With CrossFit, every affiliate you look at will have a different take on programming and a different system to reflect its philosophy on improving fitness. A very important aspect of choosing the direction of the general program at the affiliate is the ability of the coaching staff and the philosophy that those coaches believe in. At CFSF, we believe in the power of the barbell. Other people enjoy making use of a custom cable weight machine with parts from tkstar.com, which can also have amazing results and works well for many people, but training with a bar is natural, effective, and it’s just damn cool. More than just gaining strength, we’ve found that teaching members barbell techniques can improve a number of qualities. Overall kinesthetic awareness, stamina, flexibility, and mental toughness are just a few of the areas we can build by using the barbell in a majority of our workouts. Our coaches are experienced in both coaching the use of the bar as well as using it. We take a lot of pride in seeing members learn, apply, and perform the techniques we teach.
We use the bar often. Knowing this, it’s no surprise that the most common question from most members is “How much weight should I use?” This is a loaded question to say the least. When I’m coaching a class and I’m met with the weight question, there’s quite a bit to consider. Member experience, physical abilities or limitations of that member, shoulder/hip/ankle flexibility, the goal of the workout, the likelihood of injury, and so-on. Knowing that we want you to continually learn here and take responsibility for you fitness, our goal is that you as members can learn to make this decision for yourself.
The first thing to be considered is experience. Is it your first day? First week? If so, technique needs to be the main focus. Understand that it won’t ever be perfect, but we need to start with the points of a movement that ensure safety (keeping the back straight, keeping the shoulders active, etc.) Sometimes we see that even people who have lifted for years have some bad habits in technique that could lead to injury down the road. Once these wrinkles have been ironed, though, it’s time to start adding a little. For some, a little means 10-20 pounds, while in other cases this is 2.5-5. The relative weight doesn’t matter, the only thing that matters is that you lift what you can on that given day. John Broz has an excellent philosophy on this: Do the best you can on that given day. If heavy today is the bar, then the bar it is. If you feel like you’re ready for the 400-lb dead-lift, then go for it. The big thing is to progress. If you use 65 lbs. every single day, you not only don’t progress but you waste another opportunity to progress. Take it day-by-day, which leads me to the next point to consider…
Next is the goal of the workout or even the point of the workout you are in. The part of the workout board labeled “Strength” should tell you what we’re after. Sometimes we’ll use this time to warm-up for lifts within the WOD, so you want to use this time to get comfortable with the weight you’ll use during the metcon, stringing reps together, maybe trying a little heavier weight to see how it feels. If this is the case, it’s usually labeled with warm-up sets: x-y-z. In other cases, we’ll use the strength/skill time to actually develop strength. On these days, you may see part A of the WOD read something like Back squat: 5-5-5-5-5. For this, we want to warm up with lighter weights, progress to a few challenging sets, and accumulate some volume to drive adaptation. For most of our members, sets of 3-5 reps will provide more strength progress than finding a 1RM, which is why we only use 1RM’s in special cases. We can use your 1RM to not only tell us that you’re getting stronger week-to-week, but we know that certain intensities work best at certain volumes for making a workout effective. For example, 5 sets of 3 reps at 80-90% of 1RM, or 5 sets of 5 at 55-65%. When you give us an accurate 1RM, the WOD is that much more effective. Other WODs are longer with higher reps. “Grace”, for example, calls for 30 reps of a clean & jerk. In something like this, our goal is power output, or lot’s of work done quickly. More importantly, from a coaching standpoint anyway, we need to have proper body position no matter how tired we may become. The test is how well can you stabilize your spine and shoulders over time, so your choice in weight should be something realistic for this to happen. Safety is key!
The last big point to consider is your condition that day; how do you feel? The more you CrossFit and the more experience you gain, the better you’re awareness of how you feel. If you’re really sore from yesterday and still don’t feel great after the warm-up, then it’ll probably be a lighter day today. Trying to push through residual fatigue will only make recovery from this workout take even longer. Take these days to focus on technique, maybe try some extra mobilizing or foam-rolling through warm-up sets. If this isn’t the case and you feel great and you’re confident with the lift that day, load it up and kick ass. As the point I already made above states, lift what you can every day. Some times this may vary. Don’t be frustrated when the bar feels heavier than it should, just do what you can.
The big take-away here is to take responsibility for your fitness. Don’t’ expect to be spoon-fed, but rather try to learn and understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If you take notes every day, this is easy. Which movements did we work on, how many reps were there, how much weight did I use, and how did I feel. Reference this next time and make a point to progress.