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A young athlete stands behind his mother and points to a wrestling championship belt as she rows in Workout 19.1.
A young athlete stands behind his mother and points to a wrestling championship belt as she rows in Workout 19.1.

19.1 isn’t a good workout.

Good workouts are fun, challenging and creative. 19.1 isn’t really any of those things.

19.1 is probably best described as simple and boring. It doesn’t have any sexy movements, it doesn’t take a lot of skill, and its 15 minutes don’t hold a lot of excitement.

That’s exactly why 19.1 is a great workout, not a good workout.

I’m old school, and I firmly believe that simple workouts are the most effective, even if community experts have found all sorts of ways to make programming look more and more creative and exotic. I could be wrong, but I’ve long suspected that the “hardest” workouts created in the community in the last 5 years generally earn the label through volume, not intensity.

Volume is easy to apply if you just want to make people work and say, “That was so hard.” Go do 1,000 burpees. Hard workout, right? EMOM 100: 2 muscle-ups, 15 double-unders. Also hard—but not good.

The hardest workout I’ve done in the last year: 5 rounds of 5 deadlifts and 10 burpees. It took about 5 minutes, and I didn’t need to do anything else before I left the gym that day. Not 1 additional rep. And I coughed for 2 hours.

We’ve spent 10 years trying to find ways to make people step out of their comfort zones without resorting to mindless volume. From Day 1 at 204, I’ve told new people that we want to make them work about 10 percent harder than they would on their own, and you can’t do that with volume. You need to find a way to make people do things a little faster, and adding a bunch of reps doesn’t do it.

So beyond 19.1’s Da Vinci Code nod to this year of our lord, you have a full-body pushing movement followed by a full-body pulling movement. I’m thrilled it wasn’t programmed for 19 minutes as well, where it would have really started to drag. At 15 minutes, you’re working for a lengthy period of time, but you’re still not in the category of “long workout.”

A bearded man rows in a CrossFit gym while two brothers stand beside him and humorously say "no rep!"
How do you no-rep a rower?

Better than all of that is the rep scheme as applied to the movements. For many people, 19 unbroken wall-ball shots are doable—at least in the first round. But I also saw many people dig deep to go unbroken in later rounds, so 19 really is a great number—a reward dangled at the end of slightly more work than you want to do. Even for people who didn’t go unbroken, 19 isn’t a huge, spirit-crushing number, and it encourages you do use as few sets as possible simply to be rid of the irritation. For those who absolutely hate wall balls, they’re already more than halfway finished when they hit double digits. 

Wall balls also have a maximum pace determined by gravity: No matter how fast you squat and throw, physics still provides a rest break as the ball rises, stops moving for an instant and is delivered back to you by Sir Isaac Newton. That’s why the fittest athletes can do wall balls forever: They recover while the ball is in the air. You might not think wall balls are “rest,” but consider the happy feeling as the ball leaves your hands to the weight of the bar on your shoulders as you rest between thrusters.

Pair the ball work with the rower, a piece of equipment that allows you to generate huge amounts of power in short bursts. And it comes with a chair. That means you can choose your level of suffering as you work, but you can’t really rest. I don’t think I saw anyone sit on the rower and rest much before starting. Most people started pulling no matter how tired they were; those who were more fatigued just pulled slower—but they still pulled.

Overall, here’s what I saw: I saw some people doing unbroken sets before rushing to the rower go pull the fastest pace that would still allow another unbroken set. That’s a formula for impressive levels of sustained intensity.

I also saw other people doing sets that were slightly out of their comfort zone because “it’s only 19 reps.” They might do 10-9, 8-6-5, 5-5-5-4 or some other scheme,  but they were usually working hard to get the work done in as few sets as possible. Then they passed on rest to get on the rower and pull. In other words, they stayed moving most of the time. That’s another great formula for intensity.

So 19.1 found a way to keep people of all fitness levels pushing just out of their comfort zone for 15 minutes with two complementary movements.

That definitely isn’t a good workout.

It’s a great workout.

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