My Why is ‘Health and Fitness’!

My Why is 'Health and Fitness'!

Ok great, you started CrossFit to improve your fitness and health which is awesome because CrossFit is the world’s premier training system for improving fitness.  The good thing about CrossFit training is that it is ‘universally scalable’ and adaptable to almost any goal.

I myself started CrossFit as a programme to improve my strength and fitness when I was playing American football and it worked, versus let’s say, Nicola Mathers who has been able to use CrossFit to shave 40 minutes off her marathon time (well done!).

Your goal may not be as specific or sports related, you may simply want to make sure you’re fit and healthy enough to keep up with your kids and lead an active life or be fit enough to walk around your favourite cities on holiday.  These are all equally deserving goals and CrossFit can get you where you need to be if you keep your eyes on the prize and DON’T GET CAUGHT UP WITH WHAT OTHER PEOPLE ARE DOING.

Before I go any further I just want to say that the foundation of any goal is going to be good movement above all else. Good movement patterns bring about balance in the body and reduces risk of injuries.  Your goal is health and fitness in my opinion, serious injuries are not acceptable.  Sure we all get tight or have niggles from time to time but you’re not a paid athlete, injuries are not an occupational hazard.  If you can’t play your sport or run around with your kids or be pain free and active on that holiday then something isn’t right, and this all comes down to moving well and striving to move better.

General Health and Fitness - Your goals are recreational based or maybe even medically based as mentioned above.  You will probably find yourself doing most WODs in the gym in level 1 and level 2 and guess what, that’s EXACTLY where you need to be.  You don’t not need to be able to squat huge amounts of weight or perform high skill movements such as the snatch or the muscle up.  The goal here should be to perform movements as well as possible even it if takes us longer and we finish last – this won’t always be the case trust me.

We should have small simple goals within the gym that drive our progression i.e. to do perfect press ups on our toes. To get our first pull up etc.  When it comes to Olympic weightlifting like snatch and clean the power versions are fine, your 4 year old child doesn’t care if you squat snatched today or power snatched likewise if you’re walking around some hilly Italian town on holiday it’s not going to matter.  So focus on the simple forms of the movement and perfect them and know that this will help you be a fitter healthier version of yourself.

If your goals are a little more specific then we can also approach your training a little differently.

If you are training for an endurance event – 5km, 10km, marathon or an adventure race, then your ultimate limiting factor will be your aerobic fitness not your strength or skills.  With this in mind we should aim most (not all!) of our training to have a benefit on our aerobic fitness. The how is simple, we scale workouts appropriately, this will most likely mean keeping the weights light and the movements simple.  By doing this it will allow us to keep working through the workout. We will not have any unnecessary need to stop because a weight is too heavy or a movement is too technical.  Of course this doesn’t mean we make workouts easy by going too light, it will take a little time to get this process just right. So for an endurance athlete the focus should be on squatting and deadlifting perfectly, mastering body weight exercises and making sure metcons are primarily aerobic.

Strength and Power for sports – Gaelic, rugby and soccer etc. The likelihood is that you already do a lot of on field conditioning so aerobic fitness shouldn’t be our priority but explosive strength, power and speed will be, as they can’t truly be trained on a pitch, we need heavy weights and explosive movements. What this means is again that we don’t need to focus on super technical movements such as squat snatches and muscle ups. When it comes to weightlifting athletes will gain more benefit from power cleans and snatches than their higher skill versions.  The same is true for gymnastic movements such as strict pull ups versus kipping pull ups.  So for the field sport athlete the focus should be on squatting and deadlifting heavy with a focus on strict gymnastic movements, when it comes to metcons and conditioning workouts I would advise using simple movements and loading on the heavier side.

CrossFit Athlete – so you want to compete as a CrossFit athlete how you focus your sessions will largely come down to your current level and ability.

