Q: After 6 months at CrossFit I feel like I've hit a wall. How do I break through it to reach new personal bests?
A: Such a short, sweet question deserves a lengthy, thorough response…
As effective as our program is, plateaus (aka “hitting a wall”) are an inevitable part of CrossFit that EVERYONE will encounter at some point. Whether it is 6 months or 60 months into your training, steady, continual progress in all areas is unlikely, if not impossible. At some point, the rate at which you progress will slow down and eventually come to a halt.
The question, then, is not how to avoid a plateau, but rather what do I do when faced with this inevitable and totally normal phase of training?
The knee-jerk reaction to this question is to change training programs, as if it is the workouts themselves that are no longer providing the stimulus for results. I can assure you from personal experience that this is NOT the case. I have been religiously CrossFitting since October 2006, with an occasional hiatus to focus on specific aspects of our program (i.e. Olympic Lifting). I still continue to make gains to this day – for example in the past month I have PR’d my Snatch (yes!) and Fight Gone Bad (ouch!).
In the past 6 years, I have hit MANY plateaus that required me to re-evaluate all of the different areas that affect progress. With the exception of focusing on specific weaknesses, never did I stray from CrossFit training. Rather, I focused on other areas that are just as important (and arguably MORE important) than the training program itself.
Let’s have a look and discuss each of the areas I believe we ALL need to regularly, honestly evaluate and adjust in order to continue to make the kind of progress we experienced in the very beginning, when it all just seemed so EASY!
1. Nutrition & Lifestyle
This is ALWAYS the first area that needs to be looked at. What you put into your body and how you treat yourself on a daily basis serves as the foundation of health and performance.
- Begin with an honest assessment of what and how much food you are eating. Our recommended prescription is: “Eat Meat & Vegetables, Nuts & Seeds, Some Fruit, Little Starch and No Sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. “ If you are straying from this prescription more than 20% of the time, it is time to tighten the reigns. No ifs, ands, or buts.
- Drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water EVERY day.
- Sleep at least 7 hours every night. In my experience, this is the area that is most often overlooked and neglected. Sleep plays a critical role in so many things it would require an entire post just to list them. If you are not getting 7 hours of unbroken sleep every night, don’t even bother reading further – START HERE!
- Eliminate (or at least minimize) unnecessary sources of stress from your life and especially your training. Put things in perspective. Appreciate your abilities. Enjoy the process without placing demands on results.
2. Revisit and Dedicate Yourself to Mastering the Fundamentals
In case you haven’t noticed, we spend a lot of time practicing and refining the fundamentals (think PVC and empty barbell warm-ups…torture!) At times, our coaches may sound like broken records (“heels down, chest up, knees out, heels down, chest up, knees out…”) and you may be thinking to yourself “why oh why do we have to practice Overhead Squats with a PVC pipe AGAIN!?” I can assure you it is all for good reason. These fundamentals serve as the foundation of EVERY movement that we perform.
Your ability to continually progress is directly proportional to your commitment and practice of the fundamentals. The stronger the foundation, the larger the potential for progress.
Looking to increase your Snatch? How about a faster Fran time? Let’s have a look at your Air Squat. I will guarantee there is room for improvement at the most basic level of our movements that, until corrected and mastered, will inhibit progress in the fancier, sexier movements.
If Michael Jordan never stopped practicing free throws I’m pretty sure none of us should ever stop practicing the basics either.
3. Set Specific Goals
Oftentimes, it is enough to simply approach your training from the general perspective of wanting to look better, feel better and perform better.However, upon reaching a plateau it becomes important to narrow your focus and set 1 or 2 very specific goals. I would recommend these goals be training-related, very specific and focused on an area of weakness.
For example, if you have yet to achieve your 1st pullup, spend the next 2-3 months dedicating yourself to making this happen. Do something EVERY day to get closer to your goal. Some examples include:
- Practice the Kipping Swing before every class
- Finish every class with 5-10 negatives
- Choose the HARDEST variation possible in workouts that involve pull-ups
- Attempt 3 pullups before and after every class
- Dial in your nutrition to ensure any excess bodyweight is not holding you back
This scenario can be played out for any movement/goal/weakness – ask your coach for help. Whether you achieve the goal is less important than the process and the focus the pursuit of that goal provided in your daily training. Just getting closer to your goal is enough to re-ignite progress and turn weaknesses into strengths.
4. Step It Up a Notch (or three)
While this is the final item on the list, it is sometimes all that is needed to break through a plateau. In the beginning, simply showing up consistently and getting through our workouts is enough to elicit progress. However, at a certain point, showing up and giving the same effort day in and day out is not enough. You must begin to recognize the mental barriers that you have established for yourself and begin to systematically break them down.
Sometimes that means forcing yourself to keep going when every cell in your body is telling you to stop. Other times it means adding 5 more pounds to the bar even though you are not so sure you will be able to handle it. Still other times it will mean forcing yourself to move faster than you ever have before, picking up the bar before you “think” you are ready and simply putting up with more pain than you have ever experienced.
Our coaches can instruct and motivate you to the best of our abilities. Your fellow classmates will provide support and encouragement along the way. However, it is up to you to push yourself beyond your current boundaries and realize that the only thing limiting your potential to achieve something is…YOU!
Our workouts provide endless opportunities to encounter any and all mental and physical barriers you have established for yourself. Each and every time you come face-to-face with one serves as an opportunity to break through it and eliminate it forever. The choices you make at those moments will largely determine whether you will continue to progress or if you will remain content on the plateau.