CrossFit Games Athlete Phil Hesketh Shares Training, Programming and Competing Tips

Phil Hesketh has programmed at a CrossFit Sanctionals level for the Norwegian CrossFit Championship and for the ELFIT CrossFit Championship.

His extensive experience as both a coach and an elite level CrossFit Athlete have allowed him to develop many highly interesting, effective and original concepts when it comes to the Sport of Fitness®. For example, he designs workouts to be scaled up or down, depending on the standard of the athlete, and is a fresh and unique way to look at the standard RX or scaled format that most coaches use.

He says of his own programming that:

“Prepared Programming is an ‘all-in-one’ competitive fitness program. The sessions are adaptable to fit the needs of each athlete and can be scaled up or down to match your current ability.

“Each day includes multiple daily training options that are centered around one ‘Main Training’ session. Each day also includes up to 90 minutes of optional extras including ‘Engine’, ‘Strength & Power’ and ‘Accessory’.”

Use the following training concepts and tips from Phil Hesketh to improve your own training, fitness, strength, conditioning, skills and mental toughness.

The following text is written by Phil Hesketh.


What motivates you to go to the gym every day and work hard? Becoming the best athlete that you can be requires some serious effort, sacrifice and to be honest, some self-inflicted pain!

You must be motivated by something to do all this, but what is it?

Having a clear motivation is what can separate some of the best athletes from the others. It gives direction, focus and a special ‘drive’ to your daily efforts.

There is no ‘right or wrong’ when it comes to motivation, it is a very personal feeling that maybe only you can understand.

Source: Stevie D Photography
What’s your ‘why’?

Some people are driven by internal rewards, feelings of accomplishment and doing things they didn’t think were possible. It is often the case for these people that the ‘journey’ towards the goal is often more rewarding than the end result.

Others are motivated by more external factors such as praise from others, prizes, leaderboards etc. The end goal is the only focus and anything less than that could be seen as failure.

The fear of negative outcomes is also a huge motivator for some. Not wanting to let people down or look out of shape on the competition floor. This one may seem like a bad motivator but from personal experience I can tell you that it is very hard to not feel these kinds of emotions when competing.

Some types of motivation seem more idealistic than others, but it is really what works best for you. Motivation can come and go over time so it is important to take time for yourself to really try to understand what your current goals are so that you can try to maintain a happy and sustainable balance to your everyday training.


Strength, skill, fitness… we often need to ‘blur the line’ between these 3 things to come up with some really good training pieces, especially when preparing for a competition. We need to get the loading and level of skill just right so that you can then move at a speed that also tests your fitness.

Here are 2 great sessions from the Prepared Program:


3 Sets

  • 6-4-2 Thrusters (heavy)
  • Legless Rope climbs
  • Rest 3 min


3 Sets

  • 5-3-1 Power cleans (heavy)
  • 6-4-2 Strict HSPU
  • Pegboard

Rest 1:1

Both sessions test your ability to move heavy weights when mixed with high skill gymnastics


Remember that one time you hit a snatch PR, it was a year ago, you were at a competition, probably on your 8th Nocco of the day, adrenaline through the roof and not giving an F about technique, only the weight and the competition. Somehow you hit 10kg over your current max and have been unable to consistently hit anywhere near that since forever! Sounds familiar right? This is an extreme example but I’m sure there are plenty reading this that can relate.

And yet you are basing all your training percentage work off this one-time super lift. This probably means your % work is always heavy AF and you’re missing way too many lifts in training. Drop the ego and start using your ‘EVERY DAY MAX’ to do your percentage work. Your ‘every day max’ is what you can hit with solid technique, most days in training. It’s probably about 90-95% of that all time lift you did but is more realistic to your current ability ON THAT DAY.

crossfit training tips Source: RX'd Photography
Competition effort isn’t everyday effort.

Basing your % work off this number is going to allow you to be far more consistent with your training, miss fewer lifts and probably improve faster. The same principle can be applied to workout efforts, cardio times etc which will also reduce the amount of ‘red-lining’ you do in training when you are supposed to be working on consistency or efficiency.

This advice can also be applied to those that are recovering from serious injury and have had to take time off. Or to those that have made a significant reduction in their training time (maybe because of a career change or a transition out of competing)

Train HARD, but train SMART.

