Plateaus

 

The calm after the storm

The calm after the storm

 

PLATEAUS AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT THEM

This is a great article written by a friend

of mine Steve Rakow of CF Ocean City

in Maryland.  He’s has a lot of really 

good things to say about training.  

 

It happens to all of us.  We train and

train and train, improving all along. 

One day we have a workout that just

doesn’t go well.  And then the next day,

the same thing happens.  PRs for loads

on the heavy lifting days are no longer

within reach.  Your once solid performance

on “Helen”, “Murph”, or “Fran” now seems

like a bridge too far.  You ask yourself what’s

going on, but you just can’t wrap your head

around it. 

What do you do?  You tell yourself that you

just need to train harder.  So, you go to the

gym even more, or train more hours on your

own, or go for a long run – all the while hoping

that you’re just in a funk and that everything

will be okay in a few days.  But after a few days,

you see no improvement at all.  In fact, things

are getting worse!  Perhaps you start to think

that this CrossFit stuff just isn’t working for

you anymore.  Guess what?  It is working, but

you’ve just hit a plateau that you need to push

through.

When you hit a plateau in your training, your

options are many.  You can get depressed, eat

like crap, and sulk about how you’re just getting

out of shape.  You can give up on coming to class

and hope that 3 mile slow run you did last night 

will change things, knowing all along that long

slow distance is merely a trip to oxidative stress

and poor fitness.  Basically, you can suffer along

without ever coming off the plateau, or you can

do something to get going again.  The following

options will help you get out of your training plateau: 

diet, goal setting, master the basics, and rest and recovery.

DIET AND NUTRITION

Diet is crucial to peak performance.  I’m referring

to diet in the sense of proper nutrition.  What the

scale reflects is not an indicator of fitness.  You

can be a skinny, but unhealthy, athlete, or you

can be a healthy, well-fed athlete.  Are you eating

Paleo or Zone?  If not, that’s the first place to start. 

Think about the Theoretical Hierarchy of the

Development of an Athlete that we’ve discussed

on numerous occasions.  The foundation for all

training is nutrition.  Without that, your fitness

is sitting on a house of cards that is bound to fall. 

Hitting a plateau in your training is the first sign

that the foundation is cracking.

SET NEW GOALS

New goals are a great way to get off of a plateau. 

If you haven’t taken the time to look at all of your

personal goals and milestones, then do it.  Have

you done every single named CrossFit WOD? 

Why not?  Do you want to improve your heavy lifts? 

What about running or rowing times?  How many 

pullups can you do?  How many double unders can

you crank out in 5 minutes?  The list is endless and

your goals for CrossFit are limited only by your imagination.

How about goals outside of CrossFit?  Is your career

going as planned?  Is there a vacation you want to

take, but have put off for too long?  Have you spent

enough time with your family?  All of these things

are important and require balance.  But in order to

balance these with your CrossFit goals, you have to

have a plan. 

Take a few hours and write down all of the important

aspects of your life.  Family, career, health and

fitness, and anything else that you value.  Next,

rank these and then decide where you want to see

yourself one year, five years, and ten years down

the road.  Keep in mind that all of these goals are

inter-related, for without health and fitness, you

won’t get the chance to enjoy your family or a good,

long career.  The list you created consists of your

goals and your task is to figure out how to get where

you want to go.  I can’t speak for your family and

career goals, but I can tell you that CrossFit will

enable you to enjoy a lifetime of health and fitness

through increased cardiovascular endurance, stamina,

strength, flexibility, speed, power, agility, balance,

coordination, and accuracy1 in the way you train and

use your body in every day life.  So, don’t fall off the

wagon and give up on all of your hard work.  You may

be stuck on a plateau with your training, but the plateau 

will not go away if you give up on CrossFit.  One thing

that should not be on your goal list is a permanent

to the nursing home.  Continued CrossFit will ensure

that you’ll only be a visitor and not a resident of any

nursing home!

MASTER THE BASIC SKILLS

Once you’ve set your nutrition back on track and

developed your goals, you then need to evaluate the

direction of your CrossFit training.  Basic skills

equal improved performance.  When elite athletes

find their performance slipping, or they’ve hit a

plateau, they get back to the basics and master them. 

In CrossFit, we press upon the importance of form

over speed and learning the movements the right way. 

Are you 100% sure you can perform all nine basic 

movements correctly (squat, front squat, overhead

squat, shoulder press, push press, push jerk, deadlift,

sumo deadlift high-pull, and med ball clean)? Do you

have a muscle-up yet?  Why not?  It’s a basic movement. 

Perhaps to get there, you first have to master the pullup

and the dip.  Get started!  Have you worked the Olympic

lifts so that you can do them correctly and efficiently? 

Have you focused on your rowing and running form,

or is your rowing and running form so perfect that you

don’t need to practice those skills?  Fall back on the

basics and focus on the best form in every movement – 

not the clock.  Doing this will ensure that you slow

down, but it will also ensure that proper form and

correct movement patterns translate to improved

performance overall.  Don’t worry, speed will come

back as the skills improve, but while you’re on the

plateau you need to become a master of the basics.

REST AND RECOVERY

Nutrition, goal setting, and mastering basic skills

are all important keys to overcoming

plateaus, but there’s still an area that one

needs to explore while getting back on track. 

Rest and recovery.  These are important for

muscle development and the prevention of 

overtraining.  While the prescribed CrossFit

training routine follows a

three-day-on/one-day-off (3/1) schedule,

perhaps this doesn’t allow your body enough

time to rest and recover from the intensity

that is CrossFit.  Try to change it up a bit by

going two-on/one-off, or 3/1-3/2.  Or maybe

the 3/1 routine works, but now you’re also

playing on a rugby team two nights a week,

playing tennis one night a week, and doing

CrossFit Endurance runs three times a week

on top of your regular CrossFit classes.  Overtrained? 

Perhaps.  Try taking a week off from CrossFit

and see what happens.  There are many top

CrossFitters that take a planned one-week rest

every three or four months. 

Sometimes a little rest and recovery is

all one needs to get off the plateau. 

There’s no quick and easy answer to

how much rest and recovery you need. 

The key here is to pay attention to your

body and know when to back off.  Get enough

sleep, get a massage, and talk to your CrossFit

trainer about your schedule.  We’ve all been

there and can offer some advice.

EMBRACE THE PLATEAU FOR WHAT IT IS

Plateaus in training cannot be avoided. 

We’re human and we all suffer from training

plateaus and setbacks.  The important thing

to remember is to push through these plateaus

by examining your nutrition, goals, mastery

of basic skills, and rest and recovery.  If you

really take your CrossFit training seriously,

you’ll realize that these four plateau busters

are as much a part of your CrossFit training

as going hard and fast and heavy.  Embrace

it for what it is, learn from it, and soon you’ll

get off the plateau and on your way to improved

performance.

-Steve Rakow

1 These are known as the ten general physical

skills as noted by Jim Crawley of Dynamax. 

CrossFit’s First Standard of Fitness notes

that you are only as fit as you are competent

in each of the ten general physical skills.

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