CrossFit Used To Be Fun!
Since officially starting CrossFit in 2011 and opening an affiliate I have really loved every minute of it. The fun of being able to mash random movements together, pick a timeframe, and then enter the pain cave with a group of friends. The vast array of movements to choose from adds to the excitement and challenge whilst really benefiting the person conducting the training. CrossFit promotes a hard working and intense mindset, and for good reason, INTENSITY is what gets results.
As affiliate owners and Regional level athletes that’s what we did (Luke, Mudz and I). Searched online for WOD’s to do, hit benchmarks, tried as hard as possible to increase our 1 RM’s by maxing out everyday, and really had no clear idea about building a CrossFit training program. Sure we knew the basics and we were good, safe coaches, but we had drunk the ‘coolaid’ and frothed on the idea of WODing for no real reason. We would drive to different affiliates on the weekends, conduct horrific workouts then finish with a BBQ and beers.
IT WAS FUN!!
Why so serious!?
But then, as CrossFit started to grow, and people started to get more serious about competing, the idea of doing this randomised (varied) training started to shift towards a more specific approach, working on weaknesses, following individual programs built soley for you. It made sense too, why go and complete ‘BULL’ with a couple of friends if you can spend that same hour working on your specific weakness or the Olympic lifts which are crucial in CrossFit competition.
The problem is that working on your weaknesses all the time can become demoralising, training by yourself can become lonely, and very often the fun can be removed from training. So what should it be? Where should the balance lie? How do you get to the top? Target your weaknesses with laser like focus, train by yourself and become the best athlete possible? Or just do relatively random workouts, train hard and have fun with other people?
Learn to play the long game…
I remember reading about a study carried out where they would take a child and… Screw it, watch the video below. It’s about the ability to delay gratification.
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I think competing at CrossFit is exactly the same. If you want to be successful you have to be able to play the long game. If you are looking for the daily high then as each day passes you can potentially fall a fraction behind the competition. Over the space of one or two years those fractions all add up.
I have always been able to delay gratification, it came naturally to me, I bought investment properties when I was young whilst others spent their money on sh*t. When I trained for Regionals I would take 6 months off each year to rehab any injuries, gain mobility and then begin a 12 week lead up to the Open. I wouldn’t compete in any competitions other than the Open and Regionals. I played the long game, and trust me when I say the feeling of walking onto the Regional competition floor was sweeter than anything.
Now don’t get me wrong, training still needs to be enjoyable, but the closer the balance can be shifted towards specificity the better the long game outcome will be. As a coach I took it for granted, as the video says, only one in three people have the ability to delay gratification. I couldn’t understand why people were not enjoying training? The program was perfect, they just had to follow it!
I was like “Are you stupid, if you follow this plan in 12 months you will be the best possible you?”. To them it was like, “Why am I having a rest day today, I want to go crush a WOD”.
To a point I am still like that, but I now realise that only a few people can actually see and play the long game. So the way I coach and program has changed slightly to bring in a bit more balance.
The number one rule for a good training program is adherence. If the program is adhered to as it is intended then it will be successful. If the program is NOT adhered to then there is no chance of success. If a program is NOT enjoyable then adherence will be low, so it is important that the athlete enjoys the training.
The Athlete Program is a generic online program that has been through a few transformations. It started in a very methodical manner, but I soon realised that the type of people following it just want to have a bit more fun and flexibility. Two years on and it is now at a point where I believe it has found its sweet spot. Each day involves different levels of training depending on your ability level as well as biased training you can choose so that the people that want to work on their weaknesses can do that, and the ones that just want to do the thing that looks most fun can do that. It caters for the long and the short game players.
With the personal programs I write they are all vastly different. Some people are happy playing the long game. I write it, they do it, no questions. If I tell them to rest, they rest, if I give them a low load day they just do it. They understand it is all part of a bigger picture.
Kyle Gardiner is a great example. No questions whatsoever, just trust and belief and a jump from 567th – 79th from one Open to the next. At times he was unfit, or things he used to be able to do he no longer could, but he realised it was part of the plan. You don’t have to be fit all year round, he didn’t need to eat the marshmallow everyday, but come the Open he had more than enough marshmallows.
Others can not see the long game. They drop 10% off of their best ever Back Squat and they lose their minds, not realising that peaks can be generated quickly and also lost quickly and you can’t be at your peak all year round. They see a rest day and comment that they aren’t training enough, then the next days training is sub maximal because they couldn’t go one day without lifting a weight. For these people I will tweak their program to give them what they need disguised as what they want. Is it the ‘best program’, possibly not, but if I want them to adhere to it and believe in it then it has to be done.
I tell all of my athletes that if they ever stop enjoying training then they need to stop doing it. Happiness and joy comes first. Without a doubt those that have the most fun see the best results. So here is a little table to show the ideal athlete and program type:
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The instant gratification people are the ones that are always looking for the next best thing. Instead of finding contentment and growth within themselves they look for it in other places. Of course there is a ton of other stuff that goes into this and there are definitely better programs than others. Genetics (and hormones) play a gigantic role in an athletes success or ability to to progress on a program. A freakish athlete could make a bad program look good, just as an unfortunate athlete can make a good program look bad.
Let’s wrap it up…
I think all of this is why a lot of individual competitors are starting to jump into the team environment, they do the hard yards as an individual, they do their time working on their weaknesses more often then not by themselves, and after a few years of that they are ready for a more fun and community based environment. My guess is that teams will soon become ‘serious’ like the individual competition, but I don’t think to the same extent, teams will always have more of a community feel to it then the individuals.
I will wrap this up with a few small notes.
1) Find joy within playing the long game, don’t be in a rush to get somewhere. Work as hard as possible, but only as much as you need to, and trust the process.
2) Be virtuous, do the common uncommonly well. If you can’t hold near perfect position during Kip/Beat Swings, then forget Bar Muscle Ups for a month or two while you work on the basics.
3) Get priorities in order. Health, recovery and technique all come before intensity. Have a solid foundation to build upon.
Lastly I want you to check out this survey conducted on Regional and Games athletes, you will find some stuff quite interesting as it has some very cool information. One key part is the fact that most of the top athletes follow an annual periodised personal program and more often than not they train alone. They play the long game: Survey