10 Guidelines for CrossFit

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I’ve been involved with CrossFit either as a trainer or participant for over 8 years. Over that time I did a lot of things wrong, I made rookie mistakes. Sometimes I learned from those mistakes and sometimes, as is human nature, mistakes were repeated once or twice or ten more times. I’ve also witnessed several seasoned CrossFitters make some of the same mistakes I made and thought there needs to be a better way. At some point we have to break this cycle. Mistakes are common in any training discipline but they don’t have to be rampant. A guideline aims to streamline particular processes according to a set routine or sound practice. By definition, following a guideline is never mandatory and is not binding or enforced. However, by following the below guidelines we should all end up at the same destination, some of you will just have a much smoother ride.

1.) CrossFit is all about you.
Everyone at CrossFit Glen Burnie is headed for the same fitness destination, some of you may get there faster than others, and some will be much slower; this is normal. Don’t make the mistake and compare yourself to others at the gym. Some clients may walk in to the gym and have double-unders and bar muscle-ups right out of the box. For others it may take a year to develop these skills. Don’t waste energy obsessing over this and don’t compare yourself to other clients. It’s alright to use them for inspiration, but not to run yourself down or use their ability as an excuse to give up. Everyone at the gym has a problem area; some just spend more time and effort nullifying theirs. Embrace your weaknesses and get to work.
Be humble – there is a lot to learn. CrossFit wants you to be good at a lot of things (traditional strength lifts, Olympic Weightlifting, gymnastics, monosturctural cardio, plyometrics). Take your time, and be respectful of those who have been at it longer, and especially to those who are new. No matter where you are at in your athletic endeavor you never stop being a student. In Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers he states that “success depends largely upon simply practicing a skill over and over until 10,000 hours of experience is reached”. Yuri Verkhoshansky had a very similar view on the “10,000-Hour Rule” for the mastery of sports basically stating that if you put 10,000 hours in to anything you will be good at it. 10,000 hours to be good, not great, so be humble and be ready to work.
You will never be good at everything, refer back to that “10,000-hour rule”. The faster you get over this point the better you’ll be. CrossFit is about General Physical Preparedness (GPP). I know what you’re thinking, what the hell does GPP really mean. As defined by Mel Siff and Comrade Verkhoshansky it simply means athletes work on general conditioning to improve strength, speed, endurance, flexibility, structure and skill to help prevent imbalances and boredom with both specific and non-specific exercises by conditioning the body to work. That’s a lot of stuff, very similar to you wanting to improve your Squat, Snatch, Clean & Jerk, be proficient at double-unders, get a muscle up, run a sub 20 minute 5k, row a 1:35 500m and perform 10 strict pull-ups all while trying to PR Fran, Grace, Helen, Annie etc. Well, GPP doesn’t work like that. You need to set small goals that YOU can achieve each training cycle and exercise patience with a high concentration on form and technique. You will get there.

2.) Please Stop Kipping – Base Strength is Important.
I hate kipping pull-ups, there I’ve said it! I’m a CrossFit Trainer who hates kipping pull-ups. I understand why we do them, I just don’t like it. CrossFit is based on and rewards efficiency. The kipping movement is faster and more efficient than strict pull-ups, and the butterfly is faster and more efficient than kipping. This efficiency, however, should not be a bypass for putting in hard work and building the required strength necessary to execute strict pull-ups. I cannot stress enough how important it is to build the necessary strength in the latissimus dorsi, shoulder connective tissue, teres major and minor, rhomboids, and deltoids prior to swinging on the bars like a bunch of howler monkeys. SLAP lesions are real and happen in CrossFit, don’t be a statistic because you want to take a shortcut. I could write a whole article on this subject alone and probably will at some point but for now talk to one of your trainers or email me and I’ll send you our pull-up progression program. Implement it in your warm-up or at home – just use it.

3.) Don’t Be A Cherry-Picker
CrossFit was made and intended to punish the specialist. The perceived randomness in our programming is the beauty behind the CrossFit methodology. It forces you to work on the things you are not good at, to focus on your weaknesses. Consistently focusing on these weaknesses is the key to success in any training program regardless of what your personal goals are. If you only show up and crush the WODs you’re good at and reject the one’s you don’t like, then – NEWS FLASH – you are not doing CrossFit. You may workout at a CrossFit gym but you are in violent disagreement and missed the point behind the CrossFit methodology. A great example of this would be the 5k run day, how many of you skipped that WOD because you hate running? Be honest. This also holds true for cherry picking movements in a WOD. Think of subbing single-unders for double-unders. How many of you see double-unders on the board and instantly think I’m doing single-unders so my time doesn’t suffer? Performing single-unders leads to exactly ZERO double-unders. There really is no sub for double-unders it’s a skill you have to develop which leads us to our next guideline.

