Traveling recently, I dropped into a CrossFit box and the owner asked how long I had done CrossFit. I responded, “Almost seven years” and he said, “Whoa, you’re old!” Of course he didn’t mean it as an insult, but gone are the days that names like Josh Everett, Nicole Carroll, Freddy Camacho, and Jolie Gentry are recognized by everyday CrossFitters. Two years ago I did a write up for my 5 Year CrossFit Anniversary. In that post, I describe my first workout on Jan. 30, 2008 which called for 95# thrusters. I dropped the number of reps from 15 to 10 and used 65# at first, but had to drop to 45# after the first round. Don’t even get me started on the deadlifts. At one point I wrote in a forum “Never liked doing big lifting, but after feeling my lower back during dead lifts, can see the value in them.” Three months ago I squatted 400# and two weeks ago I deadlifted 501.5#. Oops, I guess now I LOVE big lifting!
After 7 years of CrossFit, 5 years of coaching hundreds of athletes, and more workouts than I care to count, I feel like I’ve learned a thing or two. Here are seven. These are not necessarily aimed just at beginners (that might be a post for the future), but general observations and things anyone can take away. I’d be curious to know what you’ve learned, whether you’ve been doing CrossFit for a week or ten years.
#1: Squat heavy and often. And sprint.
If you only have time for one thing, squat. As in squat with a heavy barbell on your back. Do it for 3-5 sets and 2-8 reps, depending on your goals. I’ve found that heavy back squats transfer a great deal to other things: running faster, jumping higher, cleaning heavier, deadlifting more. Plus, it hits your CNS (central nervous system) and hormones in a good way that you can recover from quickly. If you don’t have a barbell and weights, then sprint. It will have a similar effect. But really, find a barbell.
#2. If you want to be good at something, you need to do it.
Is this an obvious statement? Maybe not. I was once intimidated by the 70 lb. kettlebell. The idea of swinging a piece of metal that was half my bodyweight over my head was not all that appealing. But there came a point where 70 lb. kb swings were showing up in WODs more frequently. I knew I needed to swing it, so I just DID. At first, I only did Russian swings (to eye level) and once I got comfortable, I went a little overhead, and a little more. Eventually I could do a few reps and then have to set it down. Some time after that (probably 6 months or so), I did “Eva” which includes 150 kb swings at 70 lbs. While I don’t suggest just picking up a 70 pounder if you’ve been using a 26, don’t be intimidated to do something heavier or more difficult. If you want to be better at double unders, practice them. If you want to be better at cleans and snatches, you need to do cleans and snatches. If you want to be better at rowing, you need to row! Wishing something to come true isn’t nearly as effective as actually practicing it. In the past few months, we’ve seen an amazing number of members get their first rope climb – because they actually tried it instead of just doing the regular substitute of rope pulls! Related: What Malcolm Gladwell has to do with Olympic Lifting
#3: Consistency is key.
Whether it’s nutrition, strength, endurance, or skill, consistency is key. I can be on-point with my nutrition for 3 months, but one bad week can set me back that entire time. Same thing when it comes to working out. Recovery days are absolutely vital, but taking an extended period of time off will set you back months or even years. (I do advocate a few days-week off every few months, but that should include getting good sunlight, going for hikes or longer walks, etc. and NOT sitting around and eating junk) After my shoulder surgery in 2012, I went on a pity party for myself and barely worked out for 2 months. When I finally did a mini-metcon that lasted about 4 minutes, I almost puked. Consistency is key, so do whatever you can to avoid playing catch up.
#4: Mobility matters – a lot more than you want it to.
Weightlifting is a big part of CrossFit. Doing the cleans, jerks, and snatches play an integral role in being athletic, strong, and they are great markers for transferability (how well that athlete can do other things.) After coaching hundreds of athletes, the ones who have better mobility tend to succeed more at these movements. Being mobile doesn’t mean being the MOST flexible person, but good mobility establishes a foundation for being in good athletic positions. I can take a super strong dude who benches 315 for reps, but if he doesn’t have the mobility to squat below parallel, these movements are going to be really tough for him. Conversely, I’ve seen a plethora of supple athletes who had no idea what a clean was, but because they could sit ass to grass with a PVC pipe overhead, they were able to start with light weight and work themselves up to bodyweight+ snatches and 1.5x+ bodyweight clean and jerks in short time. Mobility is the one thing we all know deep down matters, but hate working on if we don’t have it.
#5: Abs are made in the gym, but revealed in the kitchen and the bed.
Get your mind out of the gutter! Very simply, if you “want abs” you need to fix your nutrition and sleep. Doing sit ups, crunches, or even toes to bar will work your midline, but will not “get you abs” like you want. Working out for one hour per day is still only 4.167% of your time. What are you doing with the other 95.833%? There’s way too much to cover here, but there are plenty of websites, blogs, books, and magazines out there that can help. And if you do decide to work on your nutrition and sleep, remember number #3: Consistency is key. Related: Guest Post: 8 Tips for Better Sleep by Dr. Jackie Halpern
#6. Women benefit more from lifting weights than guys do.
I’m absolutely stereotyping, but I think I come from a credible position. After training hundreds of women and running women-only strength groups, I love seeing women lift weights. Deadlifts, bench press, cleans, you name it. Kids, teens, twenty-year-olds, sixty-year-olds and up; not only is there a benefit for health and longevity (as we get older, what happens? We lose muscle mass), but they also get stronger mentally and emotionally. Most women do not train with real weights before CrossFit (2 lb. pink dumbbells do not count). But now it’s normal and expected that they deadlift 200+ pounds, bench press 100+ pounds, and do unassisted pull ups. This is cool! Unsurprisingly, they even lean out, don’t get bulky like they think, and suddenly stresses at work or home are easier to deal with because they think of that crazy-ass metcon they did yesterday. Teenage girls suddenly have a new definition of “beauty” and eat for performance instead of starving themselves. I’m not saying that guys don’t get the same benefits, but on average, I’ve seen the impact of weight training affect women way more than dudes. Related: BarBelles Testimony – Gina
#7: Form first. Then Speed. Speed kills.
In CrossFit, being fast is better. You can’t jump on a 50″ box slowly. You can’t clean 225# slowly. The faster you are, the better. The caveat, of course, is that you need to have the form down first, then you can unleash the beast. It’s not worth going fast if it’s going to be slop. I’ve seen dozens of members hit PRs or breakthroughs when I tell them to move the bar quickly and they do it with good form. Deadlifts, cleans, snatches, box jumps, muscle ups, squats, presses – FAST UP is usually the answer. Build a good foundation of skill first, then go fast.
I could probably write another dozen or so observations, but I’m going to keep it at a manageable seven. I’m curious to hear from you though: