Lessons learned with intensity…

INTENSITY 

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This has been dubbed as my “Braveheart” speech, and that’s cool.

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I went on a tangent in my classes on Thursday, and promised a write up with further insight.

So here goes nothin…

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Seven years ago I was sitting in my CrossFit Level 1 Certification course.

I was on my way to being a CrossFit coach, and the methodologies of CrossFit were extremely new to me.

I had no clue what a “Level 1” even was, or what it entailed.

I was young, and set in my own ways of working out until I found CrossFit.

Although being enamored with CrossFit on the surface, I had no idea the finer points of WHY CrossFit?

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Let it be known, I am still refining the “Why CrossFit?” question, not for myself, but for others. I have found my answers I need, but I feel like my purpose is more deeply rooted in sharing that pursuit with others, and helping them find THEIR answers.

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Back to my Level 1:

I learned A LOT that weekend, and over the course of the next few years, I became enthralled with trying to better understand the nuances, and improve the way I translated those lessons to others.

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One takeaway from my first Level 1, was the approach to training.

Essentially the way things HAD to be in order to keep athletes safe, provide efficient programming, and ensure progress.

The Key Take-aways, IN THIS ORDER were:

  1. Range of Motion
  2. Technique
  3. Intensity

This stands out to me because I remember this lesson was taught by Pat Sherwood, and I admired his style of teaching, and ways of simplifying complex concepts.

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I remember him talking about the importance of the first 2 items before we even begin to think about the 3rd. Let me be clear, there was hardly any emphasis on the intensity factor. The points that were driven home were that IF you were going to strive for intensity, the range of motion and the technique aspects were priority.

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In my early coaching years, I was limited to only doing new client intros, and hadn’t yet been given the reigns to run a full class. Much of how I spoke with new athletes was material I stole directly from Pat Sherwood’s teachings.

I pretty much had a script for how I would explain CrossFit to a new athlete. Before their introductory sessions I drove home the point that above all else the focus was, and HAD to be 1. Range of Motion, 2. Technique, and THEN 3. Intensity.

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I told new athletes that was how CrossFit needed to be in order to keep them safe.

I told new athletes that without items 1, and 2, and I even added a 2 and a half by telling them they also needed to demonstrate CONSISTENCY, the element of intensity would definitely be on the back burner.

Fast forward to my CrossFit Level 1 Re-Certification last year:

I was less than thrilled to have to be doing the re-cert, but tried to keep an open mind. All I could think about was a meme I saw about once you think you have mastered the basics, it is actually time to go back and review the basics…so I recognized the potential benefits of seeing how the Level 1 had evolved over the last years.

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The instructors were different, the workouts were different, and the test was different. Most of the lectures were the same, but there were a few new points of emphasis here and there. The one change that stood out to me again were those same approaches to training…but the tune has now changed.

The instructors still said:

  1. Range of Motion
  2. Technique
  3. Intensity

They still said range of motion and technique were, and should be at the forefront of any good approach to training, programming, and coaching, but now they said verbatim: “Without intensity, CrossFit WILL NOT WORK…” I remember this vividly, I even wrote it down in my book with quotes around it. I say again, the newest take away from my Level 1 Re-Cert was WITHOUT INTENSITY…CROSSFIT WILL NOT WORK!

This was interesting to me.

I am not saying they have changed to saying all gyms should let their clients do shady stuff, and light themselves on fire trying to go crazy with disregarding and compromising range of motion and technique for the sake of releasing the hounds with intensity.

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That is not the message at all.

I came back and slowly started integrating this message with my classes and athletes.

I would touch on it briefly, never going into a ton of detail, but trying to shed light on the methods of my programming madness.

I would use it as a justification to my time caps, weight selections, scaling options, intent, and individual goals in the workouts I program.

Usually my justifications of the aforementioned items lead to moans and groans from the crowd.

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Some people heed my advice and warnings, others don’t.

Obviously I don’t go as far as letting people set themselves up in ways that will get them hurt, but I can also appreciate that some lessons need to learned the hard way.

I call this the case of the drop-in bro…sorry fellas, I hardly ever have this problem with the ladies.

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Let me explain:

The drop-in bro comes in looking to try CrossFit. The drop-in bro is somewhat athletic, and has experience in a regular gym, and has maybe even tried a high intensity interval class or some P90X. The drop-in bro shakes his head “yes” to everything I am saying when I talk to them when I am explaining things as if they can easily finish my sentences. The drop-in bro tells me they have no injuries, and they know what they are doing. The drop-in bro wants to do the workout RX.

