“For time.” “As many reps as possible.” “Every minute on the minute.”
When it comes to Crossfit and exercise in general, speed gets all the attention. Depending on the workout, going as fast as possible is the goal.
Or is it?
Fast or slow?
Lately, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about speed in my workouts. For the past few years that I’d been focusing on Crossfit, so much of my training centered around getting faster. Now, I’ve shifted to a different style of training that’s more of a hybrid Crossfit, bodybuilding style. So while some movements are prescribed to be done with speed in mind, others are focus more on strength and technique.
Yet the Type A personality that I am struggles to find a middle ground. Despite enjoying the time I spend training, I often see it as something to finish as quickly as possible. Especially on a busy day, I focus on getting everything done so I can be in and out.
Slow it down
I developed a number of injuries due to incorrect movement patterns As a result, I shifted my training focus. I wasn’t doing anything terribly wrong – otherwise, it would have been a lot more obvious. Repeated in a high frequency, quickly, and over an extended period of time and, bam!, the breakdown happens.
As a result, a lot of my workouts these days center around technique and building new habits. For example, when I squat, I slightly favor my right leg. So as I descend into the squat movement, my hips shift slightly toward the right, placing my left knee in a less-than-ideal position.
Working with a physical therapist means that, now, my warm-up includes quite a bit of stretching (to loosen up both hips), a position “reset” (to teach my hips to stay even), and activation (to make sure I’m using the correct muscles for good movement patterns). In addition to all of this preparation, I take my actual squats very, very slowly.
My body has done hundreds, if not thousands of squats with my poor habits. It is used to doing them this way. Just like, well, me, my body doesn’t want to do added work for no reason. It knows how a squat works, so it wants to just go for the path of least resistance. I don’t blame it!
But because the path of least resistance isn’t working for me any more, I have to build some new habits. This means focusing on every part of my movement to develop better technique until that, too, becomes a habit. It allows me to focus more deeply on building a new muscle memory and on the mind-body connection to ensure I feel the right muscles firing, whether that’s a basic bodyweight squat or if I’m working on building up to a heavy lift.
Pick up the pace
As with anything, going fast isn’t inherently bad – or good, for that matter. It all depends on your goals.
In my case, I’m finding a balance between the two. As I get back into some Crossfit-style workouts, there are moments when I’m looking to work on cardio, endurance, and explosive strength. In other words, times when I need to be fast.
When do I feel comfortable emphasizing speed in a workout? First, if it’s a movement that I’m at ease with. Sit ups and burpees? No problem! Heavy squats or Olympic weightlifting? Let me take it slower so I can make sure my technique is okay.
While technique doesn’t have to break down when moving quickly, it can be a side effect, particularly when feeling fatigued. As someone recovering from an injury, that means I tend to err towards moving more slowly more often than usual. Over time, this may play less of an important role in my training. It’s all about goals, which ebb and flow over time.
If you’re focusing on technique, creating new movement patterns, or mind-body connection, moving more slowly helps you to pay attention to the smallest details of your movement. If you feel confident in the movement, it’s not too heavy, and you’re working on cardio or endurance, it may be time to speed things up.