Lessons Learned

By Pat Sherwood

In CrossFit

February 06, 2012

PDF Article

Flowmaster and self-described “slow learner” Pat Sherwood shares wisdom acquired over six years of CrossFit training.

August marked the end of my sixth year of CrossFit, and let me tell you, it has been one hell of a ride. Since 2005, I’ve gone from watching Greg Amundson’s WOD demos on CrossFit.com while working a real-estate job that I did not enjoy to working for CrossFit Headquarters, teaching Level 1 Seminars and meeting CrossFitters from around the world.

I truly enjoy the many aspects of my current position at CrossFit Headquarters; however, my favorite by far is explaining CrossFit methodologies to an audience. That audience may be a random person I strike up a conversation with on an airplane, 50 to 100 people at a Level 1 Seminar, or tens of thousands of people tuned into the media coverage of the 2011 CrossFit Games.

After six years, I have lots of experiences to share that will hopefully help newer athletes and coaches get on the right path a whole lot sooner than I did. Anything that you can do wrong in CrossFit, I’ve probably done. I’m a slow learner. I usually try to break the wall that is in my way before I decide to go over or around it. So, I’ve decided to share some of my lessons learned in the hope of making other CrossFitters’ learning curves better than mine.

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33 Comments on “Lessons Learned”


wrote …

My favorite recent article. Sums up so much CF knowledge and experience in a few pages. I've been CF-ing almost as long as Pat, and my experiences are essentially identical to his (substitute OHS for HSPU, but otherwise just about the same.)

Pat's conclusion reminds me that when it comes to the movements, even the basics like squats, pullups, deadlifts (to say nothing of the complex O-lifts), they may be easy to learn, but impossible to perfect. You can always improve your mechanics and technique, and this is one of the things that keeps me motivated and interested. And CF incorporates so many different skills that it really is a lifelong journey. OK, maybe I'd need a second lifetime to master OHS and DU's, but you get the point!


wrote …

Great article that makes sense to me. I've been at CF for 7 months and have finally gotten to the place where I will dial back the weight and the intensity of the WOD's so that it becomes about form more than anything. I guess it begs the question though, why the prescribed weight amounts for each WOD that has weight? Why not simply a range? Or an "up to" amount? Seems like that little change could help many of us newbies out of the gate.


wrote …

love this. My coaches try and tell us this ALL the time, and we get stubborn and whiny. Gotta work those goats, and learning a movement is not the same as performing it in multiple settings.


wrote …


you bring elite fitness without the elite ego! i love your honest and humor!

keep up the great work, you hairy sexy beast!



EC S wrote …



wrote …

Great stuff, I look forward to more of your articles Pat!


wrote …

Great, great article. Thanks Pat.


wrote …

PAt is tha MAN!


wrote …

Great article, your absolutely right. Thanks Pat


wrote …

Thanks for the reminder Pat. "refer back to lesson #1" MECHANICS, CONSISTENCY, AND THEN AND ONLY THEN ADD INTENSITY. Words to live by.
And damn your dead on with simple movements along with light weights always hits you like a freight train.


wrote …

Great article Pat.

BTW, I'd read the novel. I'd even pay for it.

Well done.


wrote …

"Start with mechanics, gain consistency, and then — and only then — add intensity". Something our Coaches tell us all the time and for some reason, seeing it in print has been like a revelation to me.

Let that be a resolution diligently applied to Crossfit and life going forward. Thanks for that!


wrote …

Excellent article…back to the basics and the early ideals of the CrossFit methodology. I'm all for strength, but you are correct when you say Fran sucks much more than heavy Fran and more beneficial for most people looking to improve their GPP. Yet, there is growing bias towards strength which is great on one hand, yet easy to neglect the power oriented couplets and triplets at lighter to medium weights that crush the fittest people in the world.


Dale Saran wrote …

This is a great, great article. Nicely written, Pat. Yep, there is some serious magic in those triplets and couplets. Soooo seductive to get enthralled by the chase for a "bigger number" - and I've fallen for it as much as anyone - and then convince yourself that means you're fitter overall. Probably not. (Look at me, I can backsquat 4 wheels! .... Why does my 5K suck and why am I slower at Diane?)


wrote …

This is a MUST READ for the CrossFit Community. Thanks for all you do Pat. - Greg A.


wrote …

Thank you...


wrote …

Thanks Pat, I'm more convinced to keep following the main site programming. The biggest challenge here in Kuwait is finding Zone friendly options in the Chow Hall. It's just like your mom's kitchen - Carb city.

