There’s an old saying, “in order to succeed you must first experience failure.” My work in fitness both as an instructor and an athlete is a constant work in progress. I credit a lot of the success I’ve had to the failures I’ve experienced. I’m sharing the three biggest I made mistakes and what I learned from them with the hope that it will help some of you to not make these same mistakes or perhaps realize that you are making them at the moment.
Focusing too much on the “what” and not the “how”
The author of the programming I follow constantly reminds us, “it’s not what we do it’s how we do it.” Early on I was obsessed with where my name was in the whiteboard and whether or not I got to have that “RX” next to my name. I was too competitive and my technique suffered. I cared more about WHAT my score was and not HOW flat my back was during a deadlift or HOW nice my form looked on a power snatch.
I’ve experienced chronic shoulder pain the last two years and I owe this exclusively to my awful shoulder positioning during overhead squats. Currently, rebuilding and fixing the severe muscle imbalance I have in my left shoulder is something I spend hours on every week. However, when I first started all I was concerned with was meeting the standards of the movement. I didn’t care how it looked. I choose to neglect the fact that I was shrugging horribly on my left side throughout the movement. Instead of addressing the route of the problem and fixing it (improving shoulder mobility), I just fought through it and forced myself into a bad position.
I tell my personal clients routinely, “I don’t care how many reps you do, or how heavy it is or how fast, I want you to do it right.” There’s a manta in team sports about “winning ugly,” meaning that it doesn’t matter how you win a game as long as you win. While a PR in a lift may seem like a win. If the form is crap, in my opinion is certainly isn’t. Check with your coach and make sure you’re technique is good and you’re ready to step on the gas or jack up the weight.
CrossFit, especially at the beginning, can seem overwhelming. I remember after my first week I had so many different goals, “I need to get pistols, chest to bar pull ups and hand stand push ups!” “I need to add 10kg to my back squat.” “I need to get my Fran time under 4 minutes!” Having high aspirations is great, but what that meant for me was trying to add in too much extra work outside of the normal CrossFit programming. I added in extra weight lifting and gymnastics programs. This lead to a programming overload that made it impossible for me to keep up with. I couldn’t complete the squatting programming because I was torn apart from a wall ball WOD the day before. Toes to bar in a WOD were impossible because my hands were torn up from doing bar muscle up work the day before. Frustration set in and I felt helpless.
Eventually, I realized the most success I’ve ever had was when I followed a single program and simply “trusted the process.” The programming provided in CrossFit is written by very experienced people who have designed it to help you get stronger and learn those difficult skill movements. It just takes time. Am I saying you shouldn’t do a little extra work on the side? No, but it should only be a LITTLE extra work.
I hear people say they need more volume all the time. My question to them is why? The popularity of the CrossFit games is awesome, more and more people have been exposed to CrossFit and subsequently our community has grown. However, the problem I see is that lot of “regular people” (99.9% of those who do CrossFit) see world class CrossFit athletes and try to mimic their training style. It’s OK to be interested in how Rich Froning trains, but you don’t need to train like he does. World class athletes need high volume, they need to work out multiple times a day to remain competitive. You don’t. A few years back I was mixing a marathon training program with 5 days of CrossFit per week. My body eventually pushed back and I strained a muscle in my leg and was on the shelf for 6 weeks. It could have been much worse, but at least I learned a lesson. One intense training session per day is enough, if you’re doing it right that’s all you’ll need. Trust me.