When I read John Rushin’s article The One-Man Race: Defeating Your True Competitor on Tabata Times, I contacted him to see whether he would be willing to contribute to a coaching roundtable article I was putting together for TrueBarbellion. Not only did he contribute to that first article, but he also agreed to be a guest contributor. His expertise and writing style is a great fit for the information and experiences I like to share on my blog. As someone who constantly struggles with her WOD speed, I’m excited to share with you John’s eight practical recommendations that will help you improve your WOD times.
Part 1: How to Get Faster – Eight Recommendations to Increase Your WOD Speed
By John Rushin
You’ve been doing CrossFit for a while now, maybe even a few years. When you first started and were fresh out of the On Ramp program at your box things progressed rapidly. Every day there was a new workout and benchmark WOD to complete and you were having the time of your life. Why were things so great? Because being new to almost any workout routine means that your strength is going to increase rapidly. In CrossFit this translates to new PRs in individual lifts and WODs nearly every time you attempt them. Unfortunately, this honeymoon period didn’t last forever and now that you are a year into it you’re experiencing the ever-dreaded plateau state. This seems to be especially prevalent in your WOD times as no matter how hard it seems you push yourself you finish within a few seconds of the same time over and over again.
If it sounds like I’m describing you, and your progress in CrossFit seems to have stalled, fear not! This is something that happens to the vast majority of CrossFit athletes at some point in their training. You are no different from anyone else in this respect and the plateau is something that you are going to have to break through to continue moving your fitness on a forward trajectory. This is not going to be an easy task and you may seem utterly bewildered on how to take your CrossFit game to the next level. To help guide you through this dark period in any CrossFitter’s life I have created this guide of “Eight Recommendations to Increase Your WOD Speed” so you can see a new wave of PRs in your workout log!
The “Eight Recommendations” have been broken into two parts. In Part One, the four recommendations are based upon improving your physical skills as an athlete to make you faster. In Part Two, the remaining four recommendations will be based more on WOD strategy and life outside of the box. Implementing these “Eight Recommendations” may be difficult and require some serious effort and discipline both mentally and physically. Though if done properly, the rewards will far outweigh the costs. A majority of these recommendations are things that you have probably heard before in one capacity or another. This is because most improvement involves a return to the fundamentals and most basic aspects of our training. Oftentimes athletes get so caught up in the details and minor adjustments in the search for improvement that they lose sight of the bigger picture and stray from the roots from which their initial success grew. My “Eight Recommendations to Increase Your WOD Speed” when implemented with focus, intensity, and regularity in and out of the box will get you back to the surge of PRs you enjoyed when you first started CrossFit!
The final point that I want to make before introducing the “Eight Recommendations” is the importance of implementing them in your training with consistency and focus. It is vital to make the most of every training session by being present mentally, as well as physically for every movement and make every workout count. By simply showing up at the box and going through the movements with a lack of drive and mental clarity you will not reap the full benefits of the workout. Presence of mind is key, as it will bring focus and intensity and allow you to see the importance of the movement while maintaining a positive mental and emotional state. In turn, this creates a solid foundation and starting point for the gains to come.
1. Master Form and Technique and HAVE PATIENCE!
Speed will come with technique and time, work hard and be patient! As with a host of problems and difficulties you may experience in your workouts, getting faster all comes down to form and technique. These are absolutely vital as they provide the safest and most efficient way to complete the specific movement. If your form is off you will not be getting the full benefit from the movement and thus be leaving a lot of gains on the table. Ensuring you have proper form and technique will lead you to maximum gains and movement efficiency creating a solid baseline for increasing your speed in the movements.
Spending time practicing the movements is another vital element in increasing your speed. Whenever you are doing a WOD or working specifically on a movement, you are gaining vital repetitions that will create motor memory making the movement second nature to you. (That’s all I’m going to say on this now as I will address practice and repetitions in another one of my recommendations.)
2. Increase Your Cardiovascular Endurance
After training and working in the CrossFit community for a while now one thing that I’ve seen consistently in athletes is their strong dislike for “cardio.” Yes, we all like seeing the weight we’re lifting go up in our logbook and the coinciding results in the mirror. However, to improve your WOD times and become a well-rounded athlete you cannot avoid the cardiovascular aspect of fitness. Completing exercises that will increase your cardiovascular endurance is the second most important aspect to increasing your speed next to proper form and technique. If you are lacking the aerobic capacity to endure the WOD then increasing your speed is out of the question!
