Progessing as an Athlete: You need Level II

By David Werner For years, the daily workout at CrossFit Seattle was the same for everyone, beginner or advanced. We adjusted for differences in ability by scaling.  Mostly, that meant newbies used lighter weights. That’s pretty standard at most CrossFit gyms. But we’ve learned a lot in nine years of training people, and one of the things we’ve concluded is that beginning and advanced athletes benefit from quite different approaches.

Beginners? Many walk into the gym not knowing a deadlift from a squat. Just getting under a barbell can feel sketchy. What these folks need most is practice with the movements. That means more reps, which, in turn, can mean longer workouts. The idea is that with repetition, the movements begin to feel more natural. You develop confidence. You gain skills. Now you know what a clean feels like, even if you’re not doing it perfectly.

That’s what we’re trying to do in the Level 1 classes­—to teach some proficiency in the movements, and to teach our athletes to work hard.

There’s another thing we’ve noticed over the years. Working for a long time is NOT the same thing as working hard. Most beginners are not able to truly push themselves to work hard. It’s not as if they’re not trying. They just don’t yet know how to tighten everything up and produce force. It takes skill. It takes strength. It’s mental too, knowing where your own personal yardstick is, and being able to quiet that part of the mind that conspires to stop you.

Working hard also involves muscle control—knowing how to marshal everything you’ve got, to pull it all together and maintain good form while putting out maximum effort. The good form part is critical to long term success.

That’s where Level 2 comes in. At this level you need more complex movement together with stricter technique standards. We design the workouts to be harder and, in some cases, shorter than the Level 1 classes. That’s right, shorter. To some of you—and we know who you are, you cardio addicts­—this may seem strange.

Rest assured we’ve really studied this. The difference in Level 2 is, we’re going to push you. Hard. With heavy loads. And with even more attention to technique.  We want to change your perception of what “hard” is.

Think about this: by definition, longer means less intense. You simply can’t maintain high levels of force production with good technique through a really long workout. Full range of motion goes out the window. You start to get sloppy. Why does that matter? Because sloppiness can lead to reduced efficiency, reduced power output and injuries. Partial range of motion is just, well…it’s weak. You don’t get stronger, leaner, or more athletic by doing just part of a squat.

Here’s another interesting thing. We have learned that long workouts stimulate cortisol (stress hormone) production. The super-hard five - ten minute blast of effort that leaves you twitching? That stimulates anabolic (rebuilding) hormones. We want to maximize that, and minimize the stress hormones. Maximize performance, minimize wear and tear, - simple. Right? Well yes, simple, but not easy!

Bottom line is, we see our Level 2 classes as a reemphasis on the original goals of CrossFit Seattle,  which is to favor quality over quantity.

You’ll also notice that the strength portion of the Level 2 class is a lot more methodical. Being weak is not conducive to feeling good or performing well. The most effective approach we have found is a modified version of Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 program. To get on the program, you’ll need to figure out your one-rep max on four different lifts. Then you plug those maxes into a spreadsheet that will tell you how much to lift each day. Ask a trainer for more details. (We highly recommend Wendler’s excellent eBook here.) The 5-3-1 program will help you steadily increase your strength, and will give you a fresh challenge every week.

So, how do you move from Level 1 to Level 2? Check out the chart posted by the cubbyholes. Find something on the list that you hate. And do it until you get it right.  Then move onto the next item. Ask one of us for help.

Don’t worry. You’ll get there. And along the way, you’ll do things you didn’t think possible.