How to Learn Skills in CrossFit

Published by Klint Ciriaco on

How To Succeed In Crossfit
Photo Credit: Pavlofox

Defining Success

This isn’t an article on how to become a competitive athlete. The definition of Success we’re going to use is this: better than yesterday.

Getting Better Than You Were Yesterday

Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist, shared a story on a video that made me chuckle. 

One of his clients tells him that he feels inadequate because his roommate in college is doing well in the world. 

Peterson asks his client who his roommate was. He answers, “Elon Musk.” 


The point is that there is always someone better than you and you better than someone.

You’re operating under different circumstances so using other peoples’ metrics don’t apply to you and vice versa. This doesn’t mean you should not compete. Just make sure that your yardstick for success is your own progress and not any one else’s.

Use Yourself as Your Own Benchmark

That said, here are ways to succeed in CrossFit.

Know that A Session is a Vote Towards Your Better Self

You can’t walk your way up to the peak of a mountain on a single step but with an accumulation of many steps.

It can be frustrating but take confidence that every small hour you invest into training is a vote towards the athlete you want to be. Just take it one hour at a time. When you do this long enough, you’re going to look back and see how far you’ve come. 

Realize that “Pain” is a Sign That You’re About to Grow 

Let’s put you in this scenario: your muscles are fatigued and your lungs feel like they’re about to blow up. If Jocko Willink, a legendary SEAL commander, is around and you tell him how you feel, he’ll say, “Good. You’re getting stronger.” 

This whole endeavor is a war against your current self. The physical and emotional pain from battling yourself goes without saying that it’s going to hurt. 

But, it’s also worth it because you get to be a new and better person the following day.

So do your best at all times (safely, of course) because that’s how you elevate yourself to higher levels. 

Use Setbacks to Your Advantage

I injured my wrist one time while training for a weightlifting competition.

I ended up working with light weights, focused on technique, and trained the heck out of my lower body for months. It took a lot of patience but I eventually healed about a month before the competition. Afterwards, I’m proud to say I ended up standing on the podium despite the obstacle I went through. 

Looking back, my injury was a blessing in disguise because it forced me to focus on technique and gained lower body strength which resulted in a wonderful experience at the competition.

Setbacks happen so learn to use them to your advantage.

Be Highly Observant

Before Crossfit, I thought I knew how to do a clean. Heck, I had been doing it when I was still a member at Gold’s gym. But, I couldn’t be more wrong. 

When I joined Roanoke Valley Crossfit, I saw one of the female athletes cleaning heavier weights than I could. And then, I noticed something: her hips were making contact with the bar. 

I Imitated her and I was amazed how much weight I added to the bar. Ever since then, I started observing highly skilled athletes.

Here are some of the things you could observe from others:

  • Their starting positions
  • Ending positions
  • Transitions from one part of a movement to another
  • Their pacing strategies 

Deconstruct The Skills You’re Having Problems With

Most, if not all of the movements, can be broken down into multiple sub-actions. The snatch, for example, is composed of the following steps and transitions, which are either static static or dynamic: 


  • The setup
  • The catch
  • The Ending position

Dynamic: The transitions from

  • Mid-shin to mid-thigh
  • mid-thigh to hip-crease
  • Hip crease to triple extension
  • Triple extension to high pull
  • High pull to snatch
  • Snatch to ending position

Practice a Sub-skill in Isolation

Deconstruction removes the cloak of complexity from a movement. From there, pick a sub-skill you’ve deconstructed and get proficient at it.

Imagine a chain where each chain link represents a sub-skill. If one link is weak, the whole chain is going to be compromised. So, do your best to strengthen each of those links.

Photo Credit: OpenClipart-Vectors

Take A Break In Between Attempts Of A Movement

Take a 10-20 second break after every attempt when practicing a movement. Here’s why. 

In the article, Want to learn a new skill? Take some short breaks, mentions a study where scientists were able to speed up their subjects’ learning abilities through 10 second breaks. 

This is essentially a skill hack. It’s also a way to keep you from repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

So, next time you’re working on your ring muscles-ups, give yourself time to pause and reflect on what you could improve on your next attempt. 

Do The Movements Right

In other words, don’t waste reps. 

It’s tempting to “optimize” some of your movements to beat the time. If you’re in a competition, sure. Keep pushing your luck if the judge isn’t calling you out. 

But, remember that this whole ordeal is a competition against yourself. Cutting corners during training means robbing yourself the opportunity to transcend your weaker self. 

Chase Higher Level Athletes

Your primary focus for competing against higher level athletes isn’t to beat them. It’s rewarding if you do, but your objective is to use them to help you accelerate your development. Exposing yourself to high caliber individuals can make you stronger, better, and faster, at a rapid pace. This is why it’s a blessing to be surrounded by people better than you. 

