Posts Tagged ‘Help Me Help You’

There are two predictable behavior patterns that CrossFit athletes show every year. The first is the feeling of sheer panic people get in anticipation of the CrossFit Games Open… which usually starts 2-4 weeks before the competition begins. (Oh no, I still don’t have muscle-ups! Better try to learn them in a week, even though I’ve had a year to practice!) The second thing we can expect is a verbal commitment to improve weaknesses that are identified during the Open over the next year. (Next year I WILL have stronger handstand push-ups!) Many athletes end up falling short of their goals, however. They’ll pick something, work on it for a few weeks, get bored, and then stop.

While anyone can watch athletes on Instagram and follow their accessory work, promise to “add in a few reps of pull-ups after every workout” to get stronger, or run five miles per week to not hate cardio as much, there are more effective ways to ensure steady progress.

Over the years, I’ve created individualized programming for dozens of athletes ranging from mobility progressions, to race training blocks for the Concept2 Rower, to “functional bodybuilding” style work that simply increases raw strength. By having someone you trust provide you with an effective training plan, give you the regular feedback necessary to make adjustments in technique, and help keep you accountable week after week, you’ll be positioning yourself in a place where success is much more likely!

Another thing I’ve discussed on this blog (here, for example) is acknowledging that we can only really focus on improving a few things at a time. If your goals for the next year are to get stronger, faster, bigger, leaner, more gymnasty, more flexible, sleep more, become more mentally tough, improve your lung capacity, clean up your diet, collect more neon-colored workout gear, run a faster mile, and grow a killer beard… maybe you should take a step back and prioritize a few of those things to start. (I’ve written about that here, too.) A good coach can help you do that! This fitness thing really is a marathon, not a sprint.

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Pick one or two things off of that list at a time to improve, get a plan that works for you, and dedicate yourself to it. After some time, move on and attack the next thing. Rinse. Repeat. But whatever you do, don’t say you’re going to get better at something, spend zero time improving it, and then get mad when Dave Castro programs it next year in the Open. You had an entire year to get better!

How can you put yourself in a place to not let a full year pass without improving on those movements and skills?

ACCOUNTABILITY. That’s how.

Let me know if you’d like to chat about how I might be able to help you! While many gyms have great programming and coaching, in order to accomplish goals that apply to you, specifically, it often takes a more personalized approach. Prioritizing goals, then creating a program (complete with effective periodization, structured training cycles, etc) can be a challenge, but they’re really fun to develop.  Let’s get better together!

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Sometimes I get really uncomfortable at work.

It’s usually when I see two athletes in the class correcting one another’s form on a more technical movement. I know… all you’re trying to do is give your friend this one cue that really worked for you, but for me as a coach there is a huge difference between coaching and encouraging someone. The strong community aspect of CrossFit means that by and large, all we want to do is help one another succeed. I love that, and one of my top priorities in the gym is to encourage that type of behavior and allow us to support our peers whenever possible. But, there’s a catch!

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At the end of a 500 meter row for time, I’m all about screaming loud for your training partner to get in a few more strokes, or to push a little bit harder. In their set-up for a 1 rep max deadlift, though, I’d rather you leave the technical feedback to me. Is it because I think I’m smarter than you? Ha….. no, that is most certainly not it. It’s the fact that I’m paid to be in the gym. I’m literally “put in charge” of managing the group and trying to ensure that things are done properly. If someone gets hurt in my class, I should be able to take full responsibility for what happened.

Just imagine if you suggested someone to lift their hips a little bit higher on their first pull, and they strained a muscle in their back on the next rep. It’s just not worth the risk. Now, suggesting hands get moved out a bit wider on pull-ups is very different than trying to teach the concept of “triple extension,” but I’m hoping you can see that it’s a really fine line between determining what is and isn’t a good idea. Just call over a coach for the final word on what changes you think could make someone move better.

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Your intentions are great, and I really appreciate that. But for your own safety, and the safety of those around you… please let the coaches do the coaching.

Oh… and if you’re at a gym with coaching so bad that YOU don’t feel safe as an athlete… maybe it’s time to find a new gym!

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I love helping athletes get better at fitness. All kinds of fitness!

That could mean making a physical change in their set-up for a lift, discussing how to begin the first kettlebell swing of a set, and even strategy on how to attack specific workouts! CrossFit is a complicated game with so many moving parts, and I’ve always loved helping people “crack the code” to their own success.

Would you like to see me use this blog to share some of these tips and tricks I’ve accumulated over the last decade? It could be a recurring segment (once per week) or could just pop up whenever questions are asked. They would likely be a combination of short text summaries and a quick video demonstration of the skill of the day. I’m completely flexible on the structure of the segment, just wanted to see if there is interest out there from all of you.

