So…you wanna compete, huh?
First of all, that’s awesome and we fully want to support you and help you get there. We believe that anybody can compete given the right mind set, dedication and commitment to the boring stuff.
If you want to compete at a high level for a long time you need to put in the work doing the boring behind the scenes stuff before you can be anywhere close to a podium. I don’t want to be a buzz kill but as somebody who has made a lot of mistakes I just ask that you don’t discount everything I am about to say and trust me for the next 4 minutes.
The best way to talk about how to get into competing is going way back to an article written by Greg Glassman in 2002 titled “What Is Fitness?” This groundbreaking article discusses how CrossFit defines fitness and still remains valuable and on point with where CrossFit is going even 17 years later.
Towards the end of the article, Glassman presents what he calls “The Theoretical Hierarchy of Development of an Athlete”. This can be seen below:
Much like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you need to master one level of the pyramid before moving up and focusing on the next part of the pyramid. Can you skip all the boring stuff and sign up for a competition today? Yep. Will you win? Probably not. Will you get hurt? Maybe. Will you continue to place better if you do a competition every weekend for the next 3 years? No freaking way.
Glassman writes: “We don’t deliberately order these components but nature will. If you have a deficiency at any level of “the pyramid” the components above will suffer.”
Let’s talk nutrition. If you put standard Unleaded Gasoline into a Formula 1 car, what do you think will happen? I admittedly know very little about cars; it took me about 30 minutes to change my windshield wipers last week. But I do know enough to tell you that “regular” gas will limit the performance of a car meant to use fancy racing fuel. If you want to be a Ferrari stop eating processed shit. Everything about your body works based on what you put inside it. Nutrition for a competitor is not about having abs or leaning out. The sole purpose of food is to fuel your body to accomplish tasks efficiently and allow it to expend energy and repair things when they get broken down. Unfortunately, pizza and Diet Coke are not going to do the trick.
The next level of the pyramid is metabolic conditioning. Put simply, this prevents an individual from fatiguing prematurely. A higher metabolic capacity will allow an athlete to recover faster during breaks in a workout. I’m sure you have seen the video of Eliud Kipchoge finishing a marathon in under 2 hours sometime over the past week. He looked like he could continue running for another 50 miles at his ridiculous pace. He is, arguable, the most metabolically fit individual on the planet. Distance athletes embody this level of fitness. They are able to sit at a very high heart rate for a very long time. If you want to compete, you HAVE to develop a high level of cardiovascular efficiency. This means sit your ass on a rower for an hour, do 800m repeats, see if the assault bike goes past 999 calories, etc. It isn’t beautiful and it isn’t worth posting on social media but it is a necessary step in moving up the pyramid to being a high level CrossFit competitor.
Now that we are eating well and can run a 5-minute mile it’s time to build up our gymnastics. The focus here is on controlling your own body. You need to have the strength, flexibility, coordination, balance, etc to move your own bodyweight before you should add external objects. Hockey players need to learn how to skate before they can learn how to take a slap shot. Why do CrossFitters feel like they should work on squat snatching 3x their bodyweight before they can air squat? Eventually, poor body mechanics will be magnified when the more advanced movements come up and you will always struggle.
You are working on publishing your own cook book, completed an Iron Man and are doing sets of 30 unbroken ring muscle-ups, now what? Weightlifting. This includes all the weighted movements we see in CrossFit. Wallballs, KB swings, back squats, cleans, snatches and on and on and on. This is the glamorous stuff that most athletes want to jump right into. If you put in the time to do all the boring behind the scenes stuff you will not regret it.
There are some other things that make a big difference throughout this entire process. Mobility. Do a lot of it. Fix the muscle imbalances that lead to compensation and eventually injuries. Sleep. Get a lot of it. If you are always tired you will always be bringing less than 100% to your training sessions. Hydration. Water; a lot of it. And not the kind of water that comes in coffee or beer form. Rest days. Take them. Similar to sleep, if you aren’t taking days off your body will eventually break down and you will burn out. Mental recovery. Get out of the gym and spend time with friends or family doing things that you enjoy doing that recharge your batteries. Fitness is a grind. Take care of every area of your life to get the most out of this journey!
Once you do all of this you have reached the point in which you can really start training your weaknesses and being selective of the workouts you do. Doing this before you put in the time doing all the other stuff will result in a very unbalanced athlete heading down the road to a lot of injuries and a short “career” as a CrossFitter.
There is no secret formula to getting really fit really fast. Make a bunch of small decisions every day. Repeat this for 7 days a week. Then do that for all 52 weeks throughout the year. At the end of the day, you need to compare where you currently are to where you want to be. You can get there, but it won’t happen without a tremendous amount of dedication and commitment.