I usually try and get the drop-in bro to scale down, or to modify the movements or reps.

The drop-in bro is not doing anything with poor range of motion or technique, so he doesn’t understand why I won’t let him do the workout RX.

I compromise with the drop-in bro, and we set the workout up as RX, but I give him alternatives in case the RX options get too hard…a safety net, or a Plan B.

The drop-in bro rolls his eyes at me because there is no way those options will ever be needed.

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The workout starts…

The drop-in bro does well for about the first third of the workout before realizing this isn’t a game any more.

The drop-in bro starts to crash and burn.

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The drop-in bro makes a decision ON HIS OWN to go with the INITIAL suggestions I made in the first place.

Unfortunately, the drop-in bro has already blown himself up too bad, even the original scaling options are too much to handle.

The drop-in bro is now doubled over, shaking his head, pale as a ghost, wondering what happened.

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I recognize this, and end the drop-in bro’s workout early.

Unfortunately this story is NOT an exaggeration. I have had individuals come to the gym where this exact sequence of events happens.

I am using this example NOW more in context with my CURRENT members.

This is for my new athletes, as well as my seasoned vets.

DON’T BE LIKE THE DROP-IN BRO WITH YOUR WORKOUT APPROACH!

I have levels, and time caps, and scaling options for a reason.

I gather everyone at the white board before each workout to break it down and talk about the intent and goals of the workout for a reason.

It is imperative to not fall into the trap of sacrificing your productivity for the sake of stroking your own ego.

I program my workouts to be challenging with the assumption there will always be ways to scale DOWN.

The scaling process, while not always glamorous and sexy, is something that can easily make or break the spirit of a new CrossFitter.

When a new athlete starts CrossFit, they see all of these new, cool things.

They are wide eyed and excited with hopes and aspirations of, “I want to do that, and that, and OH!, look what that person is doing, I want to do that too..”.

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This lasts for a few weeks, and then the new athlete realizes how far off they are from “that, and that, and what that person was doing…”

They get discouraged, upset, and easily lose focus, or become demotivated to even workout.

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This is where I take my role a coach seriously when it comes to tailoring workouts and making modifications for athletes when they need them.

I honestly feel this will make or break the aspect of retention.

I feel like my ability to CHALLENGE an athlete appropriately without crushing them, demoralizing them, or giving them TOO much TOO soon will dramatically affect their willingness to not only continue with CrossFit, but also their ability to progress effectively within CrossFit.

The majority of my athletes are NOT drop in bro cases…the majority of my athletes are happy to follow my advice, and the majority of my athletes understand the process of making and achieving realistic goals for themselves.

I am writing this blog as reassurance to those athletes that what they are doing IS correct, but I am also writing this to provide assistance to the smaller minority who might feel like they are not improving, not being challenged, not enjoying themselves, or not feeling like they are progressing how they should.

Without sacrificing range of motion and technique, it is necessary to find ways to focus on increasing your threshold for achieving and maintaining INTENSITY in your workouts.

In the past I have used the benchmark workout “Fran” as my example.

Fran is 21-15-9 Thrusters at 95/65# and Chin Over Bar Pull Ups.

Some of the fastest “Fran” times in the world are around 2 minutes as RX.

One of my favorite things to say is, “Just because you CAN, doesn’t always mean that you SHOULD…”

Maybe you can do thrusters at 95/65#…maybe you can do pull ups and get your chin over the bar.

But if you are going to do that and take 15 minutes to do “Fran” RX…you are missing the point.

This is the ego check.

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Don’t be afraid to sacrifice the RX for the sake of choosing more conducive weights, movements, and maybe even modifications for better workout productivity.

Don’t get me wrong…there are DEFINITELY benefits to pushing the envelope to your training.

Maybe you are one of those athletes that can do thrusters and pull ups as RX, but the thruster weight of 95/65 is a struggle, and your pull ups are intermittent at best…but you STILL want to try the workout RX.

On occasion, that is OK!

That is usually why I put time caps on workouts, to save people from their decisions sometimes, and to better express the intent of the workout.

Some days it is ok to accept you won’t finish under the time cap for the sake of TRYING something HARDER in the workout.

