The Story of the Five Frans

The Story of Five Frans

Everything has a beginning. The Five Frans came about because I was searching for a training protocol that would get athletes a sub 3:00 Fran time (Circa, 2005).   Greg Amundson and Josh Everett had the most impressive times, right near 3:00.  At that time, the sub 3:00 Fran time became comparable to the 4:00 mile in terms of milestones. Now, the sub 2:00 Fran is the same as 4:00 mile again. The struggle to go from 5:00 to 4:00 in the mile is very similar in taking your Fran from 3:00 to 2:00. The high end of performance requires capacity and efficiency. There is no margin for error at the highest levels.

History: My search to find a protocol led me to density training. Ethan Reeve, the world famous strength coach at Wake Forest, seems to have founded some the concepts of density training in the 1980's. The idea was to increase work load per unit of time to make his athletes stronger and faster. For example, he would test a rep max for a given lift, then take that load and double the number of reps, then give his athletes a time domain to complete the doubled reps. The athlete overloads (stresses) reps at a level where his or her max weight becomes something he can handle normally. The effect on the rep max is obvious…it goes up.

The concept of density training has been around a very long time with many writers chiming in. John Jesse wrote about time and task oriented interval based training (density) in 1974 with his book Wrestling Physical Conditioning Encyclopedia. Charles Staley wrote his book Muscle Logic in 2005 and is a great source to the concepts in escalating density training. However, the exercises and workouts in the books are wanting; they are still valuable to a point but a little outdated. Dr. Fred Hatfield has written on the topic of escalating density many times. His articles are on several internet platforms and are a great source of information. Once you have the principles of a subject, the rest are just details and filler.


Regardless of where it all came from, we stand on the shoulders of giants. Without Coach Glassman publishing and popularizing Fran as a workout and the rest writing about density training, we may have never arrived at this point. It is the expansion of human knowledge. Hurray!

Think of every workout you do; you are trying to make it as dense as you can for the time or task domain given. When you run a mile, your goal is to have the fastest time you can manage.  The distance per unit of time is higher, and therefore, the power output is higher. If you are doing an interval based workout, you are trying to get the most reps you can during that interval. The more work done per unit of time, the higher the density and the higher the power output. If the workout is Fran, the idea is to minimize time. If you are doing Cindy, the idea is to get the most reps. There is a lot of data out there about training at an output level that is threshold verses a peak output. Many valuable training protocols often get some very positive changes for athletes’ training. It is a dance between volume, load, interval and peak intensity.

Think of Fran as a test. Do Fran and you have a data point. Train for 6 weeks and retest Fran; if your time is better, then your protocol works. If not, it doesn't. Training is really that simple. It is a strong argument for regularly retesting workouts. People endlessly debate the "best" training program. All programs seek to create the "best" stimulus/response result. We all seek the best path to results. The internet provides us with a seemingly unending amount of information about training and programs. Weblebrity this, new thing that, there are so many shiny squirrels. It leads to Programming Schizophrenia (Another post entirely). In order to evaluate a program, we need to benchmark and test it. When you are beginner, you can do most anything and you will get faster. The margins of improvement narrow as your times improve. The type of training you are doing is more important. Creating protocols for testing and evaluation are key to your success in training. Hence, The Five Frans.

The Protocol: We have done many variations of The Five Frans - Loading variation, dumbbells, kettlebells and rest variations. We have done some longer intervals with varied rests, 4:00 work/1:00 Rest, 3:00 work/2:00 Rest. Consider The Five Frans completing each with a fixed rest interval, 3:00 or 1:00 or whatever your heart desires. Most people do Fran with a 6 to 9 month or longer rest interval between them. We have done this particular workout many times and with many variations, but this is the latest and longest lasting interval pattern:

  • Cap: 3:00 (Get as far as you can, if you finish faster, you get extra rest and a self-high five)
  • Rest 1:00 (Will feel like it is getting shorter each interval)
  • 5 Rounds (I love the 3:00 repeats x 5 – Chief style)

Complete Fran or get as far as you can in 3:00, rest 1:00 and repeat 5 times. Each time you start at the beginning. If you wear magnet bracelets or necklaces, it helps your soul to find your body again and reenter. Just in case. It is a safety measure.


