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Last weekend I had to refresh my CrossFit Level 1 certificate. It was a great opportunity to be exposed to the very polished CrossFit seminar staff and also gave me the the chance to reflect on my time in CrossFit since I first attended the seminar.
It is fair to say that a lot has changed since I first discovered CrossFit back in 2006. There was no CrossFit Games, no Reebok, no Rich Froning and barely any CrossFit affiliates. I was blown away by a lot of the videos I saw on crossfit.com. Not just the physiques and performances, but the way they were edited to offer tips and advice on proper movement.
One of things that I loved about CrossFit was its desire to educate people through their web site and the CrossFit journal.
I played around with some of the movements on my own and in 2009 I decided to take the plunge and attend the Level 1 seminar. At the time there were no opportunities in Europe, so I went to San Diego (I know, poor me…).
At the time I never thought that CrossFit would become my career. I hoped and dreamed, but needless to say I feel very blessed to be where I am today.
I also think that I have become a much better coach in the past 6 years. I have changed a lot of my thinking in this time, experimented with ideas and learned a few things and I hope that I will continue to evolve in the future.
I have also watched a lot of people train CrossFit in this time. That means lots of squats, pull ups, weightlifting and kettlebell swings. I’ve seen some common struggles and watched many people go through the same evolution I went through.
Here are some of the main things I have learned in that time.
Hard work is essential for improving fitness, but will only get you so far
Go to any CrossFit gym in the world and you will notice one common denominator, everyone is working their ass off. Compare that to the genteel world of the globo gym, where somehow people are able to read magazines and/or watch television at the same time as they are “training”.
There is no substitute for hard work and it is an essential factor in progressing in any endeavour.
However, the flipside to this is that people rely too much on hard work. If training hard and heavy is good, harder and heavier must be better. The mentality becomes “go hard all the time, go as heavy as you can, our warm up is your workout etc etc”.
In the Marines they have a saying that if you are stupid then you had better be tough. The implication here is that you can go hard all the time, but at some point there will be a cost. If you are tough enough you will continue to improve, but in my experience most peoples’ progress grinds to a halt and frustration sets in.
Training should be hard but if you are driving yourself into the ground every session then progress will be very difficult, if not impossible.
The hardest part of CrossFit is after the first 6 months
Starting CrossFit is definitely a punch to the gut. Suddenly you realise that maybe your fitness levels are not as good as you had previously thought and you are being outlifted and outperformed by girls who are 50kgs lighter than you.
But improvement comes quickly and soon you are setting PRs every session and it becomes addictive.
This is where the problems start. Once the early gains stop then frustration can set in fast. Your press gets stuck at the same weight for months or your Fran time refuses to go down.
This is the point at which hard work will no longer help, but other factors such as mobility, technique, nutrition and sleep need to be addressed.
Technique, technique, technique
If you watch top level CrossFit competitors or even the top performers at CrossFit GVA, you will notice a common theme. They all move extremely well and are technically very proficient.
There is no excuse to not recognise good technique. You might not be able to break down the technical points of the snatch, but you know a good snatch when you see one. It looks smooth, fast and easy.
Good technique serves to keep you safe, move more efficiently and more importantly improve performance. Good technique is the absolute foundation of good performance.
Take a long term approach and leave your ego at the door
We have a sign at the entrance to the gym which says “leave your ego at the door”. It is very, very good advice which most people completely ignore.
Too often I see people struggling with weights that are too heavy and movements which are too advanced. There is absolutely no shame in scaling workouts. It is not a statement about your lack of fitness. It is a statement that you acknowledge you have weaknesses and are taking steps to address them.
The temptation is always to challenge yourself to try a harder movement or RX the weight. That comes from a good place, the desire to get better but is almost always counterproductive. Leave your ego at the door!
The people I have seen make the most progress come in consistently 3-5 times per week and have done so for months, if not years. They chip away at their weaknesses and makes small, but consistent improvements. They don’t measure their success on one workout but take a long term approach. Anyone can have a great or a terrible workout but it means very little in isolation.
If your progress has stalled, ask yourself how many sessions have you done in the last 6 months and in how many did you make measurable progress. Every time you train is an opportunity to get better.
In my experience the people that make the most progress are the ones that seek out and listen to their coaches. They constantly ask for feedback on how they are moving and seek to implement that feedback.
They are not afraid to be criticised and instead see a weakness as an opportunity to get better.