How Competing In CrossFit Upped My Programming Game
Updated: Jan 31
I've been very open about my Pro-CrossFit stance before, and while I know there are lots of issues or contentions that many have with it, I've realized over the years how my time as a "Weekend Warrior" in CrossFit made me better at programming conditioning work for my athletes. I didn't get into to CrossFit because of wanting to stay in shape, I wanted to compete. I was one of those guys who had an extensive athletic background and was looking for something to fill the void left when my time as normal athlete ended.
Now, competing in CrossFit is much different than just doing it for exercise or training. There are skills you have to learn, basic movements to master, and weak spots in your competitive game that matters. I was wildly fascinated with the competitive game, and understanding my own weaknesses in relation to a workout in order to plan a strategy for scoring or ranking highly during competitions. My brother, Josh, was competing at the highest levels of the sport and taught me a lot about the pacing aspect of strategy, which ultimately lead to the impact on my conditioning work that I do with my athletes.
As most coaches should know, the major metabolic pathways are often duration specific and trained for in accordance with those time zones. This is where competitive CrossFit changed the game for me, because when you are trying to make every second of an event count you quickly identify how long a single rep of any movement might take. This ultimately becomes valuable when designing conditioning sessions that are targeting specific adaptations.
For example, a wall ball shot to ten feet takes between 1.5-2 seconds per rep, depending on how fast you can propel yourself into and out of the bottom of a squat. An American Kettlebell Swing takes between 1.2-1.5 seconds, also dependent on whether or not you pull the kettlebell down from overhead or let gravity do the work for you. Knowing this as a CrossFit competitor allows you to understand how long something will take as a whole set, and then your level of fitness for a certain exercise can be considered as to how you break up reps, how long your rest breaks are, etc.
Now, I'm not saying these things as a promotion of using CrossFit for Sport Performance, but I do think the knowledge of the different movements can prove useful for coaches in a team setting without enough ergs, bikes, versaclimbers, or other common piece of conditioning equipment. For example, with my wrestlers I have a track, a stadium, a hill, and 10 medballs ranging from 10-30lbs. When training these athletes, I have to keep in mind what will happen when weather makes for an unsafe environment to train outside, as well as the fact that the running mechanics of high school wrestlers will be the first to break down as they get tired, increasing their likelihood of injury. But having an arsenal of movements that I derived from CrossFit has helped me create options that keep athletes engaged and safe when doing any form of conditioning work.
And with athletes having different levels of fitness, sets and reps may not be good form of conditioning, but setting goals based on how long a movement should take is a great way of increasing the intent during a time duration prescribed conditioning block. I have found this especially useful in working with younger athletes with differing training ages in the same group.
So while I no longer do CrossFit or compete in the weekend competitions, it did help me long term in developing my abilities to write conditioning sessions. I am also not saying you have to be in agreement with CrossFit methodologies to be able to learn something from it, especially when the old CrossFit Games qualification process allowed athletes to work on more periodized annual plans. You don't even have to do a competition to learn from it, but if you do want to learn more about it I highly recommend getting to know athletes or coaches from the higher levels who can help break down the strategic process of competing. Doing so will ultimately lead to better success and more creativity as a coach.