Conundrum of Calorie Counting Header Photo - Calculating vs Intuitive Eating @weightlifting woman

 

Choosing what to eat (and how much to eat) would be a lot less stressful if you didn’t have to worry about the number on the scale, right?

Let’s get right to the point.

Yes, I do measure the amount of calories and macros that I eat, and I am THAT strict about my dietary choices. End of story.

Whoa! Big surprise there! …Especially knowing that my own husband tells a lot of his clients that they don’t need to count calories, that his clients can “eyeball” portions based on how it compares to their hands, and that according to Precision Nutrition, the accuracy of calorie counting is really not as reliable whatsoever.

So then, why do I persist on counting and measuring? Am I just wasting my precious time weighing things out on a scale and logging things in my FitBit app when I really don’t need to?

Here’s why: the only reason why I want to measure everything is to maximize my performance and body composition for competition and sport.

…And because I am willing to put in the time and compromises to make it happen.


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I’ve experimented with my dietary choices a ton in the last few years in order to stay around the 53kg class. Paleo, Whole 30, Zone, weighing & measuring, “no bread”, low carb/high fat, counting macros…a whole lot of things. Have they all worked…? Yes, since I’ve been pretty successful at hitting my needed weight. So…why do I bother switching it up?

Well, some of these methods feel a bit restrictive…they purposely “eliminate” foods from your diet so you feel like you can’t have them. They’re off limits! If you have it, you’ll NEVER hit your goals at all.

What a load of BS. I mean…it did give me a lot of insight as to which foods I had sensitivities to (like soy…my skin breaks out with soy! And gluten—I get all bloaty!)

But, I wanted a method that would justify for me how much I CAN actually eat without feeling the need to restrict certain foods…to say “no, I can’t have that” – and make me realize the plentiful amount of food I do have to be adequately nourished for my sport.

Here’s a little bit of insight as to why I do what I do, and why it may/may not be the best option for you.

 


 

First and foremost, If I weren’t competing in a sport that was based on weight-class, I probably would be a lot little looser when it comes to my dietary choices.

Once I decide to stop being competitive and just “live life” without a need to hit a certain number on the scale, I won’t be as strict as I am now. However, the amount that I have learned and gained from measuring stuff is all precious knowledge than I can carry with me throughout my future “non-measuring” days because I have a greater understanding of portioning sizes more than I ever have before and how food quantities have impacted my body.

I will say that I’m able to closely sustain the weight I am now (and make a lot of gains) because of how closely I monitor what I eat.

At the advanced and elite level, precision is everything.

Precision is important when it comes to your weightlifting technique.

Precision is also important when it comes down to your food intake. 

Gains and progress are much MUCH harder to come by once you advance to a high enough level in any activity or sport, and thus, it all comes down to how close you can be to perfection and accuracy to become even a little better.

For this reason, unless you have the same types of performance goals and weight maintenance goals as I do…you probably don’t need to count anything. Because really, it’s not necessary and it’s just more work and more compromises than you really need for the results that you want.

However, if you really thrive on competition and are willing to find and make the time and the sacrifices for the results you want, and are super driven by numbers and data to reassure yourself that you’re doing the right thing…then yes, that justifies counting calories.

 

