But as you continue to progress in CrossFit, you might reach a point where you find yourself pushing harder and harder to get extra reps and rounds to the detriment of your form and technique. This is not the way to go.
If the quantity of reps you perform only increases by sacrificing the quality of said reps
, then your body is likely to reach a plateau, or worse, incur an injury.
Rather, you should prioritize quality over quantity so that in the future you may continue to make gains in strength, work capacity, mobility, and overall fitness. Here are some practical tips for how to do that in a CrossFit setting.
Fundamentally I agree that we should not strive to sacrifice form and technique for more reps/rounds in workouts. I would argue however that in fact the way to maximize your work output (reps/rounds etc) is actually by maintaining that technique so on it’s face this is a false premise. Watch the top athletes at the CrossFit Games and you’ll see the vast majority of them moving remarkably well even under the duress of high heart rate and load. This is because they understand that in order for them to perform the reps in the fastest way possible it is also necessary for them to perform them in a technically proficient manner. So basically it’s not an either or, it’s a both.
What a simple thing that we all do everyday. However, mid-WOD, it suddenly becomes apparent that you have not been breathing adequately
. How about this: focus on inhaling
. Long, slow, controlled, and in through the nose.
If you are doing a twenty-minute AMRAP, then I want you exclusively breathing through the nose for at least the first ten minutes
. Heavy mouth breathing should be reserved for sprints
, short efforts, and the ends of workouts. While you initially might need to slow down in order to breathe through your nose, in the long run your body will experience positive aerobic adaptations.
This makes no sense to me. For 10 minutes you should exclusively breathe through the nose? And this is because you shouldn’t be out of breath for that entire time? Just because a workout is 20 minutes long doesn’t mean that it should be performed at a “jogging” pace. Take for example a workout like “Cindy”, which is 20 minutes of as many rounds as possible of 5 pull ups, 10 push ups and 15 squats, this workout is designed specifically so that the athlete keeps moving quickly for 20 minutes. 5 pull ups, no problem I can do that, 10 push ups, OK that might get hard after a while but 10 is manageable, 15 squats, let’s get those out of the way as fast as possible so I can get back to the pull ups. The only time you should catch your breath during a workout like this is when you are resting at the bottom of a push up. And in fact, the aerobic adaptation garnered through this higher intensity is more beneficial than “pacing” through and breathing only through your nose.
2. Break Up Sets
Have you ever stopped and thought about why 21-15-9 is such an effective rep scheme?
One reason is because each set can be broken up into three distinct sub-sets: 3 sets of 7, 3 sets of 5, and 3 sets of 3. Another great way to break up this rep scheme is: 11 and 10, 8 and 7, then 5 and 4. So the next time you do “Fran,” “Diane,” or “Elizabeth,”
strategize a bit beforehand and see if that helps you set a new personal record.
Another way to state this is that you should not push yourself to failure every round of every workout
. Rather, choose a sub-maximal number of reps that you are confident you can complete
, and aim to keep yourself just shy of the danger zone for the majority of your workouts.
21-15-9 is effective because each round is easier than the last which allows for less resting and overall higher intensity and intensity is what yields results. If you plan out each workout in such a way that you know when you will rest and when you will not, you are blunting the potential adaptation.
If I plan to stop at 9 but could have done 12 or even 13 reps without issue how will I ever know that? What the author is suggesting here is a strategy to obtain a low time/high score rather than a strategy to achieve higher levels of fitness, and make no mistake there is a distinction to be made there. I would be much more likely to suggest to an athlete to stay on the barbell until you feel like you could only do one or two more reps than to have a pre-planned number in mind before the workout even starts. And, I would be even more likely to tell an athlete to disregard how many reps they “feel” like they can do because it’s been my experience that the body is capable of much more than the mind is.
3. Rest Between Sets
Rest?! Are you not supposed to go all out as fast as you can? Okay, yes, I get it – the workouts are done for time. But you might end up with an overall faster time (and thus greater work capacity) if you actually plan to rest between sets from the get-go.
