Name: Adam Carson
Time in CrossFit: 3 Years
CrossFit is great for the competitive athlete. The high-intensity workouts and tracking system make improvement almost addictive. But its wide range of movements and skills (from heavy lifting to sprinting) mean that it comes easily to no one. And because of its variety and scalability, CrossFit is also a great tool for the non-elite—the professional couch-potato, the college student, the accountant. And for every athlete, CrossFit is a process. It’s a system that takes an immeasurable amount of hard work and dedication—and patience.
After three years of CrossFit, Adam Carson has learned the significance of patience and programming. A runner in high school, he graduated into the “real-life” world of big-chain gym memberships, where he would attend for a while, then quit. Repeat. After several years, he realized he didn’t recognize the man he saw in photos.
“Who I saw in the mirror was who I remembered being a long time ago,” he said. “But when I saw myself in pictures, I didn’t recognize myself.”
A month away from turning forty, he decided his life was in need of a change. That’s when his buddy introduced him to CrossFit, and he found something he could stick with.
“It’s the only thing since high school that has kept me motivated and interested to keep exercising,” he said.
He started his CrossFit membership attending three days a week, then four days. After several more months, he upgraded to five days a week. Then after nine months of CrossFitting, a fellow athlete brought him to a Saturday class. That was so much fun, he decided to attend six days a week.
“I went fairly consistently for about a year,” he said. “Then I got a little burned out.” But he didn’t let his burnout become a discouragement or reason to quit—he simply stepped back and returned to doing four or five WODs a week.
In the competitive atmosphere of CrossFit, athletes can get caught up in vying for a spot on the leaderboard, or being an “elite athlete.” But Adam realized that for him, the important aspect of CrossFit was consistency and fitness. He focused on being a better version of himself, and because of that, he’s seen steady improvements in his performance and overall health.
He’s most proud of the fact that his resting heart rate is in the forties, his blood pressure is low, and he looks like a new person.
“I’ve spent so much money on alterations over the past three years,” he said. “But it’s a good problem to have.” And a large part of his results could be attributed to the no-stress attitude he’s taken with his programming. “I view it as an exercise program,” he said. “For me, that’s what it is.”
And exercise programs are methodical. But with the fierce competition and occasional “balls-to-the-wall” atmosphere of CrossFit, athletes sometimes forget the purpose behind their training—or never find it in the first place.
“I kind of hate the idea that ‘RX is always better than scaling,’” Adam said. “And I disagree with that. If you’re two people of equal strength and fitness level, fine. But it does no good for someone to get out there and do a fifteen- or twenty-minute ‘Fran’ because they want to do it RX’d. It’s defeating the purpose. It’s designed to be a really fast workout, and your body is supposed to have this response to it.”
So, what’s Adam’s response to scaling?
“If the workout has a weight in it—advanced or intermediate—and I can do either one,” he said, “I’d rather work fast at intermediate, get through the workout and make the time cap, than stand there catching my breath, wasting my time.”
Which, of course, is what your coaches want you to do. We stress that there’s a purpose behind the programming, and a reason to scale. In fact, scaling workouts so you can perform as intended has a lot more benefit than struggling through a few RX’d workouts. But it’s a struggle to take scaling advice when your WOD buddies are sliding on their RX’d weights—programming be damned.
“There’s definite peer-pressure,” Adam said. “With the 5:30AM class, it’s all good-natured and fun.”
We’ve all had those moments when we look at a friend’s bar and wonder if we should be sliding more weight onto our own bar. “Sometimes I move up in weight and sometimes I don’t,” Adam said. “It just depends on how I’m feeling that day.”
Overall, though, Adam has found that knowing his limits and working accordingly yields better results than giving in to RX temptation. About a year ago, the box’s programming involved a lot of ring dips, which weren’t (at the time) Adam’s forte.
“I could do them, but they were half-assed reps,” he said. So, he decided he wouldn’t do any more ring dips until he could do them efficiently. “I told myself I was only going to do bar dips until I could do twenty unbroken. If that meant not clicking the RX button, I was fine with it.”
He didn’t quite make it to twenty unbroken reps, but he came close. And now, he says, he can do almost any ring-dip workout, no problem—because he made the decision to stick with bar dips.
There’s a lot to be said for “staying in scaled.” If you’re not strong enough yet, or don’t have the right skill set, it’s better to practice a movement at your level. And it doesn’t take two hours every day, chasing an RX’d movement, to get better.
Adam used a method similar to his ring-dip progression with his pull-ups a couple years ago. He set a goal to do one-hundred reps in a month. Every day after the WOD, he did five or ten strict pull-ups. The second month, he did two hundred total.
“Lo and behold,” Adam said, “my pull-ups got exponentially better after that.” He agrees that this method works for most movements. “It doesn’t take too much extra time to put in a little extra effort to get better at these things,” he said.
Which can be comforting to the athletes relentlessly chasing pull-ups or double-unders. The method is simple: Take a little time, a little extra effort, and don’t rush it. More importantly, don’t worry about the “RX” version. Focus on getting better, one movement at a time, and teaching your body to respond to programming.
This method has worked for Adam for three years, and he keeps getting better. Whether he’s busting out some kick-ass pull-ups or scaling it back for a rest day, he’s doing what we should all do—taking it one step at a time.