So here’s what I currently do right now:
  1. Eat as much real, wholesome, and non-processed foods as I can about 98% of the time, with plenty of fruits in vegetables in basically every meal, and always trying to avoid foods with unnecessary added sugars, refined fats, or empty calories. This is the foundation of my nutrition, period.
  2. Measure my macro percentages (how many grams of carbs/protein/fat I get at each meal and total throughout the whole day). Currently I aim for around 35-40% carbs, 30% protein, 30-35% fat totaling around ~2100 calories a day more or less depending on how I feel and activity levels.
  3. Use a food scale at home to weigh out how much meat (in oz) I eat and to measure out really calorically dense foods such as starches (oats, rice, potatoes) and fats (oils, avocado, nuts, mayo). Protein is something I try to be consistent at every meal (~25 grams of protein) and won’t compromise.
  4. Meal-prep a huge batch of 2-3 dishes at the start of the week that I separate into equal servings, calculating how many “carbs” are in each serving.
  5. Eat very similar things everyday because consistency and routine is the best way to monitor how much I’m eating everyday.
  6. Eat at very similar TIMES in the day because I get cranky and nervous and hangry if there’s too many hours between meals or if I eat too soon or too late around workouts.
  7. Read food and nutrition labels on EVERYTHING and use those to gauge how much I can eat, but also if the food has ingredients that I should avoid (lots of extra additives, some soy, extra unneeded sugars, etc)
  8. Allow myself a “treat” every now and then (cookie, cupcake, a drink, etc) if I include it in my total allotment of calories and carb/fat intake for the day.
  9. Lastly, I try not to be 100% precise with matching up my “calories in” vs “calories out” and hitting macros spot on each day because nothing ever is really that accurate – but I try to fall close to the range I need to and call it “good enough” for the day. I do have OFF days where I throw everything out the window every now and then, but I try to get right back on track and adjust for the next day.

 

For example, if at the end of the day I’m like 178 calories short, it’s not like I’ll go out of my way to eat something to make up those calories if I’m not hungry or needing it. Similarly, I’m not going to say “no” to a food if I’m craving it but it puts me 200 calories or 20 grams of fat over for the day. Whatevs, it happens!

Seeing these numbers in front of me as daily goals though does influence my decision making when it comes to picking the best foods for me, though.


 

The Positives of Measuring Macros & Counting Calories – Why I do it:

Food is no longer a variable for me when it comes to my performance

By monitoring and knowing exactly how much I’m eating (in terms of fat, carbs, protein), I can worry less about food being the reason why my workouts or performance would suffer on any day. I can also adjust how much I eat based on performance in a much more precise manner (rather than just guessing).

 

I don’t trust myself to eat intuitively because I have an “abstainer” personality and I’m a horrible moderator.

If you put a delicious pan of brownies in front of me with no limits, I will probably eat half of the pan (instead of just one). I’m horrible when it comes to moderating because I get an extreme high with a lot of sugary and salty treats that come my way. It probably doesn’t help that much of the food industry injects flavorings into a lot of their packaged foods to entice people to keep munching and eating, and that these foods are nutritionally lacking so your brain will never feel satisfied with the food no matter how much you eat (and thus keeps eating more).

Therefore, the only way I can prevent myself from overeating any of these things is to not eat them at all – to completely avoid these things at all costs and to put myself in the mindset that it is NOT ok to have these things. It literally has to be black/white for me so I can control myself. However, with intense restriction also comes my rebel side…and after I’ve abstained from something too long I tend to blow up and stuff myself with an entire bag of popcorn, or have 4-5 servings of the no-bake peanut butter brownies at the party when I only really needed one.

By measuring stuff out, I can allot myself a little treat here and there knowing exactly how much I can have and that it IS okay to have it (rather than completely eliminate it from my life).
 
 

I can maximize my performance and have the best body composition possible for my weight class.

Competing in a weight-class based sport, you definitely don’t want extra “dead weight” hanging around that’s useless. You want to have plenty of muscle (so you can lift more weight) and also have the minimum body fat needed to have a healthily functioning body (because too little body fat on women can have pretty harsh hormonal effects, especially when it comes to motherhood later).

I watch my macros so I can monitor if I’m going too high/low carb, or too high/low fat for what I need for my body composition while also getting plenty of fuel to feel strong with my workouts…and if I start gaining some extra flub I can determine what I need to change with my diet to cut back down without cutting TOO much.
 
 

It’s helped me understand that not all foods are off limits – that you CAN still have a little of this here or there, but not a lot.

Back when I first started Paleo and Whole30 I was all about eating the “clean” foods and eliminating anything that didn’t fall into the Paleo category, such as all gluten & grains, rice, potatoes, dairy, soy, legumes, cheese, processed sugars, and anything with a label that had any of these things listed on there. I lost some extra body fat, but I also became quite the crazy lady and found it extremely hard to eat out anywhere nor eat with friends/family and socialize without feeling like an annoyance.

