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
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
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
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
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.