How do you get the best results from CrossFit?
There are a few suggestions I’ll offer.
CrossFit as an acronym, MCI, which answers this question wonderfully.
Let’s take a deeper dive into what this means.
The first step in any growth journey is to learn to perform basic mechanics in whatever it we are hoping to grow in, learn, or become competent in. Once we have learned the mechanics, and have been proficient in them consistently (regular and similar application of effort and results on a singular task), then intensity can be increased. Mechanics create the structure of habits, narratives and and dictate the safest, most efficient way to complete it. Often, this process involves learning a base skill and then, once competency is gained, challenging the base skill with a variation. We recognize that a beginner will likely have more success by learning a less complex skill initially, and then applying what they’ve learned to a more difficult variation as competency allows. This natural process loosely describes the process of putting mechanics first.
What this means is we start with squatting with an empty barbell, and gradually adding weight over a long duration of time, only as long as our technique allows. It means we begin by doing pogo hops, then single unders, and then doing single unders under fatigue, and then single unders for larger unbroken sets, and then single unders hopping forward and backward, and after that has become a dull habit, do we move to double unders.
Rushing the Process Ruins Results
If the mechanics are never truly refined then the distance between our potential and performance will always be greater than necessary. Too often people rush the growth process in a futile attempt at arbitrary results and therefore load more weight on the barbell than they can safely move, or try a more complex skill (like muscle ups or double under’s) before their fundamentals (strict gymnastic strength and single under’s) are incredibly proficient. This leads to injury, frustration, burn-out, or perhaps worse, the accumulation of bad habits and movement patterns which stunt the sought-after growth and success.
Another way of looking at the MCI continuum is to focus on attending one class per week religiously. Every Monday, come to 6:30 am. Do that for five straight weeks. Learn the mechanics of getting up early, putting on your gym clothes and driving to the gym. After five weeks of that, add a second class. Too often individuals who want to get in shape assume that a decade of poor eating and a lack of exercise habits will be undone in two weeks of max effort attempts at changing schedules, fitness regimes and eating habits. Like a firework, they burn bright for a burst and then fizzle away. Instead, learn to walk a half-mile everyday and add some broccoli to your McDonald’s. Do that for a month. Then, add another half-mile and substitute the broccoli for the fries, but still eat the Big Mac. After a month of that, make another small modification. Get the mechanics, adapt slowly and in incremental ways, and then add intensity.
The most successful growers recognize that a long, slow trajectory of advancement in skill and capacity toward a distant horizon is most effective both in terms of development and retention. Our growth as individuals is a long-term endeavor. Intelligently and intentionally balancing safety, efficacy, and efficiency is essential to long-term success. Whatever it is that we are endeavoring to learn, grow in, or become competent in first begins with the fundamental mechanics, and gradually adding intensity.
Intensity Over Volume
A word that is absent from the MCI acronym that is prolific in our space is volume. Volume refers to the amount of work (exercise) that is done in a given day or timeframe. Too often the average gym goer believes that adding more workouts to their week will make them fitter. This is often done at the expense of intensity, which again, negates the sought after results. Volume matters only after intensity is paramount. CrossFit as a sport promotes volume, but CrossFit as a training methodology does not. This is because CrossFit as a sport is about winning competitions, prize money, endorsements and standing on a podium as a champion. In order to do so, the amount of work you do needs to be grandiose. However, 90% of gym-goers are not competitive, and certainly not to the level of anyone elite. Therefore, volume needs to shrink back into its proper place, namely, behind intensity. A five minute workout done at high intensity and “full send” effort will reap more rewards than doing three hours of lollygagging-effort workouts. Also, most recreational CrossFitters do not have the proper recovery protocols, nutritional base and coaching/support system to properly maintain a high-volume way of training. If you need to choose one (and if you’re reading this article, you probably do), choose intensity.
Choose Class Times First
If improving our overall health and fitness in a group fitness capacity is important to us, prove it by putting it into your calendar. What we plan gets done. What we plan is what we value. If we want to workout three hours a week, schedule those into your calendar and then hold them sacred. With that is specifying which classes you’re going to attend at the beginning of your week. The greatest success in regular gym attendance is not an ambiguous “I’d like to workout this week”, but by determining “I’m going to the Monday and Thursday noon class, and the Wednesday 5:30pm class” and then blocking off that time in your time-monitoring app.
Scale, and then scale again, and then once more
Rarely will a person over-scale a workout. Frequently a person will under-scale a workout. Scaling is properly addressing a workout. Scaling is NOT making the workout easier or less demanding. It is properly assessing the workout’s demands and the athlete’s capacity and finding the proper intersection and harmony. We can still keep the intended stimulus of the workout by scaling the weight, repetitions performed or the movement. Our goal should be to have ourselves working within the intended time frame, instating proper movements modalities, under the appropriate intensity. This way we are training the same metabolic and strength pathway as the prescribed workout had intended at our current fitness capacity.