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Vision- Training For Life vs. Competition

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One of the trends I have noticed over the last 4 years is athletes lacking a definite vision for the future.  I don’t mean athletes come into the gym without goals, I encourage goal setting for our athletes.  Having a goal and writing it on the CrossFit Goals board makes it real.  It’s no longer an idea floating in the aether.  It is out there for the world to see and you have some sense of accountability towards its completion.  Goal setting is an AWESOME driving force!  One aspect of a well thought out goal is that the goal is timely.  Meaning that at a defined point in the future you will have completed the goal or you will have not.  I.E. losing 15lbs in 6 months or increasing your back squat by 60 lbs by the end of the year.  Having and achieving goals is a staple in any successful program.  Many equate crushing goals with results, its immediate feedback and validation that all of your hard work has paid off.

Having a vision is a bit different.  Vision is more abstract, but in my opinion more important even than goals.  Vision requires you to look beyond short term goals and contemplate the “why” behind your actions.  What is your ultimate goal?  What is your vision for the future?  For the purpose of this article I will say that their are two categories of athletes who participate in CrossFit.  One is the athlete who just wants to be able to move better, stave off the nursing home, lose some weight, improve their fitness, and continue doing CrossFit as a training methodology for life.  The other is the athlete who does it for the competition-The Sport of Fitness.  This athlete wants to compete locally or nationally in CrossFit or possibly Weightlifting and their training needs line up with that vision.  Though an athlete may start in one category they can move from one to the other and back over their life-cycle.  The key to success with vision is to decide which category you fall into and take actions consistent with that end vision in mind.  We all know that our “why” changes with time.  

So which camp do you fall in right now: Training of Life or Competition?  It’s not a hard question and most of us will fall into the training for life camp, which is great and we should all strive for this!  We will later explore how this camp can continue to see success over their lifetime.  For now let’s look at the person interested in competing in the Sport of Fitness.

This person is usually a former competitive athlete to some degree.  They found CrossFit after their athletic career had ended and fell in love with the feeling of pushing their perceived limits again and the familiarity of/desire for competition wraps them like a warm blanket on a cold night.  CrossFit soon becomes a release of competitive energy where good workouts make them feel phenomenal.  While bad workouts make them feel like shit and the whiteboard plays a pivotal role in the perceived quality of their experience.  Soon their short term goals revolve around local competitions, getting strength numbers up, mastering high skill gymnastic movements, training multiple hours/day, and peaking for the open.  This ladies and gentlemen perfectly explains my experience with CrossFit up to this point, so for the rest of the article I will be including myself in this camp.

Very few people have any real perspective of what it takes to be competitive in any aspect of fitness.  It doesn’t matter if it’s CrossFit, Bodybuilding, Power or Olympic Lifting the level of dedication to just be “ok” in any of these fields becomes more demanding every year.  I participated in a training camp with Doug Chapman, Julie Foucher, and Neil Maddox a few years ago.  One thing Doug told all of the participants as he pointed to Julie and Neil is, “CrossFit at this level will not add years to your life. Competitive CrossFit will NOT add quality to your life.”

I remember after my first CrossFit Open I said I want to go to Regionals, the next year I placed 949th in the Central East.  The year after I moved up about 100 places to 841st, I had no fucking idea of the commitment required and the price of a goal so lofty.  Over the last year I have consistently trained more, focused on nutrition and recovery even going so far as to work with professionals in those fields.  I’m still nowhere near the athlete that can compete at Regionals or even get there.  However my goal this year is to finish in the Top 200 and for our team to do well at The GR Games.  I am not providing this information so you think I am a local badass, I’m providing context.

 Chasing these goals and the training associated with them does not add long term quality to my life.  If you are training CrossFit at even a semi-competitive level the question is not if you will get hurt, but when.  I am currently fighting a shoulder issue that makes it extremely painful to press a PVC overhead without 10 minutes of shoulder mobility beforehand.  Every Friday and usually again on Monday I pushed myself through shoulder pain just to compete in the CrossFit Open.  I know that I am ultimately taking away from my quality of life by making the choice to do so.  I have come to terms with this because I want to compete in the Sport of Fitness.  I train through pain and do an unreasonable amount of volume within a week.  I know that I will most likely not be able to do CrossFit at this level for longer than a couple more years and when that time comes I will move to the CrossFit for life camp gladly.  For now, it is the trade off I have chosen to make for a shot at my competitive goals.  (Once the Open is over I do plan to spend time correcting the issue)

The issue with that mindset (as I’ve come to learn after basically slamming my face against the wall every WOD over the last 4 years) is that approaching fitness for longevity and fitness for competition are two very different paths with extremely different outcomes.  One will add quality to your life because you are prioritizing the ability to move better and doing the other will eventually lead to injury or burnout.  I only give you this information because as a coach I feel it’s my responsibility to inform you that you do not need to train this way.  You need to train to add quality and value to your life.  Sometimes the best way to do that is say, “My goal for today is to move the best I possibly can within the time domain I have.  So fuck the clock, the score, and the whiteboard.”  

