Amateur Hour Is Over

What distinguishes amateurs from professionals? There is more to the equation than sponsorships and careers based on performance… there are intangible characteristics we witness in seasoned athletes that a paycheck alone do not provide. And if this is true, doesn’t it stand to reason that by identifying these elements, we should be able to implement them ourselves?

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Respect the gym.

For many people, the gym is an escape and outlet. An escape from the hectic lives we insist on creating in an effort to feel fulfilled or heck, just survive! In theory, this is a beautiful thing. Too often, however, this dependence on an hour or two spent “letting it out” and slamming some barbells around is twisted into a True Life portrayal of the battlefield in our minds. Our day manifests in the gym. We rush in from a meeting or from hitting the snooze button 76 times, hurry through our warmup thinking over a recent argument or writing to do lists (my personal favorite #OCD), and when we finally get down to it our mind is still a million miles away. We are unfocused and keyed up to be pissed as all get out when we miss a lift. Cue downward spiral. Better set your personal radius to DEFCON HULK.

“Uh yeah, that’s attempt #742 for her, I’d steer clear of that corner.”

We all know those people. Face it, we have all been “that person” at some time or another when everyone is tiptoeing around as you mutter obscenities and sigh in exasperation. Guys, it is a super awkward situation, and it is time to put an end to it. <Insert witty, attention-grabbing title. See what I did there?>

Which are you?

One of the aspects I like to discuss with my athletes is the amateur versus pro mentality. An amateur is shortsighted. Someone who is not trained to see past that day’s training. Something unexpected happens and they are so invested in that minute outcome that the crappy complex at the beginning is still on their minds when conditioning is already halfway over.

It’s not about the lift.

A true professional sees each day as a piece of a much larger picture. They understand how to emotionally detach themselves from the outcome of a solitary training session. They do not add a failed rep to the list of that day’s failures but understand that tough days come with the territory of deciding to push their physical limits and boundaries. They are driven by the end game because they have taken the time to seriously ask themselves what that end game looks like. They know it is worth the day to day journey.

Create a successful environment.

Professionals set up the rest of their lives to support their goals whether it means taking an extra 15 minutes to clear their minds before a workout or assessing what prevents them from being present and engaged during training. If they cannot alter their circumstances or environment, they learn to compartmentalize and block out distractions. They savor the good moments and use them to maintain momentum. Bad days are a matter of perspective. You can ALWAYS take something positive or educational from every experience, you just have to develop the habit. Plus, an “bad” day is still better than the day spent stuffing your face with gummy bears watching Game of Thrones. (Jk, that sounds like the best day ever. But anyway.)

Train for success.

Your MIND is the battlefield, so train it just as you do everything else. Decide what outcome you desire (might need to Start With Why) and understand that as this perspective develops, every action you take will either support this direction or pull you away from it.

Through discipline over time, it will get easier to discern between the two.

How we respond when things do not go as expected is an indication of our mental resilience and our potential, but this principle translates to far more than exercise. You are not defined by CrossFit or whatever activity you pursue. It is merely an expression of your love for physical health, a belief in testing your limits and the respect of your own athletic essence. Remember this anytime you are threatened by distraction on your path to success.

Crusade for Community

In my last post, I identified one of the reasons I believe the CrossFit community has such a large range of quality is due to a lack of motivation to raise standards. Either “getting by” is enough or things are going pretty well anyway so why put forth more effort than needed? Motivation derives from two sources: extrinsic or intrinsic factors. In other words, you must have either outside forces compelling you to change practices or an inward reform of beliefs. Reflecting on why there is such a wide ranging scale of quality in the CrossFit prompted me to examine what it was that set the best apart. There is an understood sense that the communities in Southern California, Northern California and Colorado (to name a few) are known for excellence. Time and again we see bright minds and best practices emerge from those areas, not to mention a lifetime of warm fuzzies if you actually get a chance to visit. Why is that?

Obviously it’s the weather. #jelly

Other than that though, there is a common thread: these communities are filled with self-propelled individuals of high standards in environments that incentivize collaboration.

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CrossFit is a very unique, emotionally-based business. Everyone believes in the mission of changing lives through fitness and nutrition (honestly, you have to). But there can be an unfortunate dark side. At the end of the day, the CrossFit gym is a business and it must generate revenue in order to sustain livelihoods and continue providing its services. In order to generate revenue it must attract clients. Here’s where it gets dicey. I believe, sometimes, we fall into a perception that only a finite number of clients can be reached through CrossFit. Thus it is only natural (logical, even) to view surrounding CF gyms as competition. If they have a lot of clients, those are clients that could be yours and all of a sudden we are faced with this rampant “every gym for itself” mentality. The situation would be really awkward at the only gluten-free bakery or Paleo-friendly restaurant in town except we have found a fantastic euphemism in which to cloak our unique predicaments…”it’s just business!” Right?

