Not Making Progress in CrossFit? Here’s Why!

Written By Charleh Knighton  |  Programming 

When I first started CrossFit, I was getting PRs left, right and centre, so every single time I showed up to the gym, I unlocked some new achievement.

I was adding more weight to the barbell, and I was learning new skills. It was amazing. But then, let’s six months in, I suddenly started to notice that my PRs and achievements were few and far between.

I actually remember one day I snatched around 200 pounds, and then a couple of weeks later, I did another rep, and I barely got to 185. I was devastated. I was like, what’s wrong? Why am I struggling so much?

We’ve all been there. 

That’s why in this article, I’m going to teach you five things that will stop you from progressing, which I wish I had learned earlier on in my CrossFit career, including:

  1. Overtraining
  2. Having unclear goals
  3. Not having a season 
  4. Specific skill work 
  5. Not getting coaching

Let’s dig in!

The problem with overtraining

So reason number one that you’re not making any progress and you’ve hit a plateau is overtraining. 

Overtraining is a really common thing, especially for people who have just drank the CrossFit Kool-Aid. 

I remember I used to be there every single day. I’d wake up, look at the WOD and want to go in and crush it. It didn’t matter what day it was - every single day, seven days a week, I was trying to get in and do something because I had this mindset of more is better. 

Well, as it turns out, for most of us, overtraining can be a major issue. 

Ideally, you need to be taking two full rest days per week and not feeling that sore. If you’re feeling sore and banged up all the time, that is a telltale sign that you are not taking enough rest and you’re not hitting the right stimulus in your workout. 

Resting is the key to actually achieving gains because you’re breaking yourself down in the gym. It’s that recovery time when your body repairs your muscles to make you come back stronger each time. 

And when you do rest, remember to make sure you’re doing the right things to support your recovery: staying hydrated, eating the right foods and getting enough sleep. 

identify and attack your weaknesses

Unclear goals

Reason number two for why you might be hitting a plateau is having no clear goals. 

Again, using myself and the thousands of athletes that we’ve worked with a WOD prep as an example, if you don’t have clear goals, it’s hard to know which direction you’re going in. 

When I was a beginner in the sport, I didn’t need goals. Every time I showed up, I’d say, “oh, what’s that? I’ve never tried that”, and boom, I’d get a new PR. That’s because, for a lot of beginner athletes, you don’t really feel like you need a goal because the goal is to keep coming to the sessions and learning new skills. 

But there’s a certain point where you start to plateau, where unless you have a specific goal that you’re training for, you will make marginal progress in a million different directions. And that kind of progress will leave you more or less in the same exact spot. 

In order to achieve better results and become a more well-rounded CrossFitter, you have to identify your weaknesses and then attack them with very clear goals. 

So let’s say I was mediocre at everything and really bad at squatting. If I just go to the gym and don’t have any clear goals, I don’t have any sort of squatting progression goals, then I’m just going to kind of dabble in every single movement, I might get a little bit better, and my squatting might improve slowly. 

However, if I focus my attention and do a little bit more accessory work on my problem area, which in this example is squatting, then I can make faster progress. It’s gonna help me break through plateaus that inevitably come after a few months or years of CrossFit training. 

So the main lesson here is to identify where your weaknesses are and then set very clear goals to help you break through and bust through those plateaus.

Not having a season

Reason number three for why you might be plateauing and not achieving your goals in CrossFit is that you don’t have a season. 

As CrossFitters, if we truly want to improve, we have to think of ourselves as an athlete. I don’t care if you’re only just starting out or you’re the most skilled person in the world. If you are trying to achieve a higher ranking in the sport, you need to start treating yourself like an athlete. 

Do you know what athletes do? They train like athletes.

Here’s what I mean. Let’s take a world-class athlete like LeBron James. He does not do scrimmages every single day. He doesn’t play five-on-five high-intensity playoff-calibre basketball every single day, 365 days a year; that would be ridiculous. 

What’s crazy is that a lot of CrossFitters do WODs every single day. They do tests of their fitness and competitions in the gym every single day. That would be like LeBron playing five-on-five basketball against playoff calibre people every single day. That’s ridiculous; he would never do that. 

Instead, what does a good NBA player do?

