Part 2: Training Mentality
I have a small confession to make. My original title for this blog post was My Training Philosophy. But since this is only my second blog post so far and I’m still writing this text in the comforts of my home and not in a lotus pose on top of the proverbial mountain, I decided to go with something a little bit less pompous. Now that I got this off my chest, let me explain what I mean by training mentality.
Almost everything we do in the gym day in, day out is dictated by two factors: Firstly, programming defines the long term goals, training cycles and individual workouts within each cycle. It is the big picture or the roadmap and without it, individual workouts would make no sense. Secondly, coach du jour adds his or her own flavor around the workouts and helps us reach our full potential on a given day. The coach is our guide who aids us navigate on the map.
But is that really all there is to it? Surely there has to be something else governing training and our quest for getting fit? As athletes, what is our contribution to all this?
Training mentality is the way we -as individual athletes- approach each new training week and each workout. It is our mindset and our attitude towards training. It is our game plan on what we want to get out of all the coaching and programming that’s been handed to us on a silver plate.
To make my thinking around training mentality more applicable and hopefully somewhat useful, I’ve tried to identify a few key points and portray them within the context of CrossFit specifically.
The most common definition of CrossFit is ”constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity”. A fancy way of saying this would be:
CF = CV * FM * HI
Usually, we see this equation as a sum of its three factors but I like to think of it as a product. Even one goes missing i.e. is zero, the whole equation collapses to zero. Just as you cannot be half pregnant, you cannot do CrossFit if all the elements are not there.
The only thing that should not constantly vary is you and me coming to the box on a regular basis. This was one of the main points of my previous blog about motivation. But as far training itself is concerned, there should be as much variation as the programming stipulates. So the first key point is: Don’t cherry pick workouts. This goes for whole training days but also for separate movements in a workout.
Cherry picking occurs because we all want to succeed and look good in what we do. No-one wants to do consecutively failed reps or look completely exhausted and desperate.
CrossFit aims to improve our general physical preparedness (GPP) to be able to tackle anything life throws in front of us. The hardships don’t ask what our relative strengths or favorite movements are. We need to be ready for anything.
Think about this the next time you catch yourself working on something you are already really good at whilst blatantly neglecting some of your weaknesses.
There is an almost infinite number of movements we do in the gym just as there are many different ways of categorizing them into groups. To keep my head on straight I like to put things in three buckets: strength, skill, and engine. My long term goal is to maintain a balance between these categories whilst improving in all at the same time.
But when can we say something is functional? The easy litmus test is to see if it is something you could do outside the confines of a gym. So yes, bicep curls are still acceptable but I wouldn’t allocate all my resources to becoming the next top t-shirt model.
I like to think of functional movements as something my body constantly needs to remain fully operational. After all, we’re not training to do WODs or to participate in competitions. We train to be healthy. So the second key point: it is our responsibility to mold our body in such a way that we can perform as efficiently and safely as possible. For me, this means doing lots of extra work with thoracic spine mobility and shoulder activation. For someone else, it could be getting a stronger core or better spatial awareness etc.
Finally my absolute favourite. The so called secret ingredient of CrossFit training. The magic pill that brings gains and grows hair on your chest.
But what does it actually mean to train at high intensity? Coming back to the three categories: strenght, skill and engine, we can see that just going full retard on every workout doesn’t quite cut it. I would interpret high intensity simply as: train every day like you mean it. And that’s my third key point. Lift heavy but be safe. In metcons leave everything on the floor. In skillwork have a laser focus on the task at hand and make sure you learn at least one new thing every time.
Lifting heavy is usually the easiest. Especially if you can have ample rest between lifts. Always make sure you can perform the next day also. Lifting heavy with a bad form and getting injured is not exactly high intensity.
People associate high intensity mostly with metcons. It takes tremendous willpower to push oneself deep into the infamous pain cave. It takes years of practise to master and there’s a good reason for it. The human body is a magnificient machine. It’s full of various safety mechanisms working secretly under the hood making sure we don’t cause permanent harm to ourselves.
When we use our muscles our bodies start to heat up. If our core temperature goes too high it’s game over. But way before that happens our minds give up and we start to slow down. Way, way before. Navy SEALS speak about the 40 per cent rule. It means that when we think we absolutely cannot do more physical work, we’re actually only 40% done!
With skillwork, we need a different kind of mental strenght. It can be anything from swallowing our pride and finally learning to do double unders to finding the courage to flip upside down for some hand stand action. Don’t be afraid to fail because there are no failures only outcomes. You either win or you learn.
If you are still reading this my apologies. This came out longer than expected. Please also take all the ´do’s and don’t´s in this text as my monologue. I’m in no position to say how to train to anyone, but I do say this: have fun, enjoy training and be the best You!