Posts Tagged ‘Train Smart’

Every single day you go to the gym, you should give yourself one thing to think about during training.

I’ll give a few specific examples below, but my logic behind that statement is simple. As someone who suffers from paralysis by analysis in my own life, it is so simple to get overwhelmed with details that you can’t focus on a single one properly. For example, I could sit here list over 10 things to think about in order to plank properly. Plank… you know, the thing where you hold your body at the top of a push-up? So imagine how many cues one could have when completing a workout with four different movements, many of which are far more complex than a simple plank.

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Instead, once you know what you’re going to do for the day, pick a one thing and hone nearly all of your energy on completing it as effectively as possible. Let’s discuss a few scenarios:

Heavy Strength Set

If you know you’re going to try and move mountains today, the anxiety and excitement leading up to those heavy reps can be exhausting. For a big squat day, make sure your core is tight throughout the lift. Or that you knees stay out. Or that you take a big breath at the top before beginning your descent. Even those three things combined can be too much to focus on at once. Keep your cue(s) simple, meaningful to you, and effective! The less in your brain, the more you can just move that weight!

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Long Workout

Let’s say it’s a 5 round workout with rowing, wall balls, deadlifts, sit-ups, and pull-ups. There’s a lot going on there, huh? Instead of trying to overwhelm yourself with pacing out your splits of how fast each round should be, you could say to yourself, “today, I’m going to do each round of 20 wall balls as a set of 12 reps, short rest, then a set of 8.” Many people believe that making a plan of attack and “visualizing” your workout is a great strategy.

If you’re in a competition, the stakes are different, and I completely agree! Planning out and rehearsing every second might be the difference between first and second place. But very few people have the time, energy, or desire to spend that much time getting ready for their 4-6 days of training every week! Pick a thing or two, and just breathe through the rest.

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Active Rest/Recovery

Some days you’ll show up to the gym feeling pretty beat up. Your body is sore, your mind is tired, and you haven’t been sleeping well. “But it’s Friday,” you tell yourself, and you “ALWAYS work out on Fridays.” That doesn’t mean you need to red line on the workout, completely wreck yourself, and hobble around all weekend.

If you make the decision that you just need to move for the day, that’s totally fine, and I support you. Even on those days, you can find something to focus on. Maybe on the rowing portion of the workout you focus on keeping your heels down and start to learn what your stroke rate is for repeat 500’s. If there’s snatching for strength, really emphasize making your receiving position as snappy as possible. You can always get better, even if you’re just there to move for the day!

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Now, this post is in no way implying that the rest of your training session should be done by completely checking out. Quite the opposite, in fact. I believe that everything in the gym should be done “with purpose.” Instead, I’m trying to help athletes narrow down a primary point of attack each day. Having a panic attack because you’re staring at the bar before a deadlift attempt thinking, “chest up, back flat, proper stance, breathe, chest up, knees back, push away the floor, grip it and rip it, etc, etc,” doesn’t help anyone.

We’re in the gym to get better every day. Try your best to narrow down your scope on the big things, and as long as you head out of the gym with a smile on your face, most of the time you’ve done alright. This fitness game of ours is most certainly a marathon, not a sprint.

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Yes. They can.

End of story.

Bye!

All jokes aside, this post is timely given some members of the audience reading my blog, and some situations I’ve witnessed in my years as a CrossFit coach. A lot of gyms out there have fun monthly challenges to keep their members engaged and strengthen the community. One in particular, which I’ve seen at dozens of gyms all over the world, happens during the second to last month of each calendar year. This event is called… ROW-VEMBER! What is Row-vember? Well, it’s an in-house competition to see who in the gym can row the most meters in the month of November. Sounds fun, right?! Well, it can be! At least, until people take the competition a little bit too seriously.

