I’ll never forget when Agneta joined my former box in the Netherlands. Agneta (not her real name) was going to Globo gyms before and wanted to give this CrossFit thing a try.
She was a really strong girl – one of those people who grew muscles from carrying grocery bags. So I thought, “Yeah, she might have a big Deadlift and do well when it’s all about raw strength but the real deal lies in the technical stuff, and she’ll struggle with that.” But then she snatched more than my 1RM for reps in her very first session.
So I assumed, at least, as strong as she was, she would suck at gymnastics. But then she performed all the movements in strict and perfect-looking kipped versions and got amazing double-unders within 2 weeks.
Agneta also runs long distances way below a 5min/km pace and is as flexible as a ballet dancer. Needless to say, she also comes with a mindset that makes her go unbroken even through the toughest workouts with an incredible pace.
I’m sure there is an Agneta in your box as well. Those blessed one-in-a-million people who help push us to our limit. And yes, it’s neither negativity nor an excuse to say that talent is an important parameter for the way to outstanding performance.
That said, I know I could (and should) be on a much higher level after almost 3 years of CrossFit, if only I had discovered a lot of things earlier… so if I had to send a letter to past-me, I can think of a few points I’d like to tell that 20-something from those early days.
1. DO MORE THAN JUST THE CLASSES
For saying this, I apologize to Greg Glassman. His idea of turning every training session into a little competition and to let people push each other in a small group setting has and always will be the heart of CrossFit.
It is what creates awesomeness both physically and mentally. I also apologize to all the coaches out there who put so much effort into programming and teaching classes.
However, by only leaving it to a 1-hour-training a few times a week, you will build up to an above-average fitness level, that’s for sure, but you won’t become a competitive athlete unless you are outstandingly gifted or have an athletic background already.
Butterflies or muscle-ups don’t come from practicing every other month in the 20-minute skill session. Impressive numbers in the lifts require weightlifting specific plans, and so on.
So when I started CrossFit, I only did classes. However, after months and months of showing up in the box, I still couldn’t do any workout RX. The jumps in my performance only came with putting in the extra work – staying a while after the class practicing my handstand push-ups, showing up early, and making use of every Open Gym-hour that’s available.
2. KNOW YOUR NUMBERS
I started CrossFit because I was looking for something competitive and varied (and, to be very honest, because I admired the physiques of the female athletes). I loved learning new skills and focused a lot on the gymnastics.
However, anything that contained a barbell didn’t hold my attention for very long. So when we should do a lift on XX% of our 1RM, I just could choose a random weight because I was never keen about testing anything. Needless to say, I never hit the right intensity or stimulus. Today I know all my numbers, so I always have a reference point to do an actual productive training. Which leads me to the next point…
3. FOLLOW A PROPER PROGRAM AND STICK TO IT
I don’t want to say the GPP-programming boxes create don’t work at all. Also, most boxes I’ve been a member at implement common strength programs such as Wendler, Starting Strength etc. already.
The problem lies on the member’s side: Since our lives and duties outside of the box don’t follow the structure our coaches had in mind, it mostly works better to settle an additional plan and follow it strictly – and with a patience that survives several months!
4. CROSSFIT TRAINING: DON’T ALWAYS GO ALL OUT
CrossFit advertises itself as the hardest training method in the world, even at one point using a puking clown as a mascot. So as a beginner I was trapped in the thought that you have to destroy yourself in every single WOD to get the maximum benefit out of it. Combined with the fact that I attempted workouts 6 times a week, I did everything I could to prevent any strength gain. I think my body was very busy only with repairing the biggest damages.
Still I believe that sometimes you have to enter the Red Zone, because the mental toughness needs to be trained like a muscle. But this shouldn’t be the permanent approach. Especially if you are already sore or tired, giving 70 to 80% is still a lot.
5. ACCEPT THAT THERE IS NOT SPACE FOR EVERYTHING
Besides the pressure of going crazy on every training session, there’s another “problem” that comes with CrossFit: there is always a ton of stuff to do, and whenever you got a new skill, there’s the next already waiting to be mastered.
It took me a while to realize and I used to put so much extra work in my routine that got me totally lost. There was a time I spent hours just on the Turkish get-up because I read it is good for shoulder stability. Then I’ve heard that CrossFit training causes upper body imbalances that can only be cured by a lot of rowing movements, so I did rows almost every day.
Same for box step-ups (good for the VMO which is important for a high split jerk), fat grip exercises, single leg exercises… in the end I sacrificed sleep and recovery to work on accessories. Today I focus on structured plans with a work load I can withstand, and trust in the fact that it is all about synergies and everything makes you stronger in everything.
6. VIDEO YOUR LIFTS
One of the best things you can do to measure your improvement and practice your technique is to film yourself working on it. You’ll be able to see clearly what aspects of your lifts need improvement.
It might not be the most graceful or enjoyable part of your training, especially at the start, but as you get stronger and more confident you might even want to share your efforts with the rest of the world!
7. WORK ON YOUR MOBILITY!
I always wanted to step into the gym and start sweating immediately. All this stretching seemed like a waste of time to me. It was not only from the first shoulder issue, but the realization that better mobility could really improve my lifts, that brought me to the topic.
Today I really love just to make my body as supple and optimized as nature wanted it to be, before I became a part of the “Sitting World”.
If really I could meet that girl from three years ago, I wouldn’t be mad at her at all. I’d never say that I wasted even a second, because there’s no such thing like a mistake – only learning and improving as an athlete. And it was an often frustrating, but all-in-all, a very enjoyable journey so far. I can’t wait to continue!