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01. Programming for the Grand Slam 2020 - Will Henke

Programming for the Grand Slam 2020 - Will Henke, Head of The Unleashing Potential Programming

There are two critically important aspects of any functional fitness competition…

Programming and Judging.

In this episode of The Unleashing Potential Podcast Mat deep dives with Will Henke, The Unleashing Potential Head of Programming to understand how they ensure that the athletic capacity of each athlete is being adequately tested.

As they zoom in on the Grand Slam, The Bay Games’ online global pairs competition, it also becomes clear that testing each pair as a team as well as individually is an added complexity.

What becomes clear is the depth of expertise that Will and the team pour into the programming for The Unleashing Potential events. To ensure that the workouts are not ‘brand-specific’ and remain accessible to all everyday athletes around the world who enjoy functional training and competing takes careful consideration.

On The Unleashing Potential Podcast, we interview progressive individuals who are unleashing their potential on the world around them. We take a deep dive on how they got to where they are, what lessons they have learned along the way, and how their experiences can impact us all.

In a future episode, Mat will chat with Alethea Boon, Head Judge, about the second critical aspect of these competitions and how the Judging team is being built in 2020.  They will also discuss how consistency is achieved across all events so as to ensure a fair playing field for all athletes across the globe.

But, for now, settle into today's conversation about all things programming for the Grand Slam 2020.


Links to connect with Will Henke:


Additional links to connect with Will Henke:

WanderFit Retreats


‘The Program’ INSTAGRAM

Watch: https://youtu.be/G9aEiMZvRLA

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Read the transcript
Mat Lock: Hello Will and thanks for joining us here on The Unleashing Potential Podcast.

Will Henke: Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks for having me Mat.

Mat Lock: Yeah, of course. And you are the Head of Programming for The Bay Games, which includes the Grand Slam naturally and we love having you aboard. As you know, we’re friends as well as now somehow working together in a business environment and yeah, we love having you guys as part of the team, you and Carrie.

Will Henke: Yeah. Thank you. Just before we go on. You know that Carrie and I live in Bali, so if you hear any motorcycle sounds or dogs barking or things going on, it’s just the natural sounds of Bali. I say some times that it sounds like the Sons of Anarchy motorcycle gang is doing runs behind our house, it’s so loud. It’s like this small little alleyway with the motorcycle stuff.

Mat Lock: It’s real life and I think they’re part of the charm of Bali. Are they not?

Will Henke: Agreed. Yeah. It’s a very unique charm to Bali. Some love it, some hate it, but the ones that hate it leave, which is nice.

Mat Lock: I love that before we started recording I mentioned, “Ah, classic Will, no tee-shirt,” and you went to go and get a tee shirt. It’s like, “Well actually no. I guess this is an opportunity for the audience to experience Will, and Will is without a tee-shirt as often as possible.” Correct?

Will Henke: Correct. It’s one of the things I was just talking to a friend … I feel like so many times in life people will do things they don’t want to do just to appease other people or they don’t do something because they’re afraid of how it may look to someone else that makes them feel good.

So for me, my wife and I live in Bali, we came here from Miami, which Miami is probably one of the most superficial places you can live in America, maybe the world. So there everyone cares and judges you based on what car you’re driving, what watch you’re wearing, what shoes you’re wearing, and Carrie and I are not about that life. So when we came to Bali, it’s like, “I enjoy not wearing a shirt. It’s comfortable. And so yeah, it makes me happy and that’s all that matters.”

Mat Lock: Yeah, that’s exactly right.

Now for those who are watching or listening to this who are not familiar with Will Henke, just maybe if you can give us just a 60-second version of your background as it relates to functional training, life, quality of life and the like.

Will Henke: Sure. Yeah. So a large part of my experience with functional training stems from my time in the military. So, I spent just under 9 years inside the Special Operations Community within the United States Army. In that time I found and was able to have the opportunity to learn a lot of very different and unique functional training methods to go along with preparing soldiers for combat and just overall relative strength-focused training. So being as strong as you possibly can at the healthiest and lightest bodyweight possible. So it’s being able to lift heavyweight but also move for extended periods of time. And if you’re too big and too heavy, you won’t be able to move. And if you’re too small you won’t be able to carry your weight and contribute. So it’s a very neat balance when you think about what it takes, and again, what body types go into that.