Well, in the offseason, they probably focus a lot on their weaknesses, and they develop strengths. They don’t necessarily play at a very high intensity, but they’re trying to rehab their nagging injuries. They’re really focused on getting strong, probably doing some heavy lifting. And then they’re also finding a couple of skills that they really need to work on.

Bringing this back to CrossFit, the bottom line here is that, in the offseason, you need to be focused on your weaknesses, such as developing your strength. That means fewer metcons, fewer CrossFit style workouts, and higher strength focus and mono-structural focus. 

Most training programmes don’t have this. But if you’re truly trying to make lots of advancement in the sport of CrossFit, you need to have a very defined off-season, mid seasons, and then late-season. 

So in the mid-season, you’re going to start to mix things up with some metcon stuff while still incorporating that strength, maybe into more compound movements. So rather than back squats and deadlifts, maybe you’re trying to integrate them into Olympic weightlifting. 

And then the late season is the only time that you actually start doing WODs. I know it seems crazy. But a true athlete like LeBron James isn’t doing that many scrimmages in the offseason. 

So as CrossFitters, as we approach the open, that’s when we need to start doing metcons to really refine our ability to constantly do varied functional movements at a high intensity. 

Specific skill work

Reason number four that you could be plateauing is you’re not spending enough time on specific skill work. 

A lot of CrossFitters go in, they do some strength, and they hit a metcon. And that’s great for general physical preparedness. It’s what I do because I don’t really have any CrossFit goals anymore. And that’s fine with me. I love doing it just to stay fit and healthy. 

However, if you’re trying to excel in CrossFit, you need to leave time and space for very specific accessory work. 

So if you’re trying to get better at ring muscle ups, and you just go to a normal CrossFit gym that programmes random workouts, how much time will you actually have to work on that specific skill? Maybe once a month, if you’re lucky?

So if you’re trying to make progress on your ring muscle ups, and you’re only working on it once a month, that would be like trying to learn how to drive, but you only drive once a month; that’s ridiculous, it would take way too long. 

So with that in mind, if you have a specific goal, like learning ring muscle ups, you need to dedicate two to three times per week to practice ring muscle up accessory drills, and they need to leave you in a non-fatigued state.

So if the only time you’re practicing your ring muscle-ups is in the middle of a 35-minute beat down Metcon on a Saturday, then you’re not doing it right; you’re not treating yourself like an athlete. 

develop a skill

Not getting enough coaching

Reason number five for why you might not be making progress is you’re not getting coaching. 

Unless you have a coach that’s actually looking at you and helping you with your form and technique, you’re probably missing a lot of stuff that could easily fast-track your progress and help you break through plateaus.

The coaches at your CrossFit gym probably do a phenomenal job, but when I was a coach, my goal was to start the class relatively on time, end the class on time, make sure that no one gets hurt, and that people have fun.

Working with each athlete on the specific skills and goals that they’re trying to accomplish was very low on the totem pole because there was just never enough time for that in-depth, personalized training.

Imagine how useful it would be if you could send a coach a video of you doing an exercise and saying, “hey, what’s wrong?” And then the coach says, “it looks like you should narrow your grip by one inch on each side. And try to move the barbell this way. And I want you to put your butt here and your shoulders back.” 

Well, that’s where WODprep can help.

How can WODprep help?

Regardless of what programming you’re following, WODprep has solutions to help you to break through these plateaus and ultimately achieve your goals. You can use WODprep to select the skills you want my help with, and I’ll send you free training on those skills. 

However, if you’re looking to solve the problems of not getting enough coaching, not having accessory work, not having programming that has a true season, or feeling like you’re overtraining, WODprep Pro is a new product that we’re launching that is going to help you solve that. 

In WODprep Pro, we have three complete programming tracks that you can follow, regardless of what skill level you’re at right now. 

So whether you’re a high-level competitor or a beginner, we have a track for you. 

It doesn’t matter what programming you’re following. You can just tell us what you’re doing, submit a video for whatever you need help on, and then one of our coaches is going to step in and provide personalized coaching that will help you to progress and break through plateaus. 

To Summarize

And there you have it! I hope you found this article useful and that you have a better understanding of the reasons why you might be hitting a plateau. 

I know for sure, after coaching thousands of athletes, if you fix just one or two of these five reasons, it’s going to transform your abilities and the progress that you’re making. 

Still feel stuck? Try out WODprep Pro today! 

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