How to Get Better at CrossFit

How to Get Better at CrossFit: Stay After and Stay Out of the Way

When I first started CrossFit there were so many new movements and skills that I had never been exposed to before. Everything was so fresh and exciting. That is, until you are forced to complete one of the new movements in the middle of a grueling workout. Picture someone who just learned what a “double-under” even means and then being asked to do 300 of them, as their heart is about to explode out of their chest from rowing and squatting in between sets. Does that sound familiar? I have been there. 

I remember stepping into a class at my first CrossFit gym. Although I cannot remember the specific workout, I recall being nervous because it had my worst movement in it: double-unders. After 10 or 15 minutes into the workout, and me scraping up my arms and shins from hitting myself with the rope so many times, the coach said that the workout was over before I was even half way done. I was frustrated that a single movement had kept me from finishing. The competitor in me would not leave the gym until I had figured it out. Unfortunately, another class had already begun and I had nowhere to practice.

The end of the story sounds a bit dramatic, but if you know me, it would not surprise you. I went home and practiced double-unders for close to three hours in my garage. I would not let myself go inside until I had done at least 50 in a row without stopping. I may have sworn a few times (sorry mom) and thrown my rope at the wall repeatedly, but eventually I developed the skill.

Skills are acquired in a non-fatigued setting

The first moral of the story here is that you cannot get better at any skill under fatigue. It sounds a bit obvious for anyone who has played a sport, but it seems to be forgotten in many CrossFit gyms. If my high school baseball coach wanted me to learn how to throw a new pitch, he didn’t have me do 100 burpees, 50 sit ups and 25 pull-ups before practicing it. That sounds ridiculous, but that is exactly what some coaches ask of their members in a gym. A new member walks in, who has never even heard of a snatch before, and they ask them to do five sets of them while biking and doing push-ups at the same time. If that member is eager to improve their snatch after class, we tell them to stay after and just make sure they stay out of the way of the next class. But, most people are not going to stay late to practice new skills. Who has time for that? Most CrossFit gym members are already sacrificing time with family, work and other responsibilities to carve an hour out of their day for fitness. Asking them to stay late to practice skills is an expectation for an athlete, not a mom who has kids waiting at home. 

Skill work at Vital Fitness 

I read online that it takes about 20 hours to acquire a new skill. However, acquiring a skill is different from becoming proficient at it, which takes countless hours of practice. As noted, that practice has to be done without fatigue. Otherwise, odds are that you are actually just practicing poor mechanics, which will either lead to bad habits or an overcompensation and injury. 

At Vital Fitness, there is not enough time within our hour classes to help people perfect their movements. However, our coaches always carve out time to allow our members to practice skills in a non-fatigued setting. For example, the other night called for a workout with rope climbs. Rather than throwing our members feet to the fire, I watched as our coaches helped them practice foot placement on the rope for 15 minutes before starting the workout. Members were provided an opportunity to learn a new skill appropriately and still get in a good workout afterwards. For members, who like me, want to work on becoming proficient at new skill after class is over, we offer them 30 minute skill sessions under the guidance of a coach. 

CrossFit is a life changing training methodology that introduces people to constantly varied, functional movements, many of which require consistent practice and patience. I have said it many times before: you cannot fast track fitness. Coaches and gym owners need to be reminded of this as much as their clients do.