Top Ten CrossFit Aha! Moments

A hand holding an illuminated light bulbHave you ever struggled with an idea or physical maneuver and then suddenly had a moment of clarity where it all makes sense? That’s what some call an Aha! moment. What follows is a list of ten Aha! moments from my short history with CrossFit. They range from the narrowly specific to the widely general. Whether you’re looking for help on muscle ups, back squat, attitude, or just someone to argue with on the internet, I hope they’ll be of some use.

1.    About 1.5 years ago David had just taught himself muscle ups and was helping me look like a dumbass in the University Fitness Center weight room, under the pretense of teaching me to do muscle ups. At one point he told me to quickly snap my wrists when transitioning from the pull to the dip position—the most difficult part of the maneuver. All of a sudden, it clicked. I realized I had been maneuvering the rings too slowly through the transition. I started snapping my wrists and got my first muscle up after only 2-3 more attempts.


2.    About four months ago I finished Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore’s two epic tomes: Starting Strength and Practical Programming for Strength Training. I realized I had been back squatting with my shoulders relaxed, the bar too high, and my grip too wide (out near the edge of the bar). I forced myself to push the bar lower, pull in my grip until my shoulders cramped, and therefore greatly tighten my shoulders and create a solid shelf for the load. My back squat immediately improved by 15 pounds and then another 10 pounds a month afterward. Yes, I’m uncomfortable as hell underneath the bar, but I can move the bar much more efficiently.

3.    Also after reading Practical Programming for Strength Training I discovered the importance of the phrase, “No Stress, no adaptation.” My previous approach to injury rehabilitation had been to rest the affected body part until it felt “ready to go” again. If a particular motion hurt, then don’t do it; choose another exercise. Then the authors enlightened me to the fact that if you don’t stress your body then it will not adapt, and returning tissue to normal after damage requires stress and adaptation. Now I understand Rippetoe’s prescription for rehab, which I think is pretty sound: Let the area rest until the pain is dull and no longer sharp. This gives the affected body part a jump start on the healing process so it is prepared for future stress to normalize it. Now, do 20 reps of exactly what hurts with very low weight (if any), full range of motion, and perfect form. Do this every day for 2 weeks. Don’t do any other heavy lifting that could steal your body’s limited healing resources for recovery. Viola—normalized tissue. [edited to add an important caveat from Rippetoe himself: “This method was specifically developed for muscle belly injuries, and does not work for tendinitis, joint capsule injuries, tendon or ligament ruptures, or infectious disease.”]

4.    I attended a POSE clinic at CrossFit Huntsville last winter. I had read about POSE extensively, but never had any one on one instruction. As conversations progressed about the mechanics of POSE running vs. heel striking, flat soled shoes vs. high heel running shoes, and running injuries caused by traditional heel-striking I had a revelation similar to the weeks when I first deeply examined CrossFit. I realized that when I go to Fleet Feet and ask for shoes for an over-pronator that I’m really asking for a prescription to ease the pain of my problem, and that I’m not really trying to solve my problem. I realized that I need those big, cushy soles because I’m running in a way that no human would naturally run. I’m far from an efficient POSE runner, but at least now I realize that my problem is faulty mechanics, not finding the right equipment to dampen the effects of my faulty mechanics.

5.    About 1.5 years ago I sat in David’s office, talking about nutrition, and exclaimed that I never wanted to count my almonds (which in context meant sticking to a strict Zone Diet). Years later, I count my almonds and weigh and measure my food, and I am much healthier, stronger, and happier. What seems like an immense burden easily becomes part of your lifestyle if you make the necessary effort to change. I decided the burden was worth the results. Now my particular flavor of the Paleo Diet and Zone Diet doesn’t seem like a burden at all. I immensely enjoy eating this way, and regret whenever I must lapse for even a day at a time. It’s just the way I live, like putting on pants in the morning. What seems like someone else’s insurmountable burden may not be a burden at all. They may actually count it a blessing.


6.    A couple months ago the main site prescribed what many people are calling CrossFit Total II: One rep max attempts of overhead squat, bench press, and power clean. I sometimes have shoulder pain while bench pressing, and it has never been a strength of mine. During the bench press portion I implemented advice from Louie Simmons that I had gleaned from CrossFit Journal videos and his book, The Westside Barbell Book of Methods. I gripped the bar more narrowly than usual with my pinky fingers on the powerlifting rings (the first interior breaks in the knurling on a Rogue Bar). I also tried to bend the bar inwards (curl the ends up towards the ceiling) with my hands instead of leaving my hands and wrists essentially neutral. These two changes resulted in much less pain and no noticeable decreases in my strength.

The last four Aha! moments aren’t really Aha! moments. Yeah, I suppose that’s cheating, but I thought they might be helpful anyway. While not the product of a revelation or sudden moment of clarity, they are ideas I’ve slowly come to believe over months and years.

7.    Right after a series of Aha! moments about little things, I’ll throw out this: The little things aren’t very important. Sure, if you’re an elite athlete trying to add 5% to an already incredible PR, then small things like one centimeter differences in grip and foot placement and perfect bio-mechanics are part of the equation. But if you’re the average Joe just trying to get fitter than below-average Joe, then don’t worry so much about the details. Just eat right and work hard. Perfect technique will come. Until you get to the point where it matters, just work hard every time you’re in the gym, performing movements within the 80% solution, and you’ll see awesome results.

8.    Pursuit of fitness is not fair. Fair comes to town once a year. Some people are blessed with genes that allow them to consume sugar and fat like a Little Debbie factory yet they show no weight gain. Some people can look at a saltine cracker and put on five pounds. Some people recover from workouts in 12 hours and set PRs every week, while others struggle greatly. Know which one you are, and if it’s the latter, stop feeling sorry for yourself. That just means you have to work harder. It’s hit us all in some aspect of life, so just accept it and move forward. All we can do is work to better ourselves. We can’t change the “self” that we’ve been dealt.


9.    Change requires change. Keep doing what you’ve always done and you’ll keep getting the results you’ve always received. If you aren’t happy with your results, you must change your method or your application of your method. You can’t get drastically different results by changing minutia like adjusting your grip width on barbell curls or only eating Girl Scout cookies before 5 P.M. If you want different results then be prepared to try a different method or change your application.

10.    Yes, it’s supposed to hurt. Stressing connective tissue in ways you’ve never stressed it before hurts. It also leads to fitness. This micro-injury followed by proper recovery is the entire reason we’re in the gym. So when your wrists and elbows hurt while attempting muscle ups: yes, it’s normal. When your wrists hurt from the rack position during front squat: yes, it’s normal. Strap burns from ring dips: yes, it’s normal. Hurt and damaged hands from pull-ups: yes, it’s normal. As a general rule, if a new movement doesn’t hurt somewhere in some capacity then you’re probably not doing it to full range of motion or with enough load.

Did you find that Insightful? Worthless? Let me know what you think in the comments.