If read that and thought, “You’re kidding, right? How can someone take a rowing competition too seriously?” I’m SO glad you asked! There was a handful of individuals that were so set on winning, that in many ways, rowing took over their lives for four weeks. They’d show up early to row before class. Stay to row more after class. They’d come in and just row instead of taking class. Sometimes they’d back to the gym a second time during the day just to get in more rowing. Someone even took apart their own personal a rower so it would fit in the car to take with them on vacation! Now hopefully the picture is getting painted a little bit clearer as to how things went down.

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A few years ago, Crazy Castro had the CrossFit Games athletes complete a HALF MARATHON Row… that’s 21,000 meters. In a row. Insane! What happened next? Well, like every other year after the CrossFit Games are over, people all over the world tried to do the same workouts on their own… “Just to see how they’d do compared to the fittest people on earth.” I know several people who called up some friends one day, went to the gym, put a movie on the TV, and rowed for over 90 minutes straight, just to say they did it. I get it. (Well, just like I know people pay money to do Ironman distance triathlons, doesn’t mean I want to do one myself. You do you, just know it’s not my jam!)

So we’ve talked about a crazy CrossFit event where athletes rowed for over an hour. And we’ve discussed people going to the gym all the time just to row and taking rowers on vacation with them to not fall behind in random competitions. Now, to drive home my point of just how bad it got, put those two groups together. There were a handful of people rowing 20,000+ meters nearly every day!! And if they missed a day, they’d make it up before or after!! That is insaaaaaaaaane to me. I’ve been in this CrossFit game for nearly a decade, and I’ve never even rowed a 10k!

I understand some people just like long and slow cardio. I also get how completing long distances in the form of several shorter interval repeats can make it more manageable. But what my brain doesn’t process is why when you’re 23 days into a month, and your sleep is suffering, focus is off, hands are calloused, butt and lower back are wrecked, and energy is down… you’d keep going just because there are seven days left in the month! But they did. That is a situation where, in my brain, the competition got way too intense. If you’re pushing yourself to the point of adrenal fatigue over pride and a $50 gift card, I think your priorities should shift a little bit. Realize that we want to take care of our bodies through the work we put in at the gym, not destroy them!

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I thought of this story because at one of the gyms where I currently work, they’re completing a challenge each month to complete 2018 reps of a different movement. January was burpees, and I think there were about a half-dozen members who completed them all! This month, it’s Calories on a bike or rower. Since I didn’t hop in last month on the burpee game, I figured as a coach I would hop in a lead by example to encourage others to participate. After a few days of rowing a bit and writing my score on the board, I realized that a few of us started to get a little bit competitive with each other. The first few days it was fun, and then I was reminded of the folks I saw a few years ago.

Let this be my official declaration to those of you who are in the friendly game with me:

I just want us to have fun. If you ever feel like you’re impacting your work, social/personal life, or health and stress levels just by trying to row more, let me know. I will gladly step back and bow out of the game! 

I say that kind of in jest, but still pretty serious. For me, I find rowing or biking a little more than I usually would to be a great way to burn off a few extra calories. It’s low impact, I can do it on my own, and at my convenience. So, while my goal is to “#BeLessFat” and allow myself to drink another beer or two on the weekends without feeling guilty, I know that some people get wayyyy too into the competitive spirit. Don’t allow me to fuel an unhealthy fire. I want to make your life better, not worse! Besides, at the current gymour competition isn’t even for most meters, it’s just to see if people can hit 2,018 in the month. Every meter above 2,018 is just icing on the cake! I’ll back out in a heartbeat if I need to, though.

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If you can keep it all in perspective, though, game on. Today I rowed an extra 4,000 meters at a comfortable pace while watching a live video of my favorite Dj, and my heart rate was low the entire time. It was just some nice active recovery, and it felt awesome!

While I’ll be the first to admit that I’m really competitive, I rarely let that get in the way of my own health. Sadly, though, I know a lot of people who can’t safely make that distinction. Did rowing alone lead to adrenal fatigue? Of course not. But putting  one’s body through that much unnecessary stress for that many days in a row, certainly didn’t help! Story one was about a competition that went awry. Story two is about a challenge to hit 2,018 meters. The point is, saying, “It’s not a competition,” is great, but we all know that to some people… everything is a competition! If all else fails and your brain won’t let your body stop pushing, remember that it’s only a game. And none of it matters. Train smart, friends.

