Starting to train can be a very exciting time. You learn all kinds of new moves you've never done before, you have fun, you meet new people, but most of all, you make a ton of progress! Every time you touch the bar, you set a new personal best. This phenomenon is known as "beginner's gain": an exhilarating but ephemeral period.
As you progress from beginner to intermediate, it becomes much more difficult to progress - this is known as a training plateau. No one can keep progressing in a straight, continuous line, otherwise we'd all be snatching 500kgs or doing uninterrupted sets of 100 pull-ups.
Mentally, it can be extremely difficult to cope with these plateaus. Many people are frustrated at this stage and feel they're not making any headway.
So what can you do to get out of this phase? First of all, you need to ask yourself whether you've really reached a plateau, or whether it just feels like it.
In this case, the numbers don't lie. If you can't do more than one pull-up for 6 months or your deadlift is stuck at 100kgs, you may have reached a plateau. If you feel weaker than usual, or if training seems harder than ever, you may have reached a plateau, but you can't be sure.
One of the truths of training is that it always seems difficult, no matter how far along you are! When you first start CrossFit, doing 10 air squats can seem difficult. After 6 months of CrossFit, 10 air squats are easy, but you've moved on to 10 back squats with 40kgs and it's just as hard!
So let's forget about feelings and really determine whether you've reached a plateau or not. Have you been following up consistently and are you really stuck, or is it more of a mental problem?
If you're really stuck, the next step is to take a closer look at your training habits and identify the major changes you can make to get back on track.
The first point is technique. When you first start training, poor technique may hinder your progress, but it won't stop it completely. Indeed, you're so new to training that the slightest movement will make you progress. But that can only take you so far.
If you feel that technique is holding you back, there's a very simple solution. Ask one of your coaches to check your movements and tell you what you can work on to improve.
You don't need to be a yogi to do CrossFit, but you do need to have enough mobility to get into certain positions. You need to be able to squat deeply with your heels on the ground, or place your arms above your head without arching your back.
If you don't have sufficient capacity to perform certain movements, not only are you likely to injure yourself, but you'll be inefficient, and that's detrimental to your performance.
If you're struggling with squats, presses, overhead squats or the snatch, it may be because your mobility isn't good enough.
As with technique, your coach will be able to tell you if poor mobility is holding you back and point you in the right direction to improve.
Consistency and follow-up
This brings us back to the question of whether or not you've reached a plateau. If you're not diligent or don't keep up with your workouts, it will be very difficult to make progress.
Is your lack of progress due to a lack of consistency? How often have you trained in the last 12 months? Have your training sessions been irregular? A simple solution could be to train more often!
Follow-up is non-negotiable if you really want to improve.
If training is a journey, tracking is the map to your destination. If you don't track, you don't have a map. You'll get somewhere, that's for sure, but it probably won't be where you wanted to go!
Focus on weaknesses
One of the main advantages of CrossFit is that you can work on many different movements. However, one of the main disadvantages is that you have to work on many different movements!
This may seem counter-intuitive, but the fact is that once progress starts to stagnate, you have to choose what you want to work on. This probably means doing a bit of extra work outside the classroom.
If you want to improve pull-ups, you have to spend time working on them. If they're not part of the curriculum, you won't do them and you won't improve.
First, identify what you want to work on, then develop a plan. As always, your trainers can help you do this!
If you don't eat to support your training, it will be difficult to improve.
Likewise, if you don't recover between sessions, you risk making no progress. Recovery is all about sleep, but it's also about stress.
How does your diet work in general? Do you follow some kind of plan, or do you let your imagination run wild? Simple changes to your diet can make a big difference.
Sleep regularity should never be underestimated. If you don't go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day, that may be the first thing to change. Sleep trackers can also be effective tools to help you maintain regular sleep patterns.
If there's anything you want to take away from this article, it's that whatever happens, your coaches are there to support and help you. You're not on your own! The more you engage with them, ask questions and discuss how you can improve, the more positive your experience will be.