Training Bias: What is it? Do you need it?

Training Bias: What is it? Do you need it?

In February of 2009, an article titled “CrossFit Strength Bias” was published in the CrossFit Journal. This was, as far as I can remember, the first attempt at a codified program designed to emphasize specific areas of training, in the context of the development of all-around fitness as required and developed by CrossFit. My recollection of the details of the program is hazy, but that’s not what this article is about. Instead, I want to talk about the concept of “biased” programs in general – what a biased program is, what it should look like, and how you can tell if you need a bias in your training.

What is Training Bias?

When a program is designed for any given sport, it is presumably created with a specific end-state in mind (the state of the athlete attaining the highest level of sport specific fitness, at the right time). That end-state is made up of a mix of different elements. In the case of fitness sports, such as CrossFit and Grid, the elements include (but are not limited to) cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular endurance, strength, power, speed, etc.

Training bias is a fairly simple concept. A program is biased when certain elements of the desired end state are emphasized more than others – sometimes even at the expense of others – in the interest of maximizing the athlete’s end state performance. Creating bias in a program effectively is more nuanced. An effectively biased program is designed in such a way as to bear in mind that the goal of the bias is to enhance the end-state (of maximal sport specific fitness), rather than to maximize the qualities being emphasized by the bias. A well written biased program should meet the following criteria:

(1) Improves the qualities being emphasized, while also…
(2) At least maintaining, if not marginally improving, the other qualities necessary for maximizing the desired end-state, and…
(3) Becomes less biased over time as the athlete’s development allows.

If a biased program feels to meet (1), the problem is obvious to any objective observer. But failures of (2) and (3) can be hard to spot until it’s too late. This is mostly a problem of perspective, and it’s why the understanding elucidated upon above is crucial. The coach and the athlete must enter the biased state of training with the understanding that the purpose is in the end-state, not in the bias itself. The bias is a means to an end, and must be viewed as such.

What Should Training Bias Look Like?

Armed with a theoretical understanding of the purpose of training bias, we are led to ask what it looks like in practice. There will be three main features of a biased program:

(1) Increased volume and/or frequency in the areas of emphasis
(2) Decreased volume and/or frequency in areas of interference
(3) Schedule changes to accommodate the stress differences caused by (1) and (2)

As an example, let’s envision modifications to squat training in a strength-biased program. (1) can take the form of more volume and/or frequency in the primary means of strength development, more volume/frequency of accessory exercises, or both. For example, program may have squats three times per week rather than once or twice, or it may include leg strength accessories after heavy squatting (such as unilateral work or another, lighter squat variation).

(2) would result in a reduction of volume in non-strength building movements and modalities which stress the legs, e.g. long runs may be made shorter, reps or weights of squatting movements in metcons may be reduced, etc.

(3) would, for me, result in greater consolidation of stressors than I may implement in less biased programs, i.e. the program would end up having more of a body part split feel, wherein the hardest squat days also include the most volume on the legs in non-strength building modalities, and other days leave the legs alone completely for more recovery between sessions (you can read more about consolidation of stressors in Chad Smith’s great articles on the topic: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

To see this in application, you can take a look at a week of TZ Strength Base Programming as it compares to the same week (2018 Season – Macrocycle 1 – Mesocycle 1 – Week 1 of TZ Strength Strength & Power Biased Programming.

Should Your Program Be Biased?

The short answer: probably not.

Most athletes who contact me for programming are under the impression that they need a biased program. It certainly is the case that some athletes will benefit from biased training, but for many, the bias needs to be smaller than they think. It should be noted that putting in a little extra work on your weaknesses – something nearly everyone needs  is not sufficient to constitute training bias, as it does not impact the core design of the program. So how can you tell if your program does need significant bias? There are two main areas to asses:

(1) Level of Development
(2) Absolute Performance

(1) references your level of development relative to your own genetic potential. It is entirely possible to have an athlete at a low level of relative performance (that is to say, they do not perform well against their peers in competition), but still be at a high level of personal development (that is to say, they have trained hard and intelligently for an extended period, and are no longer novice trainees.) True novice trainees almost never need a biased program. They just need balance and consistency. So if you qualify as a novice trainee, this is usually an immediate disqualification from needing a biased program.

(2) is about your actual performances, and must take into account not only your times/scores, but also your individual limiting factors. Two athletes may have the same absolute score on a workout, but the factors which prevented them from having a better score may be totally different. For example, take this workout from the 2016 CrossFit Games Regionals:

3 Rounds For Time:
400m Run (TrueForm)
40 GHD Sit-Ups
7 Deadlifts, 405#/275#

There is a wide array of potential limiting factors here, including, but not limited to: maximal strength, strength endurance, muscular endurance, cardiorespiratory endurance. Each of these may be subdivided into more categories (by muscle group, movement pattern, format, combination, etc). If, over the assessment of a large battery of disparate events, an athlete is consistently limited by the same fitness characteristic (or subtypes thereof), that athlete may be a good candidate for a biased program.

The needs of every athlete are, by nature, individual. But individual needs do not necessarily call for a biased program. If, on assessment, it seems that an athlete does in fact need some type of training bias, it is crucial that the program continues to look at long term development, takes into account the nature of emergent properties, and stays focused on the ultimate goal of developing the desired end-state of maximal sport specific fitness.

If you’re interested in learning about TZ Strength’s program offerings, which include both biased and unbiased programs, check out the Competitors Programming page and get in touch!

By | 2017-04-22T21:24:08+00:00 April 12th, 2017|25 Comments
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