Bite Sized CrossFit Concepts - Virtuosity

In one of the oldest CrossFit Journal articles, Coach Greg Glassman defines virtuosity as “performing the common uncommonly well.” 

In CrossFit, and most often in life, people get bored with "simple" pretty quickly.  We as humans are after the complex.  Complex movements, complex theories... complexity is advancement.  But slowing down a moment to appreciate the simple will add richness to your CrossFit experience (not to mention your life).

Have you ever really sat back and watched an elite CrossFitter move?  Watching top athletes do pushups or air squats can be a thing of beauty.  Think I'm full of it?  Watch these athletes do more complex movements like thrusters at amazing speeds (*ahem Colleen*) and you will see unmatched efficiency, position, coordination and grace.   What are you seeing?  The athlete's virtuosity with the air squat and press.

 Because this has to happen......

Because this has to happen......

 ..... before this can...

..... before this can...

If it's the fundamental movements that we are focusing on, why doesn't every athlete have this in the bag?  "Virtuosity is elusive, supremely elusive. [...] There is a compelling tendency among novices developing any skill or art to quickly move past the fundamentals and on to more elaborate, more sophisticated movements, skills, or techniques." (Read Glassman's article)  After all, you're squat is good enough, and your mobility is sufficient right?  Who really needs perfection?  All I want is more weight!

... Get the picture?

So while there are so many movements in CrossFit, make sure you are taking time and focusing on the simple ones.  It is up to you as an athlete to chase perfection and virtuosity.  If you don't hold yourself to a higher standard, you're results will be what lose out. Yes, there is always something else you can do to get better, but before you move on to the fancy... how about that air squat?

Food for Thought: Optimism: A Competitive Choice

The following is from the folks over at Comptrain.  Like the concept?  Get in on Coach Jason's Mindset Seminar February 11th!

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Look around the room and count how red things you see. 

Done? Great. How many green things did you see?

If you’re like most people, probably not many. If you’re looking for one thing, it can be difficult to see anything else. That’s how positivity works too, and it’s an important characteristic of successful people. 

Positivity is what sets talented people apart from exceptional people.

Great performers share a way of thinking—a set of attitudes and attributes that cause them to work harder and smarter than other people as they prepare for competition. It starts with optimism. Individuals who achieve durable, frequent success are optimists. Optimism is an attitude people they choose to have—instead of looking for or dwelling on the negative, successful people focus on the positive. 

No one is arguing that a positive attitude is going to win championships. Champions win because they have talent and they worked very hard over many years to hone it. Optimism works like fertilizer—enabling and enhancing all the efforts you make to improve your game. And while the correlation between optimism and success is imperfect, there is an almost perfect correlation between negative thinking and failure. So why wouldn’t you be optimistic if it were a choice you could make?

And it is a choice. The first thing you have to do is decide being optimistic is important to you, because you understand optimism is essential to fulfilling your dreams and attaining your goals. Once you make that decision, you have to start looking at things from a different perspective. 

Misfortune happens to everyone. Champions just refuse to let it push them into doubtful, fearful thinking.

Will you focus on the things that go wrong? Or are you going to focus on what you have going for you? Will you see yourself succeeding where others don’t? 

Will you own your mind or let others own it? 

Injury: the Opportunity to Rebuild

Injuries can be terrifying.  They change your life - most of the time, just temporarily.  It can be difficult to look past the injury, past the daily frustration of watching the rest of the world continuing to move forward while you rehabilitate and play "catch up."  There are days when you look at your running shoes, skis, barbell, etc. and feel like you will never be at the level you were at again, or it will never feel the same.  

When you get injured, you have a choice.  You can mope, whine and whimper, or you canchoose to look at your injury as an opportunity to rebuild yourself as a stronger, wiser, more bullet-proof athlete.

Stories like the one below (oldie but goodie) are a great reminder of the power of perspective and how essential patience and determination are...

Plateaus Happen

How do you measure your commitment to your fitness?  Knowing that results aren't linear (otherwise we'd PR every day), we all go through periods of frustration when we feel like we aren't moving forward.  "I have been working my muscle ups EVERY DAY for 3 weeks -- why don't I have them yet!!"  Cue your favorite Miyagi moment of wisdom... and take a deep breath - where the romance of newbie PRs end is where the real work begins.  Plateaus happen.  Be patient, persistent and keep practicing.  Instead of looking at the immediate training session, you have to look at the bigger picture.  You might plateau for a week, a month, or even longer... but if you keep at it, you will break through, and it will feel like magic.  You might hit a heavier weight, a faster time, or understand a movement in a whole new light, but it will make the work worth it.  And after you've basked in the glory of your progress, the cycle begins again.

