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How to Avoid Overtraining: Aches and Ibuprofen

Many will say that you need to listen to your body to avoid overtraining. I disagree to a minor degree. To avoid overtraining, you need to listen to your performance.

If you simply listen to your body, training would cease for most of us. We wake up sore in places we didn’t know existed. The soreness lasts for days on end. Aches and ibuprofen play a daily role in your life.  Workouts are hard, and training is rough.

Coaches make us do the things we hate, and more often than not, NEED the most. Being uncomfortable, and asking more of your body  than it is necessarily prepared to handle is part of the process. It is the only way that we are able to stimulate growth in performance.

The principle of progressive overload not only applies to weights, but also workout intensity. Once your body establishes a baseline for performance in which you can hit numbers day in and day out, without any extra effort, the only way you’re going to get any better is to move more weight, or move through a workout faster or one more rep.

For example, if you can hit a back squat at 265 pounds for 5 sets of 3 reps, and it is guaranteed, at best you will only maintain that performance. To move past this benchmark, to move the needle to the right so to speak, can be done in one of 2 ways: accomplish 5×3 at 275 pounds, or stay at 265 pounds and push for sets of 5-8reps.

Take this sample workout:

4 Rounds

200m Run

12 Push Ups

12 Toes to Bar

12 Kettle Bell Swings

As time goes on and this workout is repeated, you discover that regardless of what training you’ve done leading up to this workout, you can mange to get it done right around 9 minutes without taking your body to that “dark place”.  The only way to elicit a training response here is to pick up your tempo, condense time in transition, and attempt to complete 4 Rounds FASTER.

So that’s how we make progress. But how do we avoid overtraining. Using our two examples here, listening to your performance will tell you all you need to know. If that same 5×3 at 265 becomes a struggle, where it was a guarantee, or that same 4 rounds is taking you 10-12 minutes. Chances are that you’re overtraining.

I will place this disclaimer on everything I’ve just said: we all have bad days. Don’t allow yourself to take a single bad performance, and attribute it to overtraining. That’s naive. However, if you begin to string together a week’s worth of terrible training, getting to the gym is a chore, you don’t approach training with enthusiasm, and most importantly, your performance is suffering consistently, NOW YOU ARE OVERTRAINING.

To avoid this phenomenon, we mix modes and movements. You can indeed squat EVERYDAY. There is a difference, from one day to the next, between 3×5 at 80% Back Squat, then hitting 150 Wall Ball Shots, followed by training to a heavy single squat clean on day 3, polished off with an AMRAP that has air squats in 10’s throughout.

We can also simply give the stimulus a break, hit a long cardiovascular, skill driven WOD. Switch the barbell for gymnastics. Do something short and heavy. Mixing it up, is a great way to give your system a break, and still make progress as time goes on.

By following a solid program and paying attention to how you are performing over time, you will be able avoid overtraining, while still training everyday.

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How do you approach your workouts? Let’s face it. Most CrossFitters are not competitive, in the “Rich Froning” sense of the word. There are other ways that we should assess and acknowledge before we allow ourselves to become discouraged with our performance, rather than comparing ourselves to the “Fittest Man On Earth”.

The way we program here, Hurricane CrossFit literally allows our competition ready athletes to train alongside the brand new novice lifters. The rationale behind this training environment, versus separating competitors from recreational athletes, serves two purposes. First, to provide a certain amount of motivation for the newbies as to how far you can go with TIME and DEDICATED PRACTICE. Two, for those further along and more conditioned in strength and stamina, to give back and provide motivation and support those who are just starting, or still working, on the journey to the best version of themselves.

When it comes to training, there has to be a progression. I think this has become a common theme in my blogs. Where do we start, how do we start? Here are a couple things to keep in mind as you continue on your fitness journey.

1. UNDERSTAND, Do Not Accept, Your Limitations

Are you a smoker who just quit? Do you have a few too many cocktails during the week? Are you a “foodie” and not the cleanest eater in the world? How long have you been away from the training game? Where is your mobility at? How consistent have you been over the years? The answers to questions like these will allows to establish a baseline of expectation. Being honest with ourselves in answering questions like these will go a long way in identifying weaknesses that need to be worked on before we even touch dropping your Fran time.