4.) Its Not Always About Competition. Wait, What?

Yes, a lot of what we do at CrossFit is based around competition but sometimes you just have to embrace training so that you improve. We want you to push yourself to set PRs or feel good about yourself for hanging with the top athletes in the gym on a WOD. Competition is an important factor at CrossFit Glen Burnie which helps our athletes achieve results that would be hard to duplicate in a noncompetitive environment. However, if every WOD is a competition where time is the only factor then you’re missing out on key training adaptations. Slow down every now and then and develop that strength, improve on a skill, and master proper form. The better you are at movements, the more access you’ll have to increased fitness. If you are always focused on competing for the leader board and not slowing down to learn and improve movements you will hit a ceiling that will be very hard to break through. Training is important in terms of increasing Range of Motion (ROM), perfecting skills and improving habits so that when you need to compete later on, you have more output and more ability.
Improvement doesn’t occur just because you thrash about with a reckless abandon, form be damned, attitude and race to the finish every time we start a clock. You have to take ownership of your workout. Refer to guideline 1 from yesterday – CrossFit is all about you.
If you really want to be at the top of the leader board or just be able to Rx WODs you need to focus on these things:

  • Get Stronger – Only deload the bar when appropriate, never take weight off because you want to go faster. If you can manage the Rx weight use it but be smart and consult a trainer. If your 1RM Deadlift is 315# and the WOD has over 20 reps of 315# DL then you need to scale, but only scale to 80% of your 1RM weight. You will never get strong by lifting light and fast.
  • Scale Only as Necessary – Only scale to complete the movements with the best possible form and ROM you can muster. Scaling mid WOD is ok and highly encouraged. There’s nothing wrong with performing 3 of the 5 rounds as Rx then dropping weight, moving to a progression movement in later rounds after fatigue sets in, or accumulating minimal reps in a max rep WOD because you were working on a skill.
  • Show Up and Train – Consistency is the key, even if you don’t like the WOD or was feeling tired or sore. Tired and sore days are perfect times to throw the clock out the window and just train.

Finally, when you are having those days when you feel like Superman and just want to throw down in a WOD, remember who you are competing against – Guideline 1: CrossFit is all about YOU. Go at your own pace and let the intensity find you. Push your work capacity; you will never get better by chasing the work capacity of the person next to you. That just leads to ROM issues, which we will cover in guideline #5.

5.) Accountability – Scaling and Poor ROM
In this instance of accountability we are talking directly about proper scaling and range of motion. Avoiding scaling for “Rx” distinction is a grievous error. Scaling is a key component of CrossFit, but it’s also one of the most underused and misunderstood concepts. Scaling is not just about picking a lighter weight or grabbing a few plyo bands for assistance with pull-ups. It exists to help you complete a WOD as the WOD was originally intended. Confused? That’s okay, especially after guideline #4. Let’s break it down with one of my favorite CrossFit WODs:


    21-15-9 of Deadlift (225#)/HSPU

Let’s say you can complete all 45 reps of 225# Deadlifts and HSPU but it would take you over 15 minutes. Should you “Rx” the WOD? Stop shaking your head yes, the answer is no. Diane was created to be a short burst high-intensity WOD. Dan Bailey, I think, has the fastest Diane on record at 1:35. Appropriate scaling should be the means in which you and Dan can perform Diane and get equivalent effects. The top 25 men and women at Regionals last year averaged about a 2:25 Diane. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t perform the WOD in double to triple the time of the most “elite” then you should scale. Roughly speaking in this example, if you don’t have a sub 6:30 “Rx” Diane then you need to scale.

Um, didn’t you just tell me yesterday to only deload the bar to about 80% when it’s appropriate cause I want to get stronger?

