Goal setting is a powerful tool. It provides focus and highlights the actions you need to be successful. Goals keep you on track, even when it feels like you aren’t making any progress. When you hit obstacles, focusing on your goals keeps you moving forward. And constantly moving forward, even if only by little bits at a time, is the aim of the game.
Setting and achieving goals, however, is a process that is used to keep you moving forward. Goals are not destinations.
Consider a university course: The goal is to earn a qualification, but the qualification is not the end of the line. You might further your education, or the qualification may be what you need to enter the workplace. You certainly don’t stop learning when you begin working either. The goal–the qualification–got you to a stage in the journey.
A pay incentive at work is a goal. You need to meet X objectives in order to earn a bonus. You meet the objectives and earn the bonus, but you don’t stop working. Unless of course the bonus was fat enough to retire on! The goal–the bonus–was used to keep you motivated and focused.
It’s the same with fitness. Goals are used to keep you on track, to keep you moving towards increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains throughout life. The goals aren’t the destination. So you’ve lost all the body fat you wanted to, how much more can you improve your health markers by now? You got your first pull-up, how many can you do without resting now? You’re able to walk on your hands, how quickly can you cover 60m on your hands?
Goals are tools to keep you moving forward. To be just 1% better than yesterday, you need goals. But there is no destination, you’ll never get “there.” So set smart goals, accomplish them and set new ones, but don’t get caught up in the goals or in whatever you think the endline for fitness is. Fitness is a journey that takes a lifetime to travel. Enjoy the journey, it’s what matters most!
Let’s get straight to the point: Can you complete the workout as it is prescribed (as RXd), and should you? It’s a simple yes or no answer to both questions, but it seems to be such a conundrum for many.
Can refers to your ability to perform the movements and/or loads that have been prescribed. Remember, the workout you see on the blog and on the whiteboards is a guideline to ensure that everyone achieves the desired outcome of that workout. Given that everyone is different, everyone performs a modified version of the workout that’s relative to their goals and abilities to ensure that the desired outcome of the workout is achieved.
The question of can you perform the movements/loads as you see it on the whiteboard simply refers to whether you can or can’t complete at least a few repetitions of that task, not taking into account the entire workout. Can you do the RXd workout? If no, modify to ensure that you move with good technique AND intensity while meeting the objectives of the workout. If yes, the next question is should you?
You should complete the workout as RXd only IF you will be able to do so with the desired intensity.
The guidelines loads and reps, the time domains set, and the expectations the coaches give you in class are all there to help you decide on whether you should attempt the workout as RXd or not. There is no point attempting a workout as RXd because you can do everything if you aren’t going to get the right amount of work done within the right amount of time.
If you halve the time of a workout, you double your power output even if you had a lighter load. Double, no ifs ands or buts, double!
Given that power output (which is exactly defined as intensity) is the one variable most closely associated with favourable adaptations to exercise, you should be aiming to optimise your power output at every workout. And that means smartly modifying and scaling the workout, 99% of the time.
Note: “scaling” the amount of reps down to enable you to do the RXd loads is not smart scaling, it’s stupid.
The RXd workout is a guideline and certainly something to work towards. But it’s not a destination.
Health and fitness requires a lot of hard work and sacrifice. For those committed to improving themselves daily – like the people we see in our gyms – there’s some risk involved too. You could cut your shin on a box jump, twist your ankle while running, or sprain a shoulder muscle while practising some gymnastics.
You could also get hit by a bus while crossing the road, or by a buck while cycling through the bush. Those are all educated risks.
You can either sit back to become overweight and unhealthy to avoid the short-term risk of a niggle from training, or you can overlook that small short-term risk for massive long-term benefits. Just as you can stay indoors to avoid the world, or you can go on with living your life.
There are some educated risks to leading an active and healthy lifestyle. Every now and then you’re going to pick up a niggle or an injury. So how should you approach training while you are nursing an injury? I see two approaches: the pigheaded approach and the smart approach. Let’s talk about the smart approach because that pigheadedness (that is a word) is what gets you injured.