So I realized I DIDN’T need to be that strict, and I allowed myself to have a slice of pizza, or some beers after a long run, or the cookies during the faculty meeting. However, when I took this approach and “intuitively” ate what I felt, I ended up GAINING a lot of weight. BUT, by trying to incorporate some (not a lot) of these foods to hit certain macronutrient ratios ( I do 40/30/30), I could eat the brownies AND not overeat!

Obviously, when you do look at the calorie and carb count…you can have 10x more watermelon compared to one brownie. BUT, taking into account my macros helped me realize that BROWNIES ARE OK in moderation.
 
 

I’m a Big Data-Driven Person and I like Having Data to Justify my Decisions

I feel more comfortable seeing hard numbers when it comes feeling reassured that what I’m doing is right, especially when I feel that I can’t trust my intuition sometimes. I need some sort of “proof” but mainly because I need some way to keep me in check. I’m an obliger – I tend to do things because other people expect me to and I feel like I will let people down if I don’t meet their expectations (whether they really do expect me to or not…sometimes I just make up or create false expectations that other people have of me and try to meet those even when it may not be true).

Numbers keep me in check. They either calculate and add up, or they don’t. Numbers don’t lie.

 


 

What I have learned from Measuring my Food:

 
 

1. Protein is important to have at each meal – but also, has taught me how much protein I need at each meal.

I literally used to eat breakfasts before that consisted of just yogurt, fresh fruit and granola. But the amount of yogurt I had was definitely not the amount of protein I needed that morning to suppress my hunger at all. I also used to eat 8-9oz of steak for dinner thinking YES MEAT, MEAT IS GOOD. However, that was way more protein (and fat) than I really needed.
 
 

2. That a small spoon of oil, a half handful of nuts, or a sliver of an avocado packs a RIDICULOUS amount of calories.

Therefore, it’s super easy to accidentally eat way more fat than what you need because a little quantity packs a lot of calories. I used to eat half of an avocado wiht my breakfast or 2-3 handfuls of nuts at a time. But I realized that when measuring – more than 60% of my calories were coming from fat! (and when I meet my carb intake that just means I end up eating way too many calories overall). I only need a half a handful of nuts or a sliver of an avocado to match up to the other foods I’m eating.

Also, remember fat is also heavily present in a lot of the proteins and meats that “paleo” people eat (pork, beef, lamb, etc). In conclusion, it’s really easy to overdo it on fat until you really understand what a “moderate portion” of fat really is.
 
 

3. The right portion of rice, oats, and potatoes, and other dense, starchy carbs that I need is much smaller than what I used to portion myself before.

Yep, I used to fill the ENTIRE BOWL with oats, rice, noodles, potatoes, cereal. That seemed like a good portion – but really in the end that was a lot more carbs than I really needed for that meal. Starchy carbs are super dense, and I found that with any of these foods that I ended up with about a small handful in the end to meet my needs (I have these mini “prep” pyrex bowls that are about 3/4 cup in volume and end up just filling that mini bowl).

It’s also a great reminder that the amount of home fries, potatoes, and starch they give you in restaurants is about 3-4x more than what you really need to eat. No wonder we have a tendency to gain weight when eating out a lot!
 
 

4. If I want to feel “fuller” with more volume of food, I need to pick more vegetables, fruits, and foods that are more nutritionally dense.

It’s totally true – an entire bowl of salad equates to just as many carbs as those 3 oreos or that Organic Food protein bar! Though I might feel mentally satisfied in the short term with those little compact sweet treats, I certainly am not going to feel as physically full and satisfied as having a giant bowl of fruits and veggies filling up space my tummy.

 

Nutritional Takeaways - What I learned from Counting Calories Weightlifting Woman


SO now you’re thinking OMG those are such good reasons, and if I need to get ANY RESULTS at all I should be counting everything!!!