It’s a simple risk reward scenario.  Is it worth it to push through injury (metabolic pain does not equate physical injury) or sacrifice physical and structural integrity to beat Joe or Jan from the 5am class?  Since we’re all being honest with each other, some of you may say, “Hell yeah it is! I need to be the top dog to feel accomplished!”  Ok, but what if I told you that if you keep that mentality and keep sacrificing movement quality for a faster time or the ability to say you RX’d a WOD you will be taking a physician recommended break from CrossFit in 6 months to a year.  Not because you can’t exercise anymore but the cascade effects of 8 months of shitty deadlifts and cleans have caused you to blow out your back one day when you bend over to tie your shoes.  Is it worth it then?

Training for life is about being able to do an air squat until you are 100, not adding 100lbs to your clean this year.  At what point in time did PR’s and doing the workout as RX become more important than movement quality and achieving the intended stimulus of the workout?  I hate to be the one to break it to you, but if it’s more important to you to do Fran as RX than to scale and get it done in 2-4 minutes you don’t understand the intended stimulus of that workout.  Fran RX’d in 3:00 is a much different workout in terms of energy system/metabolic demand than Fran RX’d in 11:30.  It’s not even the same workout anymore!  Now Fran RX’d in 3:00 and Fran Scaled to 45 lb Thrusters and Ring Rows in 3:34 reach the same intended stimulus.  As in holy cow my lungs are on fire! That was the longest 3 minutes of my life?!?!

“But can you still PR while focusing on movement quality and intended stimulus of the workout?”
Hell yes you can!  And you will improve longer!  You might not get immediate gratification, but you also won’t get an injury that pushes you back 2-3 months or longer.  Anyone who believes they are a good enough mover and that performing an air squat or any loaded squat with only a PVC while fighting for perfect form, mechanics, and prioritizing movement quality is not challenging enough is more than welcome to reach out to me.  We will spend a class time only working on those things and we will see if I can’t change your opinion. =)  It’s not about being a good enough mover, it’s about being better and better everyday.  One thing I’ve found to be pretty true is this: If you have to ask, “was that deep enough?” the answer is usually no.  This is because (assuming you have gone through our foundations program, have no physical restrictions, and have developed some kinesthetic awareness) when you are focused on movement quality you damn well know when it is deep enough.  When you move priority from moving exceptionally well and focus on moving more weight regardless of mechanics you are setting yourself up for failure.

My vision for all of my athletes is for you to be able to sit down and stand up under your own power every day for the rest of your life, that hasn’t changed from day 1.  Would you rather have the ability to pick yourself up off the ground or do the workouts As RX everyday?  There isn’t a wrong answer here. Your vision is yours, but make sure your actions are consistent with that vision.  I acknowledge that this is an extreme example, but everyday I see athletes who would could get a better workout scaling in one way or another.  Instead the ego gets in the way and all of a sudden hitting the little blue RX button becomes the goal as we lose sight of the vision.  

Regardless of your goals there are a few things to consider.  The strength to do strict movements takes priority over any kipping or dynamic movement.  For example, in the pull up you need the shoulder strength and stability to perform the movement strict before you throw in the dynamic motion of a kip.  Pike pushups with toes on a box are 100 times more valuable that handstand pushups on the wall with 3 abmats stacked because the proper scale facilitates a full range of motion.  Squatting 200lbs hitting ALL of the points of performance beats squatting 250lbs and not hitting depth while your chest falls towards the ground.  Skills like barbell cycling, butterfly pull ups, kipping ring muscle ups, etc. are no doubt cool, but provide very little practical value outside the Sport of Fitness.

Ask yourself, what am I doing today that will help me tomorrow?  Then it’s easy, you just do things in line with that philosophy.  If playing with your grand kids and getting yourself up off the toilet in your golden years is the goal you should approach training very differently than someone who wants to make the CrossFit Games.  Our needs do not vary by kind, but by degree.  Regardless of your goals myself and all of our coaches are here to help you crush them!  If your goal is to do Fran as RX regardless of the fact it will take 15 minutes, then own your shit and let the world know! I will be right there coaching and supporting you the entire journey!  If you are interested in moving from the CrossFit for life camp to the Competitor camp please contact me to schedule a sit down where we can talk about what it’s going to take to get you there!  

Coach Glassman said it best, “The people who have been doing CrossFit 6 months are there for a different reason than when they started and at a year in they will have a different reason for being there.  It will change, it will grow with them and in the end it will be only about quality of life.”  As always your success is our success and we will do everything in our power as a coaching staff and facility to support that vision.  Just take the time to decide what that vision looks like and set goals in line with that.  If you do that, you can’t go wrong.  So what is your end goal?

See you at the Box!