I sure did but if you think ripping through 45 reps in a METCON is a good way to add strength you’re crazy and in this instance it’s appropriate. Let’s break this down with some math. Dan’s 1RM DL is 540#, by performing Diane as “Rx” Dan is working out with about 42% of his 1RM. If your DL is 275# then 225# is about 82% of your 1RM. 82>42 – Are you guys even close to doing the same WOD? You will work your way up in scaling as you build strength and power output. That’s why we have a dedicated SWOD program.

It’s a fine fuzzy line people, which is why you need to consult and listen to your trainer when working on scaling, but at the end of the day it’s all about the intention of the WOD. I’ll write about this in another post and explain the 80% rule in more detail.

Enough about scaling, let’s move on to ROM. Don’t worry this will be quick; it’s not as complicated as scaling. In the heat of battle we are all going to short reps every now and then its human nature, just don’t short every rep. Be accountable, if your push-ups are not chest to deck, squats are not full depth, or you short the press portion of your thrusters then you are not working out as “Rx”. If you have huge range of motion issues because you want to post the top time on the whiteboard then you are doing yourself a disservice – remember guideline 1: CrossFit is all about you. Be a stickler on your form even if it means posting a slower time. ROM issues will catch up to you in the long run. Repeated bad motor patters lead to shortened and diminished training results. According to Dr. Richard Schmidt in his book Motor Learning & Performance: From Principles to Practice “it takes approximately 300-500 repetitions to develop a new motor pattern and it will take about 3000-5000 repetitions to erase and correct a bad motor pattern”. Concentrate on getting it right and keeping it right and you’ll progress 10-times faster.


6.) This “Insert Random CF Box here” Program Is the Only Way!
CrossFit very quickly evolved or de-evolved, depending on what side of the fence you’re on, into the sport of fitness. Now that CrossFit seems to be more about the sport it seems its original message has been lost among the masses. You will find countless boxes on the Internet touting “their” athletes with claims that they have the best programming. Let’s peel back this onion and look at the original message of CrossFit. CrossFit is a conditioning program focused on building GPP, which was meant to “forge a broad, general and inclusive fitness”. Don’t get caught up in the sport of fitness or involved in an exclusive program that makes you question your current training or makes CrossFit your life. The basic CrossFit methodology provides a program that will allow you to go out and take on almost any new challenges in your daily life, play sports, run and play with your children, or just be healthier and fit. All you have to do is show up and work hard and everyone participating at CrossFit will advance, adapt, and get stronger. CrossFit was not meant to control your life, it’s what you do so that you can control and be remarkable at your life. Pick a program and stick with it, we happen to like our basic program here at CFGB, but it may not be for you. If you want to specialize or have aspirations of qualifying for the “Games” let us know, we’ll design a program for you or find the right program for you based on your goals. The bottom line is there are plenty of good specialty programs out there, OPT, CrossFit Invictus, Outlaw, CrossFit Football, CF Endurance. Everything works, the key is finding out what works and fits with your work and family life and sticking with one program long enough to reap the benefits. If you are thinking about starting a program where they have the “Our warm-up is your work-out” mentality (coincidentally this could quite possibly be one of the dumbest sayings to ever originate with CrossFit), has you engaging in two to four WODs a day before and after work, marathon OLY lifting sessions, and the METCONs are always heavy and long then you may want to read guideline 7.

7. ) Overtraining? It Doesn’t Exist, But More Is Not Necessarily Better
“There’s no such thing as overtraining just under recovery”. That’s not my statement and I honestly don’t know who it originated with but that person deserves a medal. I’m serious, a big shiny medal. When has over preparing for anything ever been a bad thing? Well, I would have passed my driving test, but I trained too much at driving and parallel parking. Now if you stayed up the entire night before the test and tried to cram it all in and took the test after a 30 minute cat nap you may be in trouble, some might say that you are tired and under recovered. You know, I would have passed my history test, but I studied too much during the semester. I think two examples are enough. It is easy to make the mistake and think that the short intense workouts we perform need to be coupled with something else, especially when there are some many skills to master in CrossFit. Inevitably, people want to try to perform multiple WODs a day which if you don’t spend the proper time recovering will negate the work you are doing.

General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) is a term used to describe the body’s short and long-term reactions to stress. GAS has important applications for sports training.

