September 24, 2014
To Get Better at CrossFit, First Find Your Limiting Factor
By William Imbo
October 1, 2014
“My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.”
― Michael Jordan
The pursuit of perfection in CrossFit is a never-ending journey. There will always be something for an athlete to work on, whether they are an elite professional or a complete newcomer to the sport. It is therefore crucial that you remember to concern yourself with the happiness of pursuit in CrossFit, rather than the pursuit of happiness. In other words—enjoy the journey! One of the ways in which you can continue the march of progress in your CrossFitting career is by identifying and correcting the weaknesses that are holding you back, and what the source of those weaknesses is. Your limiting factor(s), so to speak.
Why knowing your limiting factors is important
Growth in CrossFit (or any avenue) is controlled not by your total or greatest strengths, but by your greatest weakness. Since the majority of athletes have multiple areas of their ‘game’ that need improvement, it’s not enough to simply know what your weaknesses are, and then say to yourself, “That’s what I need to work on.” That’s merely scratching the surface—you need to find the root of the problem. Take the overhead squat for example. This is a notoriously difficult movement to execute, requiring stability, flexibility, balance and strength—all in multiple areas, no less. 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. Fixing that ankle problem will help your squat, which means it will help your thruster, clean, snatch—as well as your running and leaping ability. Now, it might be the case that you have poor ankle, hip and shoulder mobility. The solution is to again perform an honest assessment of which joint is the least mobile, and tackle that first before moving on to the next one.
Remember, your limiting factor is the source of your weakness. If your weakness is leg strength, maybe weak hamstrings are your limiting factor. If pull-ups are your weakness, maybe poor grip strength is your limiting factor. You get the picture! So, how do you go about finding your limiting factor(s)?
How to find your limiting factor
If you’re an experienced athlete that has spent some time in the sporting world you are more than likely well-acquainted with your body, and in what movements you excel in and where you struggle, thanks to flexibility issues or prior injuries. If that’s the case, finding your limiting factor may be as simple as tracing your inability to lock out your arms on a push jerk back to that shoulder injury you sustained when you played X sport back in college. However, even the savviest sport veterans often wonder about why they struggle in certain movements from time to time. If you are unable to self-diagnose, it’s time to call for some back up.
Have your training buddy (someone who is fairly familiar with your strengths and weaknesses) observe how you move, or better yet, your coach. They may be able to immediately identify the issue that you were previously unaware of—such as that subconscious donkey kick you do when you’re performing Olympic Lifts. The best option is to have your coach/training buddy film some of your movements so that they can walk you through where you’re going wrong (such as your toes progressively pointing outward during a squat), which will pave the way to identifying the limiting factor, allowing you to get to work on fixing the issue.
How do you make your limiting factor a non-factor?
So now that you’ve identified the root cause of your lack of mobility/strength/coordination/whatever in a respective movement or ability, you need to develop a plan to make it a strength, not a weakness. It would be too easy to simply say “practice makes perfect”, but one can’t deny that overcoming a weakness takes a lot of time and effort. One crucial piece of advice is not to get bogged down trying to fix multiple weaknesses at the same time. As I alluded to above, you need to figure out which area needs the greatest work and is currently having the biggest impact on your overall performance. That is the weakness you need to focus on before moving on to the next one.
If you have the time and flexibility (no pun intended), plan to arrive to class at least 10 minutes early to spend some extra time working on the issue, or stay a little later to give it some additional attention. If you’re serious about your fitness, this shouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience..
Make a weekly plan for yourself and incorporate a test at the end of the month to see how you’ve progressed. Map out 30 minutes to an hour on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday to work on the limiting factor(s)that you’ve discussed with your coach in advance.
If you’ve observed your weaknesses, successfully identified your limiting factor and made a measurable plan to work on the issue for a significant period of time, there’s no reason why your limiting factor can’t become a source of strength for you in the near future.
Photo courtesy of Janeen Chang Photography