Fran’s Real Gift

If you do CrossFit, you’ve met Fran.

Maybe you even know how “Fran” was created. In case you don’t:

Fran was the flagship workout of the CrossFit fleet. It was a test of fitness, but it was also a symbol: a four-minute workout that was so hard that it knocked the best athletes to the ground.

Over time, workouts like Fran became synonymous with the CrossFit movement. These workouts were an epiphany: that intensity, not duration or routine, was the cornerstone of real fitness. So many of us started programming the hardest workouts we could find for our clients.

But Fran’s real gift wasn’t its ability to push people past the red zone. Fran’s REAL gift didn’t appear until the second time you did the workout. That gift? comparison.

The real genius of Fran is the introduction of the clock. 45 thrusters and 45 pullups, done over the course of a half hour, isn’t a massive feat. And your first time on Fran isn’t even really important. But your SECOND attempt at Fran illustrates the magic of measurement, comparison…and what made CrossFit great.

First, completing the workout requires tremendous energy. But completing it as quickly as possible requires massive energy in the shortest possible time–the definition of intensity. So the presence of a ticking clock layers intensity onto a workout that would otherwise be “easy”.

The first Fran attempt also sets a bar to beat. You go as hard as you can…but having a goal will always make you go faster. In fact, I remember athletes asking to perform Fran AGAIN the day after they did it the first time, saying “I know where I can go faster.”

This mental gap–“I know where to shave off a few seconds”–makes performing Fran for a second or third time VERY attractive. This phenomenon is called “Lowenstein’s Gap Theory”, and I won’t get into the science here, but I’m sure this has happened to you in sport or a hard workout:

  • You have a hard workout planned, so you go to bed earlier; eat a better breakfast; look forward to the workout all day; and warm up better than usual;
  • You start the workout with a strategy, and hit a new PR;
  • You’re filled with a sense of gratitude and peace…for about three minutes afterward;
  • You think, “I could probably do it three seconds faster if I….”

This is a really common phenomenon in sports performance. And CrossFit–through workouts like Fran–brought that irresistible feeling to the gym.

The real magic of Fran isn’t its intensity. One workout, no matter how hard, can’t make you more fit. Fran’s real gift was its measurability. Before CrossFit, there were no measuring sticks in the gym beyond “weight lifted” and “reps performed”. Those things are easy to manipulate through bad form and long rest–the antitheses of fitness. Fran gave coaches and athletes a stripped-down, bare-bones, nowhere-to-hide measure of their fitness. It was a useful measuring stick…but only if it was repeated.

Fran’s gift wasn’t intensity. It was comparison.

HIIT is effective. Greg Glassman didn’t invent HIIT. What Greg invented was a HIIT game where the player competed against their previous best. That game can’t exist without standardized comparison. In other words, you have to repeat some workouts in your programming, and keep score on those workouts.

How often are you training, and how often are you testing?

How are you making those “tests” feel like a game?

How are you differentiating “training day” and “test day”?

How often are you repeating the “test” workouts in your programming?

How often are you doing Fran?