 Don't let frustration get the best of you.

Don't let frustration get the best of you.

Need help reaching the other side of your current movement goal?  Ask for help!!  That's why you have coaches!!

To get better at the things we love, we must work on the things we hate.

We all have that thing - you know, the thing(s) we hate working on.  They make us cringe when we see them on the whiteboard.  Who cares if it will help you get better/faster/stronger, you just hate ::insert exercise/modality of choice here::.  For many its mobility, for others its rowing, overhead squats, pull ups, ring dips, or those gosh darn double unders.  But what you avoid like the plague is what keeps you from being a well balanced CrossFitter.  It's easy to stick to your strengths.  But easy is not what CrossFit is about.  Easy is not what motivates you to walk through UB's door time and time again. 

So I want to pose a challenge to you (...in addition to working on your October 31st white-board goal).  Between now and Thanksgiving, pick one thing to work on... you know, that thing you suck at.   Come up with a plan and conquer your goat.  How?  I am glad you asked.  Ask your coaches for help before and after class.  Work on it outside the timed pressure of a WOD when a dozen other factors are keeping you from focusing on learning.    The CrossFit Journal put out <a href="http://journal.crossfit.com/2011/02/volume-training-for-goats.tpl#_login" target="_blank">an article</a> back in 2011 that discusses using volume training to attack your goats.  Whatever your plan, the bottom line is do not wait for your weaknesses to show up in a WOD.  That is the lazy man's game plan and will lead to very slow progress.  Remember - how you do anything is how you everything.  So take the time to do things right.  Be a well rounded athlete and give yourself the tools to succeed.
 

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Take Yourself Seriously

Your athletic development matters a lot. There are plenty of reasons you might consider it the bottom of the pile: work, family, etc all come first. Naturally, most of the time these things should be your priority. However inside United Barbell's walls, it is all about YOU, and your potential. I don't care if you walk through our doors 20, 50, 100lb overweight. I don't care if you haven't done so much as jumped up a curb in 20 years. I don't care if you have a 6 week old baby at home. You walked into a place where you're allowed - expected - to take yourself and your body's capabilities seriously. So even if it's just for this week, I want you to take yourself seriously. Walk through UB's doors with those July 31st goals in mind. Banish your day's stresses and your life's issues for the hour. You're Mathew Fraser and Annie Thorisdottir ready to train your body and your mind to do work faster, smarter, and better. You know what you want, and you'll forge a path to getting it.

The Pursuit of ‘Intentional Perfection’ in CrossFit and Life

The following is an old post with an important lesson worth sharing.  I ran into this article when it was originally posted in 2013, but it feels relevant. Why?  Because anyone can benefit from the pursuit of virtuosity.  And this Canadian breaks it down well.

As I begin to reflect on my first year as a competitive CrossFit athlete, and what it will take to achieve my big hairy audacious goal (BHAG) of competing at the CrossFit Games, two words come to mind.

Intentional.

Perfection.

These two words will be at the core of everything I do in the world of CrossFit in this next season. These two words are my foundation for success, my performance catalysts.

Intentional Perfection. Here’s why…

One thing I have learned through my short relationship with the sport of CrossFit is that it is a game of movement efficiency… In my (humble) opinion, the ability to execute any (and all) movements efficiently is the performance trump card in CrossFit. This is the secret ingredient that separates the good from the great.

Movement efficiency is more valuable than strength, speed, quickness, size, weight, height, explosiveness, metabolic conditioning capacity, or any other physical characteristic… I am of course making the assumption that if you are familiar with the sport of CrossFit you know that work ethic, determination, and mental toughness are all prerequisites to elite performance.

Now, when you combine perfect functional movement with the physical characteristics above, magic happens…

Enter Rich Froning.

One of the biggest learnings I have had since immersing myself in this sport was an observation that Rudy Nielsen, owner of Outlaw CrossFit, made of Rich.

“He does every rep perfectly.”

“He does every single f#$%ing rep, f*$%ing perfectly” (Rudy’s words)

Don’t believe Rudy?

Take a look at the video below which shows Rich Froning completing Isabel (30 Snatches @ #135 for time) as one of the last workouts of the grueling 2012 CrossFit Games.

Make a note of what his first couple of reps look like and compare those to his last few…

Pretty amazing.

