Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The CrossFit Games and your gym's daily programming - making sense of the divide

This post is a bit of a change from my normal ramblings. Although I haven't posted in a while, due to work, training and racing, I wanted to get back to writing regarding a topic that I've seen on the rise recently. And with coaching in a CrossFit gym, its even more important to make some sense of today's post. 

"So, I've been doing CrossFit for about a year. Why can't I snatch 2.5 times my bodyweight?" 

I've heard similar comments like this for the last couple years from Crossfitters all over the US, particularly following CrossFit's main event - the Games. The 2016 edition wrapped a few weeks ago, and again, raised the bar as to what is possible in the world of human performance. Many of us marveled at the strength, capacity, and mental fortitude shown by all the athletes, not just those on the podium.And after the appreciation and wonderment of those events, many of us ask the question "why can't I do parelette HSPU's? Or Deadlift 4 times my bodyweight?" These questions are raised by people who may have been doing CrossFit for years and become a bit dejected at their personal progress.What's important to understand is that over the last 5 years, there has been a rather large shift from what it takes to be a Games athlete, even a Regional level competitor, to what takes place at CrossFit gyms everywhere.

In 2010, if you were to ask coaches and athletes the requirements to make it to Carson, most would have discussed training 1-2 hours a day,6-7 days a week, following a Zone/Paleo style diet, and get quality rest. It was possible to have a full time job and qualify for the Games. It wasn't easy, but it was possible. Training plans followed the "Constantly varied, functional movement, preformed at intensity" philosophy. The events at the Games reflected that type of programming. But in 2011, there was a jump. Reebok came on board, and you started to have a few athletes who pursued CrossFit or looked at CrossFit like any professional sport - upping the volume of work, added more structure to the training, sought out different methods of recovery - Compex, or similar stim machines, heat/cold contrast, and the staple, Mobility WOD. The Games, recognizing its growing popularity, began to challenge the athletes in new ways, and the athletes, if they wanted to be in Carson in July, needed to change their approach to training, nutrition and recovery. Its easy to point to people like Froning for this shift, but he wasn't alone. Annie Thorisdottir was doing something similar on the women's side, along with a smattering of other athletes.

Even with a decent TV contract with ESPN, the 2012 Open looked markedly different that the 2016 version. For example, the first Open workout in 2012 was 7 minutes as many burpees as possible. Difficult, yes.  But no one looked at it and thought "how can I scale this?".  The weights, the movements, they were all in most people's wheelhouse. However, the more athletes who were showing the ability to move more weight, handle heavier loads of work or longer pieces of work, CrossFit's response was - time to take it up a notch. The first Open workout in 2016 was a 20 minute AMRAP of a lot of volume. To hear Dave Castro, or any of the CF brass talk about the Games, they will tell you, they don't expect everyone to be able to do everything thrown at them. Best example was the 2015 finale when the pegboard was revealed, and only a handful of men and women were actually able to complete that portion of the event. Its almost like a constant game of one upsmanship. To talk to a Games athlete in 2016, they are dedicating everything to competing. Its anywhere from 25-35 hours of training a week, most athletes work at a CrossFit gym, and view CrossFit as a full time job. Their programming is complex, its varied, it has some periodization to it, and it has some elements to it that, on their face, don't look like strict CrossFit. (As a side note, to compete at that level, some of your training will look "bro-ish", or like that of an endurance athlete.And that type of training is as critical to upping your 1 rep clean and jerk. That topic to be covered in a later post) They are no different than any other pro athlete, they are pushing every day, all year. They have to take the time to perfect muscle ups. They have to run well, they have to be able to combine heavy weight with high level gymnastics movements to be performed over a 5 day period, with little rest.

On the other side, are the millions of athletes who come to classes 4-6 times a week, bust their asses and put in quality work. And its in those classes that the entire philosophy of CrossFit lives - to provide a general fitness preparedness workout or workouts that are to improve your quality of life. We want you to feel better when you are going about your day; less pain sitting, ease of moving odd objects around, the energy to play with your kids, less likely to get injured in daily tasks or while doing things you enjoy, like going for a run or bike ride. Its also important to remember that what you are doing when you walk through that door, is more than 99% of the population. Even your friends who do stuff like SHRED, or HIIT training, you are getting fitter everyday. And to keep that fitness on an upright trajectory, you need to be focused on what you are doing, not the person next to you, not what happened in the earlier classes. The competitive aspect of CrossFit makes it fun, but it can stunt progress. If you are rushing to hit that RX button, you could be setting yourself up to be injured or burnt out. More on that in another post. That is the most key ingredient to you improving - worry about your fitness. Celebrate the community that lives in the gym by giving the best of yourself and being patient with yourself. Ask questions of the coaches. We are here to help. We are genuinely interested in seeing you improve.

Aside from focusing on what you are doing in the gym, if you are serious about wanting to constantly improve, take the time to do mobility work. We have added a ROMWOD class that can help jump start your path to better recovery and better mobility. Check your nutrition, and be honest with yourself about it. I'm not here to promote one type of nutritional program over another, but you all know, the cleaner you eat, the better you feel, the better you preform. And last, but certainly not least, check your sleep. Of all the studies on sleep, the one constant is - at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night help ensure better overall health. 

To close, as important as it is to keep in mind the differences between the training regimen of Games athletes and the rest of us for our own growth, help educate your friends who don't CrossFit about the difference. To the casual observer, watching the Games now can be more than daunting, it can be downright frightening. I've had so many people ask me if we do stuff like "the plow" or ring handstand push ups in our classes. Make the distinction clear to them too. The difference now is like watching the NFL and watching your neighbor's annual Turkey bowl game. Yeah, they are both playing football, but the level of play is markedly different. Making it clear that CrossFit is different, but user friendly, encourages them to get out of their comfort zone and try it out. Your sphere of influence is greater than you think. 

As always, we are all here to help. So reach out. Do it for yourself.You'll be glad you did. 

Stay strong.