by Rich Millar
Talk to people who do CrossFit and they will tell you how it has changed their lives, the way they look and feel and what a great community they have found to train with. Everyone that comes into a CrossFit gym has different goals but a common theme will be a desire to get better. This objective is not only welcomed but it is applauded – you have already done infinitely more than the majority of the gym-going population.
And once you start with CrossFit, the inevitable questions about progression and skill development arise. Once again, the answer to this this will depend on what your objectives are. Most everyone you speak to wants to get fitter and stronger and our job is to help you achieve this effectively in a constructive and safe environment. However with the popularity of the CrossFit Games, countless weekend competitions and social media posts, we sometimes detect a common theme of trying to attempt things that we may not be ready for and probably shouldn’t be done. Remember, we must always learn to “walk before we run”.
Sign up at a good CrossFit gym and you are bound to find a tiered programming system that caters for your objectives. For example, at CrossFit Athletic we run “Base”, “Climb” and “Peak”. And while these programs are linear in progression, moving from one to another will be based on a variety of factors, including your goals.
If your goal is to be fit, strong and look good then a base strength and conditioning program is for you. These programs have all the fundamentals to build fitness and an aesthetically pleasing outcome, allowing you to build muscle and become stronger. This does not mean you cannot learn new skills like Olympic lifting and other gymnastic movements like kipping pull-ups and handstands. As a matter of fact, all of these movements can be used to build power, strength, inter and intra-muscular coordination and body awareness.
Importantly though, if you don’t have your sights set on competing or taking it to the next level, then trying to Snatch as heavy as possible or do butterfly pull-ups for reps, pistols or backflips are not necessarily relevant. Frankly, the risk versus reward is not conducive to your goals and you may not have the necessary mobility, flexibility or functionality to do this. This does not mean you can’t lift heavy, but pushing the absolute limit is not necessary.
If your goal is to progress in the “sport of CrossFit”, then you need to evaluate the way in which you are going to do this. Do you want to just have “a crack” at a local competition and leave it at that or do you want to focus and do what you need to do to have a good placing in the Open, Regionals and potentially the Games? It is important to distinguish between these two goals for reasons already stated.
If the odd local competition is your calling, then you need to assess whether it is necessary to snatch 100kgs plus or doing 20 weighted butterfly pull-ups or neglecting proper strength work in order to do countless handstand push-ups.
In this competitive context, you need to train towards your goal without degrading your body. It should be about proper technique with the right volume and intensity. Unfortunately, this seems to go out the window in the training of Olympic lifts when inevitably some compete for the heaviest lift even if it comes at a cost of technique and proper execution. Chances are your Coach told you that for that session to stay in the 65-85% range in order to develop power, speed, timing, strength and flexibility and a 1RM is not the objective.
Now if you are looking towards placing in the Open, Regionals and beyond, keep in mind that you need to look at this with a long-term perspective. Trying to play “fast” catch up on skills or strength is not the way to go about it. Chat to any Coach about how to progress in a linear and safe fashion in order to build baseline strength, gymnastic skills and aerobic fitness. This will allow movements and skills to be properly developed before being tested under intensity and/or time. This may also take time anywhere from 12 months or more so have your mind set for the long term.
We love to see people progress but first and foremost we are mindful of your safety. This is a reminder that skills like weightlifting and gymnastics are developed over years and not days so you need to respect the process and not cheat it. Two outcomes are possible – at best, you will be found wanting when you are going head to head with someone who has done the necessary work; at worst, you can injure yourself and be out of action for much longer than desired (I can say this from personal experience).
CrossFit is a great concept for getting fit, strong and healthy and a fantastic pathway for helping people become the best version of themselves. But this is a journey and like every journey, you need to be consciously aware of where you are, where you want to go and how best to get there.