Note, if you’re super consistent with your max lifts and often hit your PR or close in training, good work, this advice doesn’t apply to you.


Some movements are well suited to be at the end of long workouts as a dramatic race to the finish line. I can think of some great Regionals workouts that have had these ‘finishing move’ elements at the end, one of my favourites being the 2013 chipper that ended with a front rack axle bar lunge across the floor!

Try out this workout to accumulate some quality distance with these common finish line movements:

8 Rounds of:

  • 10m Lunge walk
  • 10m Handstand walk
  • 10m Farmers walk

Rest 60s

Go heavy on the lunges and farmers walk. Order the movements how you want so that you can work on your handstand walk. Advanced athletes can HSW last so you are under fatigue but if you are still practicing the skill then do that movement first each round.


EMOM training has become an excellent training style for CrossFit athletes. It may seem like a simple way of programming, but like most workouts there is a subtle art to creating a great one!

I like to follow the ‘2 out of 3’ rule as a guideline when writing EMOM workouts. Here are our 3 variables to consider:

  1. INTENSITY: The speed at which you are able to complete the set amount of work each minute
  2. DENSITY: The amount of work programmed for each individual minute
  3. VOLUME: The total amount of work programmed across the whole workout

A general rule to follow is that you should have only 2 out of these 3 to program a good EMOM. Here are some examples:



  • Min 1: 20 Cal row
  • Min 2: 20 Burpees

The short time frame (lack of volume) allows for both high intensity and density. You should be working for about 48-52s per minute here and would almost be the same as 3 RFT.



  • Min 1: 10 Cal row
  • Min 2: 10 Burpees

Maintain intensity by moving at a fast pace. The lack of density in each minute means we can accumulate more volume without reaching failure. You should be working for about 20-25s here, a much slower way to accumulate this volume than ‘for time’ but a much higher average speed when moving.



  • Min 1: 15 Cal row
  • Min 2: 15 Burpees

Intensity needs to be lowered to be able to accumulate the high density and volume without ‘hitting the wall’ early. This is more of a pacing exercise. Working time per minute should be around 45-50s.

These are very basic examples using the same two movements and the rep schemes would obviously need adjusting your your own ability but hopefully it paints the picture for you. Have fun getting after those EMOM workouts!


Strongman equipment is probably some of the most under used equipment in your gym and yet it is probably the most ‘functional’ stuff in there! Here’s why that is so wrong:

I spent years teaching the CF Strongman certification around the world and I’ve never seen movements or exercises picked up and mastered in such a short space of time. You can get almost any athlete flipping tires, lifting stones or carrying yokes within 10 minutes.

The training benefits of using this equipment is incredible. After a bit of exposure most athletes can easily carry around their max back squat on a yoke and in time carry their max deadlift on farmers handles. This is one of the best stimulus to achieve the overload training principle without having to do 100s of squats and deadlifts in a week.

Strongman implements are becoming increasingly popular in competitions now. We have seen sandbag cleans and team yoke carries at the Sanctionals® stage.

Yoke carrySource: Wodshots
Strongman training is incredibly beneficial.


Interval work is such a great way of getting more intensity out of your sessions. Here’s 2 really fun workouts with the focus on accumulating gymnastic volume mixed with some heavy lifting!


  • Every 2 minutes x 8 rounds
  • Complete 2 sets of:
  • 7 C2B pull ups
  • 2 Squat snatch @ 70%


  • Every 2 minutes x 8 sets:
  • 2 Rounds of:
  • 7 TTB
  • 2 Squat cleans @ 70%

The aim for both workouts is to be working for about 45-65 seconds per interval. Make sure you are using a weight you can move for quick singles.


A mix of old school strength and modern functional techniques is a recipe for success! It keeps things varied whilst still ensuring that we follow the fundamental training principles that have already been tried and tested over the previous decades of fitness.

A1: Superset for 8 rounds:

  • Incline DB bench press, building to a 5RM
  • DB upright row x8 p/arm (Rest 60-90s after each set)

A2: Superset 4 Rounds of:

  • Half kneeling DB snatch x8 p/arm
  • Front DB raise x12
  • Lateral DB raise x12

(Keep the weights light and rounds continuous)


We don’t do a whole lot of rotational work in CrossFit in terms of the ‘tested movements’ however adding some basic moves in to your accessory routine can massively increase strength, stability and mobility.

