps and set schemes, instead of how quickly or how much work was done.

Here would be a “typical” NFT style triplet that we’d program at CFSBK:

5 Rounds NFT of:
4 Weighted or strict Chin-Ups
8 Barbell Thrusters
1:00 Jump Rope Practice

Go as heavy as possible without breaking up your reps. Work on double under efficiency rather than volume.

In this workout, athletes have five opportunities to work up to a heavy but submaximal load on the chin-ups and thrusters, and then finish each round with a bit of skill work. For the thrusters, this provides a unique opportunity for athletes to troubleshoot heavier loads without worrying about preserving the metabolic stimulus of a conditioning workout or going for a max weight. For someone who’s never tried an Rx thruster at 95lbs, this can be a very valuable experience, especially if the person finds out 95lbs is more manageable than previously estimated. Despite not timing this workout, it is undoubtedly potent and has positive transference to performance in a timed metcon with similar elements.

As a coach, these workouts are valuable opportunities to be able to see athletes working with common movements under some duress, but not against a clock. In the above example, stopping someone for :30 to talk about their thruster mechanics in the middle the athlete’s third round makes the whole process less rushed and more productive for both athlete and coach.

Here is another example of something we might program in a NFT segment at CFSBK:

15 Minutes Not for Rounds of:
5 (each arm) Dumbbell or Kettlebell Windmills
10 Dumbbell Bench Presses
20 Wall Ball Shots

Go as heavy as you can, keeping each set unbroken.

Again, this gives people an opportunity to work with a heavier wall ball or in a larger unbroken set than they might typically use in a workout. Additionally, we can incorporate a windmill, which doesn’t lend itself as well to metcons but is still, in our opinion, a valuable exercise for shoulder stability and hip mobility. NFT work is also an excellent opportunity to incorporate heavy dumbbell work and target some bilateral or unilateral training into your program.

A final benefit of these types of workouts for affiliates with limited space or equipment is that you can program movements that would otherwise get log-jammed or simply be impossible to run with a larger group class. When there is no running clock, no one minds waiting an extra minute for the person in front of him or her to finish up on one of the three rowing machines.

A not for rounds workout using equipment typical seen in short supply at affiliates might be:

20 Minutes NFRs of:
Row 250m (as fast as possible)
150m Farmers Carry
10-15 GHD Sit-Ups or accumulate a :30 L-Sit

Rest as needed between movements.

Not everything that happens in a CrossFit gym needs to be against a clock or for max effort in order for it to be a productive part of training. Just last week at CFSBK, we had a NFT triplet of barbell lunges, dumbbell presses and strict toes-to-bars, and most of our athletes were pretty floored by it. If you haven’t already been including NFT assistance work at your affiliate, give it a shot and let us know what you think. We’re confident it will quickly become a staple of your programming and provide even more opportunities to help your athletes get even better.

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Reader Comments (4)

I couldn't agree more with this!

Virtuosity of movement, skilled movement needs to regain emphasis in the modern box's program.

February 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTristan

Thanks for the comment, Tristan!

February 26, 2015 | Registered CommenterDavid Osorio

Great info! Just wondering how many times a week you would program NFT workouts?

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercath


It depends on what the rest of your programming looks like but we program in NFT work 1-2 times per week on average.

December 29, 2015 | Registered CommenterDavid Osorio

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