This may be disheartening news, but CrossFit is hard, and you might not be awesome at all of it. Take a deep breath… release it. Ok! Now that the band-aid has been ripped off, what do we do to figure out what we are relatively strong/weak at and then design a plan to work on what needs fixing?
Sometimes, identifying a weakness can be relatively simple- you just can’t do something. For many, upper-body gymnastics work (push-ups, pull-ups, dips, etc.) are just totally impossible when they start CrossFit. Barbell training is awesome because its incremental- you can slowly add weight over time and “grow at your own pace.” Gymnastics work especially tends to have big gulfs between a scaling option and the real thing (you can do 1,000 banded pull-ups but still can’t do a strict pull-up.)
More complicated is a relative weakness. Maybe you are pretty good at everything, but your power lifts are still better than your olympic lifts, or vice versa. Maybe you shine in short, intense workouts, but do slightly less well in longer workouts. If that difference is glaring it can be easy to identify, but if the difference is slight or subtle it can easily fly under the radar and go unaddressed. Guess what? BTWB can help! We’ve got a whole section called “Weaknesses” that shows which areas of your fitness are lagging, and our Fitness Level in general can give you insight into your relative strengths and weaknesses.
Lastly, it’s worth considering structural/patterning/imbalance type weaknesses. These could be discrepancies between the strength of the right and left side of your body, pulling vs pressing, anterior vs posterior chain, or patterning or reflexive issues. These weaknesses typically need assessment from someone who knows what to look for. They might not show up in a workout at all, but are deeper underlying issues that may be slowing your progress or could contribute to an injury over time. I had my eyes opened by the guys at ActiveLife RX about the nature of these weaknesses, and it has changed how I approach my time at the gym.
Practiced vs Trained
Once you’ve identified a weakness, you need to make a plan about how you are going to work on it. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a super Type A plan with spreadsheets and motion trackers and a team of crack NASA scientists, but some architecture will generally help. The first step is to identify whether the issue you have is something that needs to be practiced or trained.
Practice generally applies to pursuits that are more neuromuscular in nature. For instance, if you are learning to handstand walk, it’s usually not a case of going faster/heavier/MOAR, but just more time perfecting little technical aspects and just getting your balance and control dialed in. Most things related to proprioception- the “feel” for a movement- need practice. Sports teams practice- they spend time working on the feel and flow and interplay between teammates. Practice often isn’t linear- you don’t get better every single time you spend time working, but over time progress from raw to novice to intermediate and onward.
Practice can be pretty informal or more organized. Consistent exposure is your friend here- I often tell athletes working on stuff like double unders, handstands, etc. to just mess around with it for 3-5 minutes before every class. You need multiple exposures to the movement, and don’t need to worry too much about overload (unless you’re a psycho who practices double unders for 45 minutes) so just make it a point to do a little practice every morning or every time you get to the gym early, or for a bit after each workout. Examples of movements benefitting from practice are double unders, handstand holds/walks, gymnastic positions/skills if you have requisite strength, Olympic Lifting technique (again, strength is another story), patterning movements, etc.
Training is much more linear than practice- it involves starting at point A and slowly adding stress (in the form of load, time, volume, etc.), recovering from the stress, and adaptation to that stress to handle more and more over time. (This is a bedrock of any periodized training- it’s called General Adaptation Syndrome, Google that mess.) For training you need to be a little more organized, and track results over time. This should be old news to anyone who has ever followed a lifting cycle- pick a movement, and do a number of sets (usually 3-5) in an appropriate rep range. You should start easy and over time slowly add weight, reps, etc. to make things more challenging. Slow is key here- you need to give your body time to adapt- your “ceiling” will grow higher and higher, but not if you insist on banging your head against it immediately. Training is best used for any movements that involve strength, control, or capacity- all of the power lifts, assistance exercises, gymnastic strength, even stuff like carries, sled pushing, and rowing or running can and should be trained.
Understandably this is a bit general- there isn’t time or space to go over every strategy out there for progressing the wide array of skills and abilities needed to be a CrossFitter. Instead, think of these as general guidelines to shape how you consider and approach a problem. Ask a coach for feedback or a plan on how to tackle your weaknesses, if anything this article should help you “speak their language” a little better. Ok, get to work!