The Ten Things I Learned from a Year of Competitive Exercise
Though I feel the title of this post mostly speaks for itself I want to preface this by saying that I’m by no means an expert at any of this, I have no degrees, I don’t have a L1 (not that that counts for much these days), nor have I been around the block. In reality this last year was mostly about shedding some naivety. Second, many of these seem really obvious but are easily overlooked, likewise; while it might be overly cliche to title these the way I have, ignore it, I just like the way they sound. Finally, I’m condensing heavily, it’s been 14 months since I started this, I’ve learned so much about training, life, myself, everything; to boil it to ten points is just for the purpose of a post like this that people will find useful, if you want to know more, come to Saint Louis and buy me a whiskey.
1. You’re an Athlete, Act Like It
Crossfit is a funny thing, the draw it has on people beyond the community, and the share experiences of suckiness, is that it turns everyone into an athlete, people who’ve never been athletic, people who don’t know what that word even means. Slowly but surely I’m convincing people that they’re athletes, and they deserve to be treated like one. It took some time for me as well. Certain things help, having a physical therapist is a big first step to treating your body right. A solid nutrition and protein routine is crucial, that’s things like #mealprepsunday and a TrueNutrition order set you up right from the get go. Tracking every variable available to you, waking weight, resting hr, monitoring workout performance, weights are good, total volume is good, wod performance and retesting is great. These are all things athletes just do, or have coaches doing for them, if you really want to expand on your performance, and push your limits, these are things you need to do too.
Having the right tools is huge as well – tools like MobilityWod and “Becoming a Supple Leopard”, voodoo floss, a grid roller. If you’re really trying to push yourself to the next level, you’re doing multiple sessions a day, upwards of 10 a week, you need to prepare yourself for this, protein is great but carbs are crucial, high quality starches/sugar like 1st Phorm Ignition and Vitargo. You need adequate recovery tools as well, compression tights are nice, Marc Pro’s are enormous. Those are the kinds of things that let you make up ground on people who’ve been doing this for years.
2. Don’t be an Asshole
Nobody likes an asshole, if you’re really good and an asshole, you’re just that guy that people like to hate, and if you lose and you’re an asshole, then you’re just miserable. There’s no benefit to it really. I’m not sure how this really applies to Crossfit, it’s more of just general life advice. Part of the personal growth thing I touched on above. I definitely used to have way more asshole-ish tendencies than I did before, but Crossfit is humbling like that. Maybe that’s the point here – allow yourself to be humbled, don’t fight it, it’s good for you.
3. Have Fun
I think this is the biggest one I’ve missed the last year, and only recently really started embracing again with a lot of help. It sounds stupid and easy enough, but when you get your mind stuck in the competitive aspect of things, it’s a hard switch to turn off. There’s so much discipline and focus involved, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where those things don’t exist. There’s an aspect of control here too, when you have such control over training, sleep, diet, recovery, and every moment is focused on those things, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that having fun means giving up control of all those things. The funny part is that it does mean giving up a bit of control in the moment, but it takes a much longer series of choices to really fall apart. I guess what I’m saying is pour your whiskey and drink it too.
From a purely training perspective, if you’re not having fun, you’re going to be miserable. This shit is hard and you need to do a lot of it, if you don’t enjoy it, or can’t find a way to put a smile on your face at least part of the time, you’ll fall apart in a really meaningful way. Find a way to enjoy what you do. I’m still not good at this, but I think I’m getting better, so until I can really offer any advice, I would say just to be open to what comes at you.
4. Mobility Matters
I think this one mostly goes without saying, it certainly seems to have percolated into mainstream thought much more in the last 12 months, but was definitely lost on me early on. There’s a lot of emphasis on strength, and technique in Crossfit, but without proper mobility all the strength and technique in the world will get you nowhere. You need to be able to get into positions before you can even hope to become strong in them. More importantly, improvement in mobility will lead to automatic improvements in strength and efficiency, just by letting your body do what it’s meant to do, the way it’s meant to do it. It sounds super simple walk into any Crossfit box and I guarantee you find at least 5 dudes who still don’t get why they can’t snatch 200 lbs, but don’t know where there tibia is.