Tip #1: Pain Free RoM
The most common symptom of an injury is pain. While there are varying pain sensations, pain is inevitable and is a sign of damage. You should never move through pain. This might mean reducing the range of motion (RoM) about a joint for particular movements and in more severe cases it means not moving that joint at all.
At the end stage of the recovery and rehab process you typically have no pain through the full RoM, but as soon as you add load there is pain. RoM is significantly more important than load. Therefore, reduce or remove load to ensure full RoM with no pain.
Tip #2: Seek Treatment & Guidance
If you have picked up a musculoskeletal injury then you really should have already seen a physiotherapist for diagnosis and treatment. If you haven’t then you’re veering towards the pigheaded route. A physio can determine which structure is injured and treat it accordingly. This manual therapy aids the recovery process.
The physio and your coaches will then be able to guide you on what to do in training to ensure that you continue improving fitness while the injured area recovers (as long as you listen). You can’t do this alone or with Dr. Google, neither of you have the relevant skills, education or mindset. Even physios need physios.
Tip #3: Make Strict Bodyweight Movements a Priority
Injuries generally prevent you from moving external loads. Fitness isn’t just defined by how much load you can move, and gymnastics comes before weightlifting in your development as an athlete. So RE-focus your time and efforts on strict bodyweight movements. That means no kipping.
This has the huge benefit of better strength with no downsides. And even though you aren’t doing them, when you do get back to more dynamic movements you’ll be MORE proficient at them thanks to your bigger base level of strength. Yeah, you should be doing that from the very beginning, but one can only lead the horse to the water, yeah?
Tip #4: Prioritise Your Nutrition
Nutrition is the most important aspect of your health and fitness. You need to eat enough to support your activity levels but not body fat. When you’re nursing and injury your activity levels generally drop. If they do drop, you should be eating less. “My nutrition is better when I’m training properly” is just an excuse to stuff your face because you’re feeling sorry for yourself.
Less exercise = less need for calories. More importantly, what you eat directly influences your body’s ability to recover from any form of trauma.
Tip #5: Have a Game Plan
You’ll need to follow Tip #2 in order to have an effective and realistic game plan in place. That’s because the most common behaviour with athletes and injury is returning to their pre-injury levels of intensity as soon as they’re feeling “good.”
You might be completely pain free, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the injured structures are fully recovered. Soft tissue takes a long time to recover, and you also need to recognise that you aren’t just recovering from the injury itself – you need to recover from the inactivity too 😉
Part of the game plan is continuing to train. One of the most important aspects of rehabilitation is ensuring that other parts of the body and other areas of fitness continue to improve while the injured area recovers. And that is totally doable. Take a look at the Instagram video below of Kevin Ogar. Kevin was a Regional level CrossFit athlete who was injured in a freak accident. He is now bound to a wheelchair, but his fitness has continued to improve – so much so that he is now able to sit in a squat!
Working that #ParaSquat @stouty08 put out last week! Got up to a full 90secs freestanding then started to play around with moving my arms around. Sotz Press, I'm coming for ya. This is some good mobility work for my ankles and hips. My backs been feeling way better since I started playing around with this. @wheelwod @adaptivecrossfit @crossfit @crossfittraining @crossfitwatchtower @progenex @barbellsforboobs @stephthehammer @angel_cfredefined #stillgotaprettygoodlookingsquat #bootygainz? #FullROM #hadtovideotomakesureofdepth #notgoodatfeelingwhenImlowenough #harambereincarnated #shutupmeag
Tip #6: Be Smart, Not Pigheaded
Resting heart rate (HR), age-predicted maximum HR and HR training zones are commonly used by the general fitness and medical industries, and by some sports, to evaluate health, fitness and training efforts. HR zones are even used to guide training intensity for sports and general fitness. What do those HR numbers mean? More importantly, what are they founded on and are they of any use?