Every gym for itself!

Every gym for itself!

Allow me to offer an alternative scenario.

What if our communities, city by city, recognized that the battle is much bigger than this gym versus that gym. The battle is not even CrossFit versus Cardio Groove. What if we all realized the war we fight is actually on society’s entrenched belief that heart disease, obesity, diabetes, chronic fatigue and the like are merely genetic and cannot be changed. What if we saw that every day we shatter the “I guess this is all there is” attitude and the assumption that if a person does not like to exercise or is unhappy with their body well, they just need to accept themselves for who they are. Goosfraba now, I did not say we should not be happy with who we are…I just think it is part of our natures to seek continual improvement and we are faced with the incredible opportunity  to tell the world it is OK to want and be more. It is not just OK, it is possible to attain, and we can show everyone how!

Isn’t that a message worth spreading?

So, let’s say these communities start to work together to share experience, suggest best practices, elevate the immature and encourage those who are lagging. People are attracted to excellence (we all know this stuff works anyway), so we no longer lose anyone to incompetence or lack of education. Little by little, CrossFit in this city or that city is known as one of the best ways to get in shape and change your life without the controversial puking or injuries nonsense. A better reputation = more people willing to give it a try = more clients for everyone. Does this sounds idealistic? It shouldn’t…it exists.

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If, as an owner or coach, the thought of sharing insight makes you feel threatened or frightened, ask yourself why. Perhaps a part of you knows you could be putting a better product out there. Or perhaps the things you fear are not controllable factors anyway. Why waste your emotional energy on circumstances you cannot control? If you understand WHY you get up each day and pour yourself into every action, success will follow; you will have nothing to fear and no sleepless nights. If you know your service is the best it can be, people will recognize it and not want to go anywhere else.

Any truly successful business will tell you that, just ask Ritz Carlton, Southwest Airlines or Apple. 

As long as a mindset is conditioned to expect the worst, that is the only possible outcome. Is it not better to fight for a worthwhile purpose? We already know a united community is not just possible, it is powerful beyond measure. The path is laid before us, all we have to do is take the first step.

Join the crusade for community.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever.” Ephesians 3:20-21

A Call to Standards for Coaches, Owners and Athletes

This isn’t specifically a post for outside or inside the gym. But I’m over these nonsensical blog posts railing on CrossFit. Let’s change direction and highlight some gyms and people doing it right in the strength and conditioning world shall we? There are far more educated, conscientious fitness professionals quietly going about their business of improving peoples’ lives than there are fools allowing neophyte clients to get rhabdo. For heaven’s sake.

I have had the privilege of working in or around some top-notch CrossFit gyms in the Dallas area. I’ve also traveled plenty and seen what prompts the backlash at our community but here’s the problem: very little of this silliness is done with malicious intent. It derives from lack of understanding, low barriers to entry (a good AND a bad thing) and…frankly…little motivation to raise the bar.

Here is my shout out to excellent gyms, a call to standards for coaches and owners out there trying to elevate their business, and some pointers for CrossFitters in selecting the right “home” (sorry I have a hard time saying “box” without giggling).

Pushups
Say what? Yes. Literally the first thing I look at when I visit a gym is how the athletes perform pushups. To say this is one of the most fundamental movement patterns is an understatement. Someone having trouble with dips? Strict pullups? Repeated shoulder injuries? See how many pushups they can complete with a perfectly vertical forearm. Don’t be surprised when they can’t do one. At the very least anyone doing pushups with elbows flaring out to the side is a ticking time bomb for AC shoulder joint issues or impingements.

Photo: Vance Jacobs Photography, Nate Helming of San Francisco CrossFit

The Warmup is a Warmup
A good warmup has three elements: increased blood flow, dynamic range of motion (DROM) exercises moving from smaller to larger muscular contractions and specific movement preparation for whatever lies ahead. In general population classes, mobility drills are appropriate for educating people on how to care for their health and tissue. If you are an athlete and are spending more than 5-10 minutes rolling around on pvc…we’ve got a problem. Ask yourself if the level of “wrecked” you feel each day could be related to your longevity in this sport. Also, if a class warmup consists of a 10min AMRAP with running, pull-ups and burpees…come on, we can do better people. This is your craft, invest everything you have in it!

Multiple Options Explained for Scaling
Ok, so if muscle-ups are the RX’d movement in a workout, everyone knows there will be scaling involved. But if there are squat cleans (yes I said squat, calm down elitists, specificity is your friend), does the coach offer altered weight recommendations, power cleans for beginners or (bonus!) percentages of your own estimated maxes? Do they explain how the weight should feel as the workout progresses? These are signs of an excellent program. This is your body. Don’t compromise just because you’re afraid to ask the person you’re paying for help.