I’m not sure why, but for some reason I’ve always had a really strong opinion as to whether or not people should have programming written specifically for them. For the purposes of this post, let me be clear and explain my definition of Personalized Programming. I am not defining it as “How-To” progressions for certain advanced movements. If someone wants to learn how do their first pull-up, muscle up, handstand push-up, double-under, etc, there are a plethora of guides out there to help. Those are helpful and appropriate for anyone who wants to get better! Personalized Programming means exactly that. It could include warm-ups, strength cycles, extra workouts, multiple sets of accessory work, etc. A full suite of activities to do in order to help you attain and surpass whatever goals you’ve set for yourself.

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A lot of people who pay for this service still belong at a CrossFit gym. These athletes follow their gym’s programming when they take class, and then add in their Personalized work before or after class, or on their rest days. The reason I feel so strongly about not mixing and matching, is because a very common way of getting hurt is by overdoing it. If you train at a good gym, there should be a progression found in your training. Micro and Macro cycles, a gymnastics-focused wave versus a strength block. If an athlete comes in and throws in 3 extra days of heavy back squats when their gym is on a rest week before re-testing a 1 rep max, can you see how mixing and matching could lead to injury?

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In order to define fitness, CrossFit categorized human performance into 10 Physical Skills. They are:

  1. Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance – The ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen.
  2. Stamina – The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy.
  3. Strength – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force.
  4. Flexibility – the ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint.
  5. Power – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.
  6. Speed – The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement.
  7. Coordination – The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement.
  8. Agility – The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another.
  9. Balance – The ability to control the placement of the bodies center of gravity in relation to its support base.
  10. Accuracy – The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity.

The entire CrossFit methodology is founded upon a concept that an athlete is only as strong as their weakest link out of those 10 movements. Therefore, if you’re really strong but not great with balance, you’ve got a glaring error in your fitness. The example I always remember hearing included two male athletes; one who could deadlift 500lbs but couldn’t jog a mile without stopping, and the other could run a sub-5 minute mile, but couldn’t deadlift twice his body weight. The purpose of the comparison was to say that just because someone may have been incredible at one thing, their deficiency in another thing could severely impact their overall effectiveness as an athlete. In CrossFit, the goal is to be more of a jack of all trades and a master of none. That way, no matter what is thrown at you (the unknown and the unknowable), you’d be more adequately prepared to handle it successfully. (Click here to read the incredible “What is Fitness” article that essentially serves as the Manifesto of the entire program)

Why bring in all of this CrossFit history if I’m writing a post about personalized programming? It’s simple, really. If people are trying to get better at CrossFit, and CrossFit says, “Do everything, all the time, and keep trying new things,” but people spend hours and hours focusing on one specific thing instead, doesn’t that seem kind of counter-intuitive? As I’ve said many times before, most people who are at the gym are there simply to get in better shape. That demographic will benefit just fine from belonging to a gym that has a decent idea of how to make people more fit. In my opinion, they do not require personalized programming.

So which groups of people should devote the extra time and money towards having something written specifically for them? I’ve created a partial list below:

