It’s inevitable. At some time during this great journey that is CrossFit, things are going to get tough. Your strength numbers stop shooting up, and your metcon times stop plummeting down. At a certain point the “Beginner Effect” wears off, and you are now faced with the daunting prospect that each gain, each skill mastered, and each second shaved will be done so at the cost of a considerable investment of time, focus, and will.
Often, concurrent with this realization, you will look around and think “why isn’t this happening to anyone else!” The guy you share a squat rack with has added 40 pounds to his squat this exposure, while you’ve risked an aneurysm to add 15! The girl you did foundations with just hit 100 consecutive double unders, and you approach the jump rope like its an anaconda looking to wrap you up and eat you! You thought you were great at this stuff, and all of a sudden it feels like you barely deserve to sport your Nanos.
For many, this phenomenon occurs somewhere between 6 and 18 months into an athlete’s development, although it can certainly happen sooner or later, depending on your previous training history. Often times this double edged revelation- That A) shit is gonna be hard, and B) that on the giant CrossFit spectrum your abilities rate closer to Jason Schwartzman’s than Jason Khalipa’s- results in a drop of motivation, general malaise, and sometimes a loss of CrossFaith.
Congratulations! You are now a CrossFit Sophopmore, and experiencing your first Sophomore Slump! At this time it may be meritorious to examine the roots of the word Sophomore. Although commonly used to refer to the second year of high school or college instruction, it derives its name from the greek sophisma, which means “acquired skill, clever device, method” which was further derived from sophos, meaning “wise or skilled.” Previously you made gains randomly, almost accidentally, and every lift or metcon was a PR. Now, as a Sophomore, you must practice sophisma and train methodically and with greater perspective to ensure continued success.
Redefine Goals and Timeframes
At the start of your CrossFit career, goals were short-term challenges and triumphs. Kicking up to a handstand, one (or ten, or twenty) push-ups or pull-ups, squatting to depth- these were things that you could identify, work on for a relatively short amount of time, and achieve. For further development as a Sophomore, a redefinition of goals is necessary.
Previously, we planned forward to achieving a goal. “I want to squat 200 pounds by the end of the month.” Looking forward, I challenge you to plan backwards. Identify your goal, figure out how many training days you can allot per week or month to work on it, and set a long enough timeframe that you will be able to keep progressing slowly and steadily towards success. Make sure to start submaximally (using weight/reps/etc lower than your current max) to make sure you have room to grow. The more you can delay hitting the ceiling of your current ability, the more room your ability will have to grow. By starting low, aiming high, and giving themselves ample time to grow. Smart Sophomores avoid Ceilings (I think I just made up a new saying!).
Even with perfect planning, great focus, and sustained intensity, some movements,workouts, or even time/weight modalities (Grace vs Murph) will always seem to crush us. Mobility, diet, sleep, injury history- all of these things blend into potent cocktails that besiege the fledgling (and intermediate, and expert) CrossFitter. Instead of getting frustrated why not try and re-frame the problem:
First, embrace every exposure to them as an opportunity to practice perfectly and gather experience and insight about a difficult adversary. Relish in attacking your weaknesses, and try your best to attend days when those weaknesses are programmed, or program them yourself during open gym days.
Second, actively try to maintain perspective about what CrossFit means in your life and your personal reasons for why you keep showing up to a funky old warehouse to get sweaty. Aside from the infinitesimal percentage of elite, competitive CrossFit athletes, most of us come to the gym for reasons that all fall under the umbrella of “Improving Quality of Life.” Increasing work capacity, being able to participate in new and challenging activities, looking better naked- all of these are broad, life-oriented goals that we work towards every single time we come to the gym, whether its a day when we hit a PR or where we bail on every set.
Last, remember what a great privilege it is that you have a life that allows you to spend a nice chunk of time each week picking up heavy stuff, running, jumping, and making yourself Mas Sexy (and I mean that in the broadest sense of the Spanglish malaproprism). There are a vast number of people out there too overworked, underpaid, untrained, ignorant or otherwise unable to do the things we take for granted. Your worst day at the gym is better than a day sitting on the couch mainlining Pringles.
Just Show Up
Which brings me to my last point and word of advice during slumps, Sophomoric or otherwise. JUST SHOW UP. Every day you are in the gym working is a day you are improving, even when it doesn’t feel that way. Tangible increases in strength or speed are important, but so are intangible gains in familiarity with movements and a greater understanding of your strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. Broadening your knowledge and confidence is just as worthwhile an endeavor as broadening your back and thighs. Sometimes you will surprise yourself with gains you make when you feel like you are standing still. Plus, your friends want to see you, sweat with you, and laugh with you, and, if you don’t show up, your coaches will have nothing to do but compare deadlift scars and throw chalk at each other.
A Long CrossFit Road
Hopefully after reading this, some of you will feel rejuvenated, and apply these humble tools to break out of the funk you are currently in. Although this article deals with the concept of a Sophomore Slump, rest assured there are Junior Slumps, Senior Slumps, and a wealth of postgraduate, doctoral, and extracurricular opportunities in Slump Science as well. Now you have the weapons to fight back. Redefine your goals and adjust your timeframes to allow steady progress towards said goals. Strive to maintain perspective and always reflect on what CrossFit means to you, why you do it. Most importantly, even when it’s tough, find value in simply stepping into the ring. So equipped, all of these Slumps will be just small road bumps on a long road. Trust me, one day you’ll look back at this stuff, and laugh.