Also, when you’re only focused on yourself, it can get difficult to get an idea of what your upper limits are (they’re higher than you think). But, when you’re chasing stronger athletes, you get to see the possibilities of how far you could push yourself. 

Show Up Early to Practice

I used to show up about 20 minutes early before class to practice a movement. Years later, I met a member at Crossfit Endemic (my current home gym), who said he did the same thing when he first started. 

20 minutes may not seem a lot, but let’s do the math: 

If you practice 4x a week for 20 minutes in the course of 6 months, you will have accumulated 34.6 hours worth of practice. 

Signup For A Competition If You Can

Again, competing isn’t your main objective. Your goal is to use the competition as an accelerant to your development. 

When you sign up for a competition, you start to feel more pressure during training. That’s a good thing because you get to push yourself harder than you would have otherwise. It also makes training more meaningful because you now have a goal. 

And when you get to the competition, the atmosphere will help you  push yourself further than you would have otherwise. Plus, it’s really fun!

Celebrate Small Wins

In our sport, seemingly trivial stuff are worth celebrating because they add up to obvious end results. The PR’s, the change in body composition, and improvements in your mood, are great, but the accumulation of small wins got you there.

An example would be not complaining. If you find yourself going through the WOD without a woe-is-me attitude, that is worth celebrating, because it means you’ve build a stronger character within yourself. Here are more examples:

  • Being highly intentional with the warmup.
  • Hydrating for the WOD.
  • Paying attention to the coaches’ instructions.
  • Stretching after the WOD.
  • Being supportive of other athletes.

Use Videos And Journals To Track Your Progress

Don’t be shy about whipping out your phone at the gym to take videos of yourself. You need footage of your movements so you could critique yourself. They will also serve as documents of your progress.

Journaling on the other hand helps you track the inputs that affect your output. Meaning, it gives you insight on the things that affect your performance.

I personally kept track of my water intake, diet, how I felt, the strategy I came up with for the WOD, and how I could’ve done better when I first started. I do the same now with my coaching sessions.

You can be as rigid or as informal as you want when writing on your notebook. After all, it’s your personal journal.

How NOT to Fail In CrossFit

Defining Failure

There are obvious ways to fail, but it’s worth mentioning them here so you become aware of them.

But before we proceed, let’s define failure for our purpose. I would say failure would be STAGNATION, not just in physical attributes but in character as well.

If you think about it, the tips given above help you to physically fitter, but they also develop discipline, patience, humility, and empathy for other athletes. In short, they also develop character.

Here are some steps to avoid failing.

Don’t Let the Uncontrollables Get The Best Of You

Loved ones get sick. Traffic jams cause you to get late. Etc. We get it. Life happens. Do your best to mitigate the obstacles that could keep you from training. But, when they are completely out of your control, just let it go. That’s all you can do anyway. You’ll have more chances to train in the coming days. 

Don’t Blame Others, Especially Your Coach, For Not Succeeding

This is the most atrocious thing you can do as an athlete for two reasons. One, you relinquish all power to redeem yourself; in your mind, the “fix” lies on someone or something else.

Two, it’s not fair to put the blame on your coach. After he or she spends lots of time writing the program, giving you advice, and fixing your mistakes to make you a better athlete, they don’t deserve to have blame hurled at them.

Revisit your journal to find the ineffective inputs. Soberly examine your own shortcomings instead of putting the blame on external forces because…

taking responsibility for your inadequacies is how you get stronger as an athlete and as a person.  

Don’t Just Work On Your Strengths

In CrossFit, our goal isn’t to be a master at one thing. We aim to be proficient at everything. It may be enjoyable to work on our strengths, but working towards not having any weaknesses will make us a more well-rounded athlete. 

If something terrible happens where we have to carry someone at a long distance within the shortest amount of time, it’s best to have the ability to do so. That might be an extreme example, something similar to it with varying degrees could happen.

Don’t Be Impatient

Have you done a WOD where you went too fast out of the gate and finished the workout slower than you would have if only you paced yourself? 

Being impatient is like going full blast at the beginning of your endeavor. It’s like wanting to have progress to happen now. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. 

Allow growth to happen naturally by consistently using the principles in this article. 


As someone who has struggled to get mentally strong all my life, CrossFit gave me the opportunity to gain strength in that area. But, just like any opportunities, I still had to work for the results I wanted (I still am). After all, I know the universe doesn’t go out on its way to make me better unless I do the work. 

The tips above were born from the challenges I encountered, and I hope you find them useful in your journey to get better than you were yesterday. Face your obstacles head on. Use the tips above and reap the rewards of transcending your current self every single day.

Good luck! 

CrossFit Level 2 Trainer @ CrossFit Endemic
Athlete and Pixel Manipulator @ Parabellum Athlete Program

Categories: Application