Maximum Heart Rate
Your age-predicted maximum HR is supposed to be 220 – your age. This is said to be the maximum heart rate (MHR) you can safely attain through exercise, regardless of your training status. For example, an obese 20 year old has an MHR of 200, whereas a 30 year old Olympic level decathlete theoretically has an MHR of 190. There’s your first clue that HR data means little – an athlete who’s taken years to qualify for their national Olympic team should have a lower MHR than a 20 year old who’s spent years eating shit while sitting on the couch? Not likely!
Where does that equation come from?
I’m not entirely sure, but it was fed to us by both the medical and exercise science departments since year one at uni, and to decades of students before that. So it’s no surprise that it’s used to widely. I do believe that the number came about through research evaluating exercise and heart disease, so if anything, it may be useful in the training of individuals who have heart disease.
Heart Rate Zones for Training
Have you ever trained with an endurance sports athlete who used an HR monitor? They’re constantly trying to adjust their pace – usually to make it slower – in order to keep their HR in the “aerobic zone” so they can go the distance without boinking. It’s similar to the advice you’ll get from a trainer at a commercial gym or the guidelines you’re given by health schemes – keep your HR at 60-70% of your MHR to stay in the “fat burning zone.”
[I’m genuinely having a chuckle while I read and write this, because those claims actually sound ludacris!]
The image below is an example of these heart rate zones.
Let’s look at an example of these zones and what they tell us about performance. Consider a group of professional athletes all aged 25. In the group we have an F1 driver, marathoner, rugby athlete, baseball pitcher and tennis athlete, all of whom compete at the highest level.
F1 drivers have an average HR of about 160 beats per minute (BPM), which is similar to the average match HR of the tennis athlete and that is not far off from the marathoner’s average race HR. A baseball pitcher (who rarely does much work in a game) has an average game HR of about 175 BPM, similar to that of the rugby player. Interestingly, the average HR of a rugby referee is similar to that of the athletes’!
The fitness requirements of these comparative sports are vastly different, yet they elicit a similar HR response. Could a marathoner perform like the F1 driver if we were to throw them into the cockpit? Would a baseball pitcher go the distance in a game of rugby? It’s not a rhetorical question, the answer is no. There’s more to HR than just physical demands.
Although F1 drivers need to be physically fit, the heat and stress they’re exposed to raises the HR significantly. Similarly, the baseball pitcher’s senses are dialled before pitching the ball and that elevates the HR. Your HR during physical efforts tells us little to nothing about your physical abilities in that task. HR zones are therefore a poor guide for training intensity.
Heart Rate and Training Intensity
A reminder about intensity: It is directly defined as power output which is determined by the amount of work completed in a given time.
Power Output (Intensity) = Work / time
Here is where the HR zone chart starts contradicting HR zone guidelines. Let’s use the most common example to examine this – the endurance athlete. In general, endurance athletes are to keep their training HR in zone 3 to improve aerobic fitness while limiting muscular fatigue. Yet the chart shows that training in zone 5 maximises performance? This is why so many recreational endurance athletes “boink” on race day. That means they “hit the wall,” start cramping up or experience debilitating muscular fatigue. It’s because they focus on preventing themselves from blowing out in training by limiting HR, only to be exposed to a far greater intensity on race day.
Intensity rules, especially when you learn how to adopt very good movement patterns under fatigue.
What about the F1 driver from above. His MHR should be 195. His average race HR is 160 BPM, about 82% of his MHR. According to the HR zone chart, he should only last 2 – 10 minutes. Instead, he is as lit up as his instrument panel all the way through the race!
How does he do that and how do we apply those principles in YOUR training? We use interval training. We get your HR really high, many times higher than what your MHR should be, add in some rest and then repeat several times. Or, we maximise your power output (intensity) in training by keeping the duration of your exercise bouts where there is greatest carry over for all energy systems. And then we ensure that there is a healthy dose of structured variance to keep you working beyond the realms of your experience and comfort.
On the training topic, your HR monitor cannot accurately calculate your caloric expenditure from exercise. The equation is complex.