For instance, next time you do “Cindy” (AMRAP in 20 minutes of 5 pull ups, 10 push ups, and 15 squats), try to do one round at the top of every minute
. If you succeed, you will have accumulated twenty rounds. It will feel very easy in the beginning and very not-so-easy at the end.
If twenty rounds of Cindy is out of your reach, then try one round every ninety seconds. Or, vice-versa, if your old personal record is higher than twenty trounds, try one round every 45 seconds or so.
Here we go with the “Cindy” example again. And, once again the author is suggesting a strategy for maximizing the score but not necessarily the adaptation. I say this having applied this exact strategy to “Cindy” and I can tell you with certainty that it is exactly that, a strategy to get a better score. As I mentioned before, if I attempt this strategy how am I to know that I was not in fact capable of 21 or even 23 rounds? Likewise, at what point to I attempt a more aggressive strategy to get a better score? In the end it’s much more beneficial to one’s fitness to not “game” the workout but to in fact just DO the workout and work hard.
4. Prioritize Mobility
You know you are supposed to do it
, but somehow you only manage to hit the foam roller or grab that stretch band once or twice a week. How about this: you are not allowed to do a WOD unless you have first done your mobility work for the day.
Have you ever set a timer for five minutes and then rolled out your thoracic spine?
Or what about grabbing a lacrosse ball and hitting your entire shoulder girdle? Check out Kelly Starrett’s awesome MobilityWOD
for more ideas.
Yes, mobility work can absolutely be important. BUT, it is not the end all be all of what we’re after. A cheetah doesn’t need a lacrosse ball and a half hour in order to run down a gazelle, likewise you don’t need 45 minutes of rolling out your shoulders before you hit today’s WOD. Can it help? Absolutely it can, but so can an appropriate warm up. So of course, don’t disregard the extra work you might need on trouble areas but also don’t think you can’t train unless you’ve visited the foam roller fairy.
5. Scale Movements and Weights Efectively
If you only take one principle away from this post, please pay attention here. You want to make optimal choices in your life, correct? If you could take two routes to your destination, but one of them was longer and riskier, what would you decide? You would take the optimal route. Duh!
Similarly, learning to scale movements and weights effectively is how you optimize CrossFit workouts to fit your individual fitness level and needs.
Refer to Prilepin’s Chart
(a guideline for what percentage of your 1RM to lift for each given rep range) when choosing what weights to do for WODs
. Hint: it might be lighter than you think!
Words cannot reflect how wrongheaded the thought of using Prilepin’s Chart for CrossFit workouts is. His chart was created as a rough guideline for weightlifting, period. In order to use it you must know not only what your current 1 rep max is for each and every lift you might perform on a given day, BUT you must also know what that max would be after a 400m run or 1k row or 50 double unders or whatever else might be coupled with that particular lift on that particular day. Additionally, you’d need to know what your 1RM is given the training you’ve undergone during the days/weeks prior to today’s workout AND how your 1RM is affected by your recent sleep, stress and eating habits.
Alternatively, you could warm up properly and observe how the RX weight or a weight the coach has suggested looks and feels and use that. This also allows you to take into account the intended goal of a specific workout. Is the weight meant to be light enough for you to move through unbroken for a round or two? Is it meant to be heavy enough that you’ll have to break it up after the first 5 reps? Prilepin’s Chart has so category for these instances and as such is completely inapplicable to our needs.
Of course we advocate proper scaling for workouts, but don’t use a chart to do this, trust our coaches and our experience and yes, probably go a little lighter than you’d like.
6. Take Individual Accountability
How can you reach your own goals
when someone else is planning the workouts for you? This is when you need to take individual accountability for your own CrossFit practice.
If the WOD has back squats for strength, but your goal is a double-bodyweight deadlift, then explain to your trainer that you are focusing on the deadlift that cycle.
Similarly, if you want to get your first strict chin up, then reduce the reps of banded chin ups
, kipping pull ups, or ring rows in the WOD and do a few super-slow negatives each round instead. It might be different than what is written on the whiteboard, but I am willing to bet that you (and your goals) might be a little different than everyone else in the class around you, as well.