The Secret to Getting Better at CrossFit

This entire post is written to explain a very fundamental concept (and also to post some of the awesome shots that Super Cleary Photo took at our comp last weekend): to get better at CrossFit, you have to…CrossFit. That means showing up. That means practicing skills. Seems obvious, right? But I’m always surprised by the number of people that seem to forget this concept, myself included.

I’ll give you an example. Like every other crossfitter, I wanted to be able to do a muscle up. So every once in a while, I would jump up on the rings, attempt one, and get super frustrated when I would fail over and over again. I didn’t understand! I used to be a gymnast, how hard could it really be?! I knew I was strong enough. I could do pull-ups and dips for days. And anyone who looked at me was always shocked when I said I wasn’t able to do one. They would say, “That can’t be right. Just try it!” That would only add to my frustration and before I knew it I would be down on myself and ready to quit trying all together. It wasn’t until I finally checked my ego at the door, starting doing drills and working with a spotter, that I began to see progress and before you know it, I had one! And then I had two! A week later I completed my first workout Rx’d (as prescribed) with muscle ups and even though it took me longer than it should have due to a few failed attempts, I was beaming with joy afterwards.

I see this with a lot of beginner crossfitters. They start going to classes, and immediately want to be proficient in all of the Olympic lifts and gymnastics movements. When they can’t do something, they get frustrated and decide that they’re just never going to be good at certain skills. They act as if everyone who is able to do double unders, pull-ups, handstand push-ups or snatch over 100lbs is just naturally gifted and was able to do everything overnight. Ha, if only that were true. I repeat: to get better at something, you have to practice. That means a few things:

  1. Show up, regardless of the workout. “I’m not going today because there are cleans and I suck at those.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but you’re always going to suck at them with that attitude. 56811197-2014-11-16-01109
  2. Put in the work. Want to get better at the Olympic lifts? Go to barbell club or oly class or whatever supplemental class that your gym offers. If you gym doesn’t have one, find one that does. Or ask a coach to work with you. Take a seminar. Sign up for private training. Practice drills in your apartment with your broomstick (I’m guilty of this). There are countless options.
  3. Commit. If you want to get better at CrossFit, you’re going to have to CrossFit. You can’t just show up once or twice a week, on top of running and spinning and barre class or whatever other forms of exercise you’re holding on to. I’m not saying that you have to quit everything else that you love, but you’re going to have to make CrossFit your main focus if you want to get better. “But I don’t want to just CrossFit, I’ll get bored and my body will get used to it.” If this is your mindset, then I guess no one ever explained the definition of CrossFit, particularly the constantly varied part. If you belong to a gym with good programming, you’ll find plenty of variety.  When I first started, I held on to my old gym membership for the longest time, afraid, as most people are, to totally commit to CrossFit. After a couple of months, I four that I was using it less and less, and even when I was going to the gym, I was frustrated by the lack of adequate equipment (how does a gym not even have a pull-up bar) and pointless exercises I saw people doing. I finally cancelled and put that money to better use…new oly shoes and barbell!
  4. Prioritize strength. Many people who begin CrossFitting will find that their endurance builds up quickly. Rowing, burpees and box jumps? No problem! Everyone loves a good sweat and associates that with an awesome workout. But that is only part of it. Add any barbell movement, and their numbers haven’t budged a bit. At first, this is totally normal. You must learn how to clean and snatch properly before you can start throwing around heavy weight in a workout. But if a year later, your technique is somewhat dialed in but find yourself lifting the same exactly weights, you may need to rethink your priorities. Hopefully your gym will program strength and you’ll find gains there. But if you’re only showing up on squat day every few weeks, with no increase in weight because you really have no idea of your numbers, you’re not likely to get any stronger. Why does it matter if you’re strong? Well, the lighter the weights feel during a workout, the faster your times are likely to be, and the less fatigued you will feel for the other movements. Think about it.

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Listen, I know it’s hard. I have had countless frustrating days in the gym, lately more than I’d like to admit. But each time I have to take a step back, remember how far I’ve come, and keep pushing forward.

Don’t believe me? The first video below is from June 2013 and the second is from August 2014.

In the top video, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t overhead squat at all, had no idea what the hook grip was and didn’t really understand what the snatch was other than ripping the bar from the floor to overhead. How did I get better? I signed up for a snatch seminar taught by a couple of great coaches. The first day was spent doing drills. In fact, I’m not even sure if we touched a barbell, which can be frustrating when you know you’re strong enough to lift more than a PVC pipe. But each Saturday for about 6 weeks we would meet and each week we would see improvements. I can proudly say that my snatch is my best lift and I feel comfortable teaching it to anyone because I learned it from scratch. And while I can sympathize with the frustration of feeling like you’re never going to get it, I have video proof that if you put in the work, that is 100% not true. And the best part is, there’s always more to learn. Once you think you’ve mastered something, you find out another way you can improve. That’s what keeps me coming back day in and day out.

Bottom line: If you want to improve at something, you have to practice. Want to run a marathon? Get out and run. Want to be a body builder? Start doing your curls and weighing your food. Want to become better at CrossFit? Get your ass in the gym and….CrossFit!

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7 thoughts on “The Secret to Getting Better at CrossFit

  1. Great post – I was guilty of this but I’m starting to get my ass to class more and practice – I can see improvements already!

  2. You’re so right! Practice makes perfect and I’m glad you finally got a spotter to help you on your muscle ups! They look much better now 😜

  3. I remember when you first came to our Snatch class how eager you were to learn, you were like a sponge. You knew you needed some one on one coaching and after 8 weeks you were a different person with the barbell over your head. To this day you continue practicing the drills you were taught and you have even passed on what you learned to your fellow clients. You are constantly practicing, and always looking at ways to educate yourself on the Olympic lifts so you can helps others who are starting out. That makes a great coach. Continue doing what you love.

  4. Thanks for this great post – definitely going to share this one.

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  7. Fantastic post Julia! Your progress is hands-down amazing and definitely inspiring for someone like myself who is still swirling in the newbie stages… Let’s try to train together soon! I just learned muscle-up drills this week 😉

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