Concepts: Max Effort Pace – not repeatable maximum speed – All out, max effort, pukie, highest intensity, ludicrous speed and certainly not sustainable. When you PR, the pace should be your peak pace and max cycle speed. Max Repeat Pace – Max sustainable interval repeats pace. Think – backing into your lactate threshold pace for the interval – recoverable work load for interval. Let’s say someone’s PR Fran time is 2:15 – your 80% pace for repeats would be approximately 2:48 repeats. The ability to hold 80% of pace for run intervals as an aerobic effort is not unreasonable. We set out to find what an athlete's work capacity potential is for this particular workout. The above is a serious SWAG – Scientific Wild Ass Guess. To really know the effect would require a lot of testing with people in lab coats. Track and field training does a lot of repeats at a percentage of one's pace to develop capacity, why not Fran? Or any other capacity test? My observations of cause and effect maybe suspect, but the results are observable and obvious.

Mortal Levels:

Level 0: The Five Frans - Scale below Level 1 of the levels so that you survive. It is okay.

Level 1: The Five Frans - #65/#45 and jumping pull-ups – If athlete can complete all intervals in the time cap, then move to next level.

Level 2: The Five Frans - #75/#55 and jumping pull-ups– If athlete can complete all intervals in the time cap, then move to next level.

Level 3: The Five Frans - #85/#60 and jumping pull-ups– If athlete can complete all intervals in the time cap, then move to next level.

Demigod Levels:

Level 4: The Five Frans - #65/#45 and pull-ups – If athlete can complete all intervals in the time cap, then move to next level.

Level 5: The Five Frans - #75/#55 and pull-ups – If athlete can complete all intervals in the time cap, then move to next level.

Level 6: The Five Frans - #85/#60 and pull-ups – If athlete can complete all intervals in the time cap, then move to next level.  


Level 7: The Five Frans – Rx Fran -Work to complete Fran for all intervals under 3:00 – if you complete all, you are a GOD (Video Proof of Godhood is necessary; not accepting faith on this one).

The last 11 years of coaching CrossFit has taught me many lessons. One of the most important is to not let my preconceived notions limit what the athletes can do. I would not have developed athletes’ capacity the way we have if I accepted conventional training or thought processes.  Traditional strength and conditioning training seems to think that what we do is impossible, and at the very least our results are certainly not predicted. We are on a continuous ride that is blowing away what once was thought of as one's limit. Athletes are breaking through what we thought were the limits of human potential. The human body adapts to what we ask it to do. When your theory does not match the observable data, it is time to rethink your theories.


Implementation: Choose your starting level, like level 0 or 1, and go for it. If you make all the intervals, then recycle the workout in a month. If you do not make all the intervals, then do the same level until you can complete it. There is a lot of volume here. If you complete all the intervals, that is 225 thrusters and 225 pull-ups. The volume for The Five Frans is tempered by your work capacity.  Chances are very few people can finish all the mortal levels. Your rep volume will be less than 450 reps as your conditioning will not support it. Neal Maddox and Julie Foucher have been able to complete them at “mortal” levels. I have never programmed it for Neal or Julie with actual pull-ups. I asked Julie to give it a try, but she wisely declined because her current training does not support such an attempt. Before you attempt an unscaled pull-up level, consider if your fitness and efficiency is greater than Julie’s at this stage. If there is a doubt, there is no doubt. Be smart.

CrossFit has been testing high volume thrusters for a long time. This little gem came from August 17, 2003: 10 thrusters on the minute for 20 minutes at #95. It was really nasty and we have done several versions of this one too. It is a great concept for developing capacity. Imagine someone making all of the intervals, at that point he or she either decreases the interval time or increases the load or reps. Just imagine.


My good friend Chris Hinshaw tested Julie’s VO2 Max and found that her lactate threshold was close to her VO2 Max... remarkably so. Chris thinks that these protocols, and other similar ones I use, are what developed that capacity for her. We have experimented with many different combinations and those are Level 0 through 3. Some of the “worst” were the lighter ones.

Expanding on what we have done has led us to levels 4 through 7. Jacob Heppner tested a protocol Rx’ed and got into the fourth round with some different constraints, limited because of the pending CrossFit Games. It may not be possible to do five three minute Frans back to back with a minute rest, but it will be interesting to find out. The four-minute mile was impossible at one time. We will see.

Before you attempt The Five Frans, stop and think (Asking a lot in an election year):

  • Be cautious – it is a lot of volume and is something you should not attempt unless you have significant capacity.
  • If you live to fight another day, it is a good day. Scale the number of rounds, reps or load. Be smart. Better it be too easy than…you die.
  • Be ready to scale after you begin. This is no joke. Start at level 1. Scale from there, you may need to. Pride is the destroyer of men.
  • If you are scared to try it, you are sane. If you think no worries, you deserve what you get; you will scale sooner than later.
  • Embrace the suck. It will be existential.

