We often write that training in CrossFit is a never-ending journey. You strive towards achieving your goals, but even when you meet them, you immediately set new objectives for the future. There’s always more weight to be moved, more reps to be hit, you can always move faster and for longer. Fitness is a never-ending journey. But because it’s a journey, it’s easy for an athlete to get snared in various pitfalls along the way that stop them in their tracks, send them down the wrong path or even make them regress in their fitness. As such, we must be wary of these common training traps that athletes fall into.
Jumping from program to program
Legendary powerlifter Ed Coan once said that his ‘program’ was called ‘getting stronger’, and that was the only program he ever followed. If the programming you’re following is getting you positive results, why change things? Keep doing what you’re doing! Of course, many CrossFitters will stick to the programming offered at their box, and trust its variance and effectiveness to help them reach their goals. However, many athletes take advantage of open gym hours and choose to follow different programs that are easily accessible online. And there are a plethora of programs out there: squat programs, gymnastics programs, Olympic Weightlifting programs, running programs, swimming programs—the list is endless. Now, sometimes having too many choices is a bad thing. Like a kid in a candy store, it’s easy to get distracted by all the programs that are available to you. Ideally, you’d identify one program that best suits your current objective. You have to give yourself—and the program—sometime before you start seeing progress. If you get frustrated after one week of work and jump to a new program, then you’ll never break through a plateau. Similarly, if you are seeing improvements through following the program week on week, then why change anything? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Follow the program through to the conclusion (whether that’s the end date of the program or you reach your goal), then move on to a new objective and a new program (remember to keep your fitness balanced—don’t constantly follow squat programming!).
Poor goal setting
When it comes to setting goals, we all know about the acronym S.M.A.R.T. This is in reference to good goals being specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. If one of these elements is off, then you’re going to struggle to reach your goal. For example, a good goal should be grounded within a time frame—otherwise where’s the sense of urgency to complete it? Yes, some of the more complex movements of CrossFit may require longer deadlines—but you should still have a deadline. “Someday” is a word that should be stricken from your vocabulary. The best goals are the ones that keep you motivated and excited to train every day. You shouldn’t set yourself a goal just for the sake of having one—you’d never follow through with trying to achieve it! Nor should you set yourself one that is completely unrealistic. You may crave that muscle-up, but if you can only do pull-ups with a resistance band, is it smart to make the objective to get up on those rings? Of course not. Setting yourself a goal that is unrealistic will sap your desire to train (as it will take forever to get there) and put you in a bad mood. A more effective and enjoyable game plan would have you make the right jumps towards the over-arching objective. So instead of immediately trying to transition from pull-ups with bands to muscle-ups, first set yourself a goal of hitting one strict muscle-up without a band. Then hitting pull-ups consistently. Then a bar muscle-up. And THEN a ring muscle-up. Each of these benchmarks builds upon the previous one, they are realistic attainable, and moving through them will make you happy as you know you’ll be en route to achieving the main objective.
Ignoring a gaping hole in your fitness
CrossFit’s definition of fitness is as follows: increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains. Broad time and modal domains is an important part of that definition. Basically, we as CrossFitters want to be balanced across the board—we want to be able to move heavy weight quickly, and light weight for long periods. We want to be able to run for long distances, but be good sprinters as well. We want to be efficient gymnasts and great Olympic lifters. We want to be able to move well. Being too proficient in one area at the cost of being highly inefficient in another is to be avoided. If you spend all your time trying to move as much weight as possible, your cardiovascular endurance is going to suffer. Similarly, if you focus on long-distance running, the loads you’ll be able to move in the clean and snatch will be limited. Ignoring such blatant holes in your fitness is a cardinal sin. As an athlete, you should strive to have a good base level in all 10 skills of fitness (strength, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, balance, agility, accuracy, coordination, speed, power and stamina).
It’s a constant battle to try and raise your capabilities in all these areas simultaneously, but it’s better than being a one-trick pony. In addition, choosing to ignore your limiting factor—that element of a particular movement which gives you the most problems—can be just as damaging. Let’s say that you have excellent strength, but you are lacking in your level of mobility, and you are well aware of it. That’s good, but you need to go deeper in your analysis. Is your shoulder mobility the problem, or is it your hips? Perhaps it’s neither, and the real limiting factor is the strength and mobility you have in your ankles. The amount of dorsiflexion you have in your ankle is directly linked to your efficiency in performing the squat, but you may have never considered it to be your true limiting factor. You need to take the time to go beyond that initial assessment of, “Yep, I have bad mobility in the squat” to realize that that’s the case. Otherwise, you’ll be spending countless hours of mobility work trying to tackle multiple areas when there is one pressing area that needs your attention. Fixing a weakness in one area will invariably lead to success in another, because success in CrossFit is founded on the principle of balance in multiple areas.
Trying to mimic elite athletes online
Those of us who follow Games-caliber athletes on social media will often see them post videos of their ridiculous feats—such as doing muscle-ups with a weight vest and med ball, or completing X rounds of a monster workout in no time at all. While we can get great tips from following these coaches and athletes online, we have to remember that for the most part, their experience in CrossFit is completely different to what you and I are going through. The programs they are following are specifically designed for them to get to the Games and are tailored to improve their weaknesses. The volume and loads these athletes use is far higher than anything we will see, and they have to perform high-level skill movements and often work with odd objects. In short, it would be unwise to attempt to replicate the training regimen of the elite athletes. Stick to the program that work for you as they are better suited to help you achieve your goals.
Ignoring the intangibles (rest, diet, mobility and active recovery)
You must be bored of hearing it, but that’s only because you know how important these elements (rest, diet, mobility and active recovery) are to your fitness. It can be so easy to leave the gym straight after a workout without spending time on your mobility. You might get away with it here and there, but eventually your muscles are going to become so tight that your efficiency of movement is going to start spiraling downwards. Make no mistake, your mobility is integral to how much weight you can move, how quickly you can move it and how often you can move it. Don’t think your workout is over once the clock hits 0:00. Equally criminal (perhaps more so) is not placing high value on your nutrition. What you put in your body has a huge impact on how you perform in CrossFit, so why would you intentionally sabotage yourself by eating crap, not eating enough or eating too much? We’re not saying that you have to go on a diet immediately, but find a meal regimen that works for you (which includes a cheat day here and there—we’re not monsters) and stick to it. Lastly, don’t make the mistake of training all day every day. That’s a sure-fire way to get burnt out and injure yourself. You may feel like it’s the best way to improve, but your body needs rest and recovery days so that it can heal from the high-stress, high-impact work it goes through in a typical CrossFit workout. These are the days when the muscles actually repair themselves and get stronger, so choosing not to rest is a massive trap to avoid.
Original photo courtesy of Daniel Gasienica/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0