As CrossFitters, most of us enjoy doing the “big” lifts and complex gymnastic movements. And I don’t disagree! There’s nothing more fun than throwing around a heavy barbell or finally conquering kipping pull ups. BUT…it’s also really important to focus on accessory exercises to help you become even more successful in unlocking your athletic potential.
In CrossFit, we do a lot of bilateral movements (both arms/legs), which is great for building power and absolute strength, but it can cause muscular imbalances from one side of the body to the other over time. For this reason, it is important to incorporate uni-lateral work (single arm/leg), single joint movements (like curls!) and strict movements to bring up any muscular imbalances. In other words, accessory work helps to bring up the weakest link in your chain. For example, if you’ve been stuck at the same back squat max for a while now, maybe you are actually being limited by your hamstring or glute strength, for example. By utilizing exercises that focus solely on building up these lagging muscles, you can often bring up your big lifts, too.
If that weren’t enough, most accessory and assistance work can be done in high-volume with little to no risk of injury. On the flip side, doing something like back squatting heavy every single day in hopes of increasing your squat numbers does raise your risk of injury. Also, by doing accessory work in high volume, you will likely add muscle mass to your frame. (Ladies – this does not mean you’ll get “bulky!”) Increased muscle mass means you’ll look better at the beach, burn extra calories while resting, get stronger AND your risk of injury goes down even more!
Several days a week, we program “cash out” or accessory exercises with the goal of helping you to be a better at CrossFit. So please, if you can, spend a couple minutes doing the extra work and see how it can help you!
Ahh, the elusive pull up. It is a movement that doesn’t come easy for a lot of people. However, if you’ve been doing CrossFit for a while, it’s worth devoting the time to focus on them as they are a great way to build upper body strength in the lats, arms and increase your grip endurance. They are also a functional, real-world movement that can be utilized outside of a CrossFit class. And finally, if you are interested in ever performing kipping pull ups, butterfly pull ups or muscle ups, you MUST have strict pull ups first!
Reasons Why You Aren’t Getting Better
While banded pull ups and jumping pull-ups are a good progression to use during a fast-paced metcon to keep you moving and keep your heat rate up, they will likely never get you to a real, unassisted pull up. By using this type of assistance, you are never actually holding 100% of your bodyweight and going through full range of motion (ROM). This means that you will likely not develop enough strength through the bottom position, where the band is stretched the most and provides the most assistance.
Second, unlike the weighted movements we do in CrossFit, where you can decrease the weight on the bar, you’re stuck with your bodyweight on movements like pull-ups! Obviously, the lighter you are, the easier it is to pull your bodyweight over a bar. When we first start out on our fitness journey, sometimes we may have a little weight to lose, which is completely normal. After working out regularly and getting your nutrition dialed in, you can get to a weight that is ideal for bodyweight movements AND all the weight training we do in CrossFit.
Progressions to Practice
So now that we’ve identified a couple problems that may be stalling your progress, you may be wondering how to start working on getting your first pull up. For that, you’ll have to devote some time (consistently) to developing pulling strength.
1 – Hangs:
Being comfortable in holding your own weight on a pull up bar is the first step. If you grip strength is lacking, practice hangs first. A couple times a week, simply hang from the pull up bar for 2-3 sets of a max hold. Make sure you are in an “active” hang. This means that you should pull your shoulder blades down and back (think of tucking your shoulder blades into your pockets.) Once you get to the point that you can hold for 15-20 seconds at a time, move on to the next progression.
2 – Static Holds:
Starting with your chin over the bar (either jump up or use a box to assist), hold in that position for as long as possible. You should start shaking as your muscles fatigue. Once you cannot hold any longer, lower yourself to the ground. Rest 1-2 minutes between and perform for 2-4 sets a couple times per week. Once you can hold for 10+ seconds with your chin over the bar, move on to the next progression.
3 – Negatives:
You will start with your chin over the bar by either jumping into position or using a box to assist you. From here, lower yourself as slow as possible through the full range of motion until your arms are straight. After your arms are straight, you can put your feet on the floor and start the movement over.