Tag me on IG @hyperfitusa if you do it.

Doug Chapman

The DChap, out.




Training Camp: Bear Canyon CrossFit

Training Camp:

When: June 25, 2016 - 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Where: Bear Canyon CrossFit 9533 Osuna Rd NE Albuquerque, NM 87111


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One way…


Senso Unico (One Way)

There is one way for everything. One way to deadlift, one way to clean, one way to snatch, one way to eat, one political party, one religion, one software platform - there is one way for everything. The process for deciding the one way that works is to try every way and decide what is the best way for them. Sounds reasonable?

Life is full of ambiguities. There are many different ways to skin a cat. There are many methods people use to go through life. There are many methods for training. The "best" science of its time had Americans eating high carb, low fat diets and American's incidence of heart disease went up. The current "best" science has people eating a different prescription. Is there "one way" to eat?

Check the shelves as the book store and see how many current experts are touting the latest research about standing on your head 15 minutes before your next meal helps aid in macronutrient absorption and minimizes intake of heavy metals. Citing the probability of capillary tension and bold flow to the brain aligns the limbic system and increasing hair follicle growth in the right places as you age. (Obvious Conclusions) Some people may read the book, take it on board, follow the step by step procedures and have miraculous results - lose fat due to loss of appetite due to being sick to stomach from standing on head. Obvious hair density increase by lint from carpet stick to head.) They will be converted, become true believes and recommend the book to everyone, begin a blog, write about their experiences, stop being friends with anyone who does not stand on their head before meals, begin a meet up group to find like minded people, move to a central American county, build a compound, commit mass suicide because they are sure that the head stand police will come and deprive them of their rights to head stand by outlawing heads stands prior to meals in restaurants. All because it is the one way for everyone to eat. (Diet parody works well for all the above mentions hot button and near religious furor about diet and opinions about diet.)

The alternative ending to the story is that people get results for the same reasons but lose interest in standing on their head before their meal due to looking like a douche bag on a first date, which does not lead to second date. (May be good for the overall human gene poole since the likelihood of said douche bag finding someone to reproduce with is low, so nature deselects those individuals from the population.) The New York Times best seller diet goes the way of all the rest of the NYT best seller diets - oblivion.

There is nothing more dangerous than the converted. Follow any hot topic on the internet. Find a hot button where the relevant facts are clouded by belief and emotional furor. People write scathing posts flaming anyone who has an alternative opinion on any topic. Reason is the first casualty of any conflict. Many posters don't even both to read the previous posters complete before they get online, insult the idea sharer's everything hope that they dies in a fiery car crash because their head stand it not dialed in. Chill out and have an open mind.

Timing and relevant range: There is a saying in Zen that says, "When the student is ready, the master appears." Timing often dictates the right method for the right time. Our best clients have done "everything" before. They have tried many different fitness methods and have found that what they are doing now is the "best" for them. People need to be ready to the Does this mean that it is best for everyone? Depends on perspective.

From one point of view, Obi-Wan, a system that is infinitely scaleable can be right for everyone. Beginning with a PVC pipe to lift to get people to move well may be too easy or too hard depending on the individual. From another point of view, Jabba, some people do not like intensity. The moment they begin to feel the burn, they stop. Any soreness is too much. Any effort is too much. Go to the over the counter pain relief section of the pharmacy and look at the endless options for numbing what ails you.

Fad vs. System: The mullet was a fad gone bad in 1980's and still exists in small populations - hockey players and emotionally underdeveloped 40 somethings who still rock out to Bon Jovi in their IROC-Z. Fads come and go, but systems seem to endure. The corner barber will exist in some form for the foreseeable forever.

Experimentation is interesting. Try new things. Keep and open mind. Check the validity of things by trying them or reasoning through the application. Find what works for you now. If you stop getting what you want, then change. The is no one way.

The plane to central America is boarding, see you soon. Come join the family. The Kool Aid is unsweetened.


WOD for March 8, 2016


Lunge 40’ (#95/#65 – Front Rack)

BOR: 10 (Bent over row)

Lunge 40’

MSCL: 10

AMRAP: 15 Minutes

WOD for March 7, 2016



Back Squat


Front Squat

Push Press

Overhead Squat

:20/:10 x 40

Cycle through movements