Everyone’s not one kind of body. So learning that when I got out of the military, I transitioned to coaching CrossFit, which is when I started learning Olympic weight lifting, gymnastics, and then more complex movements that weren’t so simple as far as snatches and clean and jerks, things like that. So being able to take those two very different concepts and marry them into one allowed me to develop myself and my philosophy and how I do program design, which I feel sets me apart. And I think that’s why you approached me. So when I met you and Ned when I was coaching here in Bali. Yeah, we struck it off and did a PT with you guys and I think from there it was, yeah, here we are.

Mat Lock: Yeah, exactly right. That was the beginning of what is becoming a beautiful relationship. And, as you know, we’re avid fans of Bali as well. We love Bali. But I guess from that PT actually and that meeting and honestly the discussions that stemmed from there, you joined the team last year to do the programming for the inaugural Bay Games Grand Slam in 2019.

Will Henke: Yeah. I guess I’m biased, but I think it went off very well. The feedback we got from the programming, both from my close friends and also people that I’d never met, from the feedback you guys sent out, the anonymous feedback, came out very well. We had some lessons learned, which is probably my favorite thing about doing a program is yes, people will say, “Oh, it was great. I loved it.” Although that’s not the most helpful, it’s nice to hear.

But it’s helpful when people really give constructive criticism and say, “I loved this, but this wasn’t a thing,” and it helps both the Grand Slam and the upcoming Bay Games, to reassess and evaluate what we’re doing so we can start having a programme that we’re designing that we feel is the best possible programme to test the fittest of that specific field.

Mat Lock: Yeah, exactly right. And by the time this goes to air, we will have announced already that the Grand Slam 2020 and onwards will be a pairs event, which is something that we’re really excited about and I know that you guys are as well. And in fact, tell us a little bit about your week so far this week because I had a great message from you last night. What have you been up to this week?

Will Henke: So normally in my training weeks, I have a different approach to training. The days of going in the gym and doing workouts where you start at 100%, you go to the middle of your workout at 110%, and then you finish your workout at 120%, those days are well out the window and aren’t conducive to the longevity of training. And we’ll get into that a little bit later in a different chat about programming for the real world.

Will Henke: But competition programming is much different. You want to be able to test the programme and you should be going as hard as you can because in that specific condition you’re testing your fitness against others. So you have to go hard. So with this week, all the testing that I’ve done for all the events for the Grand Slam, I’ve had to go and push as hard as I can each day.

Some workouts, when I tested it, I wanted to change something and see how it was a little different so I would test the same workout the next day at the same intensity or as much as I could. So the three weeks, and we’ll say the six scored events of the Grand Slam, it was all condensed for me in a matter of one week. So that was quite taxing on just my body in general, my levels. But it was good fun. And with having a partner to test it with, and we’ll get into why we decided to make the shift of individual to pair to the Grand Slam, but having a partner there allowed me to push harder than I probably would have on my own, especially in the testing phase. So I’m excited to see how that translates over into the Grand Slam. Yeah, it’s been a fun but exhausting week.

Mat Lock: Well I know that I and we… all of us appreciate all of the hard work that’s gone into both developing the programmes but testing them as well. And I guess one of the key points for wanting to have this particular chat for the vlog was to try and help people understand, for the everyday athletes that are our audience, exactly what it is that goes into developing a programme. I guess most of us walk into the box or the studio or the gym and when we do the programmed workout of the day, we don’t necessarily think about how it’s been constructed. We just turn up, we do it, we enjoy doing it and then we leave again, and we come back the next day.

I’m guessing there’s a big difference between that type of programming and programming for a comp, but even so, I mean, both require a deep level of understanding and expertise, but they are different. Correct?

Will Henke: Yeah. I’d say vastly different. If you take general programming for let’s say a regular functional fitness gym, you have to look at who your members are. A lot of gyms, from my travels and Carrie’s travels, we’ll go to gyms and the programming on the board is a workout where it’s super ridiculously long and the weights, they’re very heavy and they’re like that every single day. So it’s not allowing for the body to recover. So if you’re constantly pushing your body to 100%, you’re not allowing your body to have the state of rest that it needs to recover to progress forward. So with everyday programming, there needs to be some consideration and thought into the amount of volume you’re doing and the amount of intensity you are doing and how those are going together where it promotes a healthy lifestyle moving forward, not just for that specific week.