When I unpack Rich’s performance of Isabel a little further, I realize we have to demystify what we are seeing with a couple of observations.

  • This level of performance doesn’t come overnight.

  • It isn’t a unique natural gift or talent.

  • There isn’t anything extraordinary or special about it.

Rich epitomizes “intentional perfection”.

What sets Rich apart from everyone else is that he is intentional about every single movement, and that every single movement he performs is perfect. Whether it is the first workout of the year, or Isabel at the Games, there is no difference.

So why aren’t more people like Rich?

Well besides the prerequisites mentioned above which Rich does better than anyone in the world, being intentional and perfect in every movement isn’t easy, and I would argue that it isn’t normal. Whether in CrossFit, or in life, we live in a society that justifies and accepts taking shortcuts. We do this among other reasons because we know we are susceptible to cutting corners ourselves. And in this admission we take two steps further away from that unbeaten path of intentional perfection.

Furthermore, in the sport of CrossFit practicing intentional perfection is humbling. In boxes and CrossFit gyms where the culture values having an “Rx” beside your name over flawless movement the chances of achieving intentional perfection become slim.

So what does intentional perfection look like in practice?

  • It means modifying a workout when you don’t have the foundation to perform the movement perfectly.

  • It means taking off weight to ensure perfect form and technique in lifts.

  • It means reducing the volume when your technique starts to fail.

  • It means intentionally recovering (stretching, foam rolling, etc.) everyday so that you can sustain and build the right functional muscles and pathways.

  • It means going to physio when your hurt instead of pushing through and compensating.

  • It means studying role models and masters of these movements.

  • It means visualizing what it looks like in your minds eye to execute perfectly, time and time again.

  • It means asking your friends and coaches to hold you accountable and call you out when you deviate from perfection.

It means being vulnerable enough to take 2 steps back, knowing that the long term benefits are exponential.

For me, this is the perfect time in the CrossFit season to lay this foundation of intentional perfection. There is no pressure of the Open or Regionals workouts, there is no pressure of making a team, there is only my training and 12 months before the beginning of next year’s adventure.

Finally, to practice what I preach, if you ever see me at a gym or competition and I’m not practicing intentional perfection please come over and give me a hard time!

And if this post resonates, I’m happy to do the same for  you! :)

Bodyweight Lovin'

It is easy to get caught up in the glow of weight talk.  No, not how much you've lost or gained -- I am talking about how much is on the bar.  Even for the CrossFitter who proudly promotes "constantly varied" movements, it isn't uncommon to see weights become a priority in lieu of bodyweight movement progressions.  But instead of choosing which to train, why not train both!

Training your squats, press, or bench?  What about your, push-ups, handstand push-ups, squats, lunges?  The second group of movements are more than warm up movements, they are the building blocks to functional strength and require their own attention.  Specific goals for each movement create a way to track progress.  And if you aren't tracking your progress, there's no way to determine whether you are training effectively or just moving for movement sake.   

 Body weight movements ain't just for babies.

Body weight movements ain't just for babies.

On the cover, big weights are glamorous.  But just like any magazine - the pages inside are what you are buying.  Creating balanced training goals will establish both a great foundation as well as big numbers on the bar.  Besides, today's simple movements lead to tomorrow's bad-assery (...muscle ups anyone?).

Precommitment: What Will You Do to Succeed?

You've set your goals (they're on the whiteboard... right?). You've laid out the path steps required to get there. You're motivated. You're determined. That is until you face temptation and instant gratification (hello holiday slackers). Your impulsive side - the hedonistic side of you that has kept you from reaching your goals before now - can be the hardest hurdle between you and the finish line. So how do you control it? What tools help you compromise what you want in the future, versus what you want right now?

One tool I found via the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength is the website StickK. StickK is built around the concept of precommitment contracts, a deterrence strategy utilizing incentives to force you to stay on track. For example, let's say you set up the goal to go paleo and lose 12 pounds in 4 weeks. StickK helps you set up the timeline (3 lbs a week) and the stakes (... Do you want to lay money on the line? If so, how much? If you fail, where do you want that money to go? A charity? An organization you despise? What will motivate you?). Then StickK encourages you to designate a referee (an independent third party who monitors your progress) and supporters (your cheer leaders). Then 3, 2, 1, go! You and your determined self are off after your goals.

Fail

Because nobody wants to end up here.

With a tool like StickK, the question remains - how much of a priority is your goal? What are you willing to put on the line? I found this a really interesting concept. If you have thoughts about it, post to comments!