Today’s CrossFit WOD
7 Squat Cleans
14 KB Swings
Modify these movements as required, scale the loading appropriately for your ability level.
Athlete: “Coach I just got my 5th personal best in one week!”
Coach: “Better take a week off training.”
The athlete was me circa 2010, the coach was Andy Swartz of CrossFit Vancouver, at that time one of Western Canada’s top CrossFit competitors.
But why a week off just when things were starting to rock for me? Because progress is never linear and your best performances come just before you drop into the trough and start grinding your CNS gears in frustrated futility. That’s why.
It is easy to get addicted to those personal bests like a gambler on a hot streak. CrossFit has quantified performance so we can track our progress. It is a powerful tool. But like a winning streak, your gains can’t go on forever. Eventually your body will fatigue and will need some down time to consolidate all those big gains you just made. You will always be at your best just before you go flat.
Conversely, things will be worst just before you hit your next peak. So if you are struggling through the quagmire of disappointing performances, take heart, your next breakthrough is just ahead.
But when? That’s the million dollar question. Sorry, I wish I knew. In myself and other athletes I have observed a 6-8 week cycle of peaks and plateaus. The dry spells can easily discourage performance-oriented athletes but they are just part of the game. Battle through them and you will find each plateau is a bit higher than the last. And each valley is slightly shallower than the one you passed through before.
What are the best ways to deal with this? My coach’s suggestion was great. Take a week off and come back easy. That way you will at least miss the bottom of the trough when things look bleakest. But when to quit? After 1 PB? 2? 3? It’s like trying to time the markets.
Since opening CrossFit Empower on Dunbar street I haven’t taken any weeks off training. Instead I grind through the the down days and consider it training in mental toughness. I temper my expectations and give myself permission to hit WODs at 90, 80, even 70%. It sounds like CrossFit heresy (again, if HQ reads this I may face exile) but I just can’t give it 110% every day (I don’t believe anyone can) especially when I am floundering in a performance trough.
My shift of focus often includes the pursuit of smaller goals inside the context of the WOD.
For example on Sunday’s 1-rep max Snatch rather than worry about setting a new PB I increased my lift by 5# each set when – and only when – I landed the lift solidly with no stumble or off balance. The outcome was seven very good lifts at or above 80% of my one rep max but nothing approaching my actual PB. Was it enough weight to elicit a training response? Indeed. did I benefit from some excellent practice? You bet.
For the upcoming HeroWOD Rene I had a different approach. Instead of worrying about overall speed my goal was to complete every set of 15 pull ups unbroken for each of the 7 rounds. A challenging but doable goal.
In this manner I can continue to chart training improvements even when I am not peaking.
The heady days of a CrossFit newcomer are glorious when every month is filled with a cornucopia of personal bests but if you are playing for longevity get ready to ride out regular dry spells. Be prepared for them mentally and emotionally and have a plan in place for how to address them when they arrive at your door.
I don’t know about you but I’m here for a good time AND a long time!