Coaching is serious @#&%
Take a second and read about how what we do is different from other gyms, and why I’m dead serious about what I do. Calling yourself a coach is serious #$@% business, I constantly strive to be worthy of that title. As coaches we can have profound impacts on our clients lives, for better or for worse. I’m going to highlight two recent examples.
1. Josh has been at the gym for about 8 months. Former D1 Football player with a snatch PR of #270. He manages construction crews, and is essentially constantly on call for very long, and sometimes very stressful days. Some days he literally doesn’t have time to eat. When he started training with us, he was doing our barbell program, which was a good, well thought out strength and conditioning cycle. For him it wasn’t a good program though, because of his job, some strength imbalances that he has, and his goals. His knee was giving him problems, and he was getting frustrated that he couldn’t hit the %s he was supposed to consistently. I switched Josh over to a personal program, and I’m happy to say that last night he hit a #5 snatch PR from the blocks. He hasn’t been training maniacally, he usually makes it in to the gym about 3 nights a week and works out for an hour. When he can’t get in with us he hits some cardio at his apartment gym and does a little bodybuilding. I write his program based on what days he can come in, how he’s feeling, and working on some small imbalances he has. While he could easily compete at a high level (if he quit his job haha), that’s not what he wants, and his program reflects that. Although it would be great promotion for the gym if he did compete, that’s the last thing I want for him. He texted me last night and thanked me for making training fun again for him, which means much more than the #5 PR and meant more to me than I can put into words.
2. Is a client who I not going to name because this is a somewhat sensitive situation. This client started training with us over a year ago. Over the past few months, decided to compete in a large competition. The gym was often a long drive through traffic for her after a hard day of work. She was doing a solid, hard program designed by another coach, but it wasn’t the best program for her. She trained through injuries, right up until her competition. Getting through the competition was one of the best moments of her life, both because of the mental tenacity required, the bonding experience with her teammates, and getting to meet some superstar athletes. Unfortunately immediately after the competition she started to develop some serious symptoms. She’s now on crutches, and is going through a battery of tests to determine whether or not she’s developed rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or vasculitis. I’ll spare more details but suffice it to say it’s significantly worse than the flu like symptoms most athletes get after competitions. Please keep her in your thoughts for a speedy recovery!
I want to be crystal clear, in no way am I trying to assign blame to the coach who wrote the program for her, that coach was doing what CrossFit coaches are supposed to, push people. What happened to her could have happened at any other CrossFit in town (besides the other two I know of in Austin that take the more nuanced, individualized approach).
I’m not trying to sell you on Individualized programs, what I do want to sell you on is the idea that a coach should be taking a thoughtful, personal approach even in group classes with each client, and certainly with a very skeptical eye as to who can and should be encouraged to compete (see my previous post about the resources and time required to compete). CrossFit group classes are a great tool for fitness, but they’re a hammer. When you have a hammer everything looks like a nail, and not every client is going to benefit from that treatment. Working out is a stress on the body. It’s up to a coach with a more specialized set of tools to determine what the correct amount of stress is for each person, even in the group setting. What we do should be much more thoughtful than simply picking cool rep schemes and interesting movements to throw together. Almost anyone can write a hard workout, demand more from your coach.
As always thanks for reading! I’ll see you in health!
Sport or Fitness?
The distinction between training for sport and training for fitness is an important one that isn’t talked about frequently enough in the CrossFit community. Professional athletes will kill themselves for points on the field, probably don’t have a 9-5, train full time, and more often than not have an army of people that can support them (nutrition, recovery modalities, individualized programs etc). Someone who is just interested in fitness, probably has a 9-5, does not have a masseuse on staff, or time to workout for 3+ hours a day and then stretch/mobilize for more.
Just because you do CrossFit doesn’t mean that you have to do Mat Frasers workout. Remember that game of football you played on Thanksgiving? Did you train like an NFL player for that? Hopefully you’re doing CrossFit more than once a year at Thanksgiving, but you get my point.
Elite CrossFitters are hardly ever seen laying on the floor panting after workouts. Why do you think that is? Could it be because they train for 3+ hours every day and stretch/mobilize for more? I just listened to a podcast with Katrin Davidsdottir (winner of the 2016 games), who said that her WARM-UP is one hour long. They have paced and trained so much, that when they do Fran, it’s an AEROBIC workout for them. All of the best CrossFit athletes are masters of pacing their WODs, that’s why Rich Froning can do Fran and then do an interview immediately afterwards, without taking a breath in between.