 

Hold your horses folks.

NO, you don’t necessarily have to count your calories and your macros unless you:

  • have the exact same performance goals as me,
  • have tried “hand portioning” with REAL FOODS and failed because you’re not that intuitive about it and tend to over/underguesstimate stuff,
  • are super data-driven and like having all the numbers in front of you as a form of monitoring and being exact
  • and you have the ability and desire to make the compromises necessary to do this work.

Reality is, most of you probably don’t have the time and energy to do something this intensive and this specific, nor are you looking for the same high-level performance and weight maintenance goals as I have.

By measuring, I’ve established a VISUAL baseline average of what 3 oz of meat looks like, and what 40 grams of carbs looks like in terms of amount of rice, or fruit, or leafy green veggies, and what 15 grams of fat looks like.

However, I had to go through this whole food measuring process to finally figure that out and to verify and reassure that.

In fact, you can probably get away with this “eyeballing” everything based on the size of your hands. Just remember, eyeballing and portioning really works if you’re eating wholesome foods with lean meats, fruits, veggies and healthy fats. No guarantees hand portioning chocolate peanut butter protein shakes, sub sandwiches and slices of pizza will work.

 


 

The Downsides of Measuring & Counting For Me. 

 

Yes, let’s discuss the DOWNSIDES of this now since you may want to consider these to know whether monitoring your nutrition in this way will be worth the time

 

Eating out (unless the restaurant has graciously posted their macros and calories for all their dishes) is a DISASTER when it comes to logging anything perfectly.

When eating out, you never know exactly how much cooking fat or oil was used, what ingredients are in the sauces, what the fat percentage of the meat is, or how much that scoop of potatoes weigh (and does it look like about 1 cup? 1.5 cups? ehhh). When you’re cooking at home, it’s so much easier to control EVERYTHING down to the amount of oil in the pan, what substitutions go in the recipes, and the number of grams of sliced onions you have.

You can also portion everything perfectly when meal-prepping to ensure you’re only eating as much as you need to (and not dealing with the guilt of getting too much food in a restaurant and leaving 4 little bites left on the plate because it “doesn’t fit your macros” but is too little to take home with you.)

It takes too much time to measure out and log every last thing!

Yeah, I could be a little quicker meal-prepping in the kitchen if I didn’t have to put everything in a bowl on the scale before putting it in the pan. I also spend just as much time “logging my foods” into my FitBit app to make sure I get all the ingredients and amounts correct. Well, I guess once you’re in the habit of doing so it becomes natural – but it’s a tough habit to start and squeeze time in to do if you have never done it, and is another thing that takes up precious minutes of my day.

Counting all this stuff isn’t 100% accurate at all, so why bother if calorie measurements of foods cooked and uncooked are variable and hard to pin point accurately?

Precision Nutrition has an amazing PDF about this, btw. Yes, there can be huge accuracy discrepancies and errors when trying to calculate calories perfectly of the foods eaten – and in the end I might actually be completely off by 500-600 calories sometimes! (which after a week can add up to an extra pound gained or so). Because of this, I try not to meet my numbers 100% perfectly (and I don’t care if I don’t meet them 100% perfectly) knowing that it’s not accurate…but I try to get in the “good enough” range for the day.

Endless Compromises & Sacrifices

Honestly, I feel kind of restricted when it comes to a lot of social events. I find myself backing out of a lot of party/eating out invites because I get scared it doesn’t line up with my nutritional goals and that it will impact my performance in an upcoming workout.

 


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Closing Remarks & Take-Aways from this Conversation

 

A lot of people wonder if I’m some sort of tron-like robot in the gym, or wonder how I’m able to have the energy to do all I do.

I attribute it to how much VALUE and IMPORTANCE I place on my nutrition.

If at ever you’re questioning why you lack energy every now and then, or why you’re unable to achieve your body composition goals, or why you’re not performing as well as you could, but you haven’t really valued your nutrition as highly and thought of it as the main reasoning behind any of this…

…well, there’s the answer to your question.

