Crossfit Training: 7 Lessons I Wish I’d Known Before I Started

"I've been crossfit training now for 3 years and love the journey, but these 7 lessons would have hugely improved my progress had I known them at the start."

I’ll never forget that time when Agneta joined my former box in the Netherlands. Agneta (of course that isn’t her real name but at least she is also from Sweden) was going to globo gyms before and wanted to try this CrossFit-thing now. She is a really huge girl – one of those persons who grow muscles from carrying grocery bags. So I thought: ‘Yeah, she might have a high Deadlift and just 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 big as she is, she would suck in gymnastics. But then she performed all the movements in strict and perfect looking kipping 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 creepiest workouts with an incredible pace.

female athlete foam rolling during crossfit training
Good habits can really speed up progress

I’m sure there is an Agneta in your box as well. Those blessed One in a Million-persons who show us our own borders even clearer. And yes, it is neither negativity nor an excuse to say that talent is an important parameter for the way to outstanding performance. But still, I know that 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 my Past-Me, I can think about a few points I’d like to tell that Twenty-Something from those days.

1. DO MORE THAN JUST THE CLASSES

For saying this, I apologize to Greg Glasman. His idea of turning every training session into a little competition and let people push each other in a small group-setting has and always will be the heart of CrossFit. It is what creates awesomeness in a physical and mental way. I also apologize to all the coaches out there who put so much effort into programming and teaching classes.

But: 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. Butterflies or Muscle-ups don’t come from practicing it every other month in the 20-minute skill-part. Impressive numbers in the lifts require weightlifting specific plans and so on.

male athlete crossfit training on rowing machine
keep pushing

So when I started CrossFit, I did classes only and still this is my biggest joy of all! 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 HSPUs, 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 bodies of the female athletes so much). I loved learning new skills and focused a lot on the gymnastics. However, anything that contained a barbell held the stepchild position in my attention. 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.

crossfit training by male athlete with kettlebells
Train hard, train smart

3. FOLLOW A PROPER PROGRAM AND STICK TO IT

Again: I don’t want to say the GPP-programming boxes create doesn’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 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.

female athlete crossfit training kettlebells
train for long term success

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. Since the sport is relatively new and fast developing, that fact is faced even by Games athlete.

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 Turkish Get up because I read it is good for shoulder stability. Then I’ve heard that the CrossFit-Training causes upper body imbalances that can only be cured by a lot of rowing movements so I did Pendlay 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 even sleep and recovery to work only 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

I always thought I would look like Lu Xiaojun doing the snatch – until I saw myself on the GoPro-Clip. Your self-perception is such a liar, it could work for a boulevard magazine.

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 issues, but also the realization that better mobility could really improve my lifts, that brought me deep into the topic. Today I really love just to deal with my body and make it as supple and optimized as nature wanted it to be, before I became a part of the “Sitting World”.

Anyway: If really I could meet that girl from 3 years ago, I wouldn’t be mad with her at all (even though I was angry for a very long time). I’d never say that I wasted even a second anymore. Because there’s no such thing like a mistake – only finding out how not to do it. And it was an often frustrating, but all in all, a very fun journey so far. I can’t wait to continue it!


female athlete foam rolling during crossfit training ©

male athlete crossfit training on rowing machine ©

crossfit training by male athlete with kettlebells ©

female athlete crossfit training kettlebells © RX'd Photography

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About The Author

Regular German potatoe, but totally CrossFit-addicted! I am about to start a box in Singapore soon - http://www.setfreecrossfit.com/. We can't wait for cool visitor from all over the world!

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