2. MOBILITY

Does the bar keep falling forward when we get anywhere deeper than our power position in the snatch?Having trouble getting full depth in our squat? Can’t hold that front rack position with our elbows high and the bar resting across our collar bones? Chances are we lack mobility in the shoulders, mobility in the hips, or are imbalanced front/back left/right, or potentially all of the above! For many of us, lack of performance has nothing to do with lack of strength or endurance, and everything to do with lack of mobility. Mobility is the often overlooked performance metric when we assess our ability to do work as athletes. How much we lift, and how fast we get things done almost always trumps quality movement and body position. If we take the time to correct these deficiencies, we’ll see an exponential increase in performance simply because we are no long fighting against our anatomy for optimal position. We’ll be able train harder for longer and decrease injury risk along the way.

3. SPEED COMES WITH PROFICIENCY

As we become more and more mechanically proficient, as movement patterns get less choppy, we magically become faster without actually working harder to do so. In the very beginning, depending on how coordinated you are and how fast you pick things up, movements such as cleans, snatches, deadlifts, and even seemingly simple stuff like pull ups and push ups can be a huge kick in the ass. Muscle sequencing is huge. If we attempt to execute a pull up and start that pull with our biceps first, instead of our lats, its only going to take a handful of reps or a set or two to discover you’re doing it wrong. However, if we take the time, slow down, and focus on body position, movement sequence and mechanics, over time we can move twice as fast with half the effort.

4. AMRAPS (Time Domain Workouts)

Before we set a goal for ourselves of a 30 round Cindy. How about we work to establish a pace, however fast or slow, that allows us to move steadily for the whole 20 minutes? We’ve all seen the folks that burn themselves out in the first five minutes on pace for 30 rounds, only to find themselves accomplishing 16, drastically less work than they are actually capable of. . The smoother we become in the movement, the less effort they actually take. When things require less effort, we can do a lot more.

5. Rounds/Reps for Time (Task Domain Workouts)

Once we figure out that a thruster is more about the hips than the shoulders, and our pullups are more efficient with a stable shoulder girdle and a strong pull from the lats through the biceps, we’ll literally shave minutes off our Fran. When moving through task oriented work outs, we should probably understand the intent of the workout. Unlike an AMRAP where we are trying to accomplish as much work as possible in a given time allotted, we’ve now shifted to getting a certain amount of work done as fast as possible. Once we account for #3 on this list, let’s now focus on avoiding the redline. So what if we can get through 21-15 in less than 3 minutes, but we take another 5 minutes to get the 9’s done because we can’t catch our breath and our muscles have shut down. Before we look at attacking WODs as prescribed, we should ask the question, “When this was programmed, how long did our coach intend for it to take?” For our muscle science nerds out there, “What energy system are we supposed to tapping into?” Workouts like 30 Clean and Jerks at 135 pounds were set up to be done in less than 5 minutes, while 3 rounds of 400m Run, 21 Kettlebell Swings, and 12 Pull Ups, are more for the 10-15 minute range. If they take you any longer chances are the weight is too heavy. Your mechanics aren’t quite there yet and your making each rep way harder than it has to be. Or the reps are too high for your current fitness level. All of these issues can be fixed with scale: choose a lighter load, run a shorter distance, do less reps at the prescribed weight, or substitute less complex movements. We need to take the time to ask our coaches how long things should take if they don’t offer up that information right off the bat.

Focus on these factors and giving ourselves an honest assessment will alleviate a lot of head aches and make for huge gains, safer training sessions, and an overall more enjoyable experience from one workout to the next. Keep the intensity high, and our focus sharp, then everyone wins!

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There are really only 2 types of athletes when it comes to integrity, those who have it and those who don’t. Yes, I believe that you fit in to 1 of 2 categories.   But remember, you can always change.  The first step is admitting you have a problem.

There will be CrossFitters who cut corners, go through the motions, and are okay with not fully completing a task.  There will be those that might lie just a little and only some of the time. Big cheating, small cheating, big lies, little lies, cutting some corners or just one, missing a lot of reps or a few reps, IT IS ALL THE SAME.

