The common narrative of our first Crossfit workout is that no matter what the workout consisted of, the end result left us on our backs thinking “what just happened to me?” No matter how long you have been in the sport, this will continue to be the most common end result.
Once you’ve decided to make this training methodology your primary source of fitness, you should realise that to end up on your back, having gone as fast and as hard as possible, should not be the goal of every training session.
Pushing to the limit shouldn’t be your every day goal
The differences between practice, training and competing are vast and should dictate the way in which you conduct your workout. Knowing which one of those three categories your session fits into, will help you set your goals and objectives for that particular day. Your time should not be the focus of every session. I have included a link to an article from Crossfit 201 who word it better than I ever could but the point is that training as though you are in a competition (aiming to finish first and/or moving at max pace or lifting as heavy as possible, treading the fine line of failing movement standards and loss of efficiency) should be reserved for once a week maximum and, if you choose to apply this mentality to all of your workouts, know that you will not progress at the pace you have the potential to.
A breakdown of each of the three categories of how we should approach our training
Skill development I.E efficiency, efficacy, subconsciously achieving consistent correct movement standards, pacing strategies, learning movement thresholds simply cannot be bettered when your heart rate is 180bpm, you’re in a WOD-daze and all your concerned with is looking over your shoulder to see where your chosen rival is.
Hayley Adams pushing to her limits at the Crossfit Games
Another differentiating factor between the three approaches to training, is the use of PEAs (Performance Enhancing Accessories). Think lifting shoes, wrist wraps, knee sleeves, weightlifting belts etc. It is undisputed amongst the top coaches in the sport that you should not be wearing these accessories unless you’re going to be lifting 80-100% of your max. These items should spend most of their time collecting dust in your kit bag being brought out only for those special (and infrequent) occasions of super heavy lifting. You will often see people (or maybe you are one of them) walk into the gym and strap on their lifters, even for their warm up! Think about that; you’re trying to warm up your glutes, hamstrings, calves etc as you have some squats to do; stretching out the joints and prepping the body for lifting but at the same time you’ve put on your lifters reducing the stretch being applied to the very areas you’re trying to warm, dulling the effect of what you’re trying to achieve.
Accessories mask deficiencies within your body and by wearing them every time you pick up a barbell (or on the odd occasions we even see lifters and knee sleeves being worn for wall balls and air squats) you’re acknowledging that without these aids you wouldn’t be able to achieve those lifts or hit the prescribed movement standards. We should be asking ourselves “do I actually need them” or is it just a reliance on them which we have developed and which we are reinforcing very session.
Imagine if you had spent the last 2 years only ever deadlifting with a belt then one day you rock up to the gym, it is heavy deadlifts but you realise you have forgotten your belt. What do you do? Turn around and go home? Of course not, you would proceed as normal and carry out the deadlifts. You may find that 100kg feels a bit heavier than normal but you would (should!) still be able to achieve it nonetheless and, because you’ve asked the body to work that bit harder, the gains you will receive will be that bit more rewarding and long lasting.
If you are actively working on the ailment that is holding you back E.G poor dorsiflexion within your ankles, hitting some kind of movement routine 6 days a week to rectify it and the class WOD 1 is build to a heavy 1 rep daily max back squat (I.E competition) then of course, put on those accessories and go for the heavy lift. The same applies if it was a daily heavy 10 rep max back squat instead of a 1 rep max as you are still aiming to get well above that 80% threshold but, if WOD 1 calls for a 5×5 back squat at 60% (I.E Accessories not Essentials training) then you should be doing this with no accessories. The focus should be on showing control and aiming for maintaining good form. Sacrificing form for weight should not be your go-to style of training. Who wants to be known as the guy or girl whohas a 50kg/100kg back squat but moves terribly? The only thing driving this mentality is ego. One of first rules at CFN is “Leave your ego at the door” and for good reason. Feeding your ego often results in injury and ironically, hampers development. How is your body ever going to evolve to a stronger, fitter and healthier version of its current self if you’re constantly holding it back by assisting it with these various adornments?
The best in the world know when and when not to wear accessories
To a degree, the same can be said of gymnastic grips as a PEA. If the workout is high volume chest-to-bar pull-ups then you know there’s a high chance of ripping your hands. There is therefore a solid case for wearing grips to protect the hands, so that you can live to fight another day. If the workout has low volume gymnastics, such as sets of 3 strict pull-ups (volume is relative, to some this may still count as high volume) then it is worth leaving the grips off to toughen the skin so your hands become more resilient and able to handle the daily life of Crossfit athlete.
There is nothing wrong with possessing all of the PEA’s; they are fantastic aids for those days when you are going for your 1rm or have high volume gymnastics. Should you wear the accessories every time you train? Absolutely not. You should be working on the mobility and technique issues daily which the accessories mask. Break the habit and I assure you, you will soon realise that you’re fine without them.
Now how to put these concepts into practice- What is your mentality each time you walk in the box? Is it Practice, Training or Competition? Is going fast all you care about? Or do you want to get better and be that badass 70 year old whose doing pull-ups and handstand walks at their grandkids birthday party? Because if it’s the latter then don’t train for the day (micro), train for the year (macro).
If you are unsure of what the aim of the workout is, or, what you as an individual should be aiming to get out of the session, ask the coach. Pick a focus other than your time and you will likely not only get a greater sense of satisfaction and achievement, but you will become a better athlete, meaning those days when you do “compete”, you will smash it!
Author: Mark Hart. September 2020