Question: On the road to becoming a competitive athlete what should my first steps be and how long should I give myself?
This is a tough question to answer as there are many variables to consider. Most things where CrossFit is concerned are very person specific. What I have found is that this question is best answered by asking yourself an even more important question: “Why do you want to compete?”
Answering this question first will allow you to set specific, measurable, realistic, time-based goals that are most importantly of all achievable. I always bring to the attention of my members, clients, and athletes the importance of proper goal setting. It can make or break progress and morale without us even realising it. If you set smaller goals that you are able to achieve it creates a subconscious effect that gives us the feeling of success. Success breeds success. By smashing smaller goals consistently it becomes a habit. Good habits are just as hard to break as bad ones.
If we set goals, even just a few, and are unable to reach them it immediately puts it tends to put us on the back foot. Failure can be harmful to even the strongest of minds and most certainly newbies.
Personally, I feel competing in CrossFit is an extremely important thing to do. We learn a lot about ourselves when we are thrown in the ‘Deep end’. We push harder than we normally do, we learn how we operate under pressure, we find our strengths and as well as weakness’ we didn’t think we had. We also find out just what it takes or will take to get better.
So again, ask yourself WHY you want to compete?
1) Some of us enjoy seeing what we are capable of and/or if our training is paying off. This is a great reason, as long as we remember that we must accept that although pushing the envelope is a necessary element of training and progression there is a very fine line between conditioning and over doing it. CrossFit is a training discipline and sport that can cause us to push harder than we are trained for. This is where good coaching comes in. Your coach will advise and help you every step of the way comp days. Remember the WHY. If you have entered a competition just to see what you are capable of then do just that. Don’t beat yourself up, don’t push harder than your threshold allows and remember that when you find a weakness go back to the drawing board and work on it.
ENJOY BEING A BEGINNER. ONCE THAT GOES IT GETS PRETTY REAL 🙂
2) For some of us, our WHY is that we competed in various sports at school, level and crave the competitive environment. Mentally this category of people is slightly tougher as they are probably used to collegiate / university / high school level sports and are wanting that feeling again. In the same sentence, this category is most probably gifted as a sportsman and talent should never go to waste. If this is you, you will understand that to be good at any sport you must practice the fundamentals. As the chances are you probably have good motor skills, muscle memory and hand-eye co-ordination competing for you is a great idea. Start slow and remember the WHY. You enjoy and miss the high of the competitive environment – so when you’re in it, enjoy it !
3) The serious buffs: Here the WHY is a little more tricky. These ladies and gents are after success and want to win. These athletes are the gifted sports people, the ones who eat, sleep and drink the competition cool aid. Rest is a four letter swear word and the burning desire to compete in every session, every weekend and every competition is brighter than the sun.
This is where having a rock solid program and experienced coach are important. Competitions must be carefully selected and chosen by yourself or your coach. They must be trained and prepared for. Entering every competition every weekend, red lining in every session as well as maxing out absolutely every time you lift is not the way to do it. Progressive overload, addressing weakness’, working on strength and learning what nutrition works best for you as an individual all take time. If you want to do well, and I mean WELL, this advice is paramount.
Tips for Every CrossFitter:
1. Breakfast is everything. If I can convince you to eat meat and eggs for breakfast, the other meals are usually OK. If you negotiate with me about having probiotic yogurt instead of meat and eggs, we’re in trouble.
2. I can get someone 70% of the way there in the Olympic lifts in about 3 hours. At that point, the limiting factor for men is usually shoulder and hip mobility. For women, it’s front squat and overhead squat strength out of the bottom. Work with your coach and have a game plan you can stick to – Always.
3. If you aren’t a total idiot with what you eat, you should set a PR pretty much every time you step in the gym for the first 2 years.
4. The shorter the workout, the longer the warmup should be. You need to warm up for 35 minutes for Fran. You need to warm up for 5 minutes for Murph.
5. Unweighed unmeasured Paleo eating works best if you’ve done “The Zone” first. Your Zone experience will give you a ballpark idea of how much you should be eating. If you don’t come from a “Zone” background, you’ll likely do things like sit down and eat 85 Macadamia nuts and wonder why you aren’t losing any weight.
6. As you get better, you need to take a backoff week about every fourth week (not because of injury). You can still come in and workout, but take some more rest days and just chill out.
7. You don’t need to learn to butterfly kip if you don’t have strict pull-ups down to a T. Yes intensity is a much-needed element, but so is a rock solid foundation. You are going to hurt yourself and end your hobby/sport before it even starts.
