MISTAKE #1: NOT BUILDING A BASE
Just like the construction of a building, a solid base must be laid down before participating in any heavy lifting. At CrossFit South Bay in Manhattan Beach, California, trainers take beginners through a six-week on-ramp program in which individuals learn the foundations of the movements and start with little to no weight. It’s easy to want to jump right to lifting big weights or doing five WODs a week, but it’s not smart or safe. If you want to improve your fitness level, train smarter, not harder. Chiropractor and owner of LA Sports & Spine Craig Liebenson has worked with Olympians, professional athletes and training staffs around the world. “Slow and steady is the best way to build an athlete. If power is at the top of the pyramid, then stability is the base,” Liebenson advocates. Fitness is a constant process. Build your foundation of fitness first and then begin to increase the intensity, whether it’s weight, reps or variations of an exercise. Trust in the process.
MISTAKE #2: SACRIFICING FORM FOR REPS
Focusing on form is in line with the first step — building a base. When we really want something, we’ll often do anything to get it. CrossFit is no different. This frequently comes in the shape of sacrificing form for repetitions. For instance, if you round your back just to pick up a deadlift, you’re sacrificing form for reps. If you don’t touch your chest to the ground when doing pushups, you’re sacrificing form for reps. If your knees bend in instead of out while you squat, you’re sacrificing form for reps. All of these sacrifices put you in danger of injuring yourself. “When you sacrifice form for quantity, you are always taking a chance,” Liebenson says. Nothing is as important as proper form. Most of the movements in CrossFit require a high power output with heavy weight. If done properly, you will benefit exponentially. If movements are done in an incorrect manner, you will only suffer.
MISTAKE #3: OVERTRAINING
Many will agree, CrossFit can be addictive. From pushing past self-imposed limits to setting personal records to the new friends you make, CrossFit always leaves you coming back for more. While CrossFit does wonders for your mind, body and spirit, it needs to be done in individual moderation. For some people, such as competitors, this can mean two workouts per day four or more times a week. For others, this can mean three WODs in a week. Signs of overtraining include irritability, change in appetite, change in sleep patterns, a plateau in performance and loss of motivation. Overtraining leads to burning out and even injury. Recovery is just as important as training. So remember to schedule “off” days for your body to fully recover. But recovery isn’t just rest. Chiropractor Craig Liebenson says, “[Recovery] involves hydration, diet, sleep, soft-tissue work and corrective exercises.” Liebenson often sees CrossFit patients only after it is too late. Lauren Conner of CrossFit ARX says, “When athletes who want to compete come to me, the first thing I change is an assigned, mandatory two days off. When athletes first decide on a goal, they are full of hope and ambition. What they don’t realize is even when they physically feel good, they still need to mentally get away from their training.”
MISTAKE #4: CONSTANT COMPETITION IN TRAINING
Competition is an important aspect of all sports, and it’s human nature to try to constantly improve. Competition can be with oneself or with others. Training is for practice, and competition is for competition. Craig Liebenson says, “The unique thing about CrossFit is that it is “the sport of fitness,” so things get very muddy. Naturally, injury is a big risk in CrossFit precisely because of this. If we don’t have stable, competent movement patterns and we push both volume and intensity, it’s a recipe for disaster. Since CrossFit is in a group environment, it is akin to a pitcher throwing every pitch as hard as he can. Pacing and recovery are crucial components of training. Even in a professional soccer game, during which there may be 30 all-out short sprints, 90 percent of the game is slow-paced recovery.”
MISTAKE #5: FAILING TO SCALE
Scaling is crucial in CrossFit and is one of the most underutilized components. Scaling is different for every individual and is intended to help the athlete complete a workout in a safe manner. If you don’t want your CrossFit career ending like a Greek tragedy, don’t let hubris get the best of you. As PJ Stahl, owner and head coach at Los Angeles’ CrossFit Lock Box, says, “Every individual has different movement patterns, restrictions and personal needs.” If the WOD prescribes 10 sets of 95-pound thrusters, but your personal record is 75 pounds, it’s not wise to try to perform the weight as prescribed. This doesn’t mean that you cannot do the workout, but instead you just need to scale the workout. Stahl continues, “Not everyone has to be doing the same thing at the same intensity.” Scaling involves changing the rep, weight or time scheme to your level of fitness. If you let your pride get the best of you and attempt many sets at a high weight, the only outcome you are setting yourself up for is an injury. To prevent injury, Stahl says, “The athlete can modify the exercise, decrease the range of motion, decrease the weight used or move at a slower pace and focus on form.”