Beginner/Intermediate – unless you can perform every WOD regardless of the weight and movements without modification then this is where you fall.  This biggest issues preventing you from progressing to the next level with be:

  • Mobility – if you wish to be a competitive CrossFitter you need to move well, if you have any glaring mobility issues you need to stop what you’re doing and sort them out now. This means working on it every day you come in, stop practicing kipping pull ups and muscle ups if you can’t overhead squat.
  • Absolute strength – The basics you need to focus on; squatting, deadlifting, pressing; these are the foundation of strength for all other movements so don’t be surprised if you can’t clean 100kg/70kg if you can’t deadlift close to double that. The key here is consistency week in week out give 100% and do not miss sessions.
  • Gymnastics strength – this is huge, a gymnastics strength base makes life easy. If you can’t perform high rep strict pull ups, hspu, dips, v sits etc. Then stop wasting your time practising kipping versions. Not only will you never achieve full potential but it will often lead to injuries because your body joints haven’t been built strong enough to take the workload.
  • Weightlifting technique – I’m not sure I have come across a beginner/intermediate CrossFit athlete that isn’t strong enough to lift more, in the snatch or clean & jerk. It’s always, always technique! So why do people insist on lifting too heavy every single time they “practice these movements” this isn’t practice. This is reinforcing poor technique time and time again.  Unfortunately here the solution is to take a step back to go forward.  People ask me what to think about when they are lifting 1 rep maxes. For me the answer is “commit” (i.e. don’t pussy out) there is nothing technical going through my mind because I have practiced good reps thousands of times so I am in autopilot. So you need to step back even to an empty bar and practice – practice.
  • Ego!!!! – Lastly the BIGGEST problem with beginner/intermediate CrossFitters is ego. They see what other people are doing and think they deserve to be able to do the same weights and same movements without earning them. Leave your ego at the door and walk your own path, listen to your coach who will view you objectively and pick the right workout for you.

Advanced – If you’re truly and advanced CrossFitter then the goal is balance and staying injury free and mastering the basics.  It’s not enough to just have them, you need to become a master of everything regardless how small you think it is.

  • Nutrition – this is so important because in order to sustain advanced level programming, your nutrition needs to be perfect, not only to optimize your body composition for sport but also for recovery and performance. it’s not enough to just guess at this level you need to know and track everything that goes into your body.
  • Sleep – Sleep is the biggest thing you can do to improve performance and recovery. There is a reason pro athletes sleep 10-12 hours per day. While this might not be possible a disciplined sleep routine will have benefits.
  • Overtraining – while some people may argue this does not exist, burnout and fatigue can be caused by not following the above principles. When this happens we need to be smart enough to take a step back from training.
  • Cherry picking - Avoiding things you’re bad at is common in all aspects of life. But unfortunately for a CrossFit athlete this can’t be done as you will be found out. So work your weaknesses and be smart, this almost always can be traced back to a shortfall in the basics.

For the aspiring CrossFit Athlete you must be proficient at all aspects of CrossFit, unlike those who are training for health or other sports that means you need to be working toward the ultimate goal of doing the high skill movements such as toes to bar, muscle ups and squat snatches.  However, the key is knowing when to include them in workouts and when to scale to a simpler movement and then go work on the skill after class.  The athlete who does this is sure to progress faster.

For example                                                    

Athlete 1 does 5min amrap

10 front squats 10 toes to bar Scores 2 rds.

Athlete 2 does 5min amrap

10 front squats 10 v sits Scores 5rds

Athlete 1 does 40 total reps – some benefit practicing a high skill movement

Athlete 2 does 100 total reps – increasing work capacity and also training abdominals and leg strength and endurance.

I think it’s pretty obvious which athlete had the more beneficial training session and if athlete 2 does some toes to bar skill work after class then Boom! They will have rounded out a great days training.

Below is how we could modify the same workout to target different goals.  (this is just an example to highlight what has been discussed above).

In a daily wod – 15 min amrap

Run 400m

10 overhead squats 60/40

10 handstand press ups

General Health - 15 min amrap

Run 200m

10 goblet squats

10 press ups on box

Endurance - 15 min amrap

Run 400m

10 front squats

10 press ups

Sports - 15 min amrap

Run 400m

10 Heavy front squats

10 press up with deficit

Beg/Inter CrossFit - 15 min amrap

Run 400m

10 overhead squats (a weight you move well)

10 Hspu on box

Adv. CrossFit - 15 min amrap

Run 400m

10 overhead squats 60/40

10 Strict/kipping Hspu

I Hope this will help you to be more thoughtful in how you approach your training and ultimately lead to you achieving your goals.  Never forget your why and you will find it easy to stay on the correct path.

I will do a follow up on how to target your CrossFit training towards other goals such as weight loss.


“Stay Fit, Stay Strong, Stay Healthy”


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