Strategize Against Your Weakness
My very first exposure to CrossFit was in 2011. I continued that venture into 2012 under no ones watchful eye, working out alone, mostly at a 24 hour fitness. When I was getting started almost everything felt like a weakness to me. Likely because my technique was faulty, I didn’t have a coach to help me improve, and because my mindset was prioritizing task accomplishment over skill building. Fast forward 7 years, and here we are, 2019, and I am constantly teaching skill building and structural integrity over task accomplishment. Why? Because I’ve already hit my head against the same brick wall, over, and over, and over again. And my hope is to share that experience with you so that you may not have to. Kind of like paving the way. Providing a trusted source to listen to so that you can avoid similar mistakes and progress yourself more quickly.
One of my biggest weaknesses in CrossFit has always been my overhead shoulder stability. In particular, a rather large imbalance between the left and right sides. To this day, if I lose a snatch because of strength, it’s due to my left elbow bending under the weight. If I tip over on a handstand walk, it’s to the left. If I ever thruster dumbbells, the left side shuts down first. Although I still have this imbalance, it’s much less apparent now that it was before, and has seen most of its improvement in the last 3 years.
From 2013-2015, coaches, guides, and my own thoughts led to the common outcome of throwing volume at my problem movements. Throw CrossFit at it. Throw reps at it. The most frustrating movement of all for me was the kipping handstand pushup. So what did I do? I did more kipping handstand pushups. 20 minute emoms, starting at 5 reps, with the goal to increase the reps per minute over time. Over time, I did increase those reps by a bit. But, it didn’t solve any of my problems. I still had a shoulder imbalance. My strict overhead strength didn’t improve at all. And, I had a sore neck from being upside down on it way too much.
The mindset was to get better at something by doing more of it. And you know what, it is okay to do that, sometimes. Yes you need some volume. But, there are a handful of other things that you need in order to attack your weaknesses. Think of it like a battle. It’s no longer the 1700’s. You don’t tell your enemy that you want to fight them and then line up in front of each other and start shooting. You strategize. You hit them from all angles with different implements.
Here is a list of ways to attack your weakness in order of importance with a brief explanation why. A solid approach to attacking your weakness isn’t to go down the list but to combine elements of the list in a well thought out, progressive attack.:
- Determine imbalances. Imbalances place an uneven amount of force on each side of your body and can lead to injuries.
- Where do you have discrepancies between your strength, stability, and range of motion about the left and right sides of your midline, shoulder, hips?
- Length/Tension Relationships. While it can take quite some time to get this type of thing to go away depending on what it is, we can make a difference. A little at a time adds up to a lot in the future. Proper muscle relationships lead to proper movement of the joints they control.
- Prime movers. Prime movers are the key muscles that need to fire in order to perform a movement. For example, in a pullup your lats are the prime mover, your biceps assist (synergist). If your lats aren’t firing then there is an issue, not only for the pullup but for your shoulder health in general. You wouldn't want the bicep to become your prime mover for a pullup.
- Antagonist muscles. Antagonists are typically opposite muscle groups. In a simple bicep curl the bicep is the prime mover and your tricep is the antagonist. An over-active antagonist can restrict strength or range of motion in the opposite muscle causing issues.
- Proper muscle length and quality.
- Foam roll and stretch overactive antagonists.
- Foam roll and activate dormant prime movers.
- Develop a balanced strength plan for symmetry, prioritization, and progression purposes.
- Prioritize stability.
- Address movement pattern issues.
- Attack your area of weakness with quality movement in various range of motion. Don’t just do one exercise, combine many that get all of the synergists and the prime mover firing in different ranges of motion. The more the merrier.
- Use unilateral movements. This is something that’s real hard to do with a barbell and much easier to visualize and perform with the dumbbell or on a single leg. We need each side of our body performing it’s half of the workload.
- Prioritize strict strength. Strict strength is foundational to kipping and
- Isometrics. Hold contractions at the top and bottom end of a movement to gain additional time under tension on the muscles.
- Eccentrics. Slow negatives add range of motion while increasing time under tension.
- Dynamics. Full range of motion movements without pauses.
- Various loading. Use lighter weights and higher reps to hone in technique, range of motion, and stability endurance. Then add heavier weights and lower reps later.
- Be sure not to neglect the opposite muscle groups. If you’re going to put in extra work on pressing, you should supplement it with a little pulling work as well to maintain balance in your body.
- Add some volume to your skill movements. Every once in awhile, go for volume, not AMRAP style but EMOM style. EMOMs are great for building competency and consistency through small set practice. Get in the mindset of building your movement up, not seeing how many you can do. They prioritize rest so that you can keep your quality up while you TRAIN.
If you have a weakness, strategize your attack and then implement it. Sounds like a lot? Get some help. Our coaching team wants to help you. In the end you’ll find that you not only overcome a “weakness” but you prep your body for more than you initially intended. Get some.