My take on Crossfit/Functional Fitness training etc

This past summer (2017), I worked at a CrossFit centre as a social media manager, in return for unlimited free entries to the gym.

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Yup. Basically, I churn out about 2-3 posts per week for both Facebook and Instagram. It could be motivational, informative, announcements etc. But that’s not what this post is about. More on that in another post.

The gym that I went to is GritFX Sandakan, which for all I know, is the one and only functional fitness-themed gym in Sandakan, i.e. my hometown.

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For all that it is, it’s an awesome place. Plates and bumper plates ranging from 2.5kg to 25kg, tons of wall balls, boxes, skipping ropes, chalk, and of course, barbells. TONS of it. For fuck’s sake there are more than a dozen barbells there. I’ve been to gyms where I’ll be happy if they have more than just one decent barbell. Most importantly, the walk-in entrance is only RM10 per entrance! Incredibly affordable if you ask me.

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All in all, it’s a pretty solid place. Highly encouraged to have a stop-by if you’re thinking of stopping by Sandakan for a trip and is looking for a place to get some work in.

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Now onto the topic of the day.

P.S. The following points are my PERSONAL TAKE based on my first-time experiences working out in the CrossFit center for about 3 months on a consistent basis. I was mainly doing powerlifting prior to this. Needless to say, it’s an eye-opener.

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1. No longer ignorable muscle imbalances

My tight calves, weak quads, weak back, tight chest and an array of other issues that I’d been putting on the side for a long, long time had finally come to a due.

As I was mainly a low bar squatter, quads and calves aren’t exactly on the top of my “MVP muscles” list. The lack of quad emphasis in my training and my lack of attention to rolling out my tight calves caused a build-up knots after knots due to a day-in-day-out of walking, running, and jumping – all of which spelled disaster as these made front squats, overhead squats, and pistol squats an incredibly awkward movement.

Also, the smaller, commonly ignored, weak rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder were highly affecting me in movements like snatches, overhead squats and lunges, and Turkish getups. Oh man Turkish getups. I could still remember the first time I did Turkish getups. The amount of tremble and instability I had in my left arm was shocking compared to my right arm

Turkish Getups
Turkish getups

 

2. Building up my non-existent cardiovascular endurance

Ask anyone who’d done Crossfit before on what do they think are the most important aspects of the sport, and I bet “lung capacity” would probably be somewhere in the top three. However, myself being in a sport where you would lift a total of only 9 individual reps in total in competition, cardiovascular endurance is something that’s way down the priority chart (like waaaay lower). Things soon worsen to a point where I would even gasp for air simply walking across my gym to load the plates on my bar.

In Crossfit, that’s no longer something that I could just shove under the mat any longer. In every WOD (Workout of The Day), there would be some sort of cardiovascular taxing movement, may it be wall balls, burpees, single/double unders, sprints, thrusters etc. On top of that, there would be a time pressure on you the whole time so you would be a heck less tempted to take that extra 10 seconds of rest because well, the clock is ticking.

And I’m not talking the ability to jog a 10K (tho that is an impressive feat on its own). I’m talking about the ability to carry out highly intricate, heavy, explosive movements, e.g. snatches, pistol squats, thrusters, overhead squats, all while your lungs feel like they’re going to explode and you’re about to pass out any second. It’s the capacity to lift heavy shit for reps, while being in a constant oxygen debt.

The first couple weeks were absolute hell for me. I couldn’t go through more than 5 consecutive reps of anything without having to take a break and catch my breath for a sec. Every workout seemed impossible to be completed under the time-cap given. Over time, as training progresses, I could physically and mentally feel the difference in my performance as my cardiovascular capacity went up. I could take shorter breaks, and coordinate my movements better. I could still think somewhat clearly, despite breathing like a gorilla on roids.

3. Skills acquisition

This is probably the most valuable thing I got out of my experience. With the presence of equipment and guidance that I wouldn’t usually get, I was able to attempt and learn so many more new exercises that I wouldn’t even attempt usually. Clean and jerk, snatch, handstand pushup, kipping handstand pushup, kipping pull-ups, butterfly pull-ups, rope climb, and wall ball are probably items I would proudly say I’m now able to perform decently, whereas I wouldn’t even have dared to attempt in the past. Though my base strength and good kinesthetic awareness definitely aided in the learning of these movements, they still require additional elements like agility, accuracy, and speed to master.

4. Mental toughness

Prior to this, my training was so powerlifting revolving that I became super ingrained in it. I made sure to myself that I followed my program to the absolute tee. Tho that isn’t exactly a bad thing, I soon took things to the extreme. I was in the gym for more than 1.5hours each session even though I was doing less than 13 sets in total, as I was taking super long rest times between each set because I was so stuck on hitting the numbers I was supposed to hit for the day.