A couple things to keep in mind on negatives are that you want to work through the full ROM. This means that you do not relax until your arms are completely straight. A lot of people will lower slowly until the very end range of motion and then just fall to the ground. If you do this, you will never develop strength in that range, which is often the hardest part of the pull up.
Practice this on days that we aren’t already doing pull-ups, either before or after the workout. Each week, try to increase the amount of time it takes you to lower through full ROM. If you are able to lower under control with a 5+ second count, consider adding a weight vest (with a very small amount of weight at first) and repeating until you can lower slowly with weight added.
4 – Accessory Work:
Wok on the progressions above 2-3 times per week on days that aren’t already pull up intensive. In addition, you can add in accessory movements to help increase your pulling strength. Things like bent over barbell or dumbbell rows, ring rows or scap pulls are great options. If you have access to a lat pulldown, use it!
Finally, be patient and make sure you practice consistently. While some people may be able to obtain their first unassisted pull up in a few weeks, it may take several months for others. Keep practicing each week and you will get there. And getting your first strict pull up is just the beginning. After that, tackling all varieties of kipping pull ups and muscle ups will be next!
More and more often, we are adding time caps to almost all of our WODs at Battleship CrossFit. We do have good reasons, I promise. Read on to learn why…
It’s all about intensity
Every workout is designed to finish in under the allotted time by moving at a pace and at an intensity level appropriate to the workout. For example, let’s look at the benchmark workout “Fran” which is 21-15-9 Thrusters and Pull Ups. This workout is intended to be a short, very intense workout. The weight is meant to be light and the pull-ups should be done unbroken or in large sets. The best in the world can finish in under 2 minutes! If this workout is scaled properly, the workout should take no longer than 7-8 minutes.
We’ve all been there, but if your “Rx” Fran time is 15 minutes, you are not working at the same intensity level as those who finish in a few minutes, as the workout is intended to be. You would be better off to scale the load, range of motion or reps to finish this workout as a sprint. The WOD is generally not the best time to try to get stronger or more proficient at movements. That’s what the strength and skill portions are for.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you SHOULD
We program our WODs at an intermediate to advanced level to challenge he best athletes at Battleship CF. Not everyone is at that level, which is totally okay, but those who aren’t there yet (or maybe just not quite there on a particular day) should scale the workout accordingly. The time cap is there to make sure you don’t completely wreck yourself, because we care about you and want you to be able to come back in day after day, week after week, year after year! Just because you CAN deadlift 315 pounds does not mean you should do them in a workout of 21-15-9 if that’s 100% of your 1 rep max.
There are three energy systems which fuel all human action:
1 – Phosphagen pathway– provides energy for activities that are explosive and high-powered. These activities generally last less than ten seconds.
2 – Glycolytic pathway – powers moderate activities which can last up to several minutes.
3- Oxidative pathway – provides energy for low-powered, endurance-type activities. These would last in excess of several minutes.
Both the phosphagen and glycolytic pathways are “anaerobic” while the oxidative is known as “aerobic.” Any anaerobic activities (like a one rep max clean or a sprint) are explosive, muscle building and not sustainable beyond a few minutes, while aerobic activities (like a half marathon) are relatively low-powered, and can be done for long durations. Simply look at an ultra runner compared to a sprinter and you’ll notice a huge difference in their physiques.
It is very important to vary the training to work all energy systems. By using a time cap, we can more accurately direct athletes to the proper intensity and the appropriate energy system to create well-rounded athletes who can excel in any type of workout, whether it’s short and intense or long and steady state.
More is not always better
To follow up with the energy systems discussed above, long, grueling workouts are not always better. A 30 minute WOD isn’t better than an 8 minute WOD. They just have different purposes. Of course, it’s important for GPP (general physical preparedness) to train all varieties of workouts. That’s what is great about CrossFit!
So the next time you see a time cap, check the ego at the door and scale if needed to achieve the intended stimulus for the day. If you aren’t sure, talk with a coach and they can give guidance or advice on how you should tackle the WOD.
