In CrossFit, there are dozens of skills that can be developed and mastered. Powerlifting, olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, running, rowing, jump rope, kettlebell work, pacing strategies, mental game, the list goes on and on. Even within that list there are even more pieces to attack. Take gymnastics for example, you have pull-ups, toes to bar, dips, chest to bar, muscle ups, push-ups, air squats, burpees, and on and on.
Sometimes it can be overwhelming to figure out how to learn a skill, but it is even more frustrating to think you “have” a skill and then be unable to perform it under fatigue. The Open is especially evil about this (think about how hard double unders were after thrusters). With that in mind, I wanted to share a few tips on how to “master” a new skill.
Step 1: Intellectually understand the skill.
Before you hop onto a bar and try a muscle up, or attempt double unders, it might be a good idea to get an idea of exactly what you are doing. When does the movement begin and end? (Learn what counts as a good rep.) What body parts are supposed to move where? Where is your grip? How long should it take? Are there best practices? Common faults? Familiarize yourself with how the movement works. (Coaches at the gym and progression videos are a great resource for this.)
Step 2: Perform the skill for the first time.
After understanding the skill, you can begin working through progressions and eventually do the skill for the first time. This may take some time and a lot of failed attempts. Don’t get down on yourself! Missing a rep or not doing something right isn’t necessarily bad. If you are able to feel what you did wrong and adjust, then you are improving.
One big mistake people make here is just banging their head against the wall with attempts. I see this a ton with double unders. They keep trying the exact same thing (jump height, rope speed, hand position, knee bend) and keep missing. Change it up! Try something new until you find what works. Videoing your practice attempts is a good way to see the errors being made.
Step 3: Perform the skill consistently under low pressure/low heart rate.
This is where practice before or after class comes in. For something like pull-ups, this means 10 singles once or twice a week. SUPER low volume and VERY high attention to detail. Try to make these perfect reps. Take plenty of rest time (as in 60+ seconds) between reps.
Step 4: Practice the skill under fatigue.
Going from being able to do a few singles on pull-ups to RX-ing Fran (An awful combo of 45 thrusters and 45 pullups) can sometimes be a big jump. A halfway option is to pre-fatigue yourself and then practice the skill. EMOM’s are your best friend here. Let’s say I am trying to get better at pull-ups, I would do the following EMOM (every minute on the minute).
EMOM 10 minutes:
Even minutes: 12 calorie row
Odd minutes: 5 pullups (done in sets of 1-2)
This allows you to simulate what a workout may feel like without the intensity or the pressure. Your heart rate is up, but you are not blowing yourself out and completely losing your mechanics.
Step 5: Start using the Skill in WODs
Once you feel comfortable doing the skill under high heart rate at moderate amounts of volume, now it is time to start attempting that skill in a workout. Whenever you apply this to class, have a conversation with your coach. Let them know that you are trying a skill for the first time in a workout, that you might be a touch slower than usual with your time as you are focusing on having quality reps. Once you are able to apply big sets of a movement in a workout, you have “mastered” the skill.
With a little bit of maintenance, the skill should stick around for you if you built it in the intentional manner described above!