5 Things I Never Knew About Fitness Until I Became a CrossFit Trainer
A fitness writer and CrossFit athlete shared some things that totally blew her mind when she became certified in her favorite sport.
You've heard the joke: a CrossFitter and vegan walk into a bar… Well, guilty as charged. I love CrossFit and everyone I meet soon knows it.
My Instagram is littered with post-WOD flex pictures, my social life revolves around when I'm planning to work out, and as a health and fitness journalist, I'm lucky enough to write about CrossFit for work on occasion. (See: The Health Benefits of CrossFit).
So, naturally, I wanted to learn as much about the sport of functional fitness as possible—which is why I decided to get my CrossFit coach certification (specifically CF-L1).
Having my CF-L1 doesn't suddenly mean that I'm Rich Froning, four-time CrossFit Games Champion and founder of CrossFit Mayhem in Cookeville, Tennessee. (Read: Why Rich Froning Believes In CrossFit) Rather, the CF-L1 certification means that I know how to coach the nine foundational movements of CrossFit, how to identify unsafe mechanics and correct them, and train someone at any fitness level using the CrossFit methodology.
Coaching a CrossFit class has never been my goal—I simply wanted to improve my knowledge base as an athlete and writer. Here, five things I learned about fitness that I didn't know before, despite my long history as a total fitness junkie. The best part: You don't have to do CrossFit to find these tidbits useful.
1. The deadlift is "The Queen of All Lifts".
"The deadlift is unrivaled in its simplicity and impact while unique in its capacity for increasing head-to-toe strength," the seminar instructors repeat. They're echoing the Founder of CrossFit, Greg Glassman's quote, who once said that the movement should return to its OG name—"healthlift"—to encourage more people to execute the perfect movement.
While I don't know anyone who actually called the compound movement a "healthlift," some people call deadlifts the Daddy of Functional Fitness. Now, I (in a nod to feminism) call it the Queen of All Lifts.
ICYDK, the deadlift literally just involves picking something up off the ground safely. While there are several variations, all of them strengthen your hamstrings, quads, core, lower back, and posterior chain. Plus, it mimics a movement you do all the time in real life, like picking up that Amazon Prime package off the ground or hoisting a baby or pup. So yeah—*Ron Burgundy voice*—deadlifts are kind of big deal. (Related: How to Do a Conventional Deadlift with Proper Form).
2. Six ounces can get really heavy.
PVC pipes—yep, the pipes commonly used in plumbing and drainage—are a staple piece of equipment in CrossFit. These pipes, which are usually cut down to be three to five feet in length, weigh about 6 ounces and are used to help athletes warm-up and perfect barbell movement patterns (see an example of a PVC warm-up routine here). The theory: Start with the 6-oz pipe, perfect the movements, and then add weight.
During the seminar, we spent what felt like hours practicing the shoulder to overhead push press, push jerk, deadlifts, overhead squat, and squat snatch using only a PVC pipe. I can attest that my muscles were more fatigued during the workout (and more sore the next day) with a PVC pipe using full range of motion than I usually am when using heavier weights and a smaller range of motion.
The bottom line: While lifting heavy weights has tons of benefits, don't discount the little weights and high repetitions. Going light while moving smartly has its perks too.
3. Hip mobility isn't the only mobility that matters.
Since starting CrossFit two years ago, I've been working hard to improve my barbell squat. Because I thought that my inability to squat low was a consequence of tight hamstrings and a sit-all-day lifestyle, I tried yoga for a month to ease my squeaky hips. But even after adding yoga to my practice (when my hips were way more mobile,) my back squat was still sub-par.
Turns out, ankle mobility is the culprit standing between me and a PR. Inflexible calves and tight heel cords can cause your heels to pop up from the ground during a squat, which can place extra stress on your knees and lower back, throw off your balance, and make the exercise more quad-dominant than glute- and hamstring-dominant. So much for peach gains. (It's all right here: How Weak Ankles and Poor Ankle Mobility Can Impact the Rest of Your Body)
So, to get the most out of the move and squat heavier, I've started to work on my ankle and calf flexibility. Now, I take a lacrosse ball to the ball of my foot before a workout and foam roll my calves. (My suggestion? Try this total-body mobility workout to keep you injury-free for life.)
4. There's no shame in scaling down.
Scaling is CrossFit-speak for modifying a workout (by either load, speed, or volume) so that you can complete it safely.
Sure, I've heard my various CrossFit coaches babble about scaling in the past, but honestly, I always thought, that if I could complete a workout at the prescribed weight, I should.
But I was wrong. Rather, ego should never be what determines the weight you use in a WOD or any workout. The goal should be to come back the next day and the day after that—not to be so sore (or worse, injured) that you have to take a rest day. Just because you can scrape through a move doesn't mean it's the right choice for you; scaling back (whether that's reducing your weight, dropping your knees in a push-up, or resting for a few reps) can help you stay safe, strengthen with intention, and actually be able to walk the next day. (Related: The No-Equipment Bodyweight WOD Yu Can Do Anywhere)
5. Mental strength is just as important as physical strength.
"The only thing standing between us and a good score is mental weakness." That's what my CrossFit partner used to say before we did a competition WOD together. At the time, I'd shrug it off as hyperbole, but it's actually not.
Confidence and a strong mental game won't help you do something you're not physically capable of—but being in the wrong mental state when you're lifting something crazy heavy or doing a high-pressure set can definitely interfere with your ability to fully show up in that workout. (Here's exactly how Jen Winderstrom talks herself through a tough workout and psychs herself up to lift heavy.)
It wasn't until the seminar staff gave us the opportunity to try a strict ring muscle-up that I realized how true that actually is. It was a move I'd never been able to do. Yet, I stepped up to the rings, said out loud, "I can do this"—and then did!
Glassman once said: "The greatest adaptation to CrossFit takes place between the ears." It turns out he (and my CrossFit partner) were both right.