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Understanding the CrossFit methodology to keep your ego in check for continuous progress.

Shoshin: a word from Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind.” It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.  Essentially, to fill the cup; your mind, to learn,  you must first empty your cup.  Clear your mind of what you think you know and accept what you are about to learn as a new truth.  Least, it will not be learned at all.  

What has gotten you here, will not get you where you want to go.  Not that you wasted your time before or that your previous CrossFit classes were ineffective but rather as Greg Glassman put it: “Stick to the basics, and when you feel like you’ve mastered them it’s time to start all over again, begin anew…”  

You’re heaviest front squat or fastest Fran time is only as good as your worst form air squat.  Your air squat can never be too good.  Equally, your olympic lifting technique can never be perfected, only improved and your running technique can always be slightly better on the last lap of your 5k time trial.  

CrossFit is a process.  You’ll hear it time and time again.  Trust the process, trust the process, trust the process…  it works.  Can’t get a heavier front squat?  Try to get a front rack with a pvc pipe.  Got that figured out.  Good.  Try it doing 10 with a five second decent and five second hold each rep.  Got that?  Good.  Now do it with a barbell.  Oh you can do a pull up?  Strict?  Great!  Try doing 5 with the above tempo.  You can snatch your bodyweight?  Also good.  Attempt that weight immediately after a maximal effort 800m run.  Go ahead.  I’ll give you a :10 cap to complete the lift after you cover the distance.  And when you can match your best 800m and still pull that off, I’ll find another way to challenge you.  But remember… you’re only as good as your worst air squat.  

Capacity 

We measure fitness.  Your weight multiplied by the length of your arm multiplied by the number of reps you do in max chest to bar pull ups add that to the weight of the sandbag you pick up immediately afterwards multiplied by the distance you can carry it before your grip fails.  This will tell me down to the foot pounds how strong your grip is.  And if we want to test it a year later after having done some more CrossFit , we will know if you got better and by how much… down to the foot pounds.  It’s measuring work done.  We improve that over time and we get fitter.  

We use three separate modalities separately and together.  Gymnastics, in the sense of bodyweight movements.  Basic to complex.  Air squats become pistol squats, planks become handstands, ring rows become muscle ups…. over time and with practice.  In addition to skill acquisition, there is maximal strength in gymnastics as in a single rep completion (ex.1st pull up) or added load (ex. 30 pound weighted push up) as well as muscular stamina (ex. max rep of 65 nonstop ring rows).  Yielding not only an anaerobic effect but also an aerobic effect the more reps you can do.  

Weightlifting has a similar effect.  Maximal load for maximal strength and equally maximal reps for stamina and cardiovascular effect.  Although much easier to progress in the sense of incremental loading towards maximal strength it is no less a challenge cardiovascularly.  The external load requires more core engagement increasing the difficulty in breathing further more challenging the cardio effect and equally the strength to stabilize under the ensuing fatigue.  

The monostructural modality is the third modality.  Monostructural implies cyclical patterns such as running, rowing, swimming, biking, jumping rope, etc..  Traditionally we think of these as aerobic exercises in nature but once you add a clock and the effort to beat a previous score; strength and muscular stamina enter the workout in starting and or finishing efforts.  

Lastly, mixing these modalities of strength and conditioning creates an unlimited amount of workout combinations and potential stimulus to adapt from for a desired result.  

Programming 

This is how your coach makes sense of all the potential workouts and helps guide their decision making for what to prescribe on a given day.  To keep it simple; you must recover from a stimulus before you can be challenged by it again.  So, while you are recovering from one stimulus you can be challenged by another.  This week’s example may give you more insight into just that.  

Monday- Weightlifting: Push Press 10-10-10-10-10

Tuesday- Monostructural/ Gymnastics: AMRAPx12 150m Row 20 Pistol Squat

Wednesday- Weightlifting/ Gymnastic/ Monostructural: Tabata Burpee, Tabata Kettlebell Swing, Tabata Double Under 

Thursday- Rest Day: we program these as active recovery days with a greater emphasis on mobility work and little to no requirement to track and record time or reps- EMOMx15 3 snatch first minute, 5 T2B second minute and 15 DU third minute

Friday- Gymnastic: 3 rounds of AMRAPx3 Pull up rest 1:00 AMRAPx3 Push ups rest 1:00 AMRAPx3 Air Squat rest 1:00 

Saturday- Weightlifting/ Monostructural: 5 rounds for time of 7 Deadlift and 200m Run 

Sunday- Weightlifting/ Monostructural/ Gymnastic: AMRAPx20 15 Box Jump 10 Sumo Deadlift High Pull 5 Handstand Push up 

Other considerations include ranges of motion, repetition and load volume, athletes experience levels, energy systems (sprint effect or long distance/ time effort) appropriate time caps, available equipment, muscle groups utilized, coordinating with the rest of the weeks training, etc.. 

Mechanics, Consistency and Intensity

The conversation on programming includes several variables and can be exhaustive in practice and explanation.  Thankfully, the interpretation and application of a program is a team effort between the coach and athletes based off of three questions.  Let’s consider this workout for a working example:  4 rounds 1 mile Bike 7 Strict L Sit Chest to Bar Pull ups.  In the explanation of this workout your coach tells you the gymnastic skill is very demanding but shouldn’t take you more than 2 sets each round and the bike efforts should be no longer than 3 minutes on average.  The stimulus should yield great core and upper body pulling strength as well as robust lower body stamina and endurance.  Internally the athlete needs to ask themselves: Do I possess the mechanics for the prescribed movements?  Have I practiced them often and well enough to maintain those mechanics with little to no thought? (am I slowing myself down by having to think about moving correctly)  Lastly, will my mechanics falter under fatigue?  

All three components hold equal value, but none more than the other.  You don’t want this workout to turn into a gymnastic strength workout with the bike as a rest between sets and you don’t want it to be a 4 mile bike time trial with a few pull ups sprinkled in.  You need both to be tough otherwise you won’t get the benefit of both.  To progress you need to be challenged and that implies failure.  Oftentimes we are not as good as we think or we learn that we are not at the intensity phase just yet and we need to develop consistency with practice or training.  Skill acquisition and refinement is practice, training is strength and stamina development.

Quantified Fitness

There’s no bullshit when you look strictly at numbers for progress.  You’re better on this day or not.  One of your best tools in this process is data… if you do well on keeping track.  What matters with tracking is what you are open to changing.  There is no sense in tracking nutrition if you don’t want to improve it.  The same goes for sleep, mobility… you name it. 

Most of us start working towards better fitness because there is a correlation with health or we later learn that.  Eventually, you will come to know this to be true; especially if you stick with it.  

So, forget what you think you know.  Allow yourself to learn, anew.

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