It’s not rocket science. BUT, that doesn’t mean to need to measure everything down to the last gram.

If you have particular body composition goals in mind and you’ve tried everything (getting enough sleep, eating plenty of fruits and veggies, limiting your consumption of extra sugars and excess starchy carbs, drinking plenty of water, limiting alcohol intake) but you seem to have plateaued…then maybe taking a few weeks to measure something out will reveal where you are still missing the mark. Maybe your protein, fat and carb intake is way more off the target than what you really should be having and you’re not able to pinpoint this through intuitive eating or eyeballing/guesstimating your current portions.

I think you should realize how much VALUE and IMPORTANCE I place on nutrition to ensure I feel my best.

 

Yes, there will be a point in my life where I will go back to “not measuring anything” at least in terms of weighing stuff and logging it down and tracking my macros by numbers. In fact on some days even now, I get a little loose and just eyeball things based on what I’ve eaten before.

The cool end of the story is, I think measuring stuff out has given me a really solid baseline of portioning sizes and has clarified how much protein is right, or how much rice is really needed, or how much fat there is in a lot of foods that we eat. I have a better VISUAL GUIDE now to how much I need to eat, moreso than ever before, and can now use this knowledge in a way that’s more intuitive and less strict by the numbers.

I have gained a bigger respect for food and how it’s used as fuel for my body.

If I have inspired you to start “counting calories” then by all means, good on you and good luck on your journey!

If I have scared you away from ever doing so…then awesome, I wish I could be as relaxed as you! But in the end, I hope what I have written here has made you realize how much value and importance I place on nutrition and how  above most things, I turn to nutrition if I have any questions at all about how I feel and how my body feels.

 

How Not Doing Crossfit but Weightlifting Made Me Better at Crossfit Cover Photo - Weightlifting Woman

What first comes to mind when you think of the typical “CrossFit” workouts? Lot’s of high intensity intervals, varied movements, jumping on boxes or with ropes, pull ups, handstands, barbells being tossed around for several reps at moderate weights, rowing, running, sled pushing, climbing ropes…

…and anything where you record your final “time” or how many rounds/reps you completed in X amount of time.

I’ve come to the realization that I’ve gotten better at CrossFit…by not actually doing any of the above.

Sounds strange right?

Well, if you take the definition of “CrossFit” as defined by founder Greg Glassman – basically it is “functional movements that are constantly varied at high intensity” (CrossfitDefined.com). Put all different kinds of workouts in a lottery wheel, and regardless of which workouts and combination of movements randomly pop out, you should be able to nail them every time.

CrossFit measures how competent you are in these ten different domains of fitness:

  1. Cardiovascular and Respiratory Endurance
  2. Stamina
  3. Strength
  4. Flexibility
  5. Power
  6. Speed
  7. Coordination
  8. Agility
  9. Balance
  10. Accuracy

Basically, if you are lacking in any of these ten areas, then you’re technically not as “fit” as you could be, even if you have incredible domination in one of the areas. A marathon runner, for example, may have incredible cardiovascular endurance, but could be extremely lacking in strength. Likewise, a weightlifter or powerlifter may have good power and strength but lack stamina or cardiovascular endurance.

Now, what’s interesting is as of right now, CrossFit still does not take into account or consideration a person’s size or weight class when measuring a person’s performance for the purpose of competition. We do see people of various sizes, heights, builds and body compositions doing CrossFit everywhere, but it’s probably safe to say that the average body height & weight measurements of the athletes who consistently make it to the “Games” level each year probably fall around certain numbers that give those athletes enough of a mechanical advantage in most of the movements to be all around well fit. There are certainly outliers, of course, but it’s clear what their goats and weaknesses are when a smaller statured athlete has to lift the same weight on the bar as someone much larger.

In fact, according to this article on the CrossFit Games site analyzing the evolution of the average Regionals athlete statistics, the “ideal build” for someone to be competitive at CrossFit is:

Men: 5’10”, 191 lbs.

