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When a Weakness Gets the Better of You for Three Years


When a Weakness Gets the Better of You for Three Years

For time:
155-lb. snatches, 21 reps
Rest 3 minutes
155-lb. snatches, 15 reps
Rest 3 minutes
155-lb. snatches, 9 reps

Looking for a happy boost?  Talk to Thom in the morning!  He's always got a smile on his face.

Looking for a happy boost? Talk to Thom in the morning! He’s always got a smile on his face – except maybe mid-squat!

When a Weakness Gets the Better of You for Three Years

I’ve been doing CrossFit for almost seven years now….geez that’s a long time.  In the CrossFit world we stress that in order to improve your fitness you must work to improve your weaknesses.  Shit! – I even lecture others about this concept at seminars and remind you guys about it all the time during classes – but that doesn’t mean I’ve mastered the concept myself!  In theory it all makes sense, but putting it into practice can be a challenge.  Unfortunately, I can say that I have too many times in my CrossFit life come across a skill or capacity that has been a weakness, or complete hole in my game, for 1, 2, or even 3 years.  

In 2011 the opening workout to the South West Regionals was:

Run 800m
30 handstand push-ups (kipping was allowed)
Row 1,000m

I had done handstand push-ups in training and practice but they were nowhere near my comfort zone.  I’d do what I like to call “false confidence boosting sets” in workouts – sets that made me feel good about myself and about at least putting some practice toward the movement – but that which I knew were not pushing me past the walls of failure.

Then came that workout.  Thirty in a row put me under.  I knew what I needed to do the next year.  I vowed to work on handstand push-ups and would throw them into my training…whenever I remembered, or whenever it was convenient, or whenever I was super motivated.

Then came the opening workout of the 2012 Regionals – Diane, deadlifts and handstand push-ups.  My first reaction – uh oh.  That in itself told me I had not done the work I needed to do over the past year to overcome my weakness.  My Diane time landed me in a hole starting off the weekend.  Why can’t CrossFit just let go of this damn handstand push-up thing!?

After the 2012 Regionals I took a step back to try and dissect what had happened.  In short, I had had a known weakness for over THREE years, had let it get the better of me in MULTIPLE competitions and countless workouts, and I had still not found a method to overcome the weakness.

In all fairness, looking back, I was doing the best I knew how to do at that time, but it certainly wasn’t enough.  I didn’t have the experience I have now, wherewithal, or help to understand how to structure my practice to make them better.

After Regionals I mapped out all the pieces that prevented my handstand push-ups from flourishing: 
1. Shoulder mobility and resulting lack of strength at end range overhead
2. Kipping technique – it was inconsistent.  Some days it felt effortless, other days a struggle.  Red flag! – my technique was not where it needed to be 
3. Overhead strength in general – weakness in handstand holds, walks, strict handstand push-ups, deficit handstand push-ups
4. Overall time upside down.  I’d spent at least one day a week on the pull-up bar and felt comfortable there but I realized I spent maybe 1 time every two weeks upside-down.
5. Lack of coaching.  I never got help from another coach.

I took this list and mapped it into a plan.  I addressed shoulder mobility with one specific exercise each day.  I made sure I went upside down at least two times per week.  I worked all kinds of handstand push-up practice into my training.  I got help from a coach and worked with him once per month.  I watched countless videos online looking at different kipping and strict techniques.  I videoed myself and figured out a lot of problems just by seeing myself move!  And I put goals and numbers on my efforts.

The result?  I got the 15 strict handstand push-ups I wanted and did 110 kipping handstand push-ups in the Zimmerman workout without ever hitting failure and with a consistent kip.  Before the 2014 Regionals workouts were announced I was not fearful of any handstand push-up that might come out.  So when the strict handstand push-ups came out I smiled and was excited.  Weakness destroyed? – confident YES!

But what also came out?  Handstand walking.  DAMNIT!  Another known weakness I have not addressed for years.  Geez this isn’t fair!:)

Rather than being disappointed, I’m energized.  Knowing what I know now only gives me confidence that I can learn to handstand walk the same distance in feet that I can snatch in pounds!

Ok, now stay with me for just a little longer.

Think about a skill or capacity that you think or know you should have by now.  Let’s say that movement comes out in a workout 40 times out of 365 days in the year.  If you have to scale back that movement forty times in a year that’s a lot of fitness you’re missing out on!  I’m not talking about scaling loads, I’m talking about the basics – double-unders, box jump height, pull-ups, strict push-ups, handstand push-ups, ring dips, muscle-ups.  But you can absolutely structure your practice to obtain those skills!

Here are some tips:
1. Video yourself doing the movement.  Bring your phone to class and have an athlete or friend video you after class.  Seeing yourself move can give you insight to what you can improve on.
2. Structure your practice.  If you struggle with double-unders, commit to practicing them for 5 minutes two times per week.  Track your practice so you know you’re staying within what you committed to do.
3. Set goals.  Yea, yea, I know, we all hear this.  But setting a goal gives a focus to your goal.  Instead of, I will practice double-unders for 5 minutes, say, I will practice double-unders for five minutes and my goal is to get 5 sets of 10 unbroken double-unders in that time.
4. Work with a coach.  Sometimes a little one on one attention can go a long way.  Lots of athletes at Roots have worked with various coaches for 30 minutes at a time to address a certain skill or weakness.  Not only can the coaches help you get past a technique road block they also write structured practice plans for athletes to accomplish on their own time during open shops or after class.
5. Tell a coach or a workout buddy you goals.  Hillary was instrumental in me addressing my handstand push-up weakness.  When I wanted to skip my skill work she would help steer me back in the right direction when I wasn’t in the strongest mindset.
6. Know that it adds up.  We practice handstand push-ups, rope climbs, chest-to-bar pull-ups, and other skills on a weekly basis because we know that focused consistent practice adds up.  It doesn’t have to be in huge long sessions.  Small incremental improvements.

Questions?  Post to comments. 

3 Responses

  1. Caitlin Durling

    Awesome post, Nicole! I have a long list of skills I’d like to work on, which can get overwhelming (and then I don’t work on any of them). Nice reminder to just pick one, focus, and follow through!

  2. Odie

    This is a great post, Nicole. And it is applicable to so many more things that just skills in CrossFit. But, to keep it on topic…we’ll stick to CrossFit.
    One of the things I have known to be a weakness in both my CrossFit and overall life game has been my mobility. It has inhibited potential gains, and in some cases, has inflicted pain. It prevents me from getting into strong and efficient positions, and even from doing movements all together (cough, cough…pistols). There was once a time where I actively worked on this weakness, and guess what?! Performance went up, discomfort went down, and rewards were seen! Even with a little work everyday, you will see results.
    CrossFit is all about pushing the limits of our experience, and making weaknesses our strengths (or at least not so weak). Thanks for the reminder…time to mobilize!

  3. Guest

    Great post about turning our weaknesses into our strengths. Not only a great message for CrossFit, but a great message for every other aspect of our lives as well!