  • The purpose of training is to cause the body to adapt to sport-specific stressors. Training should strengthen physiological systems, mobilize the correct energy systems and fuel supplies, and repair damaged cells.
  • Train each athlete according to their current level of physiological functioning. The athlete’s training and biological age will impact the amount of tolerable training stress.
  • Use a training stress that produces a recoverable level of fatigue within a reasonable amount of time. The optimal training program stimulates adaptations by causing a recoverable level of fatigue to the cells and organ systems. After each bout of training the athlete should feel fatigued to some degree, but not so exhausted homeostasis is disturbed.
  • Always incorporate the recovery time as a recognizable part of the athlete’s training program. Once the structural and enzyme protein adaptations have occurred the body will be at a higher physiological level of functioning.
  • Recover long enough to allow for supercompensation. Supercompensation is the post training period during which the trained function/parameter has a higher performance capacity than it did prior to the training period. During supercompensation the internal body structures, enzymes, energy and fuel stores build beyond the normal biological state. During a training cycle the intensity and volume of training varies, waves of different functions are overlaid so that until the end of the microcycle supercompensation of the primary required functions is achieved.

According to Mel Siff, “If subsequent loading is imposed too soon during the recovery stage, then supercompensation fails to occur and performance continues to decrease.” If recovery is not adequate, the athlete runs the risk of returning to below the baseline level. Gains are made when the body fully recovers from a training session, not during the actual training session. Unfortunately, there’s no hard answer to how much rest is required between training sessions and it’s very different for each person. Rich Froning Jr. trains multiple times a day several days a week. Athletes that can maintain that type of a training regime have a fitness level that a large majority of the human population does not possess. Here are a few signs that you may need to rest more:

  • Inordinate levels of muscle soreness coupled with pain in the joints, bones, and limbs after a workout
  • A feeling of extreme fatigue during your work day (non-CrossFit hours)
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Decreased performance or failure to complete normal workouts
  • Elevated resting heart rate in the mornings
  • Failure to adhere to guideline #4 – Not every day is competition day. Don’t mistake intensity for hard work. You can still get a lot out of your time in the gym through hard work. Intensity and hard work is not the same thing.

Embrace Rest, Recovery, and Mobility – If you don’t the only results you’ll achieve are decreased performance with an increased chance of injury. Our Basic CrossFit program is designed to help minimize athlete injury but you have to do your part. You can not kill yourself every time you show up at the gym, eventually your body will break down. No one has ever become bigger and stronger from lifting weights – they got bigger and stronger during their recovery from lifting weights.
This part is all on YOU – proper nutrition, hydration, and sleep all have a major role in recovery, listen to your body and rest if you need rest (you know what you could always improve on no matter how sore you are?……..Double-unders). Finally, work on your mobility. Everyone should visit Kelly Starrett’s MobilityWOD daily. Think of his site like gym homework you have to do every day.

8.) Avoid Injury.
Sore [sawr, sohr]: (adj) 1. physically painful or sensitive, hurt: a sore arm. 2. hurt or inflamed so as to be or seem painful: He is sore from all that exercise.
Injury [in-juh-ree]: (n) 1. harm or damage that is done or sustained: to escape the game without injury. 2. a particular form or instance of harm: an injury to one’s knee will slow their football career.

Injury is damage to a biological organism which can be classified on the various bases of cause, modality, location, and activity. You are in the gym to train. A real strength and conditioning coach designs their program to minimize athlete injury during the training season (off season) and also to prevent injury during the competition season (in season).
Strength gain and skills can only be improved with unrelenting and regular work. At some point if you want to improve whether in health, fitness, strength, or your sport of choice you need to “Get Comfortable With Uncomfortable” – OPT, but pain is different than sore, injured is different than hurt, you owe it to yourself to check your ego at the door and know the difference. If you get injured you cannot train properly, you have to take time off from the gym, and your goals will not be met. CrossFit is not about impressing others – Guideline 1: CrossFit is all about you. It’s your fitness, your health, and you being able to show up tomorrow and improve. Better than yesterday, but not as good as tomorrow.

In order to avoid injury you need to take some ownership of your training. Show up on time for your class so you have time to warm-up properly, stretch, work on mobility, and learn any new movements/perfect form on old movements. Take time to cool down and stretch or roll out after a WOD. If you are rushing to finish and rushing to leave at some point you are going to get injured. Finally, commit. Commit to movements, the program, your mobility/flexibility, and diet. If you don’t fully commit to CrossFit it will destroy you.