Now with competition programming, it’s different. You’re trying to bring everyone together and test how you’ve been training. So every workout that you’re trying to get into and test your maximal effort. Sometimes with sport, sometimes form is sacrificed for speed, but in normal training, there shouldn’t be any sacrifice of that form for speed because you’re trying to accumulate as many quality reps as possible in your training life. That’ll get you into better positions that allow you to stay healthier longer and train those positions and strengthen those good positions versus if you take an Olympic weightlifter in a competition and they do a lift, they may not have the same form at their maximal contraction that their testing, but they’ve still got that wrapped up.

So there’s a huge difference in how you approach these two types of things. The everyday athlete versus a competitor athlete and the everyday athlete is generally the mass population that you’re programming for. The affiliates you go to, things like that, but when you’re doing this testing, it’s typically a very small pool of people that you’re looking at.

Mat Lock: Yeah, sure. And so just for the layperson, when we first approached you and we talked about the Grand Slam … Let’s use 2020, the pairs comp, the inaugural pairs year as a basis, I mean you have a sheet of paper that has nothing written on it and you have a pencil. How do you begin to flesh out what becomes the programme for a comp like the Grand Slam 2020?

Will Henke: For me, it’s thinking about what areas you want to test. So the first thing I think about is what makes a team, a holistic team? Because if you just give everyone all team events, you’re not testing the individuals in the team. Especially with a team, you have to test the strength component, communication, how well they work under fatigue, how does that communication change when duress is brought into the picture? I think one of the things I was telling you is the strength component that we are going to test for the Grand Slam … Obviously I’m not going to say what it is.

Mat Lock: No that’s right.

Will Henke: Yeah. But it was a lot of fun to test it and the big thing I learned that I’ll explain, when we do talk about my tips and things for the workouts is although yes, you may be very strong and be able to do a hundred kilos of a specific movement, but when you’re working in unison with a partner, whatever the movement is, you may not each be able to do that 100%. You may have to go to your 95% because if you’re both at 100%, how are you going to manage your communication when you’re doing these things, if you’re working together? So it’s going to take an ego check saying, “Yes, I can probably do this weight, but communicating well and working together as a cohesive unit, we probably should back it down to this weight and find what it feels like first.” And that’s going to be the cool thing that I really like is testing these pairs to see who has the innate ability together to command a team that will be the best team, not two individuals that are just partnered up.

Mat Lock: Yeah, absolutely. It will be interesting to see and actually having watched that video that you sent … Because of course when you’re testing the workouts, you’re also testing other factors like camera position so that when the judges are reviewing one of the workouts to make sure that the camera is able to capture, it’s placed in the right location to capture all the movements correctly and so on. But, so you sent me an example last night, one of this year’s workouts … Is it fair to say that that one is locked in there in your mind?

Will Henke: Yeah, that one’s locked in, yeah.

Mat Lock: Yeah. Great. And so the person that you were working with, the partner that you were testing with, did he also have some lessons learned, let’s say some observations he hadn’t thought about as a part of that testing?

Will Henke: He did. He really liked how the tiebreaker was scored on that workout, but he also had to find himself slowing down. So in the first phase of the workout when we are moving was not easy, but it was more manageable and didn’t take a lot of thought. But as we got to the later phase of that movement or of that piece, I found him trying to move faster because that weight may have been a little too heavy for him. And he saw that and he slowed down, which changed the movement entirely, especially if you’re testing a strength piece. If you have to slow down when you’re trying to use some kind of momentum, it can be challenging. So in the end we were both, like “Yeah, that was a lot different than we thought,” not just because of the weight, but how you work together as a team.

And going back to finish your question you asked, the blank sheet of paper, what are you looking at testing? What makes a holistic athlete and especially what competition conditions, like the Bay Games and the Grand Slam, and how does that tie into it? So if you look at a sport like CrossFit, they have the three modalities they typically test, the metabolic conditioning, the gymnastics and the Olympic weightlifting.

