Don’t Make My Mistakes: The 10 Things I’ve Learned From Doing Crossfit
By Avery Wittkamp
I’ve been involved with Crossfit for the past five years as a participant and coach. Early on I made some rookie mistakes, but would vow to never make them again. Then I would make the same mistakes again a few weeks later. And, I see other Crossfitters making these same mistakes all the time, too. So it might be useful to some of you to learn from the wizened voice of experience, or just to hear a few tips I learned the hard way.
1) Your background is not your destiny, (but it’s what you have today).
Unlike Coach Sara, I am not a former gymnast. I did a bunch of endurance sports. This meant that I wasn’t all that strong. I could run and run, but overhead stuff? Forget it. It wasn’t until the beginning of my second year that I got an unassisted pull up, which made me realize that I could do things I thought were impossible (or didn’t like). But during that first year, I spent a lot of time secretly comparing myself to other women and feeling like I wasn’t making enough progress. What a waste of energy!
Stop comparing yourself to other people. OK, you can do it a little tiny bit for inspiration, but not to run yourself down, and definitely not as an excuse to quit. If, like me, your background is in running, then you probably need to work on strength and comparing yourself to Brian D., Olympic weightlifting wunderkind, who has been diligently lifting for years is DUMB.
2) Don’t ever use the word “bulky”. Ever.
This is a special message for the women new to Crossfit. You will not get bulky. Just…you won’t. Cut it out. Stop using this as an excuse to get in great shape. You have to lift like a bodybuilder to get bulky and that ain’t Crossfit. I was one of those women. I was afraid of getting bulky, so lifting heavy weights wasn’t for me.
During my first year of Crossfit, I ran and and did my old workouts, because I was afraid of losing the “fitness” I had started with while learning new movements from Crossfit. I was convinced the longer I spent doing any activity, the more I was going to get out of it. But I was wrong.
Look around. See that woman with the body you would love to have? She lifts weights. End of discussion.… so get off the elliptical, please.
Also: below I tell people not to act like Godzilla with every workout. That is for the men. Women, this is never your problem. Use more weight.
3) Job #1: Avoid Injury.
All skills are improved with persistent and regular work. If you get injured you have to lay off and your training suffers.
So stretch and work on your mobility. Today, not tomorrow.
Scale. Challenge yourself, but don’t let anyone cajole you into weight that you’re not ready for or that might injure you. Crossfit isn’t (despite what some people think) about impressing other people. It’s about your progress to better fitness, and health, and being able to show up tomorrow is more important than those twenty extra pounds on the bar that send you to the couch for three weeks.
Get help. If your shoulder is still bothering you after 4 months, go get it checked out. Come on, don’t be an idiot by ignoring it and doing a WOD with 200 kipping pull ups. Pain is different than discomfort during a workout; learn the difference.
4) Not every workout is a competition; embrace training to improve.
You should be pushing past your limits in your workouts when your brain is telling you to stop (and not because of pain, see above). Why else would you be sick enough to do Crossfit?
However, improvement doesn’t occur just because you flail about with abandon and race to the finish every time we start a stopwatch. Whether you like it or not, at some point you have to start taking ownership of your workouts.
In order to improve and do WODs rx’d, I decided to do these things:
a) Get Stronger, by loading the bar when appropriate, even when I thought it might be too hard,
b) Scale as Needed to complete the movements with the best possible form and ROM I could muster (even mid-workout, if necessary), and
c) Show Up Consistently, even if I didn’t like the workout or was feeling a little tired or sore.
I improved, but like most of us, never felt satisfied with the gains I was making. They seemed soooo slow in comparison to everyone else around me and I had SO many weaknesses! See my next point…
5) You will never be good at everything. Get over it.
My biggest problem has always been that I like to do everything – and at a very early age I decided I would try to be proficient at everything I ever tried. So I get it when you tell me how you are trying to improve your snatch, max back squat, muscle ups, and strict press all while trying to set a new PR on Fran. That’s how it works, right? Nope. Only patience will get you there, and respect for form and technique.
6) Listen to your coach.
Find a coach at CFNYC who can answer your questions and whose cues you can follow. The coaches want the best for you. We want to help you progress. So listen. Seriously, get your chin over the bar! Squat lower!
But…even coaches need coaches. Without the guidance of someone beside myself to direct my training, I would constantly overtrain. That’s what I do. So I have people to yell at me and say no.
7) “This (Insert Program Du Jour) Is the Only Way!”
One of the virtues of Crossfit is that it is pretty random. Most of us will adapt and get stronger just by showing up, working hard, and not cherry-picking the WODs.
I did mainsite programming until my third year and like many seasoned Crossfitters, perhaps out of boredom, I tried about 83 different programs including, but not limited to: OPT, Crossfit Football, and several cycles of Starting Strength. I don’t recommend this, as I never really saw great gains from anything because I didn’t stick with any one program long enough and I definitely missed the class environment.
Most of the women I knew at the 2010 Crossfit Regionals who started CF when I did were at about the same strength and skill level that I was. They were all from different boxes with different programming. The key for me was to settle on some programming, and stick with it. Crossfit with kettlebells and O-lifting were the things that I loved. For you it might be something else.
8) Be humble.
Hey, there is a lot to learn in Crossfit. Some of it you can learn fast, some of it takes years to master. Take your time, and be respectful of those who have been at it longer, and especially of those who are newer than you. Be careful in the advice you give and always remember that you are a student no matter what level you’re at.
9) More is not always better. Also, Rest.
Warm ups that are harder and longer than your workout. Two-a-days before and after work. Marathon sessions of lifting, with several met-cons. Always heavy and always hard. Rarely a day off. Is this you? And exactly when are you going to squeeze in that “recovery” stuff where all gains are made? Learning more about the term “Mimimum Effective Dose” as applied to workouts really stopped me in my tracks a year ago. Really, you should be doing the least possible you need to make gains – once that stops working then change what you are doing or try to increase the workload just enough to see gains again. Too often we get into the mantra of “More!” when it is simply just that, not better.
10) Are we having fun yet???
If you are not having fun, you seriously need to reexamine your priorities and expectations. If you are spending countless hours doing an activity that is making your life more stressful or is keeping you frustrated over your “lack of progress” then you are missing out. The fun is the training and the community. It is not the PRs, and it is not about winning competitions (though I’ll admit those are nice too). The best part of my CF experience, hands down, has been the long-lasting friendships I have made through the Box over the years.
You won’t find that if you have your headphones on while jogging on the treadmill. I’ve already tried.