9. ) Find A Good Trainer and Listen To Them. Seriously, Listen To Them.
CrossFit is not immune to the same issues that plague the fitness industry. There are a bunch of good CrossFit trainers and there are also hordes of bad CrossFit trainers out there, just like at other gyms and strength and conditioning facilities. The onus is on you to find a trainer that that will satisfactorily answer all your questions and can train and cue you in a manner that you understand and can follow. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t understand a movement ask, if you don’t understand it after an explanation and demonstration ask again, keep asking for clarification until you understand and get it. A good trainer knows that different athletes/clients learn in very different ways. Some are verbal learners who can learn by listening to cues and coaching, visual learners can easily watch demonstrations and self correct their own movements when it doesn’t mimic what they saw, and others learn through kinesthetic awareness by feeling the way a movement correctly and incorrectly places stressors on their body. Good trainers will utilized all of the above methods of teaching until they find the one or ones that work best for you.

When you finally find that gym and trainer that you want to work with you need to listen to them, that’s why you’re paying them. It’s your time, money, and most importantly your health on the line. Squat, Deadlifts, Snatch, Clean & Jerk, and advanced gymnastic movements require a lot of critique from a trained eye. Nothing is more frustrating for a trainer than a client who will not listen. Listen to their scaling advice and movement modifications. If they are asking for more intensity then you need to dig deep, they are pushing you for a reason. The reality is unless you just walked in to CrossFit after an outstanding collegiate or professional sports career you are probably not going to pick a lot of the movements up right away, you are going to require a lot of training and cuing. Refer back to the 10,000 hour rule in Guideline 1; it takes time to acquire new skills. Don’t get upset if a trainer stops you mid-WOD because you are not listening to their cuing. They may just need to break you out of that WOD induced delirium and make eye contact with you to correct a deficiency before you are sidelined with an injury.

10.) Have Fun!

CrossFit is fun. If you can’t have fun in a CrossFit gym there may be something wrong with you. Seriously, think about revising your priorities because if I wanted to hang out at a boring lifeless place spending countless hours performing menial tasks that infuriate me beyond belief due to lack of personal progress and immense stress I would just stay at work.

You’ll learn and do things (fun things) in a CrossFit gym that you can’t do in most globo gyms. CrossFit will teach you Olympic Weightlifting, gymnastics, plyometrics, running & sprinting, you’ll flip tires, use sledgehammers, climb ropes, drop weights (without everyone wanting to place a scarlet letter on your shirt), you can bath in chalk if you are so incline (although really not necessary). Hell, even our language is fun: EMOM, WOD, AMRAP, Thruster, chipper, tabata, sweat angles, pukie, burpees, T2B, C2B, K2E, METCON, and SWOD. Where else can you find guys who readily admit that some “girl” kicked their ass, or tell a female patron she has an amazing snatch and not get slapped in the face? Have you seen the way some CrossFitter’s dress? At normal Globo Gym clients dress like they are going to a fashion show. At CrossFit we dress like every day is a costume party at the gym. Why else would you wear full head to toe compression gear, knee high socks, OLY shoes, headband and then cover it all with tape and chalk simply to perform the daily WOD, which coincidentally was 10x400m repeats with a 1:1 work:rest ratio.

The moral of Guideline 10 is simply to not be so serious in the gym; just show up work hard and have fun. It’s not about winning the daily WOD, local competition, or PRing every WOD that comes up. It’s the experience of getting in the gym with like minded people and having a good time improving at life. If you walk in everyday and treat CrossFit with a globo gym mentality, throw your headphones on and go off in the corner then you’re missing out. The CrossFit community and attitude is the best part. Where else are fellow clients going to rally around you and cheer you on as you finish that last set of pull-ups? No one at Golds, Merritt, or Planet Fitness is going to cheer you on as you knock out that last ¼ mile on the Stairmaster, but we CrossFitters will be waiting for you at the finish line of that last 400m to celebrate with you in that feeling of accomplishment. It’s just a different fun atmosphere. Enjoy it.
In closing, let loose and have fun. Find your inner Firebreather!

Firebreather –Fie-r-bre’-th-er: (n) 1. One who faces the triumphs and tribulations of great physical opposition with an indomitable spirit. 2. An optimistic energy associated with the heart of an athlete – Greg Amundson.