With F45 for another example of a functional training tool is they don’t do complex barbell gymnastics. They don’t do a lot of very heavy testing. They don’t do double unders. This was those things, and we’re trying to make sure that we’re creating a competition that tests the everyday athlete. So, anybody that can do CrossFit, that can do F45, various boot camps, OrangeTheory Fitness, all these places, I go into it. So how do we test a strength piece that allows everyone from all those different areas of functional fitness, without excluding anyone or giving an inherent advantage to someone?

Will Henke: And that’s one of the biggest things is obviously we don’t want to make … If someone’s doing various boot camp and we do a movement that’s specific to them, that doesn’t really make sense because then it takes everyone away from it. So it’s challenging in that part. So finding what exact things you want to test that you feel will create the best team. That’s what you have to figure out first on your empty sheet of paper. And then from there you can start to mould, “Okay what energy systems are we looking to test in those specific things and how do they relate to the weeks that go one, two, three and so on?”

Mat Lock: Yeah, absolutely. So far more to it than the layperson could perhaps understand. I know certainly last year talking to you about it, I find it fascinating and understand the methodology or the philosophy of how you programme it, is so important. And what’s the ultimate goal? If you were to… if you could, and I’m putting you on the spot now, in one sentence the ultimate goal of a programme like this is to test what?

Will Henke: To find … I guess it comes back to that, the whole, for me at least from my philosophy, is to find what is the strongest relative team? And that for me goes back to my military days is you want to find … For me, find the person that has the best fitness ability is the person that can do everything very well, but not one thing more so than the other. So you may take one strong person, they can do a 270-kilo deadlift, but their mile run is like a seven or eight-minute mile run, not very fast. For some people it may be, but for a competitor, an eight-minute mile is not fast. But you take someone else can do a 235-kilo deadlift, but they run a five 30 mile. Who would you say is fitter in that point? Someone that can do a little bit of a heavier deadlift or just slightly less, or can run two or three minutes faster on their mile, not just with two of those things but also can pull their body weight, can lift their body weight and move everything and communicate well.

You’re trying to find a team, at least for the Grand Slam now with 2020 the philosophy behind that is finding a team that is the all-around best team with communication, strength conditioning, also separate conditioning and strength, not just together. So although we’re testing a pairs workout, spoiler alert, there will be some parts of the programme that do test individual abilities with their fitness.

Mat Lock: Excellent. Very good. Well, I think we’re about out of time. Is there anything else you’d like to add about Grand Slam 2020 around the programming or is it just a case of we have to sit back and wait for them to be released in June and, I guess have a lot of fun like we did last year watching people, in this case, teams, really have a red hot crack at it?

Will Henke: I’m really excited to see how teams are going to respond to when the workouts are released at the live announcements. But I’m also excited to see the feedback from it. One of the biggest things that we’re going to do, and you were talking about the early bird signup, is we’re going to do a drip sequence of one team work out every week for, I think you said 12 weeks leading up to it. So there will be some insight into those that do sign up early, that way they can start working on communication, pacing with your partner. Because when you do partner workouts, how do you pace that? Because sometimes you may work one-on-one. Are you working at 100% of your effort before you switch? If there was a workout where you’re both working at the same time, what level of intensity should you be working at where you can sustain that over a period of time? So it depends on what you’re doing. So I’m excited to see how teams strategize and execute these when we see the videos coming in for the judging.

Mat Lock: Yeah, absolutely, likewise. And I know that you’ve also programmed two sample workouts, both for Advanced and Open athletes. They’re on the website, thebaygames.com and the .com.au. But I guess even if you’re watching or listening to this after Early Birds have closed, you can go to the website, you can download those and we’d encourage you to give them a go. At the end of the day, they’re designed to be everything Will’s talking about, but a bunch of fun as well, which is important. That’s what it’s all about in the end.

Most of us are not competing for a living, and it’s about getting together with a mate or a bunch of mates, having some fun around it, pushing each other, growing, learning and yeah, leaving with a big sweaty smile on your face.

Will Henke: Yeah, and I think everyone’s going to be able to compete in this environment because they have a partner and they’re going to have that satisfaction of not wanting to let them down, which makes them push harder, which will give them more of a rewarding feeling in the end. But I think that’s going to be something cool to listen to at the end of the three weeks.

Mat Lock: Yeah, absolutely. Will, thank you very much for your time and we’ll leave it there and look forward to chatting with you next time.

Will Henke: Always a pleasure, Mat. Thanks.
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