So, HR is a poor indicator and guide for intensity, training effort and performance – even if you are a true endurance athlete. Regardless of your sport or health goals you simply need to develop the capacity to go harder for longer, and your HR isn’t going to tell you if you’re doing that or not.
Aahhh, the old volume and intensity topic. It’s always worth revisiting to remind existing athletes and inform newer athletes of the relationship between the two variables.
Volume in training refers to the total amount of repetitions completed in a session and throughout the day. Intensity, to put it simply, is the amount of work you do relative to the time it takes to do the work. Therefore, intensity has little to do with how hard you think you’re working. You might think that having the RXd load on the bar is harder and therefore more intense, but the maths shows poor power output (intensity) due to less reps completed in the allotted time.
Contrary to much belief, volume is not necessary if the goal is to get fitter. Remember, we define increased fitness as increased work capacity across broad time AND modal domains. That is, improving the capacity of all energy systems, enhancing each of the ten recognised physical traits you see painted up on the gym walls, and being capable of performing well at any imaginable physical task. More volume won’t get you there.
So how do we achieve that sort of fitness? By a healthy daily dose of constantly varied, functional movements applied at high intensity. To state the obvious, volume doesn’t feature anywhere there. Doing more isn’t going to make you fitter.
Volume and subtle variations thereof have their place in programming, especially in the realm of athletes who are training specifically for multi-event, multi-day competitions. But even for these individuals, the extra volume is only going to work if intensity remains high. Intensity is the independent variable most closely associated with favourable adaptations to exercise. Without intensity, therefore, you have poor results. Adding volume, be it within a session or throughout the day, inevitably comes at the cost of intensity.
Let’s consider one of our daily workouts – the daily workout being the entire hour including warm-up, cool-down, skills, strength, and/or conditioning. A metcon is only a piece of the session, not the workout. We typically do one metcon if we the goal of the day is conditioning, and sometimes it comes along with skill or strength work. Think about how you’d perform if we layered on more metcons. Do a 7-minute metcon, rest a bit, and then hit a 10-minute piece before finishing of with another 20 minutes worth of conditioning. If you tried to achieve some sort of intensity, you’d manage that in the first metcon and maybe a bit in the second, but as you proceed you’ll begin to do less work than you might have if you were doing that piece alone.
Your applied effort might still be as high as it was at the beginning of the session, but your true intensity (power output) will naturally diminish as that sort of session progresses. Or you’ll deliberately sacrifice intensity by saying “that’s a lot of work so I’m just going to pace all the way.” Either way, it’s less intensity in favour of volume.
Sure, you’d be working lots so your oxidative energy system will be stimulated, but that’s coming at the expense of time in the anaerobic energy pathways – you’re only increasing work capacity in one time domain. With the added work comes along the need for more recovery too, and let’s not kid ourselves, most of us only have the time to get all our fitness work done in one hour a day so you’ll end up sacrificing good recovery practices in favour of getting more done. And when will you get the opportunity to practice and develop new skills?
Worse yet, more and more work will just take you back to where the fitness community came from – long gym sessions at low intensity with poor results. Hang out in that fat burning zone, bro, skinny fat looks good on you!
More volume for the sake of doing more is not only counterproductive but potentially harmful too. You can however add extra work that is productive. Identify a few weaknesses and drill one of them a day in a focused 15 minute session. This is the best way to refine your skills, and if you take a page from the books of the best athletes in any sport, this is where they spend the bulk of their extra time. Dialling in that foot position, fixing their timing, getting familiar in a new position.
Skills and drills are your biggest bang for buck outside of class time. Now you’ve got to have fun too so play around with stuff we don’t get to in class as often. But if you’ve got ankles as flexible as cold chewing gum and shoulders incapable of properly holding an empty barbell overhead you’re better off on stretching and skills and drills than getting your meathead work done.
Not sure what to do? Pay more attention during class, we cover progressions daily. Even better, book a consult with a coach, consider the UpSkill plan and review it every four. Work harder, not longer. It’s more bang for your buck!“Be Impressed with Intensity, Not Volume.” – Greg Glassman
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