1. I won’t “fit” in.
When you show up to a CrossFit gym, you’ll find a different scene than the one you saw on television. Guess what else? You might be farther along in your fitness journey than other people attending the class…
It’s surprising, but one of the biggest factors keeping people from the gym is not being as fit as they want to be. What a catch-22! So, before you rule yourself out from being able to complete the Workout of the Day (or “WOD” in CrossFit lingo) let’s try to view the situation with fresh eyes.
As CrossFit has grown in popularity you’ve seen the well-muscled men and women of the CrossFit Games. As you watch them run, jump, and hoist tremendous weights overhead you think to yourself “I could never do that.”
So, what do you need to do? Try to reach out to a local CrossFit gym and see what it’s like. By opening the door, you will have access to a supportive and accepting community.
Your coach will help you “scale” to give a similar workout as those athletes on TV. The difference will be with lighter weights, shorter duration, or fewer repetitions. Everyone has unique strengths and weaknesses, and all workouts can be modified to accommodate those needs.
2. CrossFit will make me too big/bulky.
Getting too muscular is a common fear that many women have when they consider doing something like CrossFit. Developing bigger muscles is a process called hypertrophy. Hypertrophy will occur with a consistent resistance training routine. Training volume, caloric consumption, and hormones all play an important role in the growth of new muscle. Any person you see that appears too muscular may spend as much time training as you do at your full-time job. With that said, it’s one piece of the puzzle and will not happen on accident.
Most athletes find that they lose inches in all the right places, even with increased muscle mass. Clothes fit better, they have a healthy appetite, and feel better in their daily life.
3. Don’t a lot of people who do CrossFit get injured?
Do people get injured participating in CrossFit? Yes.
They also get injured while jogging, moving furniture, walking their dogs, and shaving their legs in the shower. Injuries come from a lack of focus, preparation, or by not listening to our bodies. In fact, the injury incidence in CrossFit fits into a category with most other recreational training activities.
The functional movements used in CrossFit model the movements we complete in everyday life. Practicing fundamental movement patterns reduces the risk of injury and helps us become more confident and competent. A quick internet search will show you the tremendous success stories of individuals who have used CrossFit to overcome past injuries and debilitating diseases. You can check out some our own here.
4. CrossFit will make me worse at my sport.
If you have concerns, talk to a CrossFit gym who has trainers with experience in your sport of choice; all athletes can use the CrossFit method. CrossFit can support their sport with workouts built around the various stages of their competitive season.
CrossFit is “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity.” It is a system of general physical preparedness (GPP). Being more prepared can benefit all athletes as they adapt to and overcome the rigors of their sport.
CrossFit is also designed to increase work capacity. Moving loads that are heavier, moving them faster, or moving them farther are all examples of increased work capacity. A football player who can perform more work will be stronger on each play he participates in. Increased work capacity will help an individual and team succeed in any sport!
If you’ve been thinking of giving CrossFit a try, we offer a free 30-minute intro session. Click here to request an appointment.
Let’s take a look at two popular workout enhancers, BCAA’s (Branch Chain Amino Acids) specifically Driven AMINO and pre-workout, specifically, Driven’s PreWod. Both play an active role in your workout improving performance, recovery and endurance. Here we will break down the benefits of each and when is the best time to take one, both or possibly neither!
Pre-Workout – PreWOD
Lets first look at PreWod™ and breakdown the active ingredients with simple explanations of their role in enhancing your workout. Pre-Wod™ contains 200mg of caffeine. Also in the stimulant category of the formula is DMAE or dimethylethanolamine, a choline metabolite that, unlike caffeine, increases the release of dopamine (feel good chemical in the brain) without increasing your heart rate. The combination of DMAE and caffeine can give you the energy to push you through the tough parts of your workout or maybe just motivate you to keep driving to the gym instead of making a detour!
PreWod also contains 1500mg of Beta-alanine. It’s purpose is to buffer the build up of acid inside the muscle cells to reduce fatigue and improve performance. You may also notice the “tingly” side effects you feel on your skin within the first 5-10 minutes of taking it. Side note, to truly get the benefits of its acid buffering abilities you will have to reach your bodies peak performance zone. That is extreme fatigue where one more round or one more rep seems impossible, so if you take it WORK HARD and get your moneys worth!