Now, I’m a full advocate of resting as long as you need prior to hitting heavy sets because the last thing you want is failing a squat because you couldn’t catch your breath halfway through. However, when it comes to accessories, it’s all about putting in the work. Hitting the necessary volume and just moving on with things. In my case, as the numbers on the paper became so important to me, on top of my terrible my conditioning, I started taking longer and longer rest periods for each set, even for small movements like side raises or crunches, which bred a bad habit of being just a little bit too leisure in the gym.

All these excessive rests and keeping things low on the RPE scale, is basically making me into a soft puffy marshmallow. Whenever lactic acid started building up, or my heart rate goes a little higher than what I would’ve liked it to be, I would just rack the bar, and excuse myself as “keeping the RPE low for the next set”. My mental game was just…mediocre.

With Crossfit, each WOD is performed in a session, typically with 5-10 more people surrounding you. This, on top of the time pressure, really forces you to get that extra rep in, to hold on to that bar a little longer, to push a little harder. Only then, am I able to truly understand word by word the phrase “Growth happens outside the comfort zone”.

5. The community

Because each WOD is held in sessions, twice a day, it’s nearly inevitable that you’ll be working out with people surrounding you. Yes, you’ll have that ugly-ass grinding face of yours being shown to others around you constantly, but the best part? Everyone else would too. Everyone would enjoy the pain, and laugh it all off when WOD’s over – together. Personally, I know only a handful (around 2-3 I guess) of people whom I could talk fitness stuff over to, and in GritFX, every day, I see people whom I could talk about fitness with intelligently, and is also willing to push themselves hard day in day out. This, of all things, motivates me like none other.

 

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1. Lack of structure

Tho Crossfit would probably a very good starting point for people who are new to any sort of fitness training , I find it is somewhat difficult for intermediate athletes to progress in the sport without some sort of proper programming. This is because the very nature of WOD, is to encourage variety and also, in my gym that I go to at least, more often than not contains an element or two that take into consideration a range of athletes (from newbies to gym rats), to make sure everyone has a good time there.

Newbies may find it easy to make improvements every session ( some weight here and there, an improvement in technique or form, better pacing etc), but I find the very setting of WODs make it difficult for individuals to carry out specialized training. Yes, you could do your specific programmed training on the side while the WODs are going on, but you would probably get an eye or two from people surrounding you. Or alternatively, you could do your training after each WOD, but your tank would more than likely be empty after that, making your training less effective than what it could’ve been if you were fresh.

 

2. Testing vs Training

In the sport of powerlifting, if you want to get your squat numbers to go up, the least effective way, at least if you’re an intermediate lifter, is to go for your 1RM session after session – because instead of actually training the squat ( accumulating volume, building muscle mass, training explosive speed, greasing the groove etc), you’re constantly testing it. Yes, you might get a couple kilograms from muscle adaptation, but one thing’s for sure – you won’t get far.

This is the same problem that I encountered with Crossfit. Take pull-ups for example. As you may or may not know, the fastest way to accumulate pull-ups reps is to do butterfly pull-ups. They may not look elegant, but they enable you to use your entire body to do the work, instead of just utilizing your arms and back to pull your body mass up towards the bar.

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As you can see, the hips and abs generate momentum, carried forward by the back and arms to finish the movement

But the problem comes when I wanted to progress to be able to do more pull-ups. No matter how good I can be at butterfly pull-ups, at the end of the day, a strong back at doing strict pull-ups is irreplaceable for getting more reps at these. In other words, I would have to do more strict pull-ups to build-up that raw back strength, without the assistance of the kip from my hips.

However, every time during a WOD, I would have a higher incentive for doing butterfly pull-ups instead of strict pull-ups, simply because it saves me time and energy. And when it comes time to actually train my pull-ups after each WOD, I would’ve been toasted after the amount of volume I’d done that I couldn’t muster any more pull-ups. Again, back to the analogy of doing a 1RM on squats each session.

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Crossfit, by no means, is a bad sport (unlike what most online trolls may call it to be).In my eye, it’s a sport that emphasizes on work. How much, and how many varieties of work can you do – and how fast can you do it? If I were to ask you to do a hundred pull-ups within 15minutes or your house will burn down, would you rather do a hundred strict ones or a hundred butterfly pull-ups? Exactly.

However, here are my two cents for those who are in it for the long term. Take a step back, and instead of going ham and “crushing it” every WOD, start looking things from a little higher up of a view. To go far, proper programming and structure is a must. Specifically, especially from someone who’s in the strength sport, some sort of systematic progression to build that foundation strength would be incredibly beneficial. Say for example you would have to do 100kg on the squats for 100 reps. This might be somewhat hard for someone whose 1RM is 120kg, but for someone who’s immensely stronger (say a 1RM of 200kg), this would be much easier. Not because he’s better cardiovascularly or endurance wise, but simply because the weight is much lighter to him. Yes, no doubt, lung capacity, and muscle endurance play a role in this, but personally, I believe that foundation strength is pivotal.

Strength and Lung capacity as the foundation for all work

But hey, these are just a token from me. Take it with a grain of salt from someone who’s just starting to get his feet wet in the sport.

WOD on.

– Just another dude

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