Here are a few of our favourites for shoulders, T-spine and core.

  • Half kneeling landmine rotations
  • Landmine clean and press
  • Weighted plank rotations
  • Windmills


It’s no secret that our shoulders can get very beat up from all the barbell work and kipping gymnastics in CrossFit®, especially once we start getting up to competition volume.

We have found that one of the best ways to look after your shoulders is to work some simple scapular strengthening exercises in to your training routine. Here are a few that can easily be done as part of your warm up or as an additional accessory circuit.

  • Seated banded face pulls
  • Plate external rotations
  • Cable/band reverse flys
  • Lateral external isometric holds


Rope climbs are one of the most advanced gymnastic movements that we do in CrossFit®. They require a lot of pulling and grip strength to be able to perform multiple reps and it is often a movement used in competitions.

This movement can be pretty demanding on the upper body so scaling the style of rope climb to fit your workout is important! Here are 4 variations you can use for different situations:

1. Legless ascent + descent:

The most advanced variation, develops both concentric and eccentric pulling strength. Use for maximal strength development in small doses.

2. Legless ascent only:

Develops concentric pulling power and allows you to ‘rest’ during the descent to be able to acquire more volume in a workout/training session. Probably the most tested variation in competitions.

3️. Legless descent only:

Develops eccentric strength and control. This variation is deceiving and extremely taxing on the biceps. Unlikely to be tested in competitions this variation is a good training exercise in low-moderate volume.

4️. Rope climb:

Develops some concentric and eccentric strength but is better used for speed reps and skill development. Can be done in high volume or even weighted to add an additional strength/endurance stimulus.

Keep things varied and try these different styles for different workouts.

Rope-ClimbsSource: Tomi Salakari
Vary your rope climbs.


Almost every single workout we do in CrossFit would be easier with better grip strength! However, it seems like grip strength is something that most athletes just assume you gain over time through accumulation of reps.

While this is partly true, gymnastic sets and barbell cycling is more of a ‘test’ of grip strength rather than a great way of training it and you can often be limited by skill or technique before grip.

To really build some grip strength and endurance we need to take out the skill and dynamic element and basically just spend time holding on to stuff.

Here are 4 of our top movements that we love to use as ‘Grip Finishers’ once a week!

  1. Kettlebell farmers hold
  2. Pinch grip plate hold
  3. Dead hang from the bar
  4. Pronated (reverse) bicep curls

Think you’ve got good grip?

Try accumulating 90 seconds of 1,2 and 3 with a 10 rep penalty of 4️ every time you break the movement!


The Posterior Chain is a big group of muscles that is responsible for a huge amount of work. We need to be strong, powerful and durable if we’re going to make it through the high demands of CrossFit® workouts.

Here are 5 of our favourites to get the hamstring and glute muscles fired up!

  1. Single leg box step ups
  2. Good mornings
  3. Deficit RDL’s
  4. Split squats
  5. Hip thrusts

The best thing about these exercises is they can all be done with the same barbell so are great to throw together as a superset for a session finisher! We would typically get after a superset like this twice a week on the Prepared Program.


I wanted to make a quick post about my thoughts on ‘scaling’ as it is always a difficult subject. The word ‘scaling’ in general is used to describe a way of either ‘lowering the difficulty’ ‘reducing the reps’ or ‘decreasing weight’ of a workout, all of which contribute to there being a negative vibe around the word ‘scaling’.

I have heard many athletes being either embarrassed or ashamed of scaling workouts and often it leads to that athlete trying workouts that are too difficult for them and putting their bodies under too much stress without getting all of the potential benefits of training.

Scaling is simply a way of adjusting a workout to fit your own specific needs and ability. Remember, a workout can be scaled UP or DOWN, it isn’t always about reducing, it’s about making it personal!

Adjusting the workout to make it more appropriate is by far the fastest way to improve. Achieving the correct stimulus of a workout is far greater than performing an ‘RX’ workout and missing the point of it completely.

Beginner Crossfiters should rather focus on the movement and not the weight!