Repeated Lifts Week after Week
“Back squats again??” Yes. Now, I don’t want go on a sidebar about the overuse of the back squat…(“SHE SAID WHAT!?!?!?)…and the tendency to overlook basic, mechanical issues with double-leg movements (there, I said it anyway), but that has more to do with the ability to assess and correct movement. If you see strength or Olympic movements repeatedly in classes, take heart! How else can you measure progress if not by training and repetition? CrossFitters get all hopped up about fun, sexy movements because we have so many options. But if your goal is anything related to health, wellness, fitness and longevity, it is the foundational movements that matter. A good programmer will do their best to “hide” this alongside all the fun crap we simply MUST see in workouts or will die. #sarcasm #guilty

Quality of Movement Stressed Over Type of Movement
Do you get annoyed by your coach chattering on about technique? Do you zone them out when they suggest strict pull-ups with a band instead of kipping pull-ups? “By golly I’m not getting a band! I can kip the crap out of 2-3 pull-ups!” Face palm. Suck it up buttercup, no one cares if you need a band. We’ve all been there and the only person you’re holding back is yourself. If you have an annoying coach that chooses kinder words than mine to express the same idea, hug him or her the next time you see them. You are blessed.

Infrequent 20-30min AMRAPs
Need I say more? I think we’ve covered the whole Hero WODs topic. The occasional aerobic grinder can certainly be appropriate in a well-rounded fitness program, but if you are hitting these bad boys every other day or (cringe) every day, ask yourself why. If this aligns with your goals, you enjoy getting worked to the bone and you are not necessarily concerned with doing CrossFit forever, WOD your little heart away. It is no one’s place to judge your goals or intentions and those are all legitimate. If, on the other hand, you seek improved fitness and health for the long-term, I would kindly suggest that is not the way.

And For Bonus: Explanation on How to Approach Your Workout
If your coach gathers you in front of the whiteboard and discusses all of the movements and scalings, congrats you just might be in a great CrossFit gym! Now if your coach goes on further to explain HOW the workout should feel, at what intensity you should approach it and provides suggestions for fractioning reps or rounds…boy howdy you’ve found yourself a top-notch strength and conditioning home. Never let go. There IS a science behind every workout, whether people realize it or not, and understanding these “energy systems” is integral to high level fitness. However, that is a conversation for another day.

Hopefully, I have offered some provoking thoughts. I believe in a community that holds each other to the highest standards founded on a belief in improving peoples’ lives and wellbeing. It already exists. Let’s continue to encourage one another in this direction and refuse to compromise for passivity’s sake.

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus and in His Person, giving praise to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:17

Game-Changing Practice: Morning Routine

When you wake up tomorrow morning, make note of of your state of mind. Do you wake up with a sense of urgency to get ready, make food, hurry, etc.? Do you rush around with creaky joints, checking your email, turning the coffee pot on? Does it feel as though the second your feet touch the ground, the day commences without any chance to pause?

This sense is prevalent in our competitive, achievement-based society. We want as many precious seconds of sleep as possible!  Now imagine this scenario (as described in life coaching courses from Optimum Performance Training): “you wake up to a cold cabin, take the sheets off, your nose cold, you are fully clothed, you walk across the creaking boards, open the door to the living room, flick the match, start a fire, build it and feel the cabin warming, as you do the water has begun to boil, you dress, breathe a little, walk out onto the doorstep to the trees and lake covered with a light dew and smell the morning air and listen to the birds waking every other animal…the coffee pot is ready, you sip and enjoy as you limber up and move…and get prepped to train…”

Talk about a different mentality to approach the day. Ok, so a cabin may not be the most realistic option but it makes a point about the importance of our state of mind and preparing for the day properly. The game-changing practice I want to suggest is to begin enacting a morning routine. Figure out how much time it will take to get everything you need done in the morning without feeling rushed (tip: preparation the night before is key). Having time to sip your coffee (or tea!), open your Bible and move slowly from task to task will transfer into an overall sense of well-being for your training or whatever follows. Reducing the number of decisions you need to make by learning how to go on “autopilot” will conserve much needed energy. There is an excellent article called The Power of Routine that discusses the immense benefits.

“Routine sustains energy by reducing the time and effort that goes to making decisions. Everyone has a finite capacity for good decision-making and staying on your “A-game” before laziness, stress, and temptation kick in. In order to increase productivity and make positive moves throughout the entire day, you need to automate as much of your life as you can. While this sounds like a boring life, the opposite it true. When you automate the predictable things in your day it allows you to react to the unpredictable and really take control with flexibility and poise.”

You can be as precise as you want: write down a specific routine or ease into a pattern over the course of the next couple weeks. Be prepared for a more balanced state of mind, increased productivity and the ability to give even more at the gym!

“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” I Timothy 4:7-8