7 Tips to Get Better at CrossFit & Be the Athlete You Want to Be

Jeff Baldelli
Written by
Last update:

Scale Your Reps and Not Your ROMS

When starting out, it’s important to understand that getting a better CrossFit score takes reps. High rep training will help you build the endurance, repetitive ability, movement efficiency, and overall mental fortitude for CrossFit training.

This is why you often times don’t see CrossFit competitors training with weights greater than 90% of their 1RM. More often than not, they’re using rep schemes that are likely to lead to muscular failure before muscle failure does.

CrossFitters are known to do hundreds of pull-ups and muscle-ups, and thanks to low-reps, high-weight training, you’ll get sick of muscle-ups long before you ever hit the 100 rep mark.

Therefore, when starting out, choose to scale your reps, rather than your ROM (range of motion).

Since CrossFitters are interested not only in improving basic movements, but also elite movements and Olympic weightlifting movements, the problem is compounded and may require more attention to detail.

For example, a pull-up works the lat muscles. But if you want to get better at muscle-ups or butterfly pull-ups, you’ll want to scale your ROM. More specifically, you want to spend more time working on the lower portion of the pull-up before you build up to what you’d get in an actual muscle-up.

In terms of improving a snatch, scaling your ROM and doing clean and jerks is an excellent way to get faster at snatching without the overhead requirement. Improving your clean will typically lead to improvements in the clean and jerk, with the hook grip, pulling yourself into a catch and lowering yourself into a snatch, and even just focusing on accelerating through the second pull of the snatch.

An exception to this rule is when you’re focusing on a technique to improve your time, such as when doing timed sets of barbell and dumbbell snatches across the floor.

One of the best ways to improve your time is to complete your reps as quickly as possible. This is all about getting the bar in the air by being able to perform the snatch movement as quickly as you possibly can.

Work on Strict Movements, Even When You Could Use Kipping Movements

Strict movements (and rowing), such as squats, deadlifts, strict presses, etc, are key to developing strength and power. While it's tempting to kip as much as possible during a workout to shave time off your WOD, you're missing out on a valuable opportunity to improve your form, by working on strict movements that are key to getting you the results you want, as well as keeping you safe.

When you kip, you're developing power through your hips and shoulders and not your legs, especially your hips. So what happens when you need a lot of power in your legs but are in a deficit or are recovering from knee damage? If your kipping relies on tight, rigid shoulders rather than strong and mobile hips, you'll put a lot of stress on your shoulders and a lot less on your legs.

Do some sets of rowing and throught the work on your squats and you'll understand what I mean.

Analyze Your Weaknesses and Target Them in Your Training

For example, my weaknesses are speed, endurance, and being comfortable and strong with handstand push-ups. All three of these areas are closely tied to each other, so while I may sacrifice some volume in one area (i.e., handstand push-ups) for another (i.e., running) I try to work on each one.

Recognizing your weaknesses and working on them should be a goal in itself. It's one thing to train hard, but you must be training smart, too. You should also always be trying to target your strengths, even if they are lagging.

Set Goals and Work on Them

A lot of people set goals and never look at them. If you're serious about improving your CrossFit skills and honing your strengths and weaknesses, you should review those goals regularly.

For instance, I posted the CrossFit regionals on my wall, and even as I surpassed most of my expectations on my first regionals, I knew I had to improve. I am going to be even more focused this season on improving my weaknesses and developing my strengths further as I target another regionals bid.

Even outside of the gym, I want to improve my overhead position in wrestling in general.

Incorporate these Three Exercises into Your Routines

Like we mentioned earlier, the purpose of crossfit training is to improve in all areas of fitness. As you age, it’s likely that you’re relying on muscle groups less and that the focus is more towards cross workout preparedness.

You’ll also need good body control and stability, which will help you not only in crossfit but in the real world.

Some of the core exercises that crossfit training emphasizes include:

  • Pull-Ups
  • Bench Press
  • Deadlifts
  • Push-Ups
  • Squats
  • Box Jumps
  • Burpees

To do these right, you’ll need to have a strong core and upper body. So, if you’re not sure what that means, here are some amazing back exercises you can substitute for each to get going.