5. Throw out Paleo
I’m going to get in trouble for this one. Paleo is one of the taglines I still use on this blog. Honestly, I still believe in it 100%, but I don’t like the stigma and restrictiveness that now gets associated with it. So I have two points here, first, and a point I’ve made dozens of times, is that you need to find whichever version of the Paleo template that works for you, it is not one size fits all perfect diet. This doesn’t mean that a “cupcake every night” is a Paleo template, because it’s not. What is does mean is that allowing yourself some wiggle room on gray area foods might help you adhere and see progress better. Second, is that this is for the athletes and competitors, if you can get all your carbs from sweet potatoes, more power to you, but I think its impossible, and kind of gross. So if the answer is to add some raw milk and some white rice, then that’s the answer, embrace it.
6. Never Half Ass Two Things, Always Whole Ass One Thing
This is a classic Ron Swanson saying that bears a lot of weight in this conversation. The people who are succeeding at this sport, are the people who are putting in 100% every day. Full effort, full victory. The point being, don’t distract yourself, if you’re doing your workout and thinking about work, or social life, or something else, anything else, then you’re doing it wrong, you’re taking away from what you could be doing. I imagine for most people, they don’t care, if anything they try and remove themselves from the workout because it kind of sucks, but thats not how you improve. My mistake in interpreting this, is that your life had to be Crossfit, it doesn’t. It just means while you’re training, or while you’re competing, or while you program for yourself, or write out a meal plan; whatever the case may be, do that, and just that, because putting all your attention there can only help you.
7. Be Patient
I’m terrible at this, but its importance is not lost on me. When we watch the Open announcements, the regional events, even the Games these days, we see athletes at a single point in their journey’s. Thus it’s easy to jump to comparisons, them, now, compared to me, now. The funny part is that they’ve just had more time. This doesn’t really help in becoming a patient person, but it does help if you think about comparing yourself after a year of Crossfit, to some of them after a year. You might actually be ahead. So if you keep going, in a couple years you might still be ahead. It’s of little comfort now, but it’s the truth, there’s a reason they call it “a grind”.
8. Perspective is Key
I think this pairs well with the last one. Being patient requires a good perspective, it’s easy to examine ourselves on truncated timelines, the progress I’ve made in a week, or a month, or even 6 months. In the grand scheme of training age, thats almost nothing. For whatever reason, as humans or maybe as Americans, this is something that comes with much difficulty. We want things now, in this moment. I want to work on muscle ups today, and get one today, and then two tomorrow, and then in a week I’ll have 30. That’s just not the way things work, and keeping a perspective on this is vital, even if you lose it for a day or a week, as long as you come back to it, you’ll be better off.
The other half of this, is the constant need to measure against everyone else. Nothing perverts your ability to retain perspective quicker than constant comparison to others. Competition is great, but the need for it constantly is not. Know yourself, realize how these things affect you, and do what you can to mitigate their impact. Personally, I draw immediate competition from those around me, perhaps a psychologist would blame this on insecurity, or the way I grew up; I don’t really care, I just know that about myself, and thus train alone more frequently than with others. That doesn’t mean I don’t compete, that doesn’t mean I won’t train with someone else. Again – you just have to do what’s right for you, and give yourself the environment to flourish. If you can handle it and it makes you better, compete everyday. I know a lot of people who can’t though. Know your strengths, attack your weaknesses.
9. Have a Reason
There will always been excuses, there won’t always be a reason. When things get shitty, when the training gets tough, thats when its important to have a really good reason. Similar to a reason, always have a goal, have a competition, or a numbered goal to achieve. Even if you don’t reach it – people who have goals do better. I think it’s important to scale your goals, there should be an immediate goal, a result on a workout or a lift that day, a mid range goal, something for the month or so, a competition etc, and then a long range goal, what you’re looking for in the end. So have a reason for doing what you’re doing, and have an outcome in mind.
10. At the End of the Day, it’s Just Exercise
No one ever finished a workout and was upset at how much exercise they did. It’s just not possible. If you show up, and give your 100% then you’re done, that’s it, you did it. You got what you were going to get from it. If you came up short, or missed a goal – doesn’t really matter. This is a tough one to swallow – but give or take, we’re all pretty good at exercise; especially considering the shape of the nation when it comes to diet and fitness, it’s worth embracing. So exercise it up! Express your fitness! Do something that doesn’t involve a gym or a barbell.