People often say “who really cares, because that person is just cheating themselves and their results.” If you cheat you are also cheating those around you. An important part of CrossFit is the competition brought on by working out with people of similar abilities. It makes you push that little bit harder and achieve better results through higher intensity. However this relationship is thrown out of balance if an individual chooses to cheat.The person may not realize it but their cheating negatively affects the whole gym. It isolates them. A sense of trust that “we are all in it together” is broken. It shows a lack of respect for the values of self-improvement.

But maybe, just maybe, this blog will help some individuals recognize what type of athlete they are, and the type of athlete they want to become.

When I am watching athletes or coaching it is VERY easy to tell what type of person I would want to surround myself with and who I would trust. What type of athlete are you? Are you okay with it?

Type I Athletes: Fully commits to whatever the WOD is for them for that day, whether it is on-ramp, rx’d, or a warm-up.

Type I Athletes: Completes an extra couple of double unders, pull-ups or wall balls when they have lost count or think they may have missed a couple of full reps.

Type II “Athletes”: Think that when they mess up at 48 double unders, it is “good enough” and move to the next exercise before finishing the last 2 reps, or are okay with not getting their chin over the bar on the final hard rep.

Type I Athletes: Work up to the buzzer, even if it means they will only get 20 meters of the next 200m run because there are only 10 seconds left.

Type II “Athletes”: Finish the round they are currently on and lay down with a little time remaining on the clock.

Type I Athletes: Never ever would consider lying, not even 1 single rep when the coach asks “how many did you get” before writing the score on the whiteboard.

Type II “Athletes”: Justify lying that they got an extra rep, an extra round or lifted a few more pounds because they think “they could have, or should have” or don’t want to look bad.

Type I Athletes: Ask their coach to closely judge them, give them pointers and makes necessary adjustments when given a “no rep” call for not getting full depth on a squat.

Type II “Athletes”: Roll their eyes at a coach for correctly judging them, scoring them, or giving pointers on how to get full reps. They try to ignore the coach, hide from the view of a coach and continue to “sneak” through bad reps.

Okay, okay, you get the point. It is easy to cheat… we all get tired. Someone is beating you, the class is waiting for you to finish, you are sick of doing burpees, your elbows got close enough to full extension, or you forgot what number you were on.

THE LIST GOES ON AND ON PEOPLE. It is plain and simple: it takes a great deal of INTEGRITY to be a Type I Athlete.  The reward is also plain and simple, deeply fulfilling, gratifying, humbling and satisfying.  Not to mention the physical reward of becoming a faster, stronger, more dominating badass.

I remember when I did my first CrossFit WOD on my own with no one watching. I felt like I was going to die and I remember very distinctly how easy it would have been to cheat, stop or do a few less box jumps.  Right then and there, I had my first “aha moment” about this sport.  It was always going to be easy to cut the corners.  Upon that realization, I said a personal promise to myself right then and there.

“I will never cheat reps, cut corners or finish early no matter how bad I may want to – I deserve better than that.”  Commit today to your coach, your workout buddies, your box and yourself. Those of you who are already Type I Athletes, keep rocking on.

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The Pain Cave

Many of us have “gone there”, but some of us still haven’t experienced it.  Or maybe you HAVE been there…and you’re afraid of going back.

Nietzsche’s quote, ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger,’ is a famous adage used in reference to the many challenges we face in life. That phrase was coined in the 1800s, which leads us to believe that we have known for a couple hundred of years that the human body, when presented with a sub-lethal physical, psychological or chemical stress can adapt, allowing us to tolerate incrementally larger stressors.

Our body also reacts in several different stages to alarm and resistance. In the “alarm” stage the body experiences stress of the magnitude or frequency of a previously experienced stress.  In the “resistance” stage the body produces more of the metabolic elements required to withstand the muscular fatigue of “Fran”. The resistance stage is where we potentiate maximal fitness gains.

Example:  An athlete would like to decrease their “Fran” time and increase their weight. The athlete performs “Fran” for the first time at 45lbs with an 8-minute finish time. Will the athlete vastly improve their performance doing Fran at the same weight once a month for the next six months? In order to increase the intensity of the workout, they’d need to move faster than 8:00.