One way to think about it is that if you give 20 people a version of the same workout and they all scale it right then they should all finish at about the same time or with the same amount of reps and should all feel about the same way at the end. We don’t want one guy finishing in 3 minutes and another guy finishing in 12, that’s two completely separate workouts and was poorly scaled by one or both of them.

Start basing your workouts on the stimulus you want to achieve, not on the reps or weights involved. Embrace your current ability and be proud of being the guy that always scales the workout right in order to progress faster.

I can guarantee you know someone who needs to read this!


Seriously guys, we have to take better care of our hands. As a CrossFit® athlete they are one of your biggest assets. Without them in good condition you are at a huge disadvantage in any workout.

Ok, so when you first start CrossFit® it is kind of ‘cool’ the first time you shred your hands up because it usually means you did a bunch of pull ups or something and it’s kind of a ‘right of passage’ to symbolize your new life choices.

But after that it’s time to get smart and start protecting your hands better. Sometimes you can’t avoid rips and blood blisters but most of the time you can. Here are a few easy tips to help you out.

  1. WEAR grips all the time! I don’t care if you don’t find them comfy, they are the best way to protect your hands. Wear them for all your gymnastic work and you can actually learn to use them to your advantage too.
  2. WASH your hands immediately after each session. Don’t let your hands dry out full of chalk after your session, keep your skin clean and hydrated.
  3. SHAVE down your calluses every 4-7 days. Remove the top layer of thick dead skin but do not go too deep, you want a light layer of callus all the time… just enough for your boyfriend/girlfriend to accept you touching them.


A few years ago, the strength numbers of the top athletes seemed to level off and began increasing at a much slower rate. It is for this reason that competitions changed the programming style away from singular max lift events and the emphasis shifted more towards volume or speed of lifting at 80-100% of the top athlete’s maximums.

One big mistake made by athletes in training is to always chase maximum lifts. We should be looking to build consistency in the top end range of your lifts by aiming for 100% success rate on a regular basis. I have seen it over and over again that an athlete will lift great up to 90% and then spend 10 more minutes missing lifts at 90%+. This equals about a 50% success rate on your top end range (NULL-100%).

If the program states ‘heavy single’ that does not mean the same as ‘1 rep max’. A heavy single is specific to how your body is feeling that day. As a guideline I would suggest that a heavy single is somewhere in the 85-95% range. Hitting numbers in this range with a 100% success rate on a regular basis will develop technique, strength and confidence without needing the extra 5 missed attempts at a new 1 rep max.

Shift your training focus more towards consistency and away from the big numbers and I believe you will have more success in the long run.


When split snatch and split C&J was announced at the CrossFit Games® the most common question I heard buzzing around the stadium was WHY? Why do we need to do SPLIT variations rather than just a regular snatch or C&J?

One answer could be as simple as VARIETY….why wouldn’t we do split variations? It’s just another tool in the toolbox that we can use in our training.

A more complex answer would be that it challenges 3 very underutilized components of fitness: co-ordination, balance and accuracy. Having to focus on both your upper and lower body whilst alternating hands & your foot movements is extremely challenging, especially under heavy fatigue.


If you want to improve your gymnastics then stop spending all your time kipping and start building some QUALITY POSITIONS!

By this we mean spending time in the start, mid and end ranges of specific gymnastic movements. This will strengthen tendons and stabilizing muscles to make sure your body is ready for the dynamic stress of multiple kipping reps.

This is one of our favorite (and most simple) ways of developing this strength:
Accumulate 2 quality minutes in each position:

  1. Ring support hold
  2. L-sit Hang
  3. Top of ring row hold
  4. Hollow hold


There is no substitute for speed! Being able to move fast requires athleticism, power and agility!

Although ‘sprints’ are rarely tested at any level other than the CF Games, the training for speed and sprinting is extremely transferable to a lot of movements and workouts we do in the gym.

Being powerful and explosive will not only benefit your CrossFit, it is just down right cool! But to move fast you have to train fast!

Here are 3 of our favourite sets for developing power and speed:

  1. 8 weighted vertical jumps + 100m assault sprint
  2. 12 alternating jumping lunges + 100ft Sled sprint
  3. 5 heavy slam balls + 5 max distance TNG broad jumps

Any set can be done 4-6 times with almost a full recovery between rounds to allow for maximum intensity!

CrossFit Games sprint 2019 - Phil Hesketh
Eyes on the prize.