Patiently waiting for the next installment of the Zone Chronicles.


wrote …

Pat, this awesome is a bright light for many CrossFit Athletes and Coaches alike. Its only human nature for us to seek instant gratification rather than be patient and take things one step at a time. IMO, I think it encompasses why many athletes get injuries, as you said, "the evil PLATEAU;" as well as find it hard to fix common errors in movements. Our bodies are a machine, and if we design them to function a different way, we have to spend a whole lot of time trying to rebuild and change what we should have taken the time to construct the first time. What makes it harder is now we don't have a clean slate, rather damaged parts and neurological faults that must be tweaked.
Okay that was my 2 cents, on the other hand, i think you are awesome! Thanks for the read! Posting it at the gym. Many can learn from this. :)


wrote …

did someone say 'Ice Cream'?!


wrote …

If we are reaching plateaus (or in my case, having issue breaking through them), what would the recommended course of action be? Reduce weight? Modify?


replied to comment from Kristoffer Lacson


Give me a bit more information and I will see if I can help you out. How long have you been CF'ing? What are you plateauing on? Weightlifting? Gymnastics? Monostructural? Short wods? Long wods? High rep? Low rep? High load or light load? How do you eat? How do you sleep? What are you weaknesses? Do you work on them? Who programs for you? Do you have a coach? Etc, etc.

The more info you give me the more accurate of a response I can try to provide.


wrote …

Hi Pat, awesome article! I'm sharing it w/ all my new to CrossFit friends and hopefully they will take your advise. You're as good an author as you are a teacher, thank you.


wrote …

I've been CF'ing since June of last year and I think I may just be impatient since I've progressed so far since then. I'm mainly concerned with the Olympic lifts (cleans and snatches) because it doesn't seem like I'm progressing with that at all. My eating habits aren't the best because I usually leave the menu up to my wife, but I stick to mostly meats, nuts, seeds and fresh fruits. Sleep is usually about 5 hours a night when the kids are finally out. Usually before a WOD I'll work on some things I'm not so good at (HSPU, wall balls, squats, double unders) but again I think patience is getting the better of me, because I watch the demos and I have a hard time keeping with the times posted and it becomes a little frustrating, but it also gives me something to work towards.

I usually follow main site programming and I ask for help from our L1 trainers here on base but I don't have any one that I would call a coach currently.

Thanks for taking the time to read my post Pat. I enjoy and appreciate the work you all do for the CF community!


wrote …

This is great, Pat!
Much can be learned from this article!
Thank you for everything!

Drasko from Serbia!


Frank DiMeo wrote …

Pat, I also started CF in 2005 a couple of months after you.
Your insights hit home with me, thanks.


replied to comment from Kristoffer Lacson


I think you diagnosed your own problem. Patience and consistent practice are the keys with many of these things. Everyone wants to be an expert asap and that is not the way anything in the real world happens. You are going to be a novice for a long time. Then you will be intermediate for an eternity. Finally you will be advanced in some areas, intermediate in others, and still a novice at a few. We all are in the same boat. Did you know it can take anywhere from 2-5 years just to develop a nice, mature, upright air squat? After 6 years I'm still working on my own squat.

Feel free to practice the oly lifts in your warm-up 2-3 times per week with light or moderate loads for some reps. Just be sure that your "practice" does not become a work of its own. Again, consistency is critical. You will be shocked at how much you can improve those lifts with a pvc or empty barbell and some of Coach B's drills. Check out the Oly Lifting tab on the CF Journal and you will find plenty of drills for your warm-up.

Don't worry if you are not near some of the times posted on the mainsite. Some of the people on here are so ridiculously fit that it boggles my mind. Check out their times and videos as sources of motivation, but don't get down on yourself if you are not near their output. Trust me, most of us are not near their times!

There are still workouts that get posted that I cannot do as prescribed or that I have to scale the loading or reps because it is too much for me. That's ok, and it's ok if you have to do it as well. It took me 3 years to do Isabel as prescribed with full squat snatches. That was a test of patience. Remember, at the end of the day you are not competing with Speal, or Froning, or Aja Barto, etc. You are only competing with yourself. We are all members of the same family/community, but each of us is really chasing our own numbers and times.

If there is anything you can do to get more sleep, please give it a try. Also, it sounds like what you do eat is pretty good. Keep it up. Lastly, make sure you stretch. I blew it off for too many years and now I'm paying for it.

It is my pleasure to help out the CF Community. I work for all of you.


wrote …

Thank you for the perspective and again for taking the time to help us all! You are all very much appreciated!


wrote …

Thank you so much Pat. From one slow learner to another-you really inspired me!


wrote …

Excellent article. I just think it is a sick joke that the main site has posted three straight running couplets since you published this thing. I appreciate your continued contributions to The Community. Thanks!


wrote …

Great article!!! Hope to meet you one day!!!!


wrote …

THIS is CrossFit. We are lucky to have you Pat... and you are lucky to have HSPU's


wrote …

It's not easy to distill this much info into such a readable article - thank you Pat. Signed, Fellow Slow Learner


Joseph Alexander wrote …

Good stuff, Patrick, good stuff.

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