Pull-Ups

If you’re struggling to do the pull-ups component, you may benefit from using resistance bands. Here’s what you can do.

Grasp a resistance band firmly and hook it onto a support bar or door knob at eye level. Position yourself in front of the bar so that your arms are straight and fully extended, straight below the shoulder. Grasp the bar with your palms facing towards you. Slowly raise your body up until your chin is at the level of the bar without bending your arms. Slowly return to the original position. Use the band as additional assistance if the exercise is too difficult. Make sure that the band is at chest level before performing the exercise.

Bench Presses

If you can’t do bench presses right now, you’re probably just showcasing poor form. Simply read this guide on how to do them correctly, then try again. This should help you bench press like a champ.

Deadlifts

To do the deadlift effectively, you’ll need to work on keeping your body in a straight line. Adopt the perfect deadlift stance (click for video guide) for a better workout.

Squats

Instead of doing actual squats, you can substitute them for another form of exercise. The most commonly recommended alternative to squats is the kettlebell swing. Here’s how you do it:

Increasing Your One Rep Max to Improve Your Metcon Performance

If you try to improve your endurance, stamina, and fitness level without lifting weights like above, you will fail. The body doesn’t know or care that you are in a metcon or doing non-weight bearing movements like a rower or assault bike. It knows that you want to be more fit and it will respond by getting stronger and more fit.

Interval Training

As we briefly touched on above, interval training is the best way for you to get fitter in every way possible.

In short bursts of activity, your body uses more oxygen and energy. This stimulates the production of chemicals and cells that all contribute to improving your fitness level.

As soon as that workout ends, your body switches over to energy-conserving mode, giving you more rest than usual. This ensures that your body will be ready for the next bout of exercise without being worn out.

Lift Weights to Improve Your Performance

Marathon runners may scoff at the idea of doing so much bench press and squats. But weightlifting for endurance athletes is key to improving your performance.

The key benefit of lifting weights is increasing your overall strength and power.

Your muscles are only as strong as they are because of the amount of force they produce. Size isn’t everything, and there are many examples of endurance athletes who do not posses bulging muscles, yet are still incredibly fit and powerful.

Even endurance athletes who look muscular still tend to be at, or near, the top of their strength classes. Weight lifting is still crucial to their performance.

Sprint on a Treadmill

The next time you are inside a gym, try using a treadmill and sprinting. When you sprint, you are moving your body at an intensely high speed. Yet, your heart rate is usually much lower than it would be if you were just jogging or running.

There is a lot of resistance when your knees are planted on the ground and you are pushing off with your feet. But the treadmill allows you to run faster with a lot less effort.

Try doing a treadmill warm-up, then do some sprinting, then do another treadmill warm-up. The second warm-up won’t seem as tedious or difficult, even though the same amount of time is passing.

Why? Because your body is exhausted from the high intensity sprints.

Perfect Your Squat

The SQUAT is a controversial exercise. Many people avoid the SQUAT due to fear of back pain and injury. However, back issues are quite rare. The concept of the SQUAT being the cause of pain is more commonly due to poor technique and mobility.

I realize that your goal is not to be a competitive Olympic lifter. But many of the exercises that you perform within CrossFit will be derived from movements and lifts performed in the OLYMPIC LIFTS.

For this reason, I will share my top tips for performing the SQUAT, whether it is with a barbell or with a barbell, kettlebell, and/or dumbbells.

Ultimate squat technique will give you the perfect foundations for explosive, powerful, and technically sound squatting. And, the end goal is to lift more weight. While I will share my step by step process of perfecting the squat, in the end I will leave it up to you to customize your squat to make you the strongest and most powerful version of you.

As discussed, the basic position of the squat, both with barbell or with kettlebells and dumbbells, is to hold the barbell with your hands in the OH position (the same position you have when you are performing a push-press).

In the video as well as in the description, I share step-by-step instructions on how to perfect the squat.