The Betaine Anhydrous increases force production, aka make you stronger. This vitamin derived from choline is often found in sugar beets, thus the name Betaine. The increase in strength is partly due to Betaine’s ability to increase your body’s internal production of creatine. For increased recovery Betaine plays a role in promoting protein syntheses, the action of building new muscle and preventing muscle breakdown. Betaine has also been shown to reduce inflammation at the cellular level.
For added cellular function and antioxidant protection, L-Taurine and good old Vitamin C were added. L-Taurine is a non-essential amino acid found in the body that can decrease in amount during intense exercise. Taurine acts like a neurotransmitter lowering stress in anxiety-producing situations thus increasing exercise performance and boosting feelings of wellness. It is also an antioxidant useful for its ability to abolish free radicals and keep cells alive and healthy. Vitamin-C is also an antioxidant but has performance applications as well. Undergoing extreme bouts of exercise can lower your immune system and leave you vulnerable to illness and soreness. A dose of Vitamin C prior to workout might be the simplest thing you can do to combat this.
While PreWod™ can definitely get you ready and roaring to hit the weights, you might consider how long you want to be roaring after you train. Consider this, if your workout time on a given day 7:00pm and you wouldn’t dare drink a couple cups of coffee at that time because you’re the type of person that would still be staring at the ceiling at 3 a.m., you might want to skip the PreWod or at least back down your dose. Like all stimulants, it can have a diminishing return effect if you take it too often. Consider taking a break for a week every so often and even during regular use take a day or two off. This will help keep your adrenal glands responding the way you want them to, when you need them to. It is designed to be taken once a day, maybe twice on competition day but spread it out. The right amount of stimulants can make you feel great leaving you to think MORE must be better! It’s not.
BCAAs – Amino
Now lets look at BCAA’s, specifically the one’s found in our Drivens AMINO formula. BCAA’s or Branch Chain Amino Acids are 3 of the 9 EAA’s or Essential Amino acids meaning our bodies cannot synthesize them, they have to be consumed or ingested. Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine are the branched amino acids named for their side chain or “branch like” structures. In this formula they are found in a 2:1:1 ratio (2g Leucine, 1g Isoleucine, 1g Valine). While it’s debated, this ratio has shown the most merit to be the most beneficial combination of BCAA’s. Leucine is the star of the BCAA cast, playing a crucial role in mTOR or protein syntheses. Think of it as the on switch signaling the body to use proteins to build new muscle.
BCAA’s can be taken both before and/or during “intra” workout to reduce the breakdown of muscle tissue.
BCAA’s are found in animal proteins like beef, chicken and fish and in powdered sources like whey. However in these sources the BCAA’s are bound in the chain of amino acids that make up the complete protein. They first have to be digested and absorbed form the small intestine into the blood stream where they can then give their benefits. When you are in immediate need of BCAA’s like during a workout it makes more sense to consume the free form, non-bound amino acids. They can absorb quickly without having to be digested first. During workout BCAA’s both decrease muscle loss and help fight fatigue.
- PreWod contains stimulants that need to be consumed approximately 20 minutes before exercise for best results.
- If working out late in the evening, you need to assess how long those stimulants are going to be working and adjust the dose or not use at all if it’s going to effect your sleep.
- BCAA’s can be taken prior to workout but if your undergoing a long duration training session, especially strength training you may want to use them intra or during your workout.
- Free form BCAA’s (not bound to a complete protein chain) do not have to be digested and enter quickly into the bloodstream.
Both PreWod and AMINO can be beneficial when taken before a workout. Make sure you monitor your timing of ingestion of PreWod . It is important both to make sure you get the most benefit in performance and to make sure you are sleeping. For best results use only 4-5 days a week and don’t forget to go cold turkey on all stimulants for a week or two on occasion. The BCAA’s in AMINO have many muscle building and preserving benefits and can be enjoyed both as a part of your workout or just during your day.
If you’d like to know more about Driven PreWOD or Amino, please visit their website. But, don’t forget, the prices we can offer at BCF are lower than what’s listed online. Talk to your coach if you have questions.