Working specifically on cardiovascular exercises seems to be at odds with the attitude and focus most CrossFit athletes have. They would rather focus on getting stronger and fear that too much cardio will diminish their size, strength, and ability to move large loads. So how do you strike a balance between maintaining strength and increasing your cardiovascular endurance? The answer is that its not going to be easy, but working in specific exercises that heavily tax your cardiovascular system will certainly increase your endurance. The key is going to be working them in high intensity intervals rather than longer slower efforts. In my opinion, you should devote at least two workout sessions a week to exercises aimed at this aspect of your training.
Specifically, focus on running, rowing, cycling, jumping rope, and swimming in high intensity intervals. This means keeping the efforts to 90 seconds or less and do multiple sets in a given training session. A good rule to follow when deciding how many to do is to go until your form and/or pace deteriorates. Sure, you could probably push a few more repetitions out at this point, but it would not be beneficial. Once your form is off you will be performing low quality repetitions, which lead to incorrect motor memory. This is the last thing that we want!
3. Repeat the Movements with Correct Form
As I mentioned in my first point, speed will come with patience and time. The caveat being that during this time you are putting in the work and doing quality repetitions of the movements you are attempting to become faster at. The goal that you are looking to achieve with repetition is motor memory. This will make the movements second nature to you to the point where you will not have to spend time thinking about form and technique you will simply act and move properly. Utilizing good form and technique will also allow you to move in the most efficient manner possible thus saving you time from extraneous movements and more importantly saving energy that would otherwise be wasted.
4. Confront Your Weaknesses
No matter how efficient and strong we become, no matter how good we perceive ourselves to be there is always a weakness lurking somewhere. This may not be a weakness per se, rather an area or movement in your training that is not as strong in comparison to others. All you have to do is be honest with yourself and these will instantly become apparent. This is not a bad thing in the least. Think of it simply as a compass pointing you in the direction of improvement.
Once you’ve narrowed down your weaknesses, focus more of your training efforts on them. They do not have to be your exclusive focus, just place more emphasis in the areas where you know there’s significant room for improvement. For instance if you want to improve your time on the benchmark WOD Helen (3 rounds of a 400m run, 21 KB swings at 55lb/36lb, and 12 pull-ups) and you know your 400m times are holding you back, its clear you need to work on your running. In this instance the area you need to work on is something that is in multiple benchmarks and frequently programmed into other WODs. Therefore improving your running will be a major step up in your performance as a CrossFit athlete. This is just one very specific example though the concept illustrated here applies across the board!
As I mentioned before, these first four recommendations are focused on the things you can do physically to condition your body in order to improve your WOD speed. Their main emphasis is on making you faster by making you a better athlete. In Part 2, I am going to introduce four more recommendations that are not necessarily focused specifically on training any particular movements. Rather, these four recommendations will be focused on strategic thinking and additional things that you can do in and out of the box to increase WOD speed!
If you have any questions or comments about these recommendations or anything else related to training please do not hesitate to reach out to me!
Do you struggle with your WOD speed? Have a question for John? Leave a comment!
John Rushin is a strength and conditioning coach specializing in running and endurance athletics based out of Seattle, WA. Currently, he is the Head Trainer of the Endurance Program at The Lab Strength and Conditioning and an assistant trainer at A Community Project CrossFit, both in Seattle.
He founded the Discipline Strength Performance (DSP) Athletics brand which was designed and created as a vehicle to bring his knowledge and coaching expertise to athletes nationwide. As a trainer, he specializes in preparing endurance athletes for competition through a unique strength and conditioning program and the Pose Method of Running. He holds certifications in:
- CrossFit Level I Certification, 2013
- CrossFit Endurance Certification, 2014
- USA Weightlifting Olympic Lifting Certification, 2014
John is available for private training sessions as well as running seminars. If you are interested please contact him for more details!
Also an avid writer in the field of strength and conditioning, John posts two blogs on his websites DSP Athletics and DSP Running and often contributes articles to Truebarbellion, Tabata Times, and others. He can be followed on Twitter and Instagram (@jjrushin for both) and contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. He welcomes questions, comments, and the sharing of thoughts and ideas. Feel free to contact him anytime, he’d love to hear from you!