Mastering Individual CrossFit Skills While Following a Program

bolder athlete programs

I recently received a question that many of us grapple with: How do you strike the right balance when following a program, especially when working on specific skills like bar muscle-ups (BMU), strict handstand push-ups (HSPU), and other gymnastics movements? Last year, this athlete missed the quarters by just 1 or 2 BMUs and is determined to nail these movements this year. This question is not just about programming; it's about finding a harmonious way to work on individual CrossFit skills while adhering to a structured program. Let’s dive into this topic with empathy, balance, strategy, and actionable takeaways.

Balancing skill work with your regular CrossFit program can be challenging. It requires careful planning to ensure you’re progressing in your skill development without compromising your overall performance or risking burnout. The key is to integrate skill work seamlessly into your training routine.

Empathy: Understanding Your Journey

It's important to acknowledge the frustration that comes with narrowly missing a goal. Missing the quarters by just a few reps is tough, but it's also a powerful motivator. Understand that you’re not alone in this struggle. Many athletes face similar challenges, and it's this shared experience that builds our community.

Strategy: Integrating Skill Work into Your Program

1. Identify Your Weaknesses and Set Clear Goals

Start by identifying your weaknesses. In this case, BMUs and strict HSPUs are the target skills. Set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals for these skills. For example, aim to achieve 3 consecutive BMUs by the end of the next quarter.

2. Allocate Dedicated Skill Sessions

Incorporate dedicated skill sessions into your weekly routine. These sessions should focus solely on the skills you want to improve. For instance, dedicate 15-20 minutes before or after your main workout to practice BMUs or strict HSPUs. Consistency is key here; even short, focused sessions can lead to significant improvements over time.

3. Use Progressions and Drills

Use progressions and drills to build up to the full movement. For BMUs, start with strict pull-ups and chest-to-bar pull-ups, then progress to kipping pull-ups and finally BMUs. For strict HSPUs, work on shoulder strength and stability exercises, like pike push-ups and overhead presses, before attempting the full movement against the wall.

4. Integrate Skill Work into WODs

Integrate skill work into your regular workouts of the day (WODs). For example, if a WOD includes pull-ups, use that time to practice your BMU progressions. Modify the workout slightly to incorporate elements of your skill training without disrupting the overall flow of the session.

5. Balance Intensity and Recovery

Balancing intensity and recovery is crucial. Skill work can be demanding, so ensure you’re allowing adequate time for recovery. Listen to your body and adjust your training intensity as needed to avoid overtraining and injury.

6. Skill Development Framework

Skill development is a cornerstone of CrossFit. Viewing all movements as skills helps in understanding the training process needed to reach higher levels of performance. Here’s a progression model to consider:

  1. Learn the Movement: Start by mastering the basic form.
  2. Consistency: Perform the movement consistently well.
  3. Add Speed: Execute the movement quickly.
  4. Under Fatigue: Practice the movement under fatigue.
  5. Pressure Conditions: Perform the movement under pressure.
  6. Competitive Environment: Execute the movement in a competitive setting.

7. Skill Progression Model

Here’s a detailed progression model using Ring Muscle Ups as an example:

  1. Alone (non-fatigue setting): Accumulate reps with rest as needed.
  2. Alone + Volume (non-fatigue setting): Increase volume with timed sets.
  3. Alone + Easy Cyclical Work: Add low-intensity cardio between sets.
  4. Alone + Easy Cyclical Work + Volume: Increase volume with low-intensity cardio.
  5. With Complementary Movement (opposing pattern): Combine with non-fatiguing movements.
  6. With Complementary Movement + Volume: Increase volume with complementary movements.
  7. With Non-Complementary Movement (same pattern): Combine with movements that cause similar fatigue.
  8. With Non-Complementary Movement + Volume: Increase volume with non-complementary movements.
  9. Testing: Evaluate the skill in a high-stress, competitive scenario.

Here's How I Like to Go About It:

1. Knowing What I Need and Want to Work On

Clearly identify the skills and movements you want to improve. This sets the foundation for targeted practice.

2. Looking at the Workouts Each Week and Finding Those Movements

Analyze your weekly workouts and pinpoint when and where these movements appear. This helps you plan your practice sessions effectively.

3. Going into Each WOD with a Specific Target

Have a specific goal for each WOD. For instance, if you want to increase the number of unbroken toes-to-bar (T2B), set a target number for the WOD and stick to it, even if it means taking longer rest periods before and after that movement.

4. Taking Time to Do Skill Work

Dedicate time to skill work, either in place of other programmed skills or in addition to them, depending on your available time. Consistent practice leads to improvement.

5. Accessory Work to Isolate Muscles in the Movement

Include accessory work that targets the muscles involved in the movements you’re working on. For T2B, incorporate exercises like lat pulldowns and lat raises to build the necessary strength.

Takeaways: Practical Tips for Success

  • Consistency Over Perfection: Focus on consistent practice rather than perfect execution every time. Small, consistent efforts lead to big improvements.
  • Patience and Persistence: Skill development takes time. Be patient with yourself and stay persistent.
  • Leverage Coaching and Feedback: Seek feedback from coaches or more experienced athletes. They can provide valuable insights and help you refine your technique.
  • Track Your Progress: Keep a training log to track your skill work. Note what drills you performed, how many reps, and any improvements you notice. This helps in staying motivated and identifying patterns.

Final Thoughts

Balancing skill work with your regular CrossFit programming is a dynamic and ongoing process. It requires a thoughtful approach, integrating targeted practice with your overall training regimen. Remember, the journey to mastering new skills is a marathon, not a sprint. Stay committed, be patient, and celebrate the small victories along the way. You’re on the right path, and with consistent effort, you’ll achieve your goals and elevate your performance to new heights.

Here’s to being bolder every day and pushing the boundaries of what you’re capable of!

Stay Bold