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The Fastest Way to Get Better At CrossFit

Posted 29th January 2017 by Josh Schouten

bearIt’s a new year, and many of us kicked-off the year with new goals and new motivations. Is this the year when your focus on building strength, improve your conditioning, or simply become a better version of last years model?  Speaking with some members in the gym, some have set the goal to be better at CrossFit with the idea of competing in competitions and pushing themselves to achieve a higher level of conditioning. However, many don’t have a plan or know the best way to reach this goal? Where do you start?  (The Blue Bear Performance Training program would be a good place to start, thought I’d sneak that one in here)

The general physical demands of CrossFit make it a tricky beast to tame. Should CrossFit Athletes focus more on:

– building strength
– improving body composition
– increasing training volume
– increase training intensity (weight)
– doing more energy system training (anaerobic & aerobic conditioning)
– doing more Olympic lifting
– doing more gymnastics
– improving Vo2MAX scores
– eat more carbs
– eat fewer carbs
– getting more rest
– train twice a day
– or take some magic supplements

These are all important factors that will impact our CrossFit performance, but what is the best bang-for-your-buck when it comes to improving our athletic potential?

Many athletes are only thinking along the lines of getting stronger and improving their conditioning by focusing on energy production. How can they produce more energy?  They work on lifting more weight and pushing themselves to the limit in their WODS and “training” 5-7 times per week.  Many athletes are not considering the bigger energy equation picture, as they are not managing their energy expenditure.  It not simply about the energy you use in a 60minute training session.  What is your daily energy expenditure, weekly expenditure, monthly expenditure (more on this in the future)?

The energy equation is an understanding of the relationship between energy systems, recovery, and movement.  If athletes are going to be efficient in their energy management, they need to learn to be fluent in their movements.   Every movement has an energy cost.  Top level athletes tend to move with better technique and hence perform at a higher level than those who have movement faults.

If you watch Rich Froning’s Thrusters closely you will see a slight pause at the top, this allows him to find balance and be more stable in each repetition.

Camille Leblanc-Bazinet vs. Samantha Briggs Reebok Crossfit Games 13.5. Sam Briggs (ex-triathlete) is one of the fittest women on the planet, but her pull-up technique is far behind that of Camille.

If you only focus on improving the numbers (weight on the bar, Fran time, etc…), chances are your movement quality will go down.  If you center your attention on improving movement quality and energy efficiency, the chances are the number will increase. High-intensity training is an opportunity to teach and develop these skills, not just train hard.

Athletes can not separate their movement quality from their energy systems because it is the quality of movements that determines energy demands.  Our energy expenditure is largely a function of our movement quality, skill level, and brain function (motor control). The more energy we expend, the more energy our body needs to produce. The more efficiently we move, the less energy we expend and the less our body has to produce.  Inefficient movements have a poor application of force production and force output.  Moving efficiently saves us energy and puts us in a stronger position to move large loads over greater distances.

“Conditioning is nothing more than an extension of movement.”

In other words, conditioning is a function of movement because movement quality inherently dictates the energetic cost of moving loads from point A to point B.  To have the best conditioning possible, you have to train to the highest level of movement quality so that your body can utilise the energy it produces efficiently.

Movement qualities govern motor learning, which dictates how skills and techniques are developed. An athlete who puts 65kg on the bar and repetitively fails to perform a snatch is only teaching themselves how to fail.  By lowering the weight to 60kg and hitting every repetition the athlete is learning and improving snatch technique.

Skill and technique ultimately determine the energy cost of movement.  Inefficient movement results in the poor transfer of force and thus increases the cost of movement for any given level of power output.  We can decrease the cost of movement per level of power output by developing our movement qualities:

– Joint mobility and stability (fusing on mobility and stretching)
– Joint stiffness (understanding of stiffness like abdominal pressure, lifting without a belt)
– Lever Length/Length-Tension (understanding gymnastics and body leverage advantages)
– Fascial Chains (the inter-muscular connection and motor control required to perform complex movements)
– Fiber Type (slow and fast twitch)
– Fiber Size (hypertrophy)

The combination of these qualities makes up our movement potential. The higher the quality of movement potential, the more efficiently the body moves and the lower the energy cost of movement.  By moving with high efficiency, our body conserves energy. The more energy we conserve, the less we rely on the anaerobic system for energy production and the slower we fatigue.

Good movement qualities support a high level of movement variability, exactly what CrossFit athletes need to be competitive.  The goal of training is not to perfect a single movement pattern or patterns, but rather to develop the greatest range of stable movement variability.

The following are strategies from Joel Jamison ( for improving our movement qualities to decrease energy expenditure:
1. Ensure each joint (ankles, knees, hips, etc..) all have proper movement qualities.  Mobility at the ankle will impact the performance if every other joint in the body.
2. Improve the quality of connective tissue with TEMPO training and plyometric work
3. Improve tissue quality with regular soft tissue work (massages, stretching, foam rolling, sauna, etc..)
4. You’ve probably heard of the Central Nervous System (CNS), but have you heard of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)?  This is the coordination of muscles, cardiovascular outputs, and the unconscious bodily functions, which can be improved.
5. Introduce and practice new movements in simple, controlled, low-stress environments, not at high intensity (lower stress environments).  If you are only just learning how to perform overhead squats (OHS), why would you throw them in a WOD?  Learn to move in a controlled environment (sets, reps, and rest) and build strength.  The next step would be performing OHS in an EMOM (work and rest, increase volume and slowly decrease rest time), before finally moving to a high-intensity setting (WOD).
6. As movement quality improves, first add load, then complexity, then stress and fatigue.
7. Only once movements are stable across different conditions, add variability (add load, movement complexities, low to high levels of fatigue)
As a coach or trainer, it’s our job to teach athletes how to move properly and efficiently in low-threshold, high-threshold, and fatigued environments.