Now lets say after a month of training, the athlete increases their weight by 10 pounds on the barbell for “Fran”, effectively increasing the amount of mechanical work being performed (load * distance = work).  If they are able to complete the workout in the same time (8:00) they will have performed at a higher degree of intensity (work/time = intensity).

If exercise is to drive fitness gains, the intensity demonstrated in training must continually progress. No increase in intensity will lead to less improvement in fitness (or a complete stagnation, even regression, of it).

Pushing yourself in a workout past the threshold of fear is where the magic happens. The human body is an amazing piece of machinery that can adapt to many different elements and build resistance to a workout with the right programming. The most powerful weapon in your journey to fitness is the brain.

The human mind is a lot more capable than the human body.

Remember this quote when you’re in the middle of a WOD. Your mind gives up before your body does.

 

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I’m not talking those cute little animals that ate that kibble out of your hands at the petting zoo. It would be pretty easy to kill one of those things. I bet I could easily choke out that cute little guy in the photo above. Don’t worry, we aren’t going to be killing goats for time in any workout in the future, but we are going to kill a goat. I’m talking about your training goat.

Your “goat” in your training is that thing you really suck at. EVERYONE has a goat. It’s that one exercise that comes up and you dread it. I can assure you that even the winners of the CrossFit Games have a goat. Some of us have two, three, four or more goats. In that case, you have a whole herd of those little beasts, and you have a lot of work to do.

I have a goat. My goat is the HSPU. When HSPU come up in a workout, I am a miserable person to be around before and after. I’m still working on killing my goat, but the good news is I knocked my goat down from a ram to just a kid.

The most important thing you can do to kill your goat is to not avoid it. I DREAD HSPU IN A WORKOUT. But….. I do them every time they come up. Kali knows how much I hate them, but she knows that I need to work on them, so I do HSPU multiple times a week. Oh joy….

So, if your 400m run time is slower than my grandfather walking down a flight of stairs, stop skipping the day that 400m runs are in a workout. If you see burpees posted in a workout and you think that queasiness in your stomach means you have the stomach flu, don’t do everyone else in the gym a favor by not coming in because you don’t want to get anyone else sick. We are already sick…of you making excuses! If back squatting a 5×5 sucks because you aren’t very strong, I assure you that you are not going to get stronger skipping squat days and instead hanging out with your friends and telling them all about your “intense” CrossFit workout program. Instead of figuring out how to avoid your goat, grab that little son of a @#$%^ by the throat and shake the hell out of it!

 

So, STEP ONE– Don’t avoid goat day! Even the substitutions for your goat are structured to help you eventually kill that goat.

STEP TWO– Ask a trainer how to kill your goat. Do the “How good is my trainer test.” Walk up to your trainer and ask him how to get better at…… (you pick the movement). If your trainer tells you, “Do more CrossFit and it will come to you”, it’s time to look for a new trainer. There is a different way to kill every goat. The biggest cause I see for a movement being someone’s goat is lack of strength. Two other reasons are usually flexibility and lack of body awareness.

Everyone’s goat has to be analyzed. It might be an easy fix, or it might be something that will take some serious work. Whether that path be the yellow brick road or a little walk up a few flights of stairs, a good trainer should be able to give you directions to navigate the path you need to follow.

STEP THREE– Commit to killing that little bastard!One’s ability to kill a goat is a great judge of one’s character. It’s easy to stand up to the goat and tell everyone how you are going to kill it. Unfortunately, it’s even easier to realize that killing the goat is going to take some hard work so you make no effort in killing the goat after a few weeks, maybe even days. In no time at all, everyone will forget that you swore to bring the carcass of that goat back to the tribe. Most people forget, but being a trainer, I pay attention to that. If you are bragging on Facebook about becoming a goat killer, there are those that know that you are simply still at the petting zoo talking a tough game. And please don’t routinely promise about how you are going to kill a whole heard of your goats. KISS. One goat killing at a time.

In the end, you can continue to feed your goat kibble out of the palm of your hand, pat it on the head, and hope it doesn’t bite you. I say let’s kill that goat and have us a BBQ…….

Note: No goats were harmed during the writing of this post.