Women: 5’5″, 142 lbs.

According to those stats, I am an extremely small “pint-sized” athlete. The amount of lean muscle mass I have is considerably lower than another who weighs, 30, 20 or even 10 pounds more than me. Thus, the amount weight I am able to lift comparably is a LOT less. I would have to be lifting world-class numbers to match up to a woman who weighs 140lbs but who lifts at just an “advance level.”

Strength & Power…those are where my biggest weaknesses lie.

Sure, I could probably address a few other jarring weaknesses I have, such as my inability to keep extremely consistent double unders, or that I’m so short that a wall-ball target requires much more power output for me because I have to move weight a greater distance, or that I have a disadvantage on a rower because of my short legs and shorter pulls against the flywheel.

However, my biggest limiter was definitely my strength.

And actually, if you think about it, if you’re stronger and you can generate more power, you’ll most likely require less time to lift X poundage compared to someone less powerful. Therefore, any workout that includes a barbell movement will always give the stronger, more powerful athlete an advantage because she will have more time and energy to put towards any body-weight movements that happened to be paired with it (and the athlete who generates less power will have used all their precious energy and time trying to lift the barbell).

As a pint-sized crossfitter, I should of course play up the advantages I do have and make sure I’m the absolute best at the things where my body composition would be favorable (body-weight movements, gymnastics, burpees, longer distance running, handstand pushups, and lifts with short ranges of motion such as deadlifts, pistols, or thrusters). Because, if anyone with a larger frame than I can do more pull-ups or faster burpees, then clearly I’m not as fit as the other person in those domains despite having the supposedly mechanical advantage.

(Now that I think about it, I have an “efficiency” advantage on some lifts because I don’t have to move the weight as far or as high to be able to catch it.)

Regardless, I should try to build up my strength and power generation, and maximize my efficiency in the lifts so it’s at least on a comparable level to someone heavier who can lift a lot more. I need to be able to generate enough power in workouts that contain barbells to allow me enough energy to still outperform the stronger athlete with the movements that favor smaller people.

Enter weightlifting.


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Focusing on Weightlifting Made Me Better at CrossFit.

Now, when I first started weightlifting, I decided to dismiss “CrossFit” as the sport that I would try to become good at because I knew I had a big size disadvantage and that I would have much more potential doing well as an athlete in a sport that is based on weight class. In fact, once I switched to weightlifting, I was already competing at the National level whereas in Crossfit…I was relatively one of the better athletes just within my gym.

I had no intention of ever trying to “make it to regionals” or to the Games ever but chose to do (and coach) CrossFit for fun, and as a mental break from weightlifting.

So for the last 2.5 years, my focus has been primarily on weightlifting training and improving my snatch, clean & jerk, as well as all the lifts that supplement that (back squat, front squat, presses, etc). I did very few met-cons…almost no burpees or box jumps and hardly touched a pull up bar or some rings unless it was to demo a movement to a class I was coaching. No running at all either…because that type of training would inhibit growing the types of muscle fibers necessarily for weightlifting.

“Metcons” were the types of workouts I was good at…but I didn’t need to work on those except only for the purpose of maintenance. My endurance and stamina levels were already sky high compared to most…so why work on those when I could still be at the top of the pack in those areas even if my endurance and stamina just decreased by a little?

Yet, at the end of weightlifting season when there was a huge break between the American Opens and Nationals, I chose to sign up for the Opens (with no intention of ever needing to repeat workouts or go 100% when it was my “off season”), mainly because I wanted to perform alongside the community at our gym.

But what is amazing is…even though for the majority of the time I wasn’t doing traditional “CrossFit style training,” I noticed I placed higher and higher regionally each year.

Why? Because I’ve gotten much stronger.


Snow Charpentier Crossfit Opens Placements 2012-2016 - Weightlifting Woman
 

Back when I took on weightlifting as a sport, I didn’t see the clear line then between “improve weightlifting = improve at CrossFit.” Things just happened to fall in place and I only discovered and analyzed my progress recently.

Now, you could argue that maybe the majority of the workouts the last 1-2 years were more favorable to my athletic abilities and to smaller athletes (which may have been true this year) compared to the ever increasing pool of athletes each year…

…but consider that all the workouts in 2016 contained a barbell. Therefore, most of the workouts required some element of strength that you needed to have in order to achieve a certain number of reps or time in comparison to other athletes.

If Athlete A’s 1RM overhead squat is 115# whereas Athlete B’s OHS is 175#, although Athlete A might be much smaller than Athlete B, Athlete A will have a super rough time stabilizing a 65# barbell overhead for the lunges, doing light weight snatches at 55#, or probably even doing thrusters at 65# compared to Athlete B…and thus Athlete B will have more energy to put towards the bodyweight-based movements such as chest-to-bar pull ups or burpees.

Check out this comparison of me attempting a 1RM clean & jerk at 175# about 2.5 years ago, compared to the 16.2 Opens workout containing a squat-clean ladder with 175# and ending at 205# (sadly, didn’t make 205# even though I’ve cleaned that weight a handful of times in a setting without an extremely high heart rate and time crunch.)

Cleaning 175# – Aug. ’13 vs Mar. ’16 from Snow (Powers) Charpentier on Vimeo.

 

Clearly two years ago, I would probably not even be able to make it past the 3rd round, or even the 2nd round considering my strength was no where near where it is now. Although there are several Games athletes out there who can probably power clean my 1RM squat clean, I’ve developed just enough strength to allow me to squeeze into the 99th percentile of a workout with a huge focus on strength, pending there are other movements paired with it that favor smaller frames.

The 2016 Games took me incredibly by surprise, because I went into the Opens signing up “just because” and only had the goal of trying to retain (and hold alone) my title of Fittest in the State of Rhode Island alongside Ashleigh Cornell, whom I tied with last year. You can ask everyone I talked to – I said “It’s not my goal to make it to Regionals, I just want to perform well.”

And perform well I did.

After the first three workouts, I was still within the top 35 women in the region…the highest I had ever been ever! One of the workouts (16.2) was even strength focused. Although I didn’t have the strength to clean 1 rep of 205lbs after all those other earlier cleans…consider I was probably one of the lightest females in the world who made it to the final round in 16.2 and because of that, I felt proud of my performance.

So in the end, I got better at “CrossFit” because I improved my strength, my coordination, and my power…not just relative to my own body weight, but relative to everyone else as well!


Takeaways: So, how does this apply to you, who might want to be better at “CrossFit”?

 

Identify your major weakness and spend quality time building up those.

I’m not necessarily saying “you must focus on exclusively weightlifting” if you want to be better at CrossFit or to be more athletically well rounded. That’s what worked for me because that was my weakest link. For some of you, you may need to work developing your gymnastic strength, or build up your stamina to sustain the same level of effort at the end of a 15 or 20 minute workout. There may even be several things you need to work on, but the key is to tackle the largest gaping hole first when you compare your abilities to the averages across the world.

Most likely, you can get away with a little sacrifice in the areas you excel in because the gains you will make in focusing on your weakest points will more than make up for it immensely.

 

Develop Better Technique to Become a More Efficient Athlete Overall

Good form is efficient, period. And if you’re efficient, you don’t waste your power and energy in moving weight around.

There’s a reason why you see almost all of the top Games athletes with perfect form almost 80-90% of the time…it’s not just because of meeting the “judging standards,” but having correct form in everything you do is just genuinely more effective at energy use and conservation.

 

Most People Will Probably Improve their Fitness Just by Increasing their Strength-To-Weight Ratio.

Consider that all five of the open workouts this year had a barbell in them, although some were much lighter than others. If you’re stronger, then that barbell load will feel relatively lighter to you and will allow you to have more energy to put towards non barbell-bearing movements. This also applies to developing more strength to support your own body weight on movements such as hanging from a pull-up bar, or pushing up on a handstand pushup.