Training after the Games®.

I get a lot of questions about ‘what’s next?’ after the Games® so I thought I would share some advice that applies to any athlete after competition.

The physical and mental stress leading up to and during a competition is very tough on the body. Most of the time you don’t even notice because you are pumped with adrenaline and having fun. Recovery after a competition is huge if you want to get back on the floor any time soon, I have learned this the hard way in previous years.

Right after a competition you probably feel excited to train again, you are full of motivation and keen to get back in the gym smashing yourself. But a lot of the time your body just isn’t ready.

  1. Take some time off to completely rest. Enjoy the spare time in your day and focus on something other than training
  2. After a week get back in the gym and start moving. The first couple of weeks you can ‘cherry pick’ your workouts and do the fun stuff with a lower volume and intensity than usual.
  3. After this relaxed period, write down some goals for what you want next and then begin working towards them. Use the motivation you got from your last competition to get you pumped up for the next

The golden rule is to be patient! Look after your body and keep your self-motivated.


There is no right or wrong when it comes to this question, it’s down to personal preference, but I have seen some different pros and cons of solo vs squad training over the years that I thought I would write down for you.

SOLO ✅ If you are strong-minded enough (a lot aren’t) solo training can be very good for pushing yourself to the limits. Often when you train with others you can get comfortable only pacing off the rest of the people in the room, which might not necessarily be your best.

SQUAD ✅ For the most part, training with a squad will increase your motivation to show up at the gym each day. Suffering with others is always more fun than on your own.

SOLO ❌ Always being alone can potentially lure you in to a false sense of security about how good you are. I think it is important that even the best athletes are getting beat in workouts on a regular basis to keep you aware of your weaknesses.

SQUAD ❌ Training with a group can sometimes slow down productivity if not everyone in that group is as motivated to move through the session at a good pace. One person’s negativity can have a huge effect on other people’s training.

For me, squad training is why I show up at the gym every day. I love the atmosphere and the friendships you develop through training.


Hanging KB variations of both pressing and overhead squats are some of our favourite exercises for building super stable shoulders!

The dynamic load makes the movement much harder than with just plates and adds a unique stabilizing stimulus to the upper body and core. The exercise is seen as a ‘high risk and high reward’ one so beginners should start with the smallest KBs in your gym and build up slowly. Even for advanced athletes I would recommend that 16kg per side is plenty to create imbalance without losing control.

The video shows Streat Hoerner and Mia Hesketh doing ‘Hanging KB Push Press’ to warm up for a Snatch session.


Sometimes there is no need to ‘re-invent the wheel’ with our training concepts, some of the best methods have been around for decades and can easily be applied to CrossFit® training to make some big gains!

Drop sets are a very old school concept where we work near to failure and then reduce the weight so we can continue to work and increase our set volume. This applies so well to CrossFit® where we need to increase our muscular and grip endurance.

Check out these power snatch drop sets in this our training.

  • 5 reps @ 60%
  • 10 reps @ 45%
  • 15 reps @ 30%

Rest 2 mins x 3 Rounds

Notice the different styles of power snatch used by Phil Hesketh in the video

  • Heavy bar- contact on the way up and down to keep control.
  • Moderate bar- Contact on the way up only to increase cycle speed but still utilize the hip contact.
  • Light bar- No contact snatch for max speed (but high fatigue)


One element of competition training that should be incorporated in to your preparation should be ‘maximum output’ sets. By this I mean your ability to exert maximum power over a very short period of time on any given movement.

This style of training has become increasingly valuable as the average level of athletes in competitions also increases. It is now not only important that you can perform big sets of high skill or heavy movements but do so under fatigue.

Interval training is a great way to develop your power output as it allows for more intensity in each set due to the extended rest periods.

Here is an example of a high skill power session.

Mia Hesketh’s target was to maintain over 80 RPM for 20 seconds on the bike whilst still being able to complete sets of 7-8 on the muscle ups.

5 sets

  • Assault bike sprint 20 seconds
  • Rest 10 seconds
  • 5-10 Unbroken ring muscle ups

Rest 2 minutes

Notes: The number of muscle ups you do each round should be roughly 50% of your max unbroken set. Athletes that cannot do 5 reps unbroken will do a 45 second AMRAP of muscle ups with a cap at 5 reps.


