When I first started coaching CrossFit, I was only coaching one class a week. When you’re coaching one class a week, and not seeing your athletes for six days in between, it can be hard to really dial in on where their movement faults are and how you can best help them improve.
As you continue to grow and evolve as a coach, you get to know your athletes a bit better, learn where their strengths and weaknesses lie, help them improve, and research different ways to cue them if the cues you’re providing aren’t clicking.
But here’s what I’ve also discovered: there’s one big, ugly, monster fault in a CrossFit gym that no coaching cues can fix. Your ego.
When you first start CrossFit, you’re introduced to the three-part charter: Mechanics, Consistency, Intensity. (And if you’re not, you’re at the wrong gym. Find a new one.)
Here’s what that looks like:
And here’s what it means: get the movements right first.
Just like with anything that builds on itself, you have to have the first piece before you can move onto the second. You have to have a stable foundation before you can build up to the top.
The mechanics is your technique. How well can you perform the movements? Can you get through the entire range of motion with good form? Are your knees caving in, are you losing your lumbar curve, have you lost tension in your core? If so, keep dialing it in. Focus on the mechanics until you have them right.
Once you’ve got a good understanding of the mechanics, you have to be consistent. You have to perform that same movement that same way. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. And once you’re performing them well consistently, you have to be consistent in your attendance. You can’t get stronger and be consistent in your mechanics if you’re only coming to class once a week.
Once you’re moving well, with proper mechanics, and you’re doing that consistently, and you’re consistently showing up for class, THEN you add intensity. Intensity is defined as “of extreme force, degree, or strength.”
And this, folks, this is where it all falls apart.
CrossFitters tend to have a certain personality type. It’s why we all get along so well. We’re the go-getters, the overachievers, the competitive, the driven, the ones who never settle.
We want to work harder, better and faster than everyone else. We’ve finally found our outlet, our stress release, our way to burn off the stress of work, home and everything in between. And we want that intensity. We need it, we crave it.
So we add weight.
And maybe we feel our knees cave in a little, or we feel our core lose a bit of tension, but we reset and keep going. And we lose it again, and we reset (or maybe we don’t), and we keep going.
Now, why, WHY are we not stripping some weight off the bar? Why are we not slowing down, dialing that form back in?
A lot of these things are complex movements. There are people that work on them for years, compete professionally, and still don’t have perfect form. Why do you expect that you should?
Your coach might tell you that your form is suffering, and recommend that you should drop a bit of weight. I even tell my athletes who I know have this little ego issue to set up their bar so that they have plates they have the option of stripping.
Instead of 35# plates, use 25’s and 10’s. If it gets too intense, and you feel your form go to sh*t (pardon my language, but facts are facts) – take the 10’s off. There is no shame in dropping weight. There is only shame in continuing to perform a movement poorly when you know you could easily correct it.
The CrossFit Startup Guide states, “Now that you understand mechanics, consistency, and intensity, here’s how they all fit together under CrossFit: While many assume that safety is the main concern with proper mechanics —it is certainly the safest way to train—we can’t emphasize enough that sound technique is the most efficient and effective road to fitness. Proper movements will allow you to lift more weight, perform more repetitions faster, or both. More work in less time means higher average power (force x distance / time = power). Higher average power means higher intensity. Higher intensity means better results. Therefore, proper mechanics are the ideal supports for the bridge to fitness.”
So, when our intensity causes us to compromise our form, we need to go back to the foundation. Back to the mechanics. Figure out what’s happening, correct the issue, then perform the new mechanics consistently. THEN we add the weight and intensity back in. I’ll say it again: You have to have a stable foundation before you can build up.
You want to impress your coach? Recognize that your form is suffering, take some weight off, and correct it. Continuing to push through the WOD with crappy form does not impress me. It just makes me think you are stubborn and stupid.
I’m not giving you pointers and feedback for my own well-being. I’m giving it because I can see than an adjustment needs to be made. And eventually, it will result in an injury. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But over time, you’ll feel it, one way or another.
And once you get injured, you know where you have to go? You guessed it – back to the foundation. You’ll likely spend weeks not performing any movements that use that muscle or body part that was compromised at all, and then you’ll slowly begin adding weight back in, with low reps, rehabbing it until you’re back in the game, which will likely be months later.
And to think – all of this could have been avoided if you’d just set your ego aside and gone back to the basics of making sure you had the right mechanics as your foundation.
You have to let go. I know that’s a close to impossible task, but just let go. Let go of what you *think* you should be able to do. Let go of what the person next to you is lifting, or the number of reps someone in an earlier class hit.
They are not you. You are not them. Your workout is yours, and yours alone. Your body is yours, and yours alone. Listen to it. Get the mechanics right, and the rest will follow.