So, you want to do more than the gyms’ base classes…
Almost all of us who do crossfit have at one point in time come to a place in which we’ve wanted more gains. For some, gains = increased fitness while for others, gains = improved body composition. For many, it’s both. If you’ve been in this camp before or are in this camp right now, this blog is for you.
The first thing I see most people do in this camp is add extra work/volume above and beyond what is offered in most gyms’ daily classes. The thinking is typically “I must not be working hard enough or doing enough.” I’m not saying this is the wrong approach. However, the way in which most people go about it is often wrong and will not yield the kind of results people are seeking. So let’s take a closer look at this, first for those looking to improve body composition, then for those looking to increase fitness.
Is it possible to have great body composition (high muscle/low fat) by just following daily classes in the gym? Absolutely 100%! People often look at the way CrossFit Games athletes look and assume they need to put in the same volume of work they do in order to look the way they do. That is absolutely false.(Particularly on the Men’s side) Most people can achieve a great body composition with 4-5 days/week in the gym. Provided your best effort is being given daily in the gym, the problem is not the amount of work you’re doing. Rather the problem is most likely your habits OUTSIDE THE GYM. I know I’ve spent the last few blog posts really hammering this one but it’s the truth. If you are coming to the gym 4-5 days per week and challenging yourself daily to learn new movements and move heavier loads, you are doing enough! At this point, it’s time to start looking at your habits while away from the gym. Below is a list of variables that highly affect this concept.2.
- Sleep – Are you sleeping at the same time each night? Do you consume alcohol regularly after work? Are you consuming lots of caffeine daily or caffeine after 10am? Do you have a healthy way of managing stress? These are some common areas that really have an impact on deep sleep. And remember, deep sleep is what is responsible for your ability to recover, build muscle, and stay lean. You cannot make gains today if you haven’t recovered from your workout yesterday!
2. Nutrition – What does your nutrition look like? It’s crazy how people overcomplicate this. Keep it simple! Eat enough protein every day (.8-1.0grams of protein/lb of goal weight), and limit or remove the big 4. What are the big 4? Sugar, man-made seed oils, alcohol, caffeine. It’s really this simple. I always say that if America removed the big 4 above, our obesity crisis would vanish almost overnight. Don’t overlook the impact this would have on your physique. It’s simple, but not easy of course.
3. Daily Movement – How much time do you spend on your feet moving each day? This one doesn’t get as much attention as the two above but it’s a big one in regards to metabolism and staying lean. Sitting all day makes it that much more difficult to lean out, despite working out regularly! If you have a job that forces you to be sedentary, figure out ways to get more movement while reducing how much you eat.
Get the above areas in check first and then think about doing more in the gym. Don’t put the cart in front of the horses. If you’ve got all the things listed above nailed down and still want to add in extra work, then go for it.
Now, for those of you seeking increased fitness. The goal of any good CrossFit competitor is to be competent at everything, often at the expense of being the best at anything. We all have things we’re both good and bad at in the gym. The goal for the competitor is to eliminate the things he/she stinks at. In a nutshell, this is what it amounts to.
I typically see people make 1 of 2 mistakes when trying to address weaknesses. The first being adding in extra work on existing strengths. I know we all like to do the things we are already good at, it’s fun. And I understand it’s not fun to work on our weaknesses. But we cannot improve weaknesses without working on them regularly. If you want to get better at jump rope work, gymnastics movements, or get stronger, you have to work those things, and probably even extra diligently because they may not come easy! Spending extra time working on your weaknesses is called Program Targeting, more on this below.
The second big mistake I see people make is they assume that competitor programs like Mayhem, HWPO, and PRVN will take them to the next level. While that may be the solution for some, it’s not for most. The reason being…it’s only more of what you’re already doing! The law of diminishing returns comes into play here. The reality is that doing twice as much of the same things doesn’t make someone twice as good! (Marginal benefits at best because most people cannot effectively recover from the amount of work these programs prescribe)
I’ll give a brief example. Back in 2014, my 1 Rep Max Back Squat was around 395. That year I decided to follow a popular competitor programming that many athletes were using at the time. Among other things it called for squatting more often than I was doing at the time, with percentages to regulate volume.. I spent almost an entire year on this programming and guess what my back squat was following the many cycles we went through over that year…you guessed it, 395. It hadn’t gone anywhere! Soon after that I realized a weak point in how I was moving in my squat and quickly began to address it. After 6 weeks of addressing that weak point by fixing my movement and adding accessory exercises, my squat went from 395 to 435! That’s a 40lb increase! It’s amazing what happens when individual needs are addressed!
(As a side note, why doesn’t our gym use affiliate programming like Mayhem or HWPO? Simply put, it’s impossible to get the best results by obtaining programming from someone who has never stepped foot in my gym, regardless of their expertise. They don’t know what my clients need, how my clients move, or what skills my clients need to work on to improve their fitness. In my opinion using a generic program is a disadvantage, not an advantage. By being inside the gym each day and watching my clients, I can tweak my program weekly to suit their needs if I notice a general weakness across the gym. Rich Froning, Tai Toomey, and Mat Fraser are the reason you’ve heard about these programs. Their genetics and work ethic are what got them their CrossFit Games wins, not their affiliate programming. Sorry, but it’s the truth.)
A good general program aims to improve GPP(General Physical Preparedness). Think of GPP as being generally well rounded, able to do anything with a decent level of competence. What that means is that a good program prescribes work across the broadest spectrum possible in an attempt to help its athletes be as well rounded as possible. The competitor programs I listed above are basically GPP with a lot more volume. Their programs are Not Targeted, in fact they can’t be, because they are programming for a large group of athletes. Which means, they can’t and won’t work to address each individual’s needs, they will only give you more of what you’re already doing!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying those programs aren’t great. And I’m not saying there isn’t value in doing them. Some people really enjoy them, despite working out alone. I’m just saying don’t fall for the marketing. These programs are not needed to excel in competition. What is needed is a good base program, with extra work to bring up weaknesses. If your gym offers good programming in terms of GPP(To be honest, not all gyms do. But that’s a topic for another post), you’re set on this front. Next, make a list of all the things you want to improve, and begin working on them outside your gyms’ base classes. It’s really that simple. Don’t overcomplicate it.