So you’ve been doing CrossFit for a few months and you know your split jerk from your power snatch. You’ve made incredible progress thus far but you can now feel the rapid improvements begin to slow down. It’s natural to start to consider what you could do to maintain the pace of your progress and keep pushing performance and fat-loss even further. But you should beware: the decisions you make now are critical to your long-term outcomes. And there are many approaches that seem rational at this point that will in fact harm your ability to achieve spectacular results over the coming months and years. The following are the 5 most common mistakes I see intermediate CrossFitters make. Avoid these at all costs!
1 – Impatience
One of the most significant mistakes you can make now is to fail to adjust your expectations. Sure, you got better at an ungodly rate for the first few months. But why should you expect that to continue? The law of diminishing returns applies to training as much as it applies to economics. As your performance (or fat-loss) increases, each further marginal increase in performance (or fat-loss) becomes more difficult to achieve; more costly.
This is pretty intuitive. It doesn’t take a huge amount of effort to take a 40 minute 5km run to a 30 minute 5km run. But it takes a pretty enormous amount of work to go from 30 minutes to 20 minutes. You must check your impatience RIGHT NOW. You will not continue to progress at the same rate. Put it this way: I’m chuffed if on any particular day I can hit 90-95% of my best performance on any given physical task. Think about that for a second. I’m happy on most days to do worse than my best. To some this would feel like going backwards but I know from experience that when you’ve achieved a good level of strength and fitness you can’t expect to move forward in a pretty, linear fashion day to day. It just doesn’t work like that and I have come to terms with that fact. You must do the same.
Now, you’re lucky. You can still expect PBs on a fairly regular basis. You just can’t expect to double your back squat in 3 months any more. Learn to enjoy the PROCESS of training, not just the outcome. It sounds a bit quaint, but be grateful for the fitness that you do have. There are a huge number of people who don’t enjoy that luxury. And it is a luxury, albeit one you have worked hard to achieve. Be ok with not hitting your best numbers every single day. Know that even if you aren’t hitting personal bests in every session that you are still moving forward and realise that if you keep working consistently, nobody can stop you! Check your impatience now because it will kill your results in the long term.
2 – Adding more volume
You’ve heard it before and the funny thing is: it’s true. More is not always better. In the pursuit of prolonged gains, many intermediate athletes start looking for more. Should I add this Russian squat programme? Should I add extra gymnastics or endurance sessions? Guess what? No. No, in most cases, you should not.
As I mentioned in last week’s post, the City Road programme is PLENTY. And adding anything more will likely push you into overtraining and injury-risk territory. Nothing will slow your progress like a torn disc or patellar tendonosis. What’s more, adding further volume is just a symptom of the fact that you haven’t really checked your impatience yet. You’re still in denial about the fact that your progress is slowing down. STOP IT!
At the same time as athletes start adding volume, they often begin to dial back the intensity. Volume and total work done becomes the priority and in order to complete all the different parts of your programme you start to reduce the juice you put into each workout (“one must not reduce the juice” – say it 5 time really quickly!). Understand that this is entirely the wrong way around! One of the founding tenets of CrossFit is that intensity is the primary stimulus for increased fitness. Do not lose sight of this. If it’s a choice between low volume, high intensity and high volume, low intensity I choose the former every single time and so should you.
3 – A delusional interest in supplements
Intermediate athletes often become overly interested in supplements. Suddenly they start asking their coaches convoluted questions about BCAAs, pre-workout, protein powders and fish oil and the different options available on the bloated and corrupt supplement market. Understand that none of these will have a significant impact on your results. Some of them are well worth taking, absolutely. But if you are still looking for the secret sauce to rapid gains, you are on a futile quest.
Equally, you should spend less time worrying about if there is enough valine in your BCAA drink and more time perfecting the basics of lifestyle management: diet, sleep, hydration etc. These things WILL have a significant impact on your training if you get them right. I counsel you to seek virtuosity in your lifestyle just as Greg Glassman encourages you to seek virtuosity in your movement. After almost 10 years doing CrossFit I still want to improve my air squat and I still look for ways to further improve my nutrition and sleep. Never lose sight of the basics. The rest is just the rest. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take appropriate supplements. There are many that I would recommend. But understand that those extras are worth 5% at most.
4 – Over-complication
Just as intermediate CrossFitters start to wade into the minutia of supplements, they often begin to immerse themselves in the rabbit hole of training information available on the internet. Now, at City Road we stand with nerds. We are nerds and I fully encourage you to get stuck in with reading about training, physiology and sports science. But please understand that just because you’ve read about some ultra-complex super-squat programme, that doesn’t make it effective or relevant.
As you learn more about training, complexity is alluring at first. If something is more elaborate, then it seems rational that it would be more effective, right? I mean, if it weren’t more effective then why bother with the complexity? Context is hugely important here. If you are a Russian weightlifter who has been squatting since the age of 7 (and is probably on drugs as well by the way!) and you are trying to take your 280kg squat to 300kg, you may well need a programme that looks like a technical mathematical proof. But if you’re a 30 year old woman trying to go from a 70kg squat to a 90kg squat then you have no business wasting your time on such things. Indeed, that programme will probably be less effective for you than a basic sets and reps schema.
As athletes and coaches mature, they often find themselves circling back around to elegant simplicity and this is definitely where we stand. Mathematicians love a simple, beautiful equation and we love a simple, beautiful programme. Why? Because it works. If you look at a lot of the top strength coaches in the world, or if you look at a lot of top CrossFit athletes, you will find them doing simple, basic things over and over again. I’m sure some you would be shocked that Rich Froning’s programme is still predominated by things like 3×5 overhead press, 10 minute AMRAPs and 3 rounds for time WODs. As he says, in order to get better at CrossFit, ‘I do a lot of CrossFit’. So go crazy with tangential reading by all means, but don’t ask me if I think it would be better to do a Smolov cycle than to do the City Road squat programme. Just don’t!
5 – Ignoring recovery
Intermediate athletes often want to add more training. But it is amusing that they rarely ask their coaches how to add in more recovery work! Although more training is not always better. More recovery almost always IS better. But far too few intermediate CrossFitters devote time to thinking about and implementing a recovery strategy. As I mentioned before, the foundation for this is a sound diet, at least 7 hours per night of quality sleep and 15 minutes per day of mobility. Get that down pat first. Then explore other mediums of recovery such as saunas, cold showers, restoration sessions of long, low intensity steady-state cardio and sports massages.
Training is sexy and recovery is boring. But you’re not really committed to your fitness if you only ever do the sexy stuff. Anyone can come in and do some snatches: that shit is fun. But not everyone can go home, stretch for 15 minutes, jump in a cold shower and then head to bed for 10pm. Be that girl or guy and you’re in for an illustrious career of health and fitness!
SO, now you know the common stumbling blocks of intermediate CrossFitters! Avoid these mistakes you will do very well with your training.