When squatting with a barbell, start holding it behind your head and lower it to just below your shoulders (or lower if you are not flexible in the shoulders). From there, proceed to hold it over your shoulders and then finally place it on your back.

When squatting with kettlebells, you hold the kettlebells at your hips.

You start the move by driving your hips forward until your legs are almost straight. Come up while having your back straight and supporting the weight with your chest.

When squatting with dumbbells, you ideally will hold two dumbbells while squatting, though you can also do it with one dumbbell.

To begin, place one dumbbell in one hand and grab it with the other hand. Make sure your thumb is on the same side as the dumbbell and you are holding on to both sides of the dumbbell.

Get Your Nutrition in Order

Regardless of how hard you work out, remember that if your nutrition isn’t in alignment, you won’t get the results that you want. You’ll notice that some of the top CrossFit athletes are very strict with how they eat and what they eat.

The “clean diet” is not about eating the standard American diet and simply avoiding junk foods, although that is a big part of it as well.

The diet is about making smart food choices for health, energy, and performance.

There is no wrong or right way to eat, but make sure you are getting enough of the following:

Protein- Eating enough protein has been proven to boost your metabolism, which is important for keeping your hormones in check and building and repairing muscle. Protein is also important for staying full for longer and preventing cravings.

Unsaturated fats- These include monounsaturated fats (Olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats (Sunflower oil). They are great for heart health and energy, as well as the overall function of your body.

Whole Grains- Whole grains contain protein and fiber, which are both great for muscle repair.

Vitamin D- We all need Vitamin D to help regulate calcium, which is crucial for bone health and energy. While most of us get the recommended daily requirement of Vitamin D from the sun, the winter months tend to present a challenge for Northerners.

Iron- Our bodies need iron to aid in the removal of oxygen from the air and transfer it to the rest of our cells. Natural sources of iron include red meat, eggs, fish, and beans. Recent studies have linked a lack of iron to chronic fatigue.

Vitamin C- Aside from being an excellent antioxidant and antihistamine, Vitamin C also helps boost immunity.

Chromium- This mineral is important for the metabolism of blood sugar and the maintenance of blood pressure.

Magnesium- This mineral is needed for a couple things. First, it helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function and keeps heart rate steady. Second, magnesium helps in the regulation of Vitamin D metabolism, making it important for bone health and the immune system.

Potassium- This mineral is vital for every single part of our body. It is needed for energy and oxygen intake. Potassium also helps maintain blood pressure and nerve function.

You Must Interval Train, Even if it is Boring or Un-Sexy

Interval training is core to many training programs out there.

Many weightlifting programs have the athlete do a number of exercises in sequence, from warm-up to ancillary exercises to the main exercises and finish with a cool-down.

Similarly, many triathletes who train for short distances do this form of training. The main difference is that with a weightlifting program, each exercise is complete. For example, each set of squats or bench press is completed before moving to the next “exercise.” With interval training, you will shift your focus to doing many of these “exercises” one after another, like sprinting, running, walking and then back to sprints.

An example of this is as follows:

  • Do the following workout for 12-15 minutes
  • 30 seconds of sprinting
  • 1 minute jog
  • 20 seconds sprinting
  • 1 minute jog

Then Do the Following

  • 10 push ups
  • 10 squats
  • 20 lunges
  • 5 burpees

Finish with 10 Minutes of Cooldown

This is an example of what interval training looks like on the ground. Usually, interval training is done on machines.

One of the arguments against interval training is that it is boring and monotonous. People don’t always stick with it. However, if someone is committed to their fitness goals, then interval training is better than a steady-state workout.

If you are going to do interval training, then you must be committed to doing it for the right reasons.

If you’re going to do intervals, then you must do them right.

How to Make Things a Little Sexier and Fun

Interval training can be a little boring. You have to give it a little pizzazz to keep it fun. While a lot of people are already aware of this, there are still people out there who get stuck in a boring mindset regarding their workouts.

Some people like to listen to music while they workout. If you don’t like to listen to music or if you find it distracting, then you can listen to your favorite podcast to break the monotony of interval training.