How do you get better at Crossfit?

Remember when you improved the most as a Crossfitter?  It was when you first started because ego does not matter when you absolutely can not lift the prescribed weight.  Inevitably you would default to some percentage of the weight on the board and just gradually put more weight on the bar in later workouts.  Then there is that perfect WOD, you know the one that just sets up just right for all of the things that you do well.  The weight is five pounds higher than you might like but you go for it, your first Rx, now you are officially a Crossfitter.  More importantly though you are now an Rx’ing Crossfitter.  When you get home your box owner has posted a message on your wall “Congrats on the Rx”, not being one prone to throwing around compliments this hits you hard.  You are there.  Cue triumphant music.

 

The next days WOD does not set up so well for you and the weight is probably a good fifteen pounds higher than you would like for repetitions but you decide to go for it again.  Your second Rx in two days, except this one was different.  The euphoria from the previous day has been drowned out by the puddle of sweat in front of you.  Pride will not let you say it but this time was a lot harder, it took a lot more from you.  For the last few months you have been able to follow the schedule pretty good but this time you can not.  It’s time for a day off (which, by the way, is a very smart decision).  Since you are on a three on one off schedule it allows you two days to get your strength back.  

 

The next time you walk into the gym is similar to the second time but this time the wheels come completely off.  It’s very possible this was your worst workout since you started and it does not add up.  Sure the weight was a bit uncomfortable but you had two days rest.  The next morning you wake up and you are about 60%, even worse than that you did not sleep all that well.  I do not need to go on because most of the people I am writing this article for know what I am talking about.  The pattern gets repeated until the obvious happens, more rest and deload.  It’s demoralizing, you worked so hard to become “one of them” only to find out it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.  Does everyone feel like this all the time?  That answer is no but I will get to that later.  In my Crossfit Level 1 class Chris Spealler was the lead instructor and he said something that changed my life, I will paraphrase, “Crossfitting is not about Rx’ing the weight all the time, in fact, that is the opposite of what is truly Crossfit”.

 

Does Rx’ing the weight make you better?

 

The concept of just putting more weight on the bar works great in the beginning, especially in the case of deconditioned athletes.  So when you first start out that is often the best approach to just getting better.  Naturally you look around the gym and see that the best athletes Rx most of the workouts so that is the template you would like to use.  The only problem is that it’s probably the wrong approach for almost everyone, even people that have been Crossfitting for some time.  If you look at a lot of the strength programs that many boxes use, like Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 or Louie Simmons Conjugate system what you will find is that the nuts and bolts of strength come from doing weight at a percentage of your max.  The math is simple, if you have an AMRAP at 135 pounds that you can only do three times are you better off doing it at 95 pounds ten times.  The overall volume in the first instance is 305 pounds, in the second instance it is 950 pounds.  It does not stop there though, let’s say that 135 pounds is 85% of your 1RM do you think you are going to explode through the lift? Of course not, you are going to struggle and possibly injure yourself.  The opposite is true of 95 pounds, those reps are more explosive, you can literally feel your hip flexors loosening.  Best of all it was a better workout and left you feeling refreshed but of course you did not get to write an Rx on the board.

 

So the answer to the question “does Rx’ing the weight make you better” is almost certainly no when you factor in all of the various metrics I mentioned.  The thing that made you better in the beginning will make you better now, you just need to drop your ego and ask yourself one simple question “do I want to Rx this or do I want to get better?”.

 

Think like a Trainer

 

Recently I have focused on gaining strength, in that pursuit I have put on about fifteen pounds.  A lot of that weight is muscle and you would think that the more muscle you add the better you would perform as an athlete.  Which of course you do in certain things, all of my lifts are up considerably but the most noticeable difference is my cardio.  So rather than Crossfit somedays I have begun running hill sprints.  Before that to gain strength I focused on Squats, Deadlifts and Overhead Press, sometimes slow, sometimes fast but almost always at no more than 70% of my one rep max.  I was able to use WOD’s for most of this but other days I did this at home.  Which may be the strongest argument for taking the level 1 certification, it allows you to look at yourself through a trainers lens.  

 

I am not arguing against Rx’ing workouts at Crossfit because some days you are just up for a challenge and you should embrace those days.  For a lot of people that are struggling to get better what I am suggesting is the missing component.  Beating the snot out of yourself to just do what is on the board is not often the best way to accomplish this.  Lastly the people that do Rx the WOD’s comfortably almost certainly worked their way to doing those workouts consistently.  So in the end if you truly want to get better at Crossfit you should own your programming and deviate towards your specific goals, typically at a percentage of your 1 rep max from 50-70%.

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4 Responses to How do you get better at Crossfit?

  1. Nick Momrik says:

    Great advice! It was a real awakening when I realized I should stop concentrating on the Rx weights By picking something lighter, I can keep up my intensity throughout a WOD, which produces better results. Having to rest all the time in a WOD doesn’t produce nearly as good of results.

    • Paul Nobles says:

      Agreed Nick, I think the Rxing workouts is fine and I love it when I can but I started Crossfit to get better and scaling appropriately makes me better. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Deb Preachuk says:

    Great article Paul – Really enjoyed it, and totally agree.

    I put myself on a self-imposed weight load restriction of 50-65% of my 1R Max for just about every strength move after straining my shoulder in attempting an RX on a day that I should have backed off.

    I didn’t stop and listen to my inner voice. I was tired, both emotionally and physically, and even though I technically could RX the WOD, it cost me much more.

    I went home mad, disappointed and disgruntled with myself. Thankfully I know how to take my own medicine and realized I was out of order. An RX is just an arbitrary goal. Is it ever worth an injury? Never!

    I decided to devote a whole month to technique and worked on form while I let the ligament strain properly heal. I too got caught up in the RX thing, and had to really put things into perspective. My body is the only place I have to live.

    I removed myself from the board, only recorded my times in my personal journal and really tried to clean up the movement patterns.

    It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do since I started CrossFitting, but in hindsight it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. When I felt balanced again in mind, body and spirit and decided to go for my first RX, boy did it pay off.

  3. Rodney says:

    Thanks, Great article!

    I’ve been nursing an injury since Labor Day and my conditioning is not where is use to be when I was consistently at the top of the board. My pride and ego has kept me away from the box for months because I didn’t think I could finish where others were accustomed to seeing my name.

    I’m going back on Monday to start a Paleo challenge at our box and right my name on the board for the first time in months. It’s nice to know that I don’t have to try an Rx the workouts until I’m ready.

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