 

Step Outside of your Local Bubble To Really See How You Compare

It’s easy to see what your strengths are in comparison to everyone in your own gym or urban area, or at local competitions that you happen to place high in. What’s cool about the CrossFit Opens is the ability to really compare yourself to a larger range of athletes undergoing different programming, different coaching techniques and at different settings.  Expand your view to a national level. Competing nationally in weightlifting took me out of the bubble of the local CrossFit community and gave me a sense of where I stood on a much wider scale.

 

Maintenance is Necessary But Shouldn’t Be a Priority.

By switching to focus on a different discipline or aspect of fitness, you will end up sacrificing a bit of your skill in other disciplines. Some main reasons for this are:

  • You’re developing different muscle fiber types (slow twitch for longer sustained efforts, vs fast twitch for more explosive, short-term efforts) to correspond with the type of load or training you’re undergoing.
  • You’ve lost that neurological connection with how those particular sensations feel (losing the timing for double unders, or how forgetting how it feels to have your heart rate sustained above a certain % of your max HR)
  • Undergoing a body compositional change (more/less muscle, more/less weight) depending on how your training and activity level has changed.
  • You’re getting used to different volumes, intensities and durations of training, and thus different rates at which you require oxygen….which your body will get used to over time.

However, that doesn’t mean you can totally just dismiss those areas for several months if you still want to be great at them. Dipping back into those other disciplines can be helpful for maintenance every few weeks or so, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the current training cycle that you are on.

For example, if you choose to focus more on the discipline of weightlifting and building strength (and developing the muscle fibers for high intensity, short powerful efforts), then you’ll want to limit the number of met-con style workouts you do which require many repetitions at lighter weights, promoting muscle fibers for moderate intensity & longer duration. A great time to reincorporate these may be in between cycles or during a deload week where you use the met-con as a method to get the “feel” back for the workout, going at moderate effort and not necessarily looking to *improve* in that area.


 

Well, what if I don’t have individualized lifting programming and follow what my coach gives the whole class?

Let’s say you’re looking to improve your strength and technique in the oly lifts, but you’re trying to figure out how to make that the focus when you’re following what your coach programs for everyone in the class. I understand…not everyone has the luxury of having personalized program or having the time to work on individual needs outside of class. The best thing you can do in this situation…

  • If the programming’s focus incorporates some type of “strength cycle”…is to make sure you’re there on the days for all of those strength movements (and making sure you make up those days relatively quickly if you miss them) and really stick to working with the prescribed percentages. DO NOT see this as an opportunity, though, to start doing your “own strength” on the side if you’re not getting enough WITHOUT discussing your intentions with the programmer first about your plans to get stronger, because you don’t want to do anything that will inhibit your gains or recovery planned during that cycle. 
  • Focus on technique throughout everything you do, including your warm ups. In fact, expand your warm-ups and come a few minutes before class to work on a few reps with empty or lighter barbells so you have more practice developing that muscle memory.
  • On the flip side, make it a point to not go all out 100% on the days that are just met-con or endurance focused. In fact, you can even use these days as your “rest days” so you place more effort and energy towards doing well on the strength focused days.
  • Ask your coach/programmer if there are any supplemental movements you might be able to incorporate to fix strength imbalances – there are some smaller moves that you can do to complement the strength work (without taking away from it) if you feel you’re lacking in areas such as core strength, hamstring strength or overhead strength. These are usually done with lighter weight for many more reps (8-12) with focus on quality. Examples are: light barbell or banded good mornings, overhead/farmers carries with kettlebells, dumbbell rows, romanian deadlifts, etc.

 


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Can you still become “better at CrossFit” everyday without necessarily taking the time to exclusively focus on one area?

Yes, absolutely! However, if you’re looking for maximal changes in your ability to address all the ten domains of fitness in a shorter amount of time, it’s more worthwhile to focus on building up your major goats since those areas have much more to improve in than your other areas will have to compromise.