The survey is simple:

  • If you would like to see this segment become a reality, simply type YES in the comments. If you already have ideas for what you’d like to ask me, drop a few examples in the comment, too!
  • If you have zero interest in this whatsoever, ignore this post and leave NO comments.

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There are five workouts per year where it really helps to be a positive person for those around you. Five. Those are the five workouts of the CrossFit Games Open, where your whole gym comes together to root a little harder for one another than they do the other 360 days of the year. (I feel like they should, at least…)

For some people, this is the most nervous they’ll get for any CrossFit workout. They put tons of undue and unnecessary pressure on themselves, they want to keep up with their friends, and the thought of getting their first “insert movement here” keeps them up at night. I have written other posts, and will likely write more in the future about how this pressure is mostly unnecessary, and pretty unhealthy to be honest… BUT, it still happens. Knowing that, the best thing we can do for one another is provide unconditional encouragement and support.

If you’re someone like me, it’s really easy to cheer for others. I legitimately get more excited seeing others succeed than I do for my own performance. My problem is keeping the pressure on myself to a minimum. What that typically looks like is me sitting alone for a while before events, and then recovering on my own afterwards. While that’s my own way of trying to keep it together, there are other people who are much more vocal and public with their negative emotions before working out. While I might tell myself that “this is going to suck,” or “I’m not good at x or y,” talking like that out loud can really impact others. Your energy can always be felt in the gym, and if you come in spouting negativity and being a crybaby, that will very likely spread to those around you.

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Like I said, I always try to be positive to others, but have a hard time speaking positively to and about myself in these competitive circumstances. Don’t be like me. We’re working out. For fun. With friends. If a workout looks really tough or has movements you’re not proficient doing, use it as a learning opportunity. Make a list of things you want to improve for next year. There are so many ways to channel negative or anxious energy into productive growth.

So when the first workout is released on that Thursday night, try to check yourself right out of the gate. Is it going to hurt? Yep, probably. Will you be nervous going into it? Maybe, and that’s fine. But through all of that, walk in the front door fired up to push yourself, throw down with your friends, and ENCOURAGE those around you. If you have a hard time feeling positive, fake it till you make it! Being the best cheerleader out there and empowering others will have a far more positive impact on your community than you winning an event at the gym, anyways. You’ve got this. Let’s have some fun together!

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I’ve been a full-time personal trainer and coach for over half of a decade. My reason for remaining in this profession all this time is that working with someone and having them improve is the most rewarding feeling in the world to me. When I lead a class, I convince myself that every single person in that group is putting their trust in me to help them get better. Sounds dramatic when I see it written down, but it’s true.

At gyms like the ones where I work, all around the world most athletes show up, do what’s on the board, then leave. Fitness isn’t much more than that to them. But on either end of the spectrum from those athletes lie two groups that I lose sleep over sometimes! These three groups have led me to create “Smashby’s Athlete Bell Curve“:

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Middle of the Bell Curve: MOST”

Most people live here. These athletes are in the gym for fitness and fun. They try their best to make it in 3-5 days per week, love seeing friends, blowing off some steam, and hope to see incremental improvements (see also: Gainz) over time.

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Right side of the Bell Curve: HELP

Typically these are newer members at the gym, or just shy people in general. They want to get better, want coaching, and would love for you to check out their technique and give them feedback. They just don’t feel comfortable asking! Asking “which one is a hang power clean again” for the 10th time embarrasses them, but maybe it was never explained to them in terms they were able to understand in the first place. Making breakthroughs with this group is my favorite. As athletes become more confident asking for help, they usually start to improve faster, and quickly join their friends in the middle of the curve.

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Left side of the Bell Curve: NOPE”

Thankfully, this is the group work with least of all, but it can still be frustrating to think about. These athletes just don’t like you.  Maybe you made them feel stupid one time a few months ago, maybe you have an annoying laugh, or maybe they don’t like going to your classes because you have horrible taste in music. Maybe your coaching style doesn’t work for them, or maybe they just don’t like who you are as a human being. They are simply not impressed. Sometimes, you’ll never be able to create a meaningful relationship with these individuals. I still try, though!

When all three types of athletes are shown together, “Smashby’s Athlete Bell Curve” is the result!

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There’s nothing wrong with being in any of these groups. While I wish I was able to connect with and help 100% of the athletes I come in contact with, that’s not how the world works. Just know that my goal is to live in that middle space where:

  • People enjoy working with me
  • Athletes feel like I’m there to help them
  • No one ever feels attacked, picked on, or criticized
  • I’m equipped with tools to actually add value in a meaningful way

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As a coach, it’s important to know your audience and to tailor your approach to each person individually. In a class of twenty athletes, you may need to exercise twenty different coaching styles. Effective communication should be the primary goal in order to strive for success; both in the gym, and everywhere else.

