CrossFit has made a major impact in fitness. With its growth and popularity it certainly has introduced true strength and conditioning to the masses. It is definitely an improvement from the body building dominant protocols from the 80’s into the mid 2000’s before CrossFit came along. The competitive feel of the workouts certainly helped to increase people’s intensity levels; a much improved strategy from walking on a treadmill while reading a magazine. Sadly people still misinterpret that competitive class atmosphere as making every day a test by redlining every lift or every met con, rather than training in order to get a result.
You can’t PR every day.
As Matt explained in his article Trust the Programming, Trust the Coach good programming reaches towards a goal. For instance, we program a ton a strength work and you may or may not have noticed that each week we progressively get a little heavier pushing the weights heavier while decreasing the reps each week working toward getting stronger with each lift. However, we do not max out that often. Many people make the mistake of trying to go too heavy; this can be driven by not having an established max, misplaced max info or by ego. An example of this might look something like this: it’s a 5 rep day and on the last set someone might only get 3 or 4 reps even when the set calls for five. That situation, in strength work is considered a failed attempt. So instead of building strength, they demonstrated a 3 rep max. They tested rather than trained.
So, what’s so bad about that?
When you train you are looking for adaptations. Adaptations include grooving and perfecting a good movement pattern, neural and muscular recruitment, range of motion and mental preparation. Adaptation is good. Adaptation equals results.
Typically when going for a max effort on a lift whether it is a 1 RM, 3 RM or 5 RM, a lifter will most likely lift the weight by any means necessary. There will likely be round backs, bad position and not optimal mechanics. This is not ideal but sometimes necessary in order to break through. Constantly demonstrating strength will establish poor motor patterns which can eventually lead to injury. There is a time for training and a time for testing.
Junk Miles Equivalent
In the endurance world, runners will have marathon programs that will call for percentages. For instance they may have a day for speed work where they do intervals at 90% of race pace, maybe one day of mid-range distance of 6 to 10 miles at something like 80% and perhaps a long day of 15 at 65%.
The 65% is the hardest thing for runners to do. It doesn’t feel like anything. It is slow, easy and feels like nothing. But it is important because it helps to build the aerobic base. The intensity is low so that body mechanics don’t break down and the trainee can build a motor pattern while getting in a lot of miles. It’s great, except people mistakenly think “This isn’t doing anything, I need to step this up.” Next thing you know, 65% effort goes up to 70% to 80%, and then mechanics break down and possible injury ensues. Their progress can be derailed for several reasons… if not by the injury, because they can’t increase their miles if they’re going too hard all the time or not allowing proper recovery from 80% effort on a consistent basis.
IT TAKES DISCIPLINE TO DO THE TRAINING THAT PROGRESS REQUIRES. That’s not just training consistently, but training the right way.
In CrossFit training, the junk miles equivalent is going hard every day, day in day out with under recovery, caring more about the clock than the quality of the movement, wanting to push the weights on the strength work rather than leaving a little in the tank and perfecting the movements. Doing them perfect every time is the fast way to improvement. It may mean that you r WOD time is slower initially but it will improve.
Prepare for the tests
Tests in CrossFit are 1 rep max day, time trials ( 500m row, 800m run, 1k row, mile), and benchmarks (Fran, Karen, The Open WODs etc). These are the days to test if the training is working. These are the days to redline your effort.
Here at CrossFit West Houston we build those days by mixing in the benchmarks, establishing maxes and having time trials. Any other day should be considered a training day, where you should be focusing on perfecting your form (for instance if wall balls are in a WOD they are practice/training for Karen or Fight Gone Bad, thrusters for Fran, pull ups for Cindy and Fran etc).
If you have been lifting with proper movement, full range of motion, gradually getting heavier, your max lift will be a PR, and most likely look good doing it. If you have been using each lifting session to max out where the reps don’t look crisp and there is some compensation then max day could look ugly and dangerous.
The best way to prepare for these tests is to progress your weights appropriately by maybe leaving one or two reps in the tank on daily lifting, practicing excellent range of motion, breathing control and following the programming. When you are called to test a benchmark, a time trial or a lift, you will be prepared to crush it and put your name on the board.
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