One of the great things about walking into a CrossFit class, is that the programming is already there for you. You don’t have to worry about programming for yourself or figuring out what muscle group to train on what day and for how long. It’s all written out for you with a knowledgeable trainer coaching you through the entire class.
The best questions to ask yourself or your Coach are: What is the purpose of this workout? What is the intended stimulus? How is this going to make me better?
“Training with Intention” is a concept Coach Ben Bergeron put a name to, and I strongly believe in. To make the most of that 1 hour at the gym, it is important to understand what your intention should be for each session. There are 3 approaches you can take to a workout. Each of these has value depending on the intended stimulus of the workout: practice, training, and competition.
This is where you are making a conscious effort to perform the movement perfectly. This is usually done with very light weights (under 60% of your max) or with a PVC. If practicing body weight movement, the focus here is getting your form as perfect as it can be.
In practice, you are working skills, timing and movement patterns. Practice should not be done at max cardiovascular or muscular efforts. It is best performed at low hear rates, low weights, and controlled environments.
For example, say I program this:
Even minutes : 5-10 Toes to Bar (1 unbroken set)
Odd minutes : 5-10 Handstand Pushups (1 unbroken set)
Record your total reps for each movement.
This is NOT a metcon. You should not be looking at what others got on the leaderboard and trying to one up them. If you are doing 10 toes to bar every round with an inconsistent kip, you are sabotaging yourself. If you are doing 10 handstand pushups with 2 ab mats under your head just to get through them, you are missing the point!
This is a great time to be PRACTICING these movements for perfection. If you don’t have consistent toes to bar, you should be working on your kip before anything else. Scale this to knees to parallel or knees to elbows, focusing on a perfect kip and breathing patterns.
If you don’t have handstand pushups, you should be going off a box, taking some body weight off. Get yourself upside down and understand the movement pattern. THIS is the time to practice getting upside down. Unless you have a condition where you can’t be upside down, or you have some sort of injury, you should be practicing handstand pushups by being upside down and going through the full range of motion.
Stacking multiple abmats under your head is not good. You are not going through the full range of motion and you will never develop the necessary strength to do hand stand pushups. Think of this, if you want to get stronger at your back squat – you would squat at a percentage of your max for a given amount of sets and reps for a period of time. You wouldn’t put more weight on the bar than your max and start doing quarter squats… so why put abmats under your head and do quarter handstand pushups?
Training is what we do in most of our metcons. This is the most effective way to train for physical adaptions and improve your fitness capacities: such as your engine or strength. It is performed at high heart rates, heavier weights, and maximizing intensity.
You should be focusing on the quality of the movement and at the same time pushing that intensity to be better for tomorrow. At the end of a workout, you should feel like you moved well and were able to maintain a relatively high intensity.
This is not the time for practice. This is where you scale the movements or weights that you are giving you trouble. If you are struggling with toes to bar, you should not go into a workout with 10+ toes to bar in each round and do singles or toes to bar with a terrible kip. Not only is this a recipe for injury, but you’re also losing the intention of the workout, which is intensity!
Another example is weight. Let’s take the workout Grace as an example.
30 Power Clean and Jerks 135/95
Just because you can lift the prescribed weight, does not mean you should do it as prescribed. No, you will not get stronger doing this workout as RX, and no you will not be “practicing” doing that weight. If you want to practice, then take that weight and do 2-3 perfect clean and jerks every minute on the minute for 10 minutes. That’s practice. If you’re doing it in a metcon, you should be training, meaning – lower the weight and do 30 perfect clean and jerks at a high intensity instead of doing 30 clean and jerks at the “RX” weight with terrible form and major fatigue. Doing 30 reps of 135/95 pounds with crappy form is not the same as doing 30 reps at 95/65 with great form.
Let’s take a look at Regional level athletes. The average male time for Grace is 1:44, and the average female time is 2:02. Strength wise, the average clean and jerk for men is 318, and 202 for females. This means that they are using about 45% of their 1 rep max for this workout.
Realistically speaking, for non competitive athletes, 135/95 does not seem very heavy or intimidating. However, in a workout like Grace, where the focus is on 30 consecutive clean and jerks performed at high intensity, this weight becomes very heavy if you’re lifting near your 1 rep max, but more importantly, it becomes dangerous. If your 1 rep max clean and jerk is 135 as a female, you should not be doing Grace at 95 pounds. That is 70% of your 1 rep max! You should be doing 40%-60% of your 1 rep max and focusing on good, clean form.
“But Coach, I want to get better!!” is something I often hear when I literally take the extra weight off of people’s bars. You get better when you practice and improve your technique, NOT when you increase your load/ weight and just go as fast as you can.
This is where you just go and try to finish first. Things can get a little sloppy, your technique may break down a little. Your main goal here is to win. As long as the rep counts, you’re good.
When you’re competing, it is a completely different mindset. You want to see how hard you can push yourself physically and mentally.
Competition does have its place from time to time: you can be testing a max lift (when programmed), you can be testing a benchmark workout, or literally participating in a competition. This is a great time to see what you are really capable of when you put your mind to it.
That being said, you should not be “competing” more than a few times a month. Competition does not encourage positive training adaptions, it can actually be detrimental to your progress. It drains you physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Unfortunately, a lot of CrossFitters fall into this category instead of training or practice.
If you’re looking at the leaderboard and trying to beat them by several seconds in a workout, you are competing.
If you are using weights too heavy for you, just to put RX or RX+ on the leaderboard, you are competing.
If you are rushing to pass someone else in a class, you are competing.
If you are doing higher skill gymnastics movements as single reps in a workout just to get that RX, you are competing.
Yes, competing is fun. That’s part of what makes CrossFit so appealing, especially for competitive people.
Pick a few workouts a month, and push your limits there. Benchmark workouts or repeat workouts are a great time to do so. Otherwise, you should be focusing on practicing and training.
If you are wondering why your toes to bar, handstand pushups, or pull-ups aren’t getting better after years of CrossFit, it’s time to reevaluate how you train. If you’re wondering why you aren’t getting any stronger in your lifts, it’s time to reevaluate.
This is why I started adding time caps to workouts, to give you an idea of the intention of the workout. If you are being time capped with 1/4 of the workout still remaining, you scaled incorrectly (weight, movements, or the rep scheme itself).
Our coaches advise what your intention should be before any given workout. To practice excellent movement at low heart rate, to push yourself, or to compete and try to get the best possible time. If you’re unsure of how to approach a workout, always ask a Coach and we will be more than happy to help!
The take away:
Practice skills and lifts with low heart rates and perfect technique/ form.
Train with good form, high intensity, and weights/ skills that are appropriate for your current fitness level. This is NOT the time to practice.
Compete a few times a month in benchmark or repeat workouts. Put it all out there and see what you’re capable of when you put your mind to it!