Don’t spend years coaching the same way. Learn new cues, try new approaches, and check to see if what you’re saying actually registers with people. Saying the same thing in a slightly different way can create a major breakthrough for someone. Keeping the lines of communication open and regularly checking in with your athletes not only gives you a current update of who you’re working with, it can also show people that you actually care. While we’re personal trainers, we’re also a special kind of therapist! Sometimes, just showing someone that you care about them is enough to make their day.

Our most important job is keeping our athletes as safe as possible. If we’re able to create meaningful relationships and help foster positive change in their lives, that’s icing on the cake!

(HUGE shout-out to Heather for helping making Photoshop magic out of my silly idea!)

I am typically not a fan of the concept of New Year’s Resolution. Why? Because I don’t think you need it to be a new year on the calendar to commit to making improvements in your life. Also, it’s far too common to have the majority of people come out strong in January with their steps to get better, only to completely lose progress by February or March. This same pattern, year over year, leads to so many Americans approaching the topic of resolutions with so much cynicism that some people are actually laughed at when they tell others’ about their goals. Not cool.

What I’ve noticed is that while it’s easy to SAY, “I want to x, y, or z,” in January, it’s much harder to stay the course without someone to help keep you accountable. An “Accountabilibuddy,” if you will. The first time I ever heard that term was in an episode of South Park, but since then I’ve seen it all over. Instead of just having a friend, family member, or spouse to tell your goals to, this person is tasked with specifically holding you accountable for goals that you’ve set. It might be random check-ins, or maybe a well thought-out action plan with timelines. The point is, you have someone to answer to along the way.

THAT SAID, instead of just sitting back and telling YOU to be more accountable to your resolutions, I’m going to double-down and hold myself accountable to some, too! Each month, I’ll update my list, and you can all be a part of making sure I’m sticking to my goals! Here goes nothing…

Tom’s 2018 New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Create at least 25 posts per month on my blog – This can include multiple posts on the same day, and can even be a simple re-blog of something else I’ve seen. (Stretch Goal- One post per day)
  2. Read at least one book per month – Reading a kid’s book to my (soon-to-be) 5-year old neice? Counts! haha, not really. But, there is no minimum page requirement, just as long as it’s a complete body of work from start to finish. (Stretch Goal- If applicable to health and wellness, include a brief review and summary of the book here on my blog)
  3. Formal Continuing Education – My goal is to obtain TWO new Certifications this year. The first, is a Nutrition Certification. The second, my CrossFit Level 3 Certification. I’ve talked about getting both of these for years. Now, it’s time to talk less and do more.
  4. New Adventures – Once per month, I’d like to do something for the first time. It can be trying a new restaurant, taking a new fitness class, seeing a band perform live for the first time, or visit some place I’ve never been before. Anything goes! I think we do this more often than we think, but by keeping track, it will serve as a fun reminder of how often we step our of our comfort zone. (Stretch Goal- More than one new thing per month)
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Let’s be there for each other!

What do you say, friends? Is anyone with me? Anyone else want to put themselves out there and let our community hold each other accountable? Let me know!

“Hey, maybe knock that down 10 lbs and focus on staying tight at the bottom of your clean.”

“You could go Rx, or you could go a little lighter and finish in the suggested time domain.”

“Sorry, I know you thought it was a PR, but you didn’t stand all the way up before dropping the bar.”

Those are just a few of the examples of things I say on a regular basis to athletes in class. Over time, I’m able to create pretty meaningful relationships with most of the people that I coach (thankfully), but there’s always a certain few who refuse to take advice or listen to the suggestion of the person directing the group.

I’m sure there have been times where a coach is jealous that an athlete can out-perform them. Or times where athletes feel like the coach is insulting them by suggesting a lighter weight, or requesting and increased range of motion. I, however, don’t play any of those games. The eye rolls, the weight or movement selection out of spite, the sighing and being bitter for a few days… it doesn’t help anyone!

My job is to help you get better. My goal is to keep you healthy. My responsibility is to not let you do something that could get you hurt. So when I’m leading a class and make a comment to someone about slowing down or being more in control, please don’t be offended. Talk to me if you have any questions, ask me to video a rep or two and show you what I’m talking about (I’m a very visual learner), or respectfully tell me you’re going to do it anyways. But please don’t think I’m ever trying to hold you back. I’ve been doing this for a long time (in comparison to a lot of people in the CrossFit Game), and have one thing in the forefront of my mind each day… to be able to walk out of the gym and say, “Nobody died!”

As a rule, I’d always rather you go a little lighter and practice perfect form in workouts than “going for it” and risk getting hurt. Besides… almost none of us are going to the Games. We’re doing this fitness thing for fun, to stay healthy, and to look better naked. Get a time that’s 20 seconds slower to put up on the white board, but walk out of here on your own knowing you did everything right!

Help me, help you!

Safety first. I’ve got your back. I’m here for YOU!

-Smashby