the spaz of fitness has arrived

Goalsetting and Girly Tunes

In General, Training on July 6, 2013 at 9:30 pm

I’ve been around a lot lately to see Coach Singalong and his country-music-loving-buddy work out together. You haven’t experienced all that CrossFit has to offer until you watch two men with the collective work capacity of a Spartan army clean and jerk a couple hundred pounds while singing along to Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger.” Despite their un-hardcore (softcore? No…) taste in music, they’re both undeniably phenomenal athletes. And, if you compared their scores on the whiteboard, you’d assume they’re evenly matched. But what I find fascinating about watching the pair is that they’re two entirely different trainees.

Coach Singalong is… well, a coach. He knows others will model themselves after his movements. He aspires to competing at the Mid-Atlantic Regionals. He wants to make CrossFit a profession. Most of the time, his every movement is precise. His last push-up is as clean as the first one, even if he slows  between them. Every single squat hits well below depth and he hits full extension at the top. CountryBoy, however, is a totally different beast* (*actually, beast is probably an understatement. This man can bench press a small truck– or a large tractor… for reps). More often, CB is clearly just there to get a workout. A few of his squats miss full depth. If he loses a lift right before full extension, he might not necessarily try it again. That’s not to say that CB can’t hit those lifts perfectly, or that he’s being a dishonest ass that day. It’s just that day, that moment, he’s just working out for himself and doesn’t give a damn. In a stereotypical CrossFit setting, the “hardcore” coach would be “no-repping” the shit out of CB. Would be screaming at him to reach a higher intensity, with more precision. But… sometimes that’s not the point.

As much as I love the CrossFit culture– its passion, its commitment– I think that some participants lose sight of the difference between “training” and “competition.” In “competition,” you want to go all-out… you want to give that 110% and your judges are going to hold you to that precise standard: hips below parallel, chest touching bar, head through the window. From the competitor’s perspective, things look a lot more black-and-white. You want high intensity, and there are clear standards for each movement– from point-A to point-B. With training, there are so many different factors that make a mess of things.

In general, if you’re training for self-improvement, to work on your movement patterns, to work on your health, to become a better athlete– you want the best movement within your range of motion. For some trainees, that’s not a squat to full depth yet. For some, they shouldn’t pull a deadlift off the floor until they have that mobility. For most, that also means that some workouts shouldn’t be for the fastest-damned-time or the most-fucking-reps you can get in that workout. Yes, during competition, that’s important because you’re trying to win by the numbers on the board. But in training, perhaps your personal “win” is a clean where you hit all three extensions, or a kettlebell snatch where you don’t beat the shit out of your forearm. I had a member ask me during our on-ramp if all the “in-between steps” mattered during a Turkish get-up, or if he could just stand the Kettlebell from Point A to Point B. The “in-between” steps matter. They’re not only the most efficient, most stable, safest way to get from point A to point B, but actually the in-between steps of that particular movement also ensure you engage all the muscles that such a full-body exercise intends to train.

You’d think that makes training also black-and-white. In competition… we want intensity and any way from point A to point B. In training, we want perfect form. But it’s not that easy. We’re all so far from perfect. And we have different reasons for training– even from day to day, week to week. And what’s different about CrossFit is, well, we’re really not quite a “sport” in the same way as others… it’s not like a powerlifting gym where every day people come in building towards their next meet… or like Football or Soccer where you’re preparing the team for the game. For a lot of recreational CrossFitters, this is a fun way to get their fitness on and in good company. For CB, sometimes he just wants to get a good sweat and have fun with his training buddy, which I would ruin by telling him he’s missing his lockout on this or that rep. For some of our beginner CrossFitters, they would be entirely demoralized if we “no-repped” every time they didn’t hit all the points of performance. Some of them would never get any reps. It would’ve taken me several months of CrossFit to even be able to write my name on the whiteboard. This means that coaching requires a large amount of compassion and intuition. You have to understand an athlete’s goals, present mood, current motivation, and balance all those things to ensure that he 1) stays safe, 2) progresses, and 3) feels satisfied with his workout. On some days, that means letting CB get away with a few missed reps. On some days, that means slowing a new member down– fixing the second pull of the clean but acknowledging that she’ll need to work on depth and wrist mobility another day.

I’ve had such lofty and faraway goals for myself as a CrossFitter for so long that, for a while, I reached a point where all of my workouts felt hopeless. If I didn’t PR a lift, I wasn’t getting stronger. If I did PR a lift, I wasn’t getting stronger fast enough. If I PR’d one lift but slowed in my metcons, I was getting stronger, but my conditioning was suffering, etc. The way I’ve managed to change this– how I got back to getting excited about every workout and being able to leave the gym each day with some degree of satisfaction– is by setting a small goal for each training session, and adjusting that goal as the session progresses. If I show up at the gym and my bench is just not happening and I missed the strength PR I wanted to set for that day, then I end the day with some technique work. Yes, I didn’t get stronger that day. But I improved my kettlebell clean and the speed of my elbow transition.

Admittedly, too, sometimes like CB I just want to get a good workout without fretting too much about my form. I went to the gym last weekend, during open gym hours, just frustrated with a lot of external bullshit that I let get to me. And I just wanted to rage. So… I didn’t make a plan, didn’t give myself set reps or a time, or whatever. I picked movements that were relatively safe and not technically demanding, and I just bear-crawled and burpee broad jumped and slam-balled until the feels went away. And that was what I needed– nothing quantifiable, nothing on a whiteboard, nothing but the sheer adrenaline of the moment. That was my training goal for those ten minutes of that day. The following day, I came back and drilled my olympic lifts with a PVC for precision. As coaches, we may do well to keep such flexibility in mind when working with clients. Some days, it’s not the time to scream at your athlete to go-go-go. Sometimes he needs to slow down and work on technique. Other days… if he’s not hurting himself, maybe you let him go wild. No one wants to come back day after day to have his form nitpicked to exhaustion. Also, the workout on the whiteboard is not engraved in stone. Perhaps this particular athlete needs to cut the AMRAP to ten minutes. Perhaps she can do this weight but for fewer reps. Maybe she should work on double-unders by doing attempts for one minute instead of counting “reps” so that she can fit in skill-work without A) getting stuck on the movement and wasting the entire WOD getting a “good rep” or B) replacing them with single-unders and not really training that skill at all.

So, takeaways: Coaches should consider the different needs of their athletes on different days, athletes could find greater motivation in making small goals for their workouts, and – most importantly – sometimes big, burly badasses throwdown to really girly tunes.

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