How to be successful at CrossFit

I have been coaching CrossFit for about two and a half years now.

About five years ago I weighed close to 300 pounds. I would venture that my heaviest in my lifetime was close to 330 pounds. I now weight about 205-210.

I have been doing CrossFit for about four years.

I have seen a lot of people come and go and I have seen success. Whether that success comes in terms of weight or how you look in the mirror naked or if it comes by the weight on your bar or your first muscle up. I have seen a lot of success. I have seen a LOT MORE failure. I have seen people quit. Never show up again. Disappear. Never make a real change in their life. Failure.

I have seen it in myself. I used to wear size 40 pants. I now own pants that fit around my waist comfortably that are size 32. I can squeeze into size 30 pants. When I first started to empty my closet my first round of shirts were XXXL – THREE X’s!! I now own three shirts that are sized medium. I have added nearly 200 pounds to my squat. I remember failing over and over again at 95 pounds in my snatch during the 2012 Open. My PR is now 190 pounds. I used to not be able to run more than about 30 seconds at a time, I can now run a sub nine minute mile. My first 5k my goal was to not walk any part of it, now my goal when I run a 5k is less than 27 minutes.

I have seen success first hand in my own performance and in others. This is what I have learned.

There are three types of people who come to the gym and do CrossFit. There are other types, but these are the three main, large groups. Only one of them truly produces change and success.

Before I get into the three groups, let me say that nutrition and sleep are also VERY important if you truly want to effect change. You cannot eat like shit and counter that in the gym. If you eat like shit you will look like shit and you will perform like shit. Simple as that. If you do not sleep enough you will also see performance issues in the gym. And, in my case, if I do not sleep enough my will power to NOT eat like shit goes out the window. I need at least seven hours of sleep a night, preferably eight.

But, with that being said, here are the groups of people I see in the gym. The largest group first and the smallest group last.

1. The athlete that comes to the gym sporadically. This is the person you see at the gym a few days a week one week, several days the next and then they miss a week – or three. They come back and say stuff like “I need to get back in the habit” or “I need to get back into it”. They have a lot of excuses why they cannot get into the gym. And that’s what they are, excuses. Listen, I know life does get in the way sometimes. Sometimes there are REAL issues – health issues – that prevent folks from getting to the gym. But when you don’t get to the gym because you are too tired, that’s bullshit. If you really wanted to get to the gym you would stop watching TV. It’s all garbage anyway. Who cares which celebrity can dance better than the next? Get your ass in bed and get up and get to the gym.

No way this athlete EVER makes any sort of progress. Skipping days at a time isn’t good, much less skipping weeks at a time. These are the athletes that I pay little attention to when they come to class. Unfortunately I know I won’t see them enough to really put in the effort. You spot them early on because this person will miss classes early and it continues until they vanish forever. They will be content telling their friends that “they can’t lose weight” and get upset because the skinny person can “eat whatever they want”. They could “eat whatever they want” if they just committed to the gym.

But committing to come daily isn’t enough and that leads me to the next group.

2. The athlete that comes often, but doesn’t truly push themselves. This is the person that after the first few minutes of a WOD they seek out their water bottle. If you can’t go a few minutes without water – DRINK MORE WATER BEFORE YOU GET TO THE GYM. These are the people that during the last 15 seconds of an AMRAP are seen standing around. These are the people that in the last 20 meters of their run (no matter the distance) walk to the finish line. These are the people that do eight reps instead of the prescribed 10. These are the people that walk directly out of the gym when “class is over” – no way they will hang around and stretch. These are the people that when doing a “max rep” set will put the bar down when it gets hard. Forget pushing to failure, they just don’t want to push past “hard”.

These athletes almost upset me more than the first group. Why come if you aren’t really going to workout? Push yourself to make a difference in your life. I will try to push them during an AMRAP and then they will call it quits with 15 seconds to go when they could easily get another rep or two. After a few weeks I will come to realize that my time is better spent elsewhere as this person will eventually quit anyway. It was too hard for them. These are the folks that love to tell others that they were at the gym today. Sure, you were there, and, yes, it was better than NOT coming, but give me your all.

3. Finally, the athlete that commits and pushes. This is the athlete I love. These are the folks I constantly engage with at the gym. These are the ones that I see push for that last rep with two seconds on the clock. These are the athletes that when trying to find a 1RM have to dump the bar because they really found their max (as opposed to group #2 that would be satisfied with finishing with a tough rep). These folks find themselves exhausted after a workout. Truly beat. This person is at the gym regularly. Not saying five or six days a week, but you can count on them being there when they are supposed to be there. Whether that is Monday-Friday or Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday – they are there. And when they are there they work hard. If I ask them what round they are on during a metcon they can barely talk to me. Sometimes I when I ask a question they give me a look like I am speaking another language. They are so focused and pushing so hard that their brain cannot immediately compute what I just said because so much effort and focus is going into the workout.

I LOVE THESE PEOPLE! These are the people that will wear a shirt to class one day with a smile from ear to ear because they couldn’t fit into it a few months ago. These are the athletes that ring the PR bell with pride because they just squatted their body weight for the first time. These are the people that continually see progress. Sure, they might plateau for a bit, but they continue to push hard and will get over that plateau. I know they will when they do not, but that effort will NOT go unrewarded.

Sure, there is a mixture of group one and two. And there are definitely some people who show up infrequently, but when they do they bust their ass, but those types are fewer and further between. Most athletes I see fall into one of those three categories.

This does not include the globo/mega gym folks. There are other groups for those folks. These are the groups I see in CrossFit.

Remember – if it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. But hard is what initiates change. When it becomes easy you need to either push harder or add weight. Continue to make it hard. That’s how you continually get better.

And I write this because one of the people that is a JOY for me to coach is Erin. She can be a bit “whiny” at times, but it is in good fun. While she might bitch and complain about a workout with 50 burpees mixed in, she does every single one of them and does them as fast as she possibly can. She shows up five days a week and if she misses a day she has a good reason – but those reasons aren’t “I wanted to watch the Bachelor finale”. When she is done with a WOD she is spent and you can tell by the look on her face. She gives it her all.

I hope she doesn’t mind, but here is a picture she put on Facebook today. I love these kinds of pictures. There is no substitute for hard work.

Left and top right is before, bottom right was just the other day.

Left and top right is before, bottom right was just the other day.

Nice work, Erin! You deserve every bit of it!


2 comments on “How to be successful at CrossFit

  1. Megs says:

    Great transformation & way to get fit! I know you mentioned there are likely other types of athlete not listed here, but I wanted to contribute one: The athlete who believes seriously in cross training a wide variety of activities and uses the box gym as a reminder on various moves & forms for their weight training days. You only see us a couple times a month but we are very dedicated – sometimes more-so than the regular members ;).

    • traviseses says:

      Yes – that would be a good group. I haven’t had experience with that group yet. Some are definitely using CrossFit to supplement other training/goals.

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