A couple weeks ago for this blog I did a Q&A to answer some questions people have that I can give my opinion and thoughts on pretty quick. One of those questions was “After a year of CrossFit should I be seeing more results?” This was something I felt needed a longer answer because it’s something a lot of people get in their head at some point, and there’s a lot of things that can pertain to it.
The first thing to consider is what is being used as your gauge for results. Is it simply the mirror test? Are we getting lab tests of bio markers like cholesterol, blood sugar, or VO2 max? Or are they’re benchmark lifts and workouts were retesting? There are so many ways to track progress, but these options cover most of them so let’s break them each down.
Using actual bio markers is honestly the only progress test that I personally care about for members because I want to do my best to make you as healthy as possible so you can live better for longer, and having a 6 pack doesn’t have that much to do with being healthy. I’ve coached several people that have gotten off of diabetes medication, and that’s joy that I’ve never seen matched by them growing their shoulders.
In CrossFit we test and retest quite often. We have workouts with names so it’s easier to remember them even! Using certain workouts or lifts is a great way to keep tabs on where our fitness is at especially if it’s the only big change. I’ve weighed and eaten about the same as I do now for at least a year, but my lifts and times for workouts have all been getting better so I can confidently say my fitness is getting better. The hard part with this is how fit were you when you started, or how long have you been doing it? If I was a high level collegiate athlete when I started I’m going to see a lot slower development than someone who has been sedentary for the last 30 years. The same goes for a persons first few months of CrossFit versus a few months after being 5 years into it. Eventually our body gets used to a particular stress and it resists adaptations more being used to it, but just cause you don’t add twenty pounds to your squat every week like you used to doesn’t mean you aren’t getting better. It just takes more time.
Now the big one we all use as a gauge even if we try to avoid it: the mirror test. It’s just what you see what you look in the mirror, and it sounds straightforward but there’s a lot wrong with it. For one it doesn’t show the other tests we’ve already talked about; bio markers and increased ability while likely looking the same. The other problem is that your eyes are a really poor judge for what you look like. Yes, this can have to do with mental outlook on yourself and body image, but I’m talking outside of that. We have a lot of trouble seeing long term changes to things we see on a consistent basis. My best analogy for this is my dog Max. When I got him he was nine weeks old and fluff ball. Now he’s two, weighs well over 100 pounds, and is as tall as me, but when I look at him I’d say he’s the size of a normal golden retriever. This is because I have seen him everyday and the change has been much more gradual through my eyes, and thus insignificant. Even with myself I have to look at photos from 4 years ago before I see a physical difference in what my body looks like to me, so remember that you’re probably just missing what literally right in front of your eyes.
There’s one last test that I think people don’t think about often, and it’s simply asking, how do you feel? If a year ago I asked you to go for an hour long bike ride or walk what would have been the first thing that went through your head? Now what is it today? Think about things in your daily life like work, chores, and hobbies, and how have they and your willingness to do them changed?
Exercise can have beneficial impacts on all the tests I’ve mentioned, but there’s something outside my area that could have an even more substantial effect and that’s nutrition. Any kind of consistent training is great, but if you’re eating burgers everyday your cholesterol is gonna be through the roof and getting rid of body fat is going to be very hard. You’ll also feel pretty lethargic, but the same goes for just eating salads for every meal and not getting sufficient calories. Your body will hold onto whatever it can for energy in this case, like fat, and you’ll have likely get sick often from lack of nutrients. There’s a saying that “abs are made in the kitchen”, and honestly it’s exceedingly true because it’s impossible to put train a bad diet.
There’s a lot of stuff here with tests and markers and eating, but the important thing is to find something consistent for you that you trust as a measure. This can vary based on what you want to measure if it’s metabolic and internal or just how much stronger you are getting. Keep in mind it could be helpful to get an outside perspective on your progress from someone who has seen the macro changes rather than the micro ones from day to day, and that it can very likely be what you’re putting in your body that’s making it hard for it to put out progress.