Taking CrossFit to the next level the wrong way.

Are you training CrossFit for a while or have a background in other sports? You feel more confident during workouts and want to pick it up a notch? It is very common to want to speed up the progress. If it sounds familiar, this article is probably about you.

Although there is nothing wrong with the drive to get better, quicker and stronger, this newly found enthusiasm can often go the wrong way. First thing that comes to an athlete’s mind is to add more volume and add more WODs. They start attending more “open gyms” to do WODs on their own, or worse, cut out the group classes entirely. They might start following free online programs or pay extra for special programming. That being said, there is nothing wrong with these programs, but their effect will benefit mainly those athletes who have “earned it” by the years spent in the box.

The logic applied is often very straightforward—doing more will make me better, but this only works for a short time and is not entirely true. Soon, your progress will reach a plateau, weights stop going up, and your times will stagnate. Much worse than that, pain from overtraining becomes your worst enemy and high risk of injury becomes frighteningly imminent. These can be delayed a little by purchasing complementary equipment: weightlifting belt, knee sleeves and o-lift shoes, but in fact they only push the injuries a little further down the line.

The problem starts with wrongly identified weaknesses. You might be good at short explosive exercises or cardio, feel confident with the barbell or the body weight exercises. Trying to spot your weaknesses is very well in line with CrossFit tenants but here comes the twist: You are not weak at what you think you are weak at.

What are you weak at?
You are weak at moving. It is about these subtle mistakes like squatting with a little more weight on your toes, caving your knees a little on your way up, and your feet landing in a different position every time you catch the bar overhead. I am not saying these are all yours, but think about it first. You know you should avoid them, yet you make them unknowingly or worse knowingly and think its good enough. To put it simply, you are driving your car with the handbrake on.

Even though these mistakes impact only a small percentage of the repetitions or of the movement as a whole, they hold you back from maximizing your power output and promote wear and tear. Let’s face it, CrossFit includes complex movements like squats and power cleans that require near perfect form to prevent undue strain. Although they won’t hurt you in the short-term, the risk of bad injury in the long run gets unnecessarily high if your movement quality lingers behind especially with added intensity. This also applies to body weight exercises. Butterfly pull-up without the right tension in the shoulder will, over time, damage tissues and get you injured. Professional athletes who have trained their whole lives have an army of coaches and physiotherapists that direct their every move so maybe you with your 2 years of CrossFit should not be training without supervision.

There is another slightly more subtle reason why adding an extra WOD is a bad idea. The underlying logic behind CrossFit is increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains–got it? Broad time? Your coach programs a variety of time domains to perform. From very short—a couple of minutes, to longer—up to 40 minutes. Where does the magic happen? In the 15 minute workouts. Why? Because pushing as hard as you can is the main driver of the change. The harder you push the shorter the workout needs to be to keep the intensity high. When you add a 10-15 minute WOD every time, you are actually doing 20+ minute workouts all the time. You are unintentionally eliminating variation in your training routine and hence limiting your adaptation.

So, what to do next?
No worries, there is nothing complicated, just a few basic principles that can lead you to your CrossFit success:

  • Time to clean up your diet.
    You want to train like an athlete, but you still eat like a teenager? You think about training all day long, but you don’t care about what you put into your body? C’mon. There is plenty of material and guidance out there, so I won’t go into details. No machine works without proper fuel and your body won’t either. Pay it some respect and start eating well.
  • Perfect your movements.
    All of them. Stay in the group class, Show up early and/or stay late, go through the progressions, especially use lighter loads and ask feedback from your coach. Make sure you know what good movement feels like and try to move perfectly on every rep during practice. Add weight or reps as long as you keep moving consistently. Stop when you notice the slightest inconsistency. Perfect your movements first, max out later.
  • Focus on strict strength and mobility.
    Before you start adding volume, you need to be sure that your body can handle it. Strict movements allow your muscles and tendons to catch dynamic movements correctly and firmly, without excessive risk of injury. They also teach you what a correct position feels like. Being tight and straight when pressing is the same as being upside down in a hand stand push up. Hanging actively on a pull-up teaches you something about the correct way to catch a jerk or the hang position of a snatch. Positive effect of these basic movements is huge and will benefit you as an athlete in the long-run more than anything else.
  • Sleep a lot.
    This is by far the most difficult one. We all have jobs, kids, or partners (and cats). It is hard, but extremely important to find balance in your life. Let’s face it, you are likely not going to the Regionals this year and you should not sacrifice any of those important things. Sleep is important for your body, mind and after-training regeneration. Don’t underestimate it.
  • Learn to love the process, not the result.
    I know this sounds unreal because we all want to be able to do muscle-ups, have a body weight snatch and have a brutally ripped beach body. I promise you, you will get there, but forget about it just now. You are in it for the long haul. You can love the process forever and it will keep you motivated for a long time but your training alone in a corner won’t.

I’m going to finish on a les serious note by quoting Pat Sherwood:
“The goal is to get fit. Make it the best hour of the day. Stay safe, turn up the music, high five some people and blow off some steam. So remember that. Relax. Have fun. Workout.”


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