More (Final) Thoughts on CrossFit & Weightlifting

So a continuation of the viciously controversial “Why People Leave CrossFit for Weightlifting.

When we first start CrossFit, it’s so novel in its approach – hey, this is a power clean; oh cool, handstand push ups; I never thought I could get so out of breath without doing cardio; … – that it doesn’t feel like exercising. In the start, the hurt is a good thing. It feels like you’re getting a really good workout. After all, if it hurts this much, it must be good, right?

That’s a pretty big draw. Because it’s so new, and there’s so many elements and combinations, it doesn’t feel like working out. Workout out was a chore. It was something you felt you had to do to tick the box that you were taking care of your body. Not anymore!

Even 6-12 months in its still new. You go through The Open for the first time and that’s a cool experience. You’ve never competing at anything before and now you’re competing, pushing past your own mental barriers, maybe even getting a few PRs. The challenge invigorates you and you eagerly look to the next year.

As an aside, our brains are woefully maladapted to think of something like a year and how much time that actually is. We’re good with small numbers, like 3-7. Beyond that, we might as well just say “many” instead of an exact figure.

Then there’s retests. You can now legitimately see just how much better you’ve gotten. You knock 3-4 minutes off your baseline, you take 2 minutes off Fran, it’s all awesome. CrossFit works!

Hooray for constant variance!

Hooray for constant variance!

Secondly there’s the great surprise achievement element in it all. You go in with very little expectations of what you can achieve, because you’ve never done it before. Then you discover that you were able to do a handstand push up, and you never thought you’d get that many power cleans done at 80% of your max. It’s exhilarating!

Over time, the surprise element disappears. You look at the workout and know it’s going to hurt. Your brain can do funny things here as we inherently look to avoid pain. So that expectation turns into dread. Maybe not all at once, but now the expectation is less giddy and more apprehension. Bit by bit you’re less happy to go to that place. This might all be unconscious by the way, your brain starts to associated metcon with pure pain, rather than pain and pleasure.

Hopefully someone gets the "Intermission" reference.

Hopefully someone gets the “Intermission” reference.

As we advance, we run out of simple, novice gains. We’re less likely to string together 17 muscle ups and PR our snatch in the ladder. We’re not going to continually knock 5 plus minutes off our “Helen” time. The gains are slower to appear, fewer in number, and less dramatic than they were. Hashtag Sadface.

Now the workouts in and of themselves can’t provide the magic. It’s not just a case of starting the workout and the hit will come. We have to apply the extra effort to push ourselves into or close to the redzone. And that’s just something our brains and bodies don’t like doing. Shit man, it hurts.

In the beginning it’s only success. Now you might even face a metcon where you did worse than before. This never used to happen!!! This is a pretty damaging thing to the ego!

Enter a simpler program.

We know on a strength based, or a weightlifting program, what we have to do each day. There’s 3 sets of 3 at X weight that we’ve to hit, followed by some squatting or pulls, and some accessory work to finish (by and large).

Now let’s be completely clear. I’m not saying that this is inherently easier. Okay weightlifters, I know how hard you train okay? 🙂

The gainz are easier to determine and predict because there are less variables. You simply have fewer things to measure. As you’re testing fewer things training becomes simpler. Because there’s less fatigue and interference than trying to train EVERYTHING, you can see progress.

So fuck it, you say, I’ll just get strong and head back to CrossFit later.

Or worse, and we’ve all done it, we go on a strength cycle to get better at CrossFit. This is the big mistake in Weightlifting in CrossFit.

So we know, the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk are a pretty big deal in CrossFit. It’s like, 41% of the sport, man! The big mistake we’ve made in training this is we train almost to the detriment of our development like Weightlifters.

What do I mean by that? Well, weightlifters just have to max out. That’s all that matters. What was your total? So the training revolves around this. It’s all about that 1RM baby! 1RM are cool. They really are. They fit neatly in an Instagram video and they’re the yardstick.

The issue is in CrossFit it’s very much not like that. Take the 2014 season. Out of all the events, 1 was a max effort lift (Regionals, 1RM Hang Snatch).

Looking at the 2014 open, 14.1 had multiples of an extremely light power snatch – 75lbs, 14.2 was OHS (an assistant exercise for the snatch), 14.4 had 135lbs power cleans for 30 reps in a pretty gassed state.

Yes, Olympic lifting movements are important. Olympic weightlifting, not as much so.

The issue is that we need to invest as much time in maxing our lifts and dealing with repetition maxes. When we start, we need to get technically better. So doing 30 reps for time, if the environment is set up to expect speed rather than proficiency, is not the best.

The argument goes that low reps are better for technique. But, we need a lots of exposure too? So couldn’t we do a shit ton more sets then?Couldn’t we argue that if you are a relative novice doing Isobel should be considered EMOM 10 3 power snatches with perfect form at 80% of your current power snatch max? Then it becomes a workout that not only develops your CrossFit ability but also your Weightlifting skill?

After a time you simply cannot just get better at CrossFit by being stronger. You need to invest the time in turning that strength into “usable” strength by doing EMOMs, max repetition sets, and just plain old putting heavy shit in metcons.

The person who figures out the exact ratio of time we need to spend on absolute strength and metcon strength will be a genius. BUT, I’d argue that we won’t ever reach it as the sport is evolving.

Finally, I’d argue that the perfect blend of training doesn’t exist in any sport. We just seem a bit more obsessed with it in ours.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *