Red Light, Green Light

Posted: February 7, 2018 in CrossFit, Training
Tags: , , , , , ,

One of my first real “paying” jobs was teaching swim lessons to little kids. Once we peeled their little bodies, kicking and screaming, away from their parents for the first time and got them in the water, the rest of the class usually went really well. One of our favorite “go-to” games to play with them, once they learned how to kick properly, was
“Red Light, Green Light.” In that game, the kiddos start kicking to begin. When the coach yells “GREEN LIGHT,” they kick as fast as they can! When the coach yells “YELLOW LIGHT,” they can slow down to a medium-paced kick. Finally, when the coach yells “RED LIGHT,” the kids either kick really slowly or stop kicking completely. Simple concept, right? It teaches a lot of things, motor control being one of them. By CHOOSING to exert more or less energy, you control the effort your body puts forth. That intentional ability to throttle power “up and down” is a skill that is useful to have in nearly all sports and athletic endeavors.

If you’re hiking a 14,000 foot mountain and start jogging up the trail, you’re probably not going to be able to hold that speed for the entire day. If you run the first 400 meters of a mile in a dead sprint, you’re likely going to crash and burn. (If you’re someone who actually sprints a mile from start to finish, shut up. No one can actually run that fast for that long.) Another way to apply this control is in the ability to pace oneself in a style workout. So often CrossFit athletes know one speed: Charlie Sheen!


That means whether it’s a 3-minute burner of a workout, or an hour-long Hero WOD, they come out of the gates at a breakneck pace, and just tryyyyy to hold on. And usually they don’t! What I’m here to suggest, is that while getting stronger so you can “go Rx” on the weight for a workout is great, that it should be equally as important for you to practice different pacing on workouts to see how your body responds.

I’ll never forget watching Regionals in 2013 (I think), when there was a workout called “the 50’s” or something, where each competitor had to do 50 reps of 4 or 5 different movements. (Yes, I realized the more I wrote in that last sentence that I said I would NEVER forget something, and the proceeded to know literally none of the details of said story. And then laughed out loud at myself.) Most of the athletes just went for it. One athlete in particular paced every round. He did 20 reps per minute, then stopped and rested the remainder of the minute. Rinse. Repeat. At first, athletes shot out ahead of him and he fell farther and farther behind. Then, by minute 11 or 12 when the other athletes started to slow down, here he came. With his heart rate under control, he caught and passed every single athlete in the heat, won the event, and was one of only a few athletes in the world that completed the workout in under the time cap. (Tommy, will you please completely debunk this fictional story I made up about you? It’s crazy how vivid I remember watching the event. Yet in my brain, I think I created a completely overly dramatic “Rudy” or “Rocky” type of a tale. How far off am I?)

What’s your action item? Go into every workout you do with a plan. Break your 21-15-9 rep workout into 3 sets each round. Another workout go unbroken for as long as you can at 80% effort. For shorter duration pieces, go as fast as you can and try to hang on. Then, retest some of those same workouts with a completely different strategy. The goal is to be scientific and deliberate with your training. Going to the gym and “going through the motions,” if your goals are just to work out. If you care about performance, want to improve, and potentially compete, it’s critical to really learn how your body works. Being aware of your body’s ability to perform at different intensities and to pace properly depending on the stimulus in front of you, separates the good athletes from the great. Master your own Red Light, Green Light, and watch your athleticism improve dramatically!


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