I used to think that the success of my gym and my program was contingent on how “good” at CrossFit I was. I could have trained more, but I put in around 60-90 minutes of pretty hard core training 5 days a week. I Lifted as heavy as I could, and I pushed myself 100% in every WOD I did, trying to beat everyone else in the Barbell class with me, till the timer ran out and I was breathless on the floor. To be clear, I didn’t put in as much recovery time as I could have, and my nutrition could have been better. I would get home from the gym around 8:30 or 9pm, make dinner, answer a few emails and go to sleep.
My sleep was bad. I’ve always had back pain when standing for long periods, but it started to get really bad even when lying down, and I couldn’t sleep on my back. I was waking up at least 3-5 times a night, and waking up in pain every morning. My hormone levels were affected, and my mood and energy suffered. I moved like an old man until I was warmed up, and then I could work through it, just to do it again the next day.
A few months ago I went through security at an airport, and had a moment of clarity when I couldn’t hunch over and pick my right leg up to put my shoe back on while standing. I stopped squatting/deadlifting at all. I don’t blame the squats and deadlifts though. They were just the straw that broke the camels back. I blame myself for pushing 100% in WODs late at night, which raised my cortisol, which caused inflammation, which caused pain and made sleep difficult.
If we acknowledge that a large part of fitness is health, then how can you be “fit” if you aren’t able to put your shoes on? Does that sound like health?
After that moment of clarity, I completely realigned my goals. My goal is simply to be fit and move better. If I can accomplish that by training smarter and my squat goes up at the same time, then great, but I will never put PRs above my ability to put my shoes on, and you shouldn’t either.
I still think CrossFit done right, is the best sport/fitness program available. But you have to understand the difference between training for sport, and training for fitness.
Get With The Program!
Writing a group program is never an easy undertaking because there are so many variables to consider from person to person. Training age, gender, biological age, goals, weight, just to name a few. So when writing our programs, we classify the gym population in three groups; those who are solely interested in fat loss, those who are interested in fat loss and moving better, and those who are interested in competing in professional fitness. This doesn’t mean that one stays in one particular group for ever, over time you may decide that you want more than fat loss, or that you aren’t interested in being very competitive anymore and just want to work out and move well. This is a judgement free classification, we don’t prioritize one group over another, or try to push people in any particular direction.
If you fall into the group that is mainly interested in fat loss (which is probably 60-70% of any gyms clients), then it’s probably safe to say that you don’t really care too much about having the mobility to do a barbell snatch, or a pistol squat. The best training tools for you to achieve your goal will be good resistance training, solid aerobic work during WODs, and movements which don’t require a ton of skill practice and or mobility. You should stick with the Performance program or an Individual program.
If you fall into the group that wants to both lose fat and move better, then we can begin to really talk about skill progressions and improving mobility on your own time. You should do either the Performance, Barbell or Individual Program, be incorporating our mobility drills from the end of class into your home practice, working on street cred and skill practice after class, and be taking advantage of our free specialty classes in gymnastics and Olympic weightlifting over the weekend.
If you want to compete in professional fitness, then you should be doing the Barbell program as well as supplemental work with a coach, or preferably have an Individual program written especially for you.
We are happy to be flexible with all clients by allowing you to switch between programs, providing space after class to work on skill practice, extra advice etc.
A WORD ON EXERCISE SELECTION
In the Performance program, we prioritize safety and efficacy in our exercise selection. Because of the learning curve associated with the Olympic lifts and higher level gymnastics movements, they are given a much lower priority than meat and potatoes movements like squats, kettlebell swings, burpees etc. which are brutally effective and have a low skill level associated with them. In order for you to get a good response from doing Snatches for example, you would have to hurdle a significant learning curve just to be moving enough weight that it would give you a metabolic response. We don’t deadlift heavy very often for two reasons; 1. If you’re squatting consistently, your deadlift will increase without being trained. The opposite is not true however, if you deadlift but don’t squat your squat will not go up. 2. Not many people have the mobility or technique to deadlift properly, which is a recipe for cringing from the coach at best, and eventual or immediate disk injury at worst.
Again, we are happy to be flexible with clients, and will allow you to substitute higher skill movements during WODs at the coaches discretion, or allow you to deadlift for your strength component on a Friday for example.
We’ll see you in health!