I am OK with that.

But if your workout days keep stacking up with UNFINISHED workouts, or you are never finishing under the time cap, that leaves room to investigate if something needs to be done differently.

If you are content with not finishing workouts, and you will die trying to do every workout RX and are HAPPY with that…to each their own…as long as you aren’t doing sketchy stuff…knock yourself out…

But if you are not feeling content with unfinished workouts, always being cut off, or feel like you are always missing the mark with your weight selections or scaling options, we can look to your INTENSITY, and how to set up the workout to foster that element FIRST, and then build from there.

Like I said, I give this talk a lot, and have touched on various points here and there.

The other day I saw a video Adrian Conway made, pretty much preaching the SAME things…and even using “Fran” as an example…he may say the same things more succinctly and eloquently….but the point is the same.

Quit trying to make workouts harder…focus on your INTENSITY and find a way to GO harder, rather than make your workouts harder.

Here is the video:

It was funny to me, because on that same day, The Overheard Press posted this article about how working out with a weight vest makes you superior. Even if you finish last.

https://theoverheardpress.com/2017/05/23/man-adds-weighted-vest-to-all-training-ensures-excuse-for-finishing-last/

This is humorous because this joke has been around since the Fitness Lonnie days back in 2011.

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It’s even more funny to me because I actually went through my vest phase…a “let me make everything harder” phase.

It didn’t last long, and I never bragged about it to the extent The Overheard Press pokes fun at, but it was a crutch at a certain time in my training.

I would do the workout of the day once with the vest, then I would come back and do it AGAIN without the vest. In retrospect, had I don’t the workout ONCE at MAXIMUM intensity, I might have been better off.

I have since then found ways to train more efficient.

HOWEVER, I have been doing CrossFit long enough where I too am often enticed by the appeal of the challenge of a HARD workout moreover the appeal of an INTENSE one.

My best example of that would be the hero workout, “Murph”.

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Before I continue…lets get one thing clear again…

I went off on a rant before on people calling The CrossFit Open, “The Opens” because I find that extra “S” added on is annoying and doesn’t make any sense…

I’ve got similar beef with people saying “The Murph”…

I don’t know where that came from, or where it started, but it’s just “Murph” or “The hero workout, Murph” …there is no “The Murph”.

It just sounds weird…what next, “THE Fran”?

ALSO, if you read the CrossFit.com citation for Murph, it plainly says “…from here on it will be referred to as Murph…”

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…..NOT “THE Murph”….

Moving On….

I did “Murph” twice in my early CrossFit career.

I partitioned, and used a 20# vest.

I was aware of the rounds of Cindy strategy, but I was young, and dumb, and thought doing a hodge-podge of reps with most of the squats on the front end of the workout was the best thing to do. My times were never anything spectacular, and I didn’t bother to ever remember them.

Each year I always wanted to try and find a way to make “Murph” harder…rather than find a way to make my “Murph” time BETTER.

I was OK with this decision.

To me, the workout “Murph” symbolizes not only one of the most highly revered CrossFit benchmarks, but it also symbolizes a straight up suffer-fest.

I didn’t care about my intensity, and was only wanting to find new and creative ways to SUFFER through “Murph” without changing the workout’s framework in it’s entirety.

Here is how I did that:

2010: 20# Vest, Partitioned RX

2011: 20# Vest, Partitioned RX

2012: 30# Vest, Partitioned RX

2013: 50# Vest, Partitioned into rounds of Cindy RX

2014: Unpartitioned for the first time, but did it with a 50# vest RX

2015: Unpartitioned with a 50# vest again, mainly looking to redeem myself because the last time was miserable, and very hot RX.

2016: I missed the “Murph” event at our gym due to umpiring, so I vowed I would make it up on my own. I wasn’t able to make it up until early January of this year. I did it unpartitioned, with strict pull ups, with a 50# vest…wait for it…IN a snowstorm…RX.

So fast forward to this year. I knew I was going to be here for our gym “Murph” event, but I didn’t know how I was going to up the ante.

I was thinking and deliberating over many different ways, but I couldn’t come up with anything.

Finally, I decided to go back to the basics.

My own pep talk to the classes helped me make my decision.

This year I decided to do “Murph” as RX, with a 20# vest, unpartitioned like they did at the 2015 CrossFit games.

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My focus would be on intensity, and seeing how I might measure up to the games athletes.

