What makes some people progress faster than others in their training? Let’s get honest about some of the bad habits that slow down your progress at the gym and talk about how to become one of those athletes kicking ass and seeing results. Ask yourself the following questions, and be honest about the answers.

Are you cherry-picking WODs?

Do you see a workout with a few miles of running or a heavy set of snatches and decide you’re due for a rest day?  On the other hand, do you plan to take a much needed rest day and see a workout that looks too fun to pass up so you show up anyway? If you answered yes, you may be a cherry-picker! For some, the solution is as simple as not looking at the WOD ahead of time. For those of you who can’t control your curiousity, making a commitment to do the WOD no matter what is posted is key. Similarly, making a commitment to rest when needed no matter what is posted is just as important.  Remind yourself how awesome you are for showing up for something you may not enjoy because you see the bigger picture–that your fitness will benefit from being “constantly varied,” and variety includes things you’re good at as well as things you’re not so good at yet. Work those weaknesses enough and they sneak up on you and become strengths before you know it!

Are you sand-bagging your WODs?

So you’ve shown up for the WOD (regardless of what it is)–now what do you do with it? Do you train smart or do you wander through the workout without any goal in mind? Do you find yourself standing around taking several water breaks during a ten minute workout? Do you avoid going near your true max lifts because you know how much of a struggle a max effort can feel like and you just want to “take it easy today”? Do you even know what your max lifts and benchmark times are? (Note that for those who are new to CrossFit–this is not sand-bagging. All newbies should take it easy on workouts for the first few months guilt-free and really learn the form.)

Tracking your weights and times is a great way to start training smarter. Record your workouts in a log book or app so that you can set goals based on past performance. If you haven’t checked out Beyond the Whiteboard yet, we’ve been using it to post workouts, and you can use it online or on the iPhone app to log results, compare results to past efforts, and compare your results to the gym or worldwide leaderboards. You don’t need to aim for a PR every lifting day, but you do need to know that you’re working in an appropriate weight range to make the work meaningful. During your metcon (metabolic conditioning) workouts, try watching the clock or counting a set number of breaths during your rest times and see if you can slowly reduce the amount of rest you need before getting back to work.

Let’s talk about progressions–you have been working on pistols for nearly two months. Have you challenged yourself by lowering the box or stack of plates you’re on? Have you tried taking your handstand to the floor? The point of progressions is to progress–so start pushing those limits a little further each time you tackle them, and you’ll see your range of motion and strength improve a lot faster on your skill work.

Are you coming up with too many “plans” with no follow-through?

Let’s say today’s workout involves a lot of running–you show up for the workout (despite your hatred of running), you set a goal to beat your old mile time (because you’re tracking diligently in your WODbook), and then… you miss your goal. You spend a few minutes in self-pity, and then you have an idea! A brilliant idea! You’re going to work on your running. Your cardio sucks, and you just have to do something about it. From now on you’re going to run 3 times a week after your workout. 

The next day the WOD is back squats. You hit a 5 pound PR and you’re excited, but then you watch the girl next to you throw up 30 more pounds than you just did, and she makes it look easy. You think “That’s it–I really have to get my strength up. If I do back squats three times every week, I’ll be so much stronger.”

If this sounds like you every time you struggle with a movement, guess what? You do have a plan–your plan is a strength and conditioning program called CrossFit. By definition, you will be focusing on both your strength and conditioning. Can you focus on back squat for a few months and get your numbers up a little faster than with CrossFit alone? Perhaps. Or maybe you burn out your legs (because you also need them for several of the programmed wods during the week) and don’t allow enough recovery time to see the benefits of the exercise. Either way, chances are you didn’t start CrossFit to be the best back squatter in the world or the best runner or the best kettlebell swinger. CrossFit is about being a well-rounded athlete ready to tackle anything that comes your way. CrossFitters are so great because they can hold their own in a strength competition one day, a running event the next day, and handstand walk their way back to the gym the next to work on completely different skills. If you focus too much on one thing, something else in your training may suffer.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t work extra on skills that you struggle with. If your double unders are terrible, spending a few minutes before or after class each day to improve them is a great idea! It also won’t interfere with the already carefully planned programming. However, doing an extra hundred wall balls every day because you want to get better at them will definitely mess up your ability to do the WODs. Supplemental work should be carefully chosen so as not to interfere with your programming.

So how do you start kicking ass and seeing the progress you want to see?

When you look at the people making the most progress at the gym, these are the things they have in common:

  • They commit to a workout schedule (either a set routine or to set amount of days per week) no matter what the WOD is.
  • They push themselves appropriately and set goals based on their tracking.
  • They don’t come up with new programming plans every week–they stay focused on the big picture.
  • They get enough sleep and eat quality foods regularly.
  • They come early or stay late to do mobility work.
  • They focus on full range of motion and good form so as to get the full benefit of each exercise. 
  • They keep a positive attitude! There’s no point stressing about all the things we want to improve–when you’re trying to master such a wide range of skills, patience is key. Celebrate each little victory along the way, and enjoy the ride!
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