I’ve worked with a lot of people during my 9 years in CrossFit. I’ve always enjoyed the process of getting someone started, seeing them grow and reach their goals. I hope that I’ve been able to help some folks. They’ve certainly helped me!
I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon that occurs around the six to twelve month mark with some of our members. They’re still attending classes, and they’ve learned a lot. They’ve gotten stronger, and their lungs are better. In most cases, their bodies have changed and they looked fitter and healthier. But..
They’ve stopped growing!
Why does the gain train slow down? Like anything related to humans, the answers ‘why’ are complicated. Some experience a life change (baby, job, etc) that interrupts their training. Others get injured. Some are just experiencing the ‘intermediate’ effect (Google ‘Hans Seyle General Adaptation Syndrome’). The vast majority are still showing up, but nothing is happening. What’s going on?
I’m going to tell you about the three biggest pitfalls that I see for intermediate CrossFit athletes and what to do to about them. Don’t get stuck!
Pitfall #1 - Ignoring Skillwork
Intensity is channeled through technique. You get technique through practice? We’re talkin' about practice? YES!
Technique is defined as being in the right spot at the right time. Technique is measured by the amount of power generated from the movement or workout (i.e the result of the effort).
An example: Let’s say you perform a power clean. As you lift the bar from the floor, you bend your arms before your hips are fully extended. Everyone agrees that this is poor technique in the clean. Why? Because the early arm bend prevents you from fully utilizing your hips, which lowers the amount of weight you can lift. If you improve your technique (i.e. eliminate the arm bend), you’ll lift more. If you lift more, you’re raising your intensity and therefore generating more/better results.
The best CrossFit athletes realize this and are obsessed with refining their technique. They work on each piece of a movement until it’s perfect. Once they’re happy, they add weight or speed until things go awry. Again, back to technique practice with the heavier weight or a higher degree of intensity. It’s a cycle called ‘threshold training’ that allows for refinement of technique in the presence of speed.
Additionally, they set aside time to learn new skills so they can continue to grow and gather intensity in new arenas. Don’t have a muscle-up? You’re missing out on a lot of workouts that will make you a better athlete. Work with your coach to develop a plan that breaks the movement down into manageable chunks that you can practice. Work on your weak points and consistently and progressively practice the required skills. The problem isn’t that you ‘can’t do it’, it’s that you haven’t developed and executed a plan to get the skill.
PITFALL #2 - LOSING INTENSITY
Intensity is a big part of CrossFit. It’s so big that when we define CrossFit, we use it as one of the three pillars of the program (the others being functional movements and constant variance). Why is it so important? Because intensity is the independent variable most commonly associated with favorable adaptation. Put another way, results are achieved through intensity.
You probably already know this intuitively. When you have a hard workout, and you really push yourself, your body is humming. You feel the warmth of the effort for hours after you’re done, and you see rapid changes in your performance and your body. Intuition aside, you can actually calculate your intensity. Just take the load (force) and multiply it by the distance traveled. This is defined as ‘work’. Now, divide that by time. Voilà! You just calculated average power, which CrossFit defines as Intensity.
Back to our pitfalls. A lot of athletes gradually lose their intensity during their CrossFit journey. My suspicion here is that it’s just easier to go soft and not hit workout intensely. Maybe you’ve reached your goals and you're in maintenance mode? Maybe you have other things going on in your life and you're just happy to make it to the gym? Or, maybe you’ve decided that you need ‘special’ programming and you veer away from group classes to work on your Olympic weightlifting or your running?
Regardless of the reason(s), I think that regaining and maintaining intensity is a big priority for intermediates. Find your way back to intensity and you’ll start seeing results! Honestly, programming is not very important. I could write a bunch of terrible workouts and as long as you go after them hard, you’re going to grow. You control your destiny!
While you're rediscovering intensity, get back to group classes. You’ll push harder when you’re with other athletes. Push HARD. More is not better. Better is better. It’s much more effective to do 4-5 hard workouts per week than 6-7 half-assed efforts. If you need something extra to work on a particular weakness, make sure that it's complimentary to your 'main meal' programming, which for the general athlete should be the WOD.
Pitfall #3 - Poor Nutrition
Regardless of your goal, you need to have a nutrition plan. I’d estimate that 50% of performance problems and 95% of body composition issues (which itself is related to performance) are actually nutrition issues. Food is fuel, and if you’re making the wrong choices with your fork you’ll see it in the gym.
What to do? There are a bunch of CrossFit-approved nutrition plans that have worked for our athletes in the past (Zone, Paleo, Body for Life, IIFYM, etc). All of these plans share one common thread - they all create structure in your diet, and the structure is rooted in a mindful approach towards fueling your body.
Mindfulness is a tricky thing. It’s so easy to backslide into mind-LESS habits that screw up your performance and detract from your body composition. Distraction is everywhere! Ideally, you need to choose habits that will increase your likelihood of making the right decisions with regards to food.
I’ll say it again: Regardless of your CrossFit goal, you NEED to have a nutrition plan in place. I can’t state how important this is to your overall results with the program. If you’ve gone slack on nutrition, the good news is that you can restart your plan with your very next bite of food! Get back on track and you’ll see dramatically better results.
During any journey, it helps to reflect on where you’ve been and where you’re going. If any of the above key factors (intensity, skill work and nutrition) are lacking for you, re-dedicate yourself to them and you’ll see results. Need help? Our coaches have been down this road before and are here to help you. Schedule an appointment to talk through these issues and more today!
FREE Flexible Dieting Workshop!
Referenced above, the IIFYM method (short for ‘If It Fits Your Macros’, or also known as ‘Flexible Dieting’) has come to the forefront of the CrossFit community in the past year. By creating and measuring against daily macronutrient targets, athletes can tune their food intake to reach their performance and body composition goals. We’re holding a FREE IIFYM/Flexible Dieting seminar next Tuesday, October 27th at 7pm.
During the workshop, you'll do/learn the following:
- Nutrition basics, including information about calories, macronutrients, hormonal response to food and more.
- Factors that influence metabolism and how they affect you.
- How to establish a daily calorie target
- How to establish daily macro targets
- How to 'tweak' the diet for the individual.
- Implementation hints and tricks
If you'd like to attend, please complete the form below. It's free!