Note: There is a ton of speculation on the conditions the games athletes endured in 2015. “Murph” was a catastrophe for many. The heat, paired with the adrenaline of intensity proved to be too much for some of the most seasoned of CrossFit games athletes. I understand there will be no comparison to that level of suck fest…so I say “see how I measure up” very light heartedly.

I still had to find a way to make this year interesting for myself.

I knew I was going to run classes on Monday, and I knew the classes would be big, so the likelihood of jumping in with a class would be slim, and the likelihood of me wanting to stick around after everyone already did the workout and do it by myself would be even slimmer.

So I decided to capitalize on the alone factor.

I decided I wanted to be the first person to do “Murph” on Memorial Day.

So on Sunday May 28th at 1150pm I made my way to the gym.

I only had enough time to boot up the computer and the stereo, throw on a vest, knock out one last nervous pee, and once the clock hit midnight, I hit the button for the 10 second countdown.

My 1st mile run was filled with doubt and almost instant regret.

It was dark out, obviously…but stupid quiet…I almost instantly began regretting my decision for alone, at night…I was not very motivated…and I could hear myself breathing louder than usual. There was no background noise to drown me out.

I picked my pace up, thinking that the running would be my least enjoyable part, so might as well try and mentally focus here.

I ran my first run in 9:30…

I plugged in my phone to record my time lapse.

Midnight Murph

A post shared by Wild Horizons CrossFit (@wildhorizonscrossfit) on

I did my pull ups mainly in sets of 10s and 5s, with an occasional 3 or a random stupid single to mix it up because my hands were hurting.

I had spent all day in the sun umpiring, and the vest was rubbing against my sun burned neck and chin with each kip. This was unpleasant, but I made relatively quick work of the 100 reps.

The push ups was where I made up most of my time. The extra vest chest girth was much appreciated, and I was able to crank out a few big sets of 20, 10, and then maintain 5’s to finish.

The squats are normally my money maker, but this year, my legs felt the fatigue of standing and half squatting all day on the baseball field.

My left knee started to twinge a bit, which NEVER happens.

My reps were slow, but I knew I was approaching the end.

I feel if there was one spot I lost a lot of time on, it was the squats.

I went out the door around 37 minutes…this was slightly demoralizing because I had looked at the leaderboard from 2015, and the top male time was 38 mins and some change, and the top FEMALE time was good enough to be the second place MEN’S time of 39 mins.

My second run was only fueled by my desire to be done (and get to bed).

My legs were tired and my strides were small and quick.

I feel like to anyone passing by I must have looked like a drunk penguin…luckily…at midnight-thirtyish, no one was passing by.

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My phone was having hard time calibrating the run, so I returned to the the back door with my GPS reading 1.98miles…this was unacceptable, obviously, so I ran a few loser laps in the back parking lot until I hit 2 miles right at 47:30.

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It was not glamorous, and it was far from sexy…

I may have missed the mark on the intensity factor in doing it alone after a long day, but I have something to grow on for next year.

As for the classes today, I mentioned the fact that some gyms choose to opt out of doing “Murph” on or around Memorial Day.

Some gyms feel Memorial Day Murph has become too much of a commercial CrossFit money-making gimmick.

Some others feel it takes away from the other service members who gave their life in that particular operation by only highlighting one.

I can see the argument both ways.

I personally have a soft spot for hero workouts, and make it a point to try and pay the necessary respects when we talk about and do them in class.

I will even seek further details in most cases so I am sure to give more insight to that individual.

In the weeks leading up to “Murph” we did tribute workouts for those with “Murph” and in June for the past few years, we also pay tribute with a workout dedicated  specifically to Operation Red Wings.

I agree with paying tribute, and I also agree with sense of community.

Memorial Day Murph creates the opportunity for both, and I was extremely impressed this year by how it went down!

I received a ton of comments and compliments about today’s “Murph” classes.

People said this was the best year yet, and some even said the vibe was too cool for words.

I saw a lot of really good things!

So much positivity and encouragement alongside so much grit, intensity, and perseverance.

It made me proud this morning, and it makes me thankful to have the opportunity to serve you all on a daily basis!

Thank You!

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For those who attended this morning, I also mentioned the organization 22Kill

Here is the link about their mission:

https://www.22kill.com

You can make donations, or support them with the purchase of a t-shirt or an actual titanium/tungsten honor ring.