MISTAKE #6: LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY
CrossFit is a sport of integrity. Athletes count their own reps, judge their own movements (depth, extension, etc.) and call out their completion time for a workout. Workouts are based on honesty (unless you’re in competition, in which a certified official judges you). If you choose to always deadlift nine reps when you’re supposed to deadlift 10 reps, you are only cheating yourself. Or if you’re posting high numbers in a workout, but not squatting to full depth on your wall balls, you are never going to get better. Insufficient range of motion and lack of integrity don’t lead to positive results and can even lead to injury.
MISTAKE #7: NEGLECTING TO WARM UP
Warming up is one of the most important things any athlete can do. Olympic track athletes warm up for more than an hour just to run a sub-10-second 100-meter race. If the muscles are warm, they will perform properly; if they are cold, they will not perform as well and increase the risk of injury. PJ Stahl of CrossFit Lock Box in Los Angeles says, “Make sure you have properly stretched the joints and sufficiently established the ranges of motion that will be used in each exercise. This is not only increasing blood flow to the muscle and preparing it to perform at peak potential, but it is also mimicking the neurological movement patterns.” When Stahl coaches, he creates what he calls “a dynamic warm-up that includes full-body movement patterns, bodyweight skill work and mobility work for different joints and muscle groups depending on that specific workout.”
MISTAKE #8: SKIPPING MOBILITY
When listing the reasons why one does CrossFit, we usually see losing weight and building muscle at the top of the list. Unfortunately, flexibility and mobility usually don’t even crack the top 10. However, mobility is crucial when it comes to long-term performance and general well-being. Having better mobility is going to make you a better CrossFitter by increasing your range of motion, allowing for better and faster recovery and preventing injury. It’s time to become best friends with your foam roller.
MISTAKE #9: SKIMPING ON SLEEP
Sleep is just as important as diet and exercise. If you’re not getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night, it’s like putting sugar in the gas tank of your car. Over time, it will chip away at you and eventually cause your performance to deteriorate. Lack of sleep increases the production of the hormone cortisol, which causes the body to accumulate and hold on to fat. Don’t be your own worst enemy or undo all the hard work you’re putting in at the box. If you want to perform well in your future workouts, you need to be able to recover from your previous workout. A good night’s sleep will allow you to perform at your peak. Remember, results are not seen in training; results are seen in recovery.
MISTAKE #10: NEGLECTING PROPER POST-WOD NUTRITION
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is waiting too long to replenish glycogen post-WOD. After an intense WOD your body is depleted of its glycogen stores, and it’s imperative to replenish them for optimum muscle recovery and performance. What does this mean in layman’s terms? Refuel your body with protein and carbohydrates within an hour of your workout and you will recover faster and more efficiently. CrossFit workouts don’t last long, but they are intense. You don’t require the same energy as a triathlete, marathoner or long-distance biker. Jan DeBenedetto, an Olympic weightlifter, biochemist and sports-nutrition lecturer says, “Carbs are needed, but the timing is critical. There is an anabolic window of opportunity.” The anabolic window is generally considered to be within 30 minutes from the end of your workout. A study out of the University of Texas showed that a protein and carbohydrate mixture from 1:1 to 1:4 is “anabolic as well as anti-catabolic. Anabolic builds while anti-catabolic prevents and reduces breakdown.”
REMEMBER, YOU’RE IN IT FOR THE LONG RUN!
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was your body. Remember why you started. Chiropractor Craig Liebenson says, “Durability is more important than ability.” CrossFitters are typically all highly motivated, focused individuals. Stay safe by avoiding the top-10 mistakes so that you can enjoy the benefits of CrossFit for years to come.