In my ten years as a personal trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist, I have yet to come across a fitness program that delivers results like crossfit. That is one reason I chose to start a crossfit gym instead of something more conventional.
There are several factors that make crossfit successful in getting results.
1) It is fun. The workouts are different nearly each time with interesting movements varying from rope climbs, running, pushups, tire flips, to weightlifting and everything in between.
2) The program is written for you. Our members subscribe to one primary program that addresses all aspects of fitness from strength and power to mobility and core control.
3) You get coaching every time you attend a class from trainers who not only know what they are talking about but more importantly want you to succeed.
4) Awesome community. The biggest contributor to success is the community of like minded people who are there and support each other. Nowhere will you find a place that brings more diverse groups of people together than a good crossfit gym. The environment and those around you make big goals attainable.
If you want to get the most out of your fitness experience and really make long lasting changes, then you must follow these commandments:
1. Be consistent. The best program in the world will not work if you do not. In order to see big gains, you will have to commit to 3-5x per week. Consistency is crucial to any program, crossfit or otherwise.
2. Demand perfection from yourself on form. This commandment cannot be stressed enough. Learn the proper way of doing the basics to the complex. Like building a house, you will need a solid foundation or you are going to have real problems. At crossfit you get the opportunity to learn high level movements, such as Olympic weightlifting and gymnastic exercises. I think this is part of the fun to crossfit and a huge advantage over conventional gyms. However, these ‘higher level’ movements require attention to detail. The techniques are critical and take diligence to learn. The better the technique is executed, the greater the potential for gains. Hold yourself to high standards on form even it means taking weight of the bar. Bad form is not worth the extra rep or weight.
Up until 4 years ago I back squatted with poor technique. My hips were not engaging and my weight was distributed more to my toes than my heels. The worst mistake was letting my back round at the bottom of the squat. My knees would hurt afterwards and ache for days. On two occasions I hurt my back so badly I could not walk to the bathroom (squatting with 225). I literally could not stand up straight for 3 days. That was when I decided to stop back squatting because it was a ‘bad’ exercise. Fortunately another trainer got a hold of me and taught me the correct form. Since then I squat much heavier, my knees do not hurt and my back is stronger than ever.
That is an example of the difference between good form and bad. With poor form I was constently hurting myself. Any progress I made was followed by setbacks. Once I learned the correct way to move everything stopped hurting and my strength shot up significantly.
3. Set goals. Setting goals is a must for achieving anything in life. Goals give your training purpose. Examples of fitness goals could be: faster Fran time, lower cholesterol, lower body fat, to do a pullup, PR on your back squat, to do a workout Rx, to run a mile under 6 minutes, etc… The more the better and make them ambitious. Training is much more fun with goals in mind and as you make progress, the motivation increases big time!
4. Scale your workouts accordingly!!! This is the big one I want to address. Too bad it is often lost in the competitive spirit of crossfit.
Scaling your workouts is how you take a general program and make it work for you and your specific goals. Crossfit is a general program that you can tailor to fit your needs.
Just because Rx says 135 lbs does not mean it is what is best for you. Remember commandment 2, perfect form? Intensity and weight take a back seat to exceptional form. If the workout calls for 21-15-9 thrusters and pullups for time, your interpretation needs to be: move as quickly as I can with exceptional form. At no point in time is it worth sacrificing the quality of movement to compete on the white board. This rule is not limited to just keeping you safe, it is also what is going to get you greater results all around. Most important is the longevity of your fitness journey.
Going warp speed every time is another hazard. Intensity is one key element to crossfit and it is one key element to getting results. However, what is not understood is that too great of intensity too often is going to result in diminishing returns. Red line effort taxes the Muscular and Central Nervous System greatly, which demands recovery for any progress occur. When we lift heavy weights and do met cons, we are breaking our bodies down. It takes recovery and nutrition to build our bodies back up.
An analogy one of our trainers gave me relates to the intensity of football practices and how it fluctuates in preparation for game day. If the chiefs went full contact with post conditioning every day, how do you think they would fair against the broncos on Sunday? Not well because most of the team would be injured. It is too violent, too intense of a sport to go all out every session. For this reason, their practices vary in intensity. They have to be trained to deal with the heat on Sunday but also need enough recovery to be fresh.
Scaling intensity is dependent on how hard you have pushed it in the past few days and how your body is feeling on the day of. If you went crazy on Monday and Tuesday then Wednesday should either be a light day or a day off. You can still come to the gym but make the intelligent decision to either scale down the workout or just foam roll and use the rower. Ask yourself, “is what I am doing today going to benefit me tomorrow?” If the answer is no, then…. Don’t do it.
It is balance that will give you great results.
Reference to scaling:
Look at the Rx as a reference point. It is a really high standard that most people cannot do but can shoot for as a goal. When scaling, think of these two factors:
1) how much weight? If the Rx says 95lb thrusters, ask yourself if you can move the weight and how efficiently can you do so.
2) how much volume? How many times do I have to move the weight? If the workout calls for 20 thrusters at time, ask how what is the heaviest weight I can do one set of 20 unbroken? That is the amount of weight you should use.
Scaling can also go up! If you are feeling fresh and answer those questions knowing you can handle the weight and the volume no problem, then perhaps you need to increase the load.
I could write an entire article on how to scale your workouts to achieve the best results but even if the above principles are all you know, you are far ahead of the curve.
Implement these commandments into your training today and see how far they take you. The results will keep coming.
by Clay Henderson, CSCS
Owner of Performance Edge CrossFit