8. Dumbbells are the most under appreciated piece of equipment in the gym.
9. Prior runners do not need supplementary running to improve their run times. People without a running background do. I think this mostly has to do with learning to pace correctly.
10. You can’t just train weaknesses. It’s too depressing. Every now and then, pick something you are amazing at and crush it.
11. You can get away with a lot of inefficiencies if you’ve got a strong grip. Do more farmers’ carries.
As mentioned at the beginning competing is important. The level at which you compete as well as when you enter your first competition all depends on you.
My advice: Make sure you are efficient and able to perform the 9 fundamental movements in CrossFit. You will have done these in your intro program (beginners course), at your box. You can also find out from the organisers what movements will be in the Rx and scaled divisions of the competition. Chat to your coach and get them to do their due diligence.
As a beginner, these pointers will certainly help you on your fitness journey. Competitions are not easy even if you enter a scaled division. Get your training habits right and it will set you up for a far better day/weekend at your first competition. Remember – Have fun !
Here are some extra bits of advice for the newbies (<2 years experience):
1.) You’re Competing Against Yourself, Not Others
When it comes time to throw down in a WOD, don’t feel like you have to do everything RX’d or be able to complete 20 rounds of Cindy right off the bat. Go at your own pace. Let the intensity find you. You need a solid foundation of strength and flexibility in order to progress into more demanding workouts. Start light, get your form down, and don’t worry about the mother of three who is deadlifting 120kg as you struggle with the bar. Chase your own capacity before chasing the person next to you. We all start at different starting points and different backgrounds. Which brings me to point 2.
Which brings me to point 2.
2.) Don’t Be Too Proud To Scale
There should be no problem scaling workouts. Remember that at most CF boxes including mine the Rx version of the WOD (workout of the day ), is designed for the fittest athletes in the box.
Tony Budding (of CrossFit HQ) describes scaling as another form of programming. You have to know your own body and its limits. But most importantly, there’s no substitute for common sense.
3.) What You Eat Is More Important Than What You Lift
Nutrition is the key to every aspect of your life. It affects your energy levels, your recovery, and your overall defense against disease. To quote the late Jack Lalanne, “You put junk in, junk comes out. You put good in, good comes out.” When you’re first starting out, the quality of your food is far more important than the quantity. Call it whatever you want: Paleo, Primal, Hunter-Gatherer, Pretentious D-Bag Diet; just eat clean. If you’re eating as clean as possible, you don’t even need to worry about the quantity.
4.) It Doesn’t Get Easier, It Just Sucks Less
The longer you immerse yourself in the suck, the less it sucks. You get stronger, build a greater aerobic capacity, and become mentally tough. All of these aspects, combined with experience, allow you to know when to push yourself and when to back off so that you can attack each workout to the best of your ability. Soon, you’ll come to love the beatdowns.
5.) Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Clarification, Over and Over and Over Again
It’s your time, money, and most importantly, health. If you don’t fully understand something, ask. If you still don’t get it, ask again. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you don’t fully grasp the concept, or you think others in the class will get frustrated with you for taking up too much time. We were all newbies at one point. We’ve all been there. Learning the mechanics of certain movements like the kip, squat, deadlift, or any of the Olympic lifts takes lots of practice and critique from a trained eye. If you need help, just ask.
6. If you are injured you can’t train.
The whole reason we do CrossFit is to learn how to move. It is to make sure you improve how you look and feel outside of the gym. Recovery is important, cool downs are SUPER important and remembering the golden rule: Once the CrossFit bug bites it bites hard! Being injured is probably the worst thing that can happen after the bug bites as we cannot do what we love and enjoy – CrossFit. Don’t play it TOO safe, but don’t get hurt.
Yours in training,
Author: Nicholas Caracandas
Nicholas Caracandas is the owner of City Bowl Fitness – Strength and Conditioning as well as CrossFit Mother City in Cape Towns CBD. He has been in the game for just under a decade. With more than 600 clients under his belt and over 5000 hours of personal training completed he has trained clients and athletes from all walks of life.
He is a CrossFit Level 2 Trainer as well as a Personal Trainer continuing his studies through the
International Sports Science Academy – Masters Training Certification.
He is a type 1 Diabetic for 18 years with a vast understanding of nutrition and eating for
“ I like to think of myself as a professional Coach with a good understanding of how to help my clients and athletes in their transition from good to great”.