One of the great things about CrossFit is it’s introduction of gymnastics movements like the handstand, muscle-up, pistol etc to people who never thought they could do these movements before. The harsh reality unfortunately is that the main thing holding you back from doing these body weight movements, is your strength to body weight ratio. It’s not a lack of “skill”. The only movements that we do in CrossFit that really require true “skill” are the Olympic lifts. Sure, it takes skill to squat well, do a handstand push-up etc, but it takes years to do the Olympic lifts well. I’ve taught people butterfly pull-ups in minutes.
If you want to do kipping pull-ups, as a minimum you should be able to do at least 3 strict pull-ups. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do a kipping pull-up without being able to do 3 strict, but it does mean that your shoulder is at a significantly higher risk of injury. It’s simply not strong enough to support the torque being placed on it by that movement. So we could do pull-up progressions all day, but you’d really be better served by doing some heavy lifting, a hard WOD and eating better. When your strength to weight ratio is better, then we can work on kipping or butterfly progressions and actually get somewhere.
Let’s talk about Pistols. Unless you have the flexibilty to pull your knee (with a bent leg) to your chest, good to great ankle flexibility, decent leg strength and internal rotation of the femur, you aren’t going to be able to do a pistol. No amount of “skill” can fix those issues.
I could go on but you get the picture. That doesn’t mean that skill practice has no place in our program, just explaining why you see it more infrequently than you may have been used to to at another gym. I will always prioritize results over fun/interesting, even at the risk of losing members. My goal writing a program is to get you fit, as safely as possible.
To that last point, a few of you have also said that occasionally movements/WODs have become repetitive. When we select movements for our WODs, we think about two main things. Is the movement safe? Is it an effective training tool?
Let’s take the (full) snatch for an example. If you have good to great mobility, then yes, the snatch is a relatively safe movement. If you don’t then the snatch puts the shoulder and elbow in unsafe positions (same thing with overhead squats to a lesser degree). Is it an effective training tool? No, because of the learning curve associated with being able to move enough weight that you would get a good dose response (this refers to your bodies response to the movement AFTER the workout), for most of the population at a regular CrossFit gym it is not an effective training tool.
This is why we do so many burpees, kettlebell swings, hang power cleans, wall balls, running, rowing etc. Is it super sexy to program using many of the same movements? No. But it’s damn sure the safest and most effective way to get the job done.
The Fitness Puzzle
MORE IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER. This is pretty much true of everything in life (except chocolate). I think it’s very natural to assume that because you’re not seeing the strength gains or weight loss you would like, that you just need to do more weight, or workout multiple times per day, or take no days off etc. Yes this shit is hard. Yes this shit is frustrating. If it were easy, then everyone would be doing it. It’s not easy, and that’s what makes you tougher than “everyone”. You’re not everyone, you’re you, and you shouldn’t base your expectations of yourself on what the strongest and fittest people in the world are doing.
There are several pieces to the strength/fitness puzzle. You should look at all of them before assuming that the answer is changing your training regimen by either “more weight, different training modalities or working out for 3 hours a day”.
1. Sleep – This is when your body repairs itself after workouts. If you aren’t sleeping at least 7-8 hours a night, then it should be no surprise that you aren’t getting stronger. One survey found 73% of Americans reported not getting enough sleep. Also worth noting, sleep doesn’t count as being in bed counting sheep or updating facebook statuses. If you’re not sleeping well, you should try to fix that as quickly as possible by changing to a better mattress, regulating your caffeine intake, scheduling some quiet time before you get into bed (no cell phones or TV) or even seeing a doctor.
2. Nutrition – Are you eating enough? I recently have been eating way more and found a HUGE gain in performance (4 PRs in the space of 4 days). Is your food high quality and packed with nutrients? My girlfriend recently started Eat to Perform, a service which I had recommended to some of you, and I was amazed to see how low her target calorie count is. By many counts in order to build (SIGNIFICANT, I repeat… SIGNIFICANT) lean muscle you need to be eating at least 1000 calories OVER the normally recommended amount (This information is from Mark Rippetoe’s [USAW affiliated coach of 30+ years] book starting strength). Additionally, if your protein is coming from plant based sources you need to overshoot your recommended protein servings by a long shot as well. Let’s also quickly debunk the myth that eating too much protein is bad for you…. that’s horse shit.
3. Stretching/Mobility – Your muscles need to be stretched after they are worked hard (not before). We recommend all athletes take at least 10-15 minutes to work through this simple stretching routine designed to target 3 major problem areas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUMct9Evqt4
4. Hydration! I can almost guarantee that you aren’t drinking enough water. No one does. Make sure to drink more water than you think you need to.
Hopefully this was helpful to some of you. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask!