Thursday, April 11, 2013

Open Gym - Insights From a CrossFit Newb

Many CrossFit athletes enjoy the structured programming that their box provides. No matter the programming that the box follows (main site, Outlaw, coach designed, CF Football, etc), the structure provided helps to minimize and prevent the development of inertia. Chances are, the programming you follow will prevent you from hitting the dreaded fitness plateau. I mean the mantra of "constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement" is drilled into the head of every CrossFit affiliate owner, coach, and athlete.  There is also a chance that your programming has prescribed rest days or possibly even "Open Gym". For those novice athletes that never picked up a barbell before setting foot into the box, the concept of Open Gym can be a terrifying experience. For those experienced athletes that have been working out for much longer, the concept of Open Gym provides freedom to deviate from the programming you follow. I enjoy working out on Open Gym days. Sure I could rest and allow my body to recover from the beating it has endured during the previous 2-3 days. Instead, I choose to focus on the following: strength not emphasized by my box's programming, mobility, or skills that I suck at. That's it. Mobility. Strength. Skill work. No metcons. Ever. I am a five day a week CrossFit athlete. Sometimes six. This is how often I have come since joining 7 months ago. I would say my average attendance per week is 5.25 days. I don't need to do any more metabolic conditioning than is already provided by my box's programming.

Here are my goals as a CrossFit athlete: improve my overall strength, lose fat, look better naked, eradicate the pre-diabetes I had developed, and improve my overall metabolic conditioning. The programming I follow accomplishes all of my goals; however, there are elements that I feel are under-programmed from a strength perspective. Coming into CrossFit, I would say that I had above average upper body strength. Without much in terms of coaching I could bench press above average weight. I found that these were advantages that I needed to maintain in order to make up for deficiencies in other areas. Let me explain further

In my opinion, here are four main elements that should be a focus of any well-rounded CrossFit athlete:
  1. Strength
  2. Mobility
  3. Gymnastics familiarity
  4. Metabolic conditioning
These are not ordered in any specific manner. I'm sure there are other elements that could be added; however, they would likely indirectly fall into one of these categories. In general, I'm above average in terms of strength. I can deadlift, squat, press, clean, or snatch more than the average person at my box. This is my advantage relative to my fellow athletes. On the other hand, I have terrible mobility. This limits my ability to get significantly stronger in movements that require flexibility. This is why I suck at the overhead squat, squat snatch, or squat clean. My hip, shoulder, wrist, and elbow mobility prevent me from being able to get into a successful overhead or front rack position. This is my primary disadvantage. Like most CrossFit newbs, prior to starting CrossFit, I had never spent any time on any gymnastics type movement. This meant that things like ring dips, handstand push ups, muscle ups, and kipping pull-ups would require a steep learning curve. In my opinion, metabolic conditioning will be addressed by consistent attendance and maximum effort during every WOD. If you show up and work hard on a consistent basis, I can guarantee that you will improve your metabolic conditioning.  

This what a typical Open Gym workout looks like for me:
  • 20 minutes of mobility. Focusing on my hips, wrists, elbows, and shoulders. I have become good friends with the foam roller, Lacrosse ball, and bands. I am closer to a front rack, but still not there. I can barely overhead squat 115 pounds but easily back squat 315 pounds. I need to religiously work on mobility. K Starr is an inspiration.
  • 20 minutes of strength. In my opinion, chest based strength is severely neglected by my box's programming. I used to be able to bench press 315 pounds 5 times. I can barely lift it twice. I usually do something that focuses on chest strength...things like banded bench press, Wendler strength progressions, 5x3/5x5 workouts, or weighted dips.
  • 20 minutes of high volume single movement or 1 rep max (e.g. weighted push-ups for time, weighted dips for time, 1RM bench/weight dip) OR skill work (e.g. handstand push-up, muscle up, double unders)
That's it. Nothing too taxing on the cardiovascular side. Focused on strength maintenance and development, mobility improvement, and skill progressions. Why kill myself during Open Gym when I know that my coaches will take care of that for me tomorrow? Following this approach to Open Gym time has allowed me to accomplish the following:
  • Joined the muscle up club!
  • Learned how to do handstand push ups rx'd
  • Learned how to kip when doing handstand push ups
  • Set gym records for weighted pull-up and dip
  • Able to overhead squat 115 pounds when I couldn't even do 45 pounds when first starting CrossFit. Its not much, but progress is progress!
  • Increased my push press from 165 pounds to 190 pounds by working on technique
Take advantage of Open Gym to get better at something...anything. That's the goal right? To get better everyday. 

1 comment:

  1. Hey, I just discovered this blog, some months after your last post. I'm curious: are you still at it (crossfit, that is)? Sounds like from this post you were really into it (5+ days/ week). Did you... burn out?

    Anyway, to respond to the post, I sometimes think Crossfitters should spend more time exercising outside of their WOD sessions, and less time WODing.

    I mean if you look back to Glassman's original manifestos, the idea of Crossfit was to be fit FOR SOMETHING -- usually, a sport -- not just to be fit for the sake of being fit. And as Crossfit gives you better conditioning, etc, you should be able to apply it in whatever else you do -- basketball, MMA, golf, construction work, etc. Those are all things with specific skills that you just need to develop and practice. And no, Crossfit can't really develop those skills for you (despite some past grandstanding from HQ).

    Personally I find Crossfit is a great fitness program, but by itself it's not going to make me better at the sports I'm interested in. It'll make me "more ready to play" but it won't change my skills. So I tend to split my time, emphasizing the sport work as much as the fitness. It means slower progress in Crossfit, but whatever. :)