When I first started CrossFit, I found it unique in its way of pairing multiple modalities together for a single workout (such as lifting with traditional “cardio” exercise). This was different from any training I had previously experienced and it challenged me to be both strong and fast at the same time.
Nonetheless as a former collegiate level athlete, many of the elements at CrossFit’s foundation were very familiar, specifically the weightlifting movements. I learned how to weight train my freshman year of high school. We had a sophisticated strength program for the sports teams at my school and I was introduced to both powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting when I was 14.
Because I realize this is not the case for many people starting CrossFit, I routinely acknowledge the “beginner CrossFitter” as one with little to no exposure to lifting weights. But now I’d like to address the athlete who is new to CrossFit but has prior experience and knowledge of weight training and strength and conditioning as a whole.
Some things I’ve learned about training in the realm of CrossFit:
Full range of motion – Not always emphasized in sports-specific training, completing movements (whether box jumps or air squats) through their full range of motion built strength (and created muscle soreness) in areas I hadn’t reached previously.
Initially this showed me that a new range of motion is often a weak range, as I needed a lot of work with things like push-ups (all the way to the ground) and squats (hip crease below parallel) before I felt strong with these exercises.
Intensity – This was probably the single most valuable concept I learned when I started CrossFit and it has continued to be the most important element in my training.
The word intensity has taken on new meaning since I started CrossFit and I credit the difference in my training and improvement in my fitness to that intensity. The effort that I am able to put into my workouts now is comparable to the level of play during a scrimmage or high-level volleyball drill. In college, these were always the most beneficial times during practice. We were all moving and competing at a high intensity similar to what we would be doing in the game.
Knowing that we got the best results practicing our sport with high intensity, it is funny to think now why we weren’t encouraged to bring a higher intensity to our strength and conditioning. In retrospect, I wish we had for I think it could have given us the stamina and endurance needed to win some critical matches we lost.
Technique and Threshold Training – Using weight training as a supplemental conditioning program for my sports in high school and college, our coaches stressed technique over intensity due to fear of injury. I realize now that most of us were training at a fraction of our true capacity because our coaches were more conservative when we were in the weight room versus out on the court or field.
Since I started CrossFit, technique has always been stressed but with the introduction to the concept of threshold training I began to realize what I was really capable of. With threshold training you push the limits of your ability by raising the intensity (either by going faster, or heavier, or some combination of the two) and allowing your technique to slip a bit.
At this point you train to improve technique under the new, more intense conditions and once you have regained form (either within that workout or over the course of multiple training sessions) you push that threshold again by upping the intensity to a new high.
Training for GPP vs. Training for Specific Sports – There just isn’t the same payoff of getting to play a game. I love CrossFit, and most days I can have fun “playing” CrossFit. But my sport is now nearly the same format as my training. Whereas before, my conditioning and strength program was supplemental – the goal being to better my body for my performance on the field or court, now what I’m practicing is to be the most powerful exerciser.
For me, it has been most enjoyable to make my way back to the volleyball court for some open gym time at the local sports complex. This makes me recognize where my training has benefitting my ability to play the game I love but don’t get to practice anymore. It also mixes things up and gets me a fun break from my training regime.
Ultimately, I feel that CrossFit is the perfect outlet for a former competitor, in any sport. Training next to focused, like-minded individuals and getting to have the feeling of competing again were what drew me in. The challenge of reaching that next level and the continuing results are what have kept me coming back.