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We’re doing the CrossFit Total today at CFKI, and coaching classes of athletes through this brute strength workout got me thinking.  I’m thinking about how this test of a 1RM Back Squat, 1RM Strict Press, and 1RM Deadlift has shone a spotlight for some people on a weakness in their overall fitness.  And for others, it hasn’t exposed anything but strength!  So good for you if you are in the second camp, but that in itself should provoke some self-analysis in terms of bringing your fitness game to the next level.  Coach Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, outlined 10 general physical skills that should all be included in our definition of fitness.  They are cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.  Every movement that we include in a workout at CrossFit Kent Island tests at least one of these, and some of the more frequently-used movements are popular because they test several skills at one time (ahem… wallballs…)  So if you have the strength box checked, maybe it’s time to refocus your energy on a general skill area or movement that remains an Achilles Heel when it pops up in a workout, rather than re-doubling your effort on that 400-lb squat.

So, what do you REALLY need to work on?  Let’s think about that question from the perspective of a few fictional athletes completing today’s WOD.

Joanna finished the CrossFit Total today in record time, even though it was not a timed event.  She is an experienced squatter, and so quickly moved through the warm-up and ended up PR’ing her Back Squat by 5 pounds for a happy 175-lb effort!  Moving onto the Strict Press, Joanna knew it would be a struggle — Strict Presses have never been “her thing” — but was feeling confident from that PR and put her previous best weight on the bar for a warm-up.  She pressed her warm-up weight for one rep, and failed on the next set!  Oops, I guess we haven’t improved there.  Regrouping, she got an impressive 10-lb PR on her Deadlift in about 15 minutes, stretched her legs, and headed out the door to work!
Joanna’s experience with the CrossFit Total would lead me to believe that one thing she needs to work on is upper-body strength, at the very least on overhead pressing.  Staying after class for 15 minutes once per week to do 3 sets of 5 Strict Presses, Push Presses, or Jerks (maybe alternating weeks between the three) would be a great first step in shoring up her strength imbalance.

Christopher is a monster with some weights in his hands, and he’s pumped when he sees the CrossFit Total on the nightly blog.  He walks into the gym a couple minutes late for class, some last-minute work emails got in the way, and jumps on the bike to catch up with the class.  His Deadlift and Press numbers during the WOD are definitely at the high end of the class, and his Squat numbers would be too but he’s been feeling really tight lately.  Well, I guess his whole life he’s had tight hamstrings and back problems, so what are you gonna do?  His squats at 225 lbs are suspect, and as he loads more on the barbell the depth of his squats are such that they don’t count as full reps.  He works with the coach on technique adjustments to help get lower, and it works sometimes if he really concentrates and gets as low as he can in an air squat, but that bottom position is very uncomfortable so he does a few more reps at 315, getting as low as he can.
Christopher is a strong dude, and I would pick him on my side in a fight any day, but a well-rounded athlete he is not.  Luckily, putting some effort into his squat mobility — what he REALLY needs to work on — will increase his comfortable range of motion relatively quickly, and for him the sky is the limit in terms of gains that will materialize with better flexibility and pain-free movement.  To be clear, I’m saying that improving your mobility will also increase your strength, stamina, endurance, balance and agility.  It starts with putting some focus into your pre-WOD and post-WOD mobility – don’t show up late or jet right after class!  That is the bare minimum that we all need to put in to get primed to move, and then to recover.  After that, stay for 15 minutes to do 3 more personal drills that any of our coaches could prescribe and you could add to your regimen, or come to one of our Mobility sessions once per week, and use the knowledge gleaned there to work at home for 10 minutes per day.  Christopher is never going to be an ideal picture of mobility, that title is reserved for those that are genetically gifted to be super-flexible.  But he can definitely make improvements, and they will go a long way.

My last example will be Yolanda, who also needs no introduction to the barbell, and is pretty fresh since she hasn’t been into the gym since last week.  After all, the past two WODs have been pretty endurance-heavy, and that’s not really in her wheelhouse so she decided to stay home and do some push-ups or sit-ups or something.  She wants to see those abs, so she’s been working sit-ups into the rotation more often when she thinks about it.  When it comes to her max lifts in today’s CF Total, she’s a little bit underneath her current PRs and generally felt a little sluggish.  She just PR’d her Deadlift and Press last month at Open Gym, so it’s not really a big deal, and she definitely has the highest total of any of the females in class today.
Yolanda is strong, and has consistently been getting stronger which is awesome.  But her workout choices show a neglect for other facets of her fitness, and that’s not going to help her quest for abs.  She has no glaring weaknesses in the CrossFit Total, which is a sure sign that what she REALLY needs to work on is not strength at all, as much as it might be fun to do.  How about committing to hitting at least one workout a week that “doesn’t look fun”, or even show up to class without knowing what the workout is?  Leave the programming up to your coach, and just show up and give your best effort.  Gradually, the parts of your game that you haven’t practiced too much will not be apparent weaknesses, and you might find there are some pretty fun gymnastics skills out there!

Maybe you can categorize yourself into the Joanna group, the Christophers, or the Yolandas of the world.  Maybe your current fitness situation doesn’t fit neatly into one of these.  Wherever you are, take a moment to analyze first what you’re good at, and then where you need to put in some work.  Start with the 10 general physical skills that make up “fitness,” and then maybe drill down from there to specifics.  Like we said to Christopher above, your weakness will probably not ever become a strength compared to the other skills you are naturally gifted at, but it sure as hell can get better.  You’ve all proven that!

Until next time, I’ll see you in the gym, working on my overhead squats!

Ryan