You will never be too good at the ‘simple’ stuff! If you want to progress in CrossFit® then it is important that you not only build a solid foundation of bodyweight movements but continue to practice and improve at them constantly.

A lot of the time, movements such as push ups and air squats can be overlooked for ‘harder’ movements like muscle ups and thrusters, when in reality these movements do not necessarily make workouts ‘harder’ but simply more ‘high skill’.

Give this conditioning workout a go and you will see what I mean. Simple movements performed at a high intensity should make up a huge portion of your conditioning work.

Bodyweight WOD

Alternating EMOM x 20 minutes:

  • Min 1: 20/14 Calories Assault bike
  • Min 2: 5 Strict pull ups + 10 push ups + 15 air squats

Notes: For the bike, you cannot do sprint starts, use a consistent pace to make the calories last between 45-50 seconds (scale if needed) Scale the ‘Strict Cindy’ reps if needed so that you are working for a maximum of 50 seconds each round.


There are plenty of different variations on barbell cycling technique. The style you choose should be dependent on the workout duration, rep scheme, loading and current fatigue level. It’s good to have as many styles as possible in your arsenal!

Check out these 3 different styles


This can be a very fast technique to use but also comes with some additional fatigue of the lower back, hamstrings and shoulders. I would suggest to use this technique only if you have a very good capacity for that lower back and shoulder burn that is compounded when you add in those burpees.


I really like this technique for this workout. Slightly slower cycle speed that the muscle snatch but you can gain some decent efficiency by dropping under the bar slightly and saving the shoulders/triceps from pressing out. Be sure to keep the bar very close to your body on the way up and down for maximum efficiency.


Slowest cycle speed but definitely the most efficient in terms of saving the shoulder and triceps. Use the hips as much as possible to generate momentum to get the bar overhead. I would definitely recommend this technique for beginners or athletes who may be lifting a high % of their current 1 rep max.

Try out different techniques in your workouts and then apply the most efficient one when needed.


So, you’re strong, but how strong are you when you are under heavy muscular fatigue, out of breath and facing down the clock? The CrossFit® season is just one set of qualifiers after another and a common theme is having to perform a max lift after a workout in a small timeframe.

This is 100% something you should be practicing in your training, especially in the lead up to a qualifier/competition.

Check out this workout from this weeks program (Sanctional Athlete scaling)

On 0, Complete For Time:


  • C2B pull ups
  • Overhead squats 115/85lbs

On 10, For Max Load:

  • 1 rep max snatch

Time cap at 14 minutes

Lifting in this way on a regular basis is not the best way to develop strength but it will allow you to get more comfortable hitting high % lifts when you’re F’d up and prepare you for a competition setting!


Push/pull is a classic combo that should not be limited to just strength work. Some of the most brutal workout combos can be made with just your body weight and a push + pull movement.

This conditioning piece is a great example!

For time:

  • 21 Burpees to 6” target
  • 50% of your max unbroken Bar muscle ups

Rest 2 minutes

X 5 rounds

The pressing motion of the burpees will really test your efficiency in the bar muscle ups when the fatigue starts accumulate. This workout could easily be scaled to C2B or regular pull ups for a very similar effect.


Practice those Transitions.

One very under-practiced element of CrossFit® competition is how transitions between movements will affect your workout result.

A ‘transition’ is any time between movements where you are not actively accumulating reps.

In a workout like the one below, where you have 10 rounds and 3 different movements you can gain or lose literally minutes depending on how you move on your transitions. Just 1 second slower than your opposition per transition will cost you 30 seconds over the workout.

At Prepared HQ CrossFit® Alioth we like to simulate competition settings on a regular basis and practice moving equipment and round markers as you progress through workouts.

The workout:

10 RFT:

  • 12 Weighted DU
  • 8 C2B pull ups
  • 4 Box step overs 45lbs

(Advance the box each round)

⏱Mia’s total transition time per round:

  • R1: 14 Seconds
  • R5: 18 Seconds
  • R9: 23 Seconds

The increased distance between equipment will make the transitions longer and this is usually a great opportunity to catch your fellow competitors off guard and steal a few seconds each round.

Use these tips and principles to improve your training and chances of success on the competition floor and in the Box every day.

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