  1. Competitors– CrossFit claims to be the physical fitness program that “specializes in not specializing.” That means you don’t really need to focus your efforts on any one thing in particular because at a good gym, over time you’ll do almost everything on a rotating basis. If you’re training specifically to compete in something, however, you’ll need to hone in on certain areas that you’ll likely see in competition. If you can’t perform the Olympic Lifts without some degree of efficiency, you’re not going to do well. Be clear of the distinction here: Competitive CrossFit athletes ARE specializing in a certain type of fitness, so they will benefit from personalized programming. Training for an Olympic Weightlifting or Strongman event? I completely support getting programming made just for you! In those cases, you’ll need it!
  2. Looking for Subject Matter Expert– You might love your gym’s regular class programming, but you’ve always wanted to improve your running technique or learn how to swim. If there isn’t someone around who can teach you those skills, of course it makes sense to find a professional somewhere else who can.
  3. Trust in a coach– Maybe someone who used to coach at your gym left but they know you really well. Perhaps a famous athlete you’ve always loved and followed posted online about offering customized plans just for you. There is nothing wrong with turning to people you know and trust to help make you better. That’s why we live in such a great time. We can be connected with people all over the world! 
  4. People training on their own– If you are paying for a program made just for you, and that’s the only thing you follow on a regular basis, that now becomes your only training. In this scenario, you’re less likely to overdo it. This option is great.
  5. Just for fun– I’ve written an 8 week rowing plan for someone who just liked rowing and wanted to get better. I’ve worked 1:1 with an athlete for 4 weeks who just wanted to learn how to do a muscle-up. You don’t need a reason to explain why you want to get better at something. I just don’t ever want it to lead to injury. If you’ve got time and money to follow a plan, more power to you!

Who do I think should NOT invest in Personalized Programming?

  1. Beginner athletes– A lot of gyms have a specific “On Ramp” program where they run new members through a basic overview of things they could experience in a given class. Once that’s done, give yourself a few months (years?) of following the daily workouts provided by your gym. Your average “Weekend Warrior” won’t need to work out for more than 4-5 hours per week at a good gym to get in better shape. Most people don’t need much more than  that! When the time comes that you decide your goals are more specific, and your gym isn’t providing resources to help you grow, then you can look for custom programs.
  2. Athletes who are going to overdo it– I understand you want to get better. That’s what’s crazy about this sport of ours. There are SO MANY THINGS we want to improve on, all the time. The good news in all of this, is that with good coaching, you can create a list of goals, and then set aside a reasonable action plan to attack them one at a time. Just don’t go to your home gym four times per week, try to do every workout you see Ben Smith do with your friends, follow Jason Khalipa’s EMOM of the day, attend every skills seminar your gym hosts, and compete every other weekend. It’s too much!

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When it comes to Personalized Programming, there’s also a big difference between in-person versus remote coaching. Thousands of “online coaches” offer training plans that are a one-size fits all offering. The reason I don’t like those as much is that it implies a few things. First, that the coach writing the programming understands the needs of the athlete following it. If I send the same plan to 10 people looking to get better at 10 different skills, there are going to be some things help you, and others that might not. Make sure that if you don’t have a set of eyes on you during your training, that you’ve got another way to ensure you’re moving properly and not establishing bad habits.

Most of my personal training clients who I don’t see every day either send me videos of their more technical movements so I can review them and provide feedback, or schedule in-person training once per week, or a few times per month to cover some more advanced movements with a coach present. That’s the way I prefer to do it, at least! If they are 100% remote clients, where I never see them, I just make sure the programming is safer for them to do on their own. If careful attention is paid to results, and the lines of communication are open between coach and athlete, everyone is likely to be ok.

To conclude the longest post in the world, let’s recap:

Personalized Programming is great and can help athletes everywhere. It can certainly help take performance to a new level if done properly. I am also NOT bashing companies and coaches who offer Personalized Programming to others. I am specifically referring to athletes who belong at one gym, and feel the need to do more and more and more to try and improve. More is not always better. Especially if there’s not specific reason for doing more, such as an upcoming competition.

Too many people think they need something special, when all they need is time to get better at things. It takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become a “master” at something, remember that. If there was a magic pill or a proven short cut, I promise you more women would snatch 250lbs and more men would have sub-1:30 Fran times!

In the event that someone thinks they need more volume, the first thing I’ll typically suggest to them is to do slower volume. Moving slower and with more of a focus on technique and full range of motion can help speed up progress a lot more than rushing through more. (Read more about my philosophy on that here, if you’re interested.)

Be patient. This CrossFit thing is a marathon, not a sprint. Find coaches and training partners who can help you, but also keep your ambition in check. If you’re injured you can’t train, and nobody has time for that!

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