So You're Starting to Plateau....

Starting out in CrossFit is great - everyday is filled with new challenges and skills. Then you start to get the hang of it, and it's PR city. You can't touch a barbell without PRing. You feel stronger and more capable everyday. You are on the fast track to badassdom, and it just keeps coming. You are unstoppable. And then, just like that, it happens... PRs start to slip away, the weight loss slows down and the frustration kicks in -- you wonder why CrossFit isn't working anymore. And then one morning you decide it's cold outside and you elect to battle it out with your snooze button instead of coming in for your morning WOD. Then one missed class turns into two, and suddenly 2 weeks have gone by since you have come into the gym and we coaches have gotten the torches out and are ready to send out the search party.......

If any part of this sounds familiar - don't fret. Despite your frustration, this is a temporary phase - a growing pain of your fitness journey. The important thing to remember is you are the tortoise, not the hare. Just because you have stopped making regular gains does not mean you have met the maximum of your fitness potential. What it does mean is that you have hit a plateau. But I will repeat - this is not permanent. There are some simple changes you can make to your routine to break this barrier and start feeling like a badass again:

  • Talk to your coach - Your coach sees you on the regular, and they might have some insight as to where you should be focusing your attention.  Be accountable for your fitness journey - schedule 5 minutes with them and ask!
  • Change your class time - sometimes getting out of a rut can be as simple as surrounding yourself with different athletes and a different coach. New people in your routine might help you push yourself and give you the boost you need.
  • Mix-up your intensity - if you have been choosing heavier weights for WODs to push your strength, try going a little lighter and turning up the speed (with good form). After a couple weeks, try switching back and test it out.
  • Tweak your nutrition - maybe you've been allowing more cheat meals. Maybe you've been eating the exact same thing every single day. Just like with your exercise, you need to have variety in your diet. Mix it up and dial it in.
  • Focus on recovery and mobility - the right mobility work will do wonders for you. The only hard part is figuring out which one you need. Talk to your coach and take some extra time to make sure you are addressing your issues. They just might be what's holding you back.

With any changes you make to your routine, overall remember to be patient. Most people have the potential to be good or even great athletes if they allow themselves the patience to stick it out.

Working on Your 10

You may or may not be aware, CrossFit aims to help you become proficient in 10 specific physical skills so you can be a more functional athlete.  They are:

  • Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance - The ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen.
  • Stamina - The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy.
  • Strength - The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force.
  • Flexibility (Mobility) - the ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint.
  • Power - The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.
  • Speed - The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement.
  • Coordination - The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement.
  • Agility - The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another.
  • Balance - The ability to control the placement of the bodies center of gravity in relation to its support base.
  • Accuracy - The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity.</li></ol>

After looking at these 10 skills, take a minute and order them from your strongest to your weakest.  Are your abilities pretty balanced among the 10, or was making your list pretty easy?  What are your top and bottom three?

We are just about 1/2 way through the CrossFit Open - a series of WODs meant to challenge these skills. As you finish out the weeks, take note of the areas you feel need work so you have a guide for goal setting.  As you progress through the year, continue to check in so you can become a more capable athlete in 2018.

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...

It's Goal Time!

2017 is coming to an end!  With 2018 around the corner, so are the lists of resolutions people make to better themselves.  In fact, statistically 45% of you will make resolutions, and only 8% will be successful with them over a long term period.  There are many reasons people fail (unspecific goals, lack of vision for the process to achieve them, reaching too far too fast, reaching for too many changes at once ... etc.), but what would it take from you to be in the 8%?  What would it look like to keep your current life and goals on track and add 1 simple thing, elevating your life that much further?

As you go into the tail end of 2017, take a second to reflect on what goal you have for the first few months of 2018... From January through the end of the CrossFit Open.  Then, instead of keeping it to yourself, hold yourself accountable!  Write it up on our goals board in the gym.... And while you're at it, make sure your goal(s) is SMART:

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  • Specific – Are your goals clearly defined, down to each tiny detail?
  • Measurable – Have you defined the specifics of success? How will you be able to tell that you have achieved your goal?
  • Achievable – Is what you want possible? It can be a big, hairy, audacious goal, but it must also be within the realm of possibility!
  • Relevant – Are your short term goals helping you be the athlete you want to be or are they "stupid human tricks"? 
  • Time-bound – When, exactly, will you achieve these goals?

Using these parameters will help keep you on track with your vision of your superstar self.  

 

Try Something New

Take a second to remember how you felt when you walked into a CrossFit gym the first time.  Were you intimidated?  Excited?  Ready to take on whatever was thrown at you?  Since then you have WODded with the best of them, growing faster, stronger, leaner, and ready to take life on head first.  We love that.  After all, that's what CrossFit was originally designed for.. to make you better at life.

So the question is, now that you have reached new capacities, what have you tried that you wouldn't have before?  Was it competing (another shout out to the many teams at the Jigsaw competition, lifters at SPS Rite of Passage)?  Maybe it was a tough mudder, 1/2 marathon, an experiment with 30s day of paleo...etc.? 

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Whatever you have taken the time to try, I am challenging you to go further.  Dig deeper.  Find something you would have never given a second thought to before, and try it.  Whether it's trying trapeze, snowboarding, doing the 2018 CrossFit Open, joining an intramural sport, jumping out of a plane, or starting a dodgeball team... get after it.  Know what it is already?  Post to comments and let your UB family hold you accountable!  Still have commitment jitters?  Enroll a buddy to do it with you!  Who knows?  You won't unless you try.

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!!

Food for Thought: Mind Your Mental Momentum

The following is an interesting sports psychology read from Breaking Muscle.

Momentum is a physical law of nature. Issac Newton tells us that an object at rest tends to stay at rest, and an object that is moving tends to keep on moving. Inertia and momentum are concepts that can easily be applied to human beings, as well. We tend to think of momentum when we are moving through space in a car or at the gym, but it is also a mental phenomenon. 

The concept of momentum can be applied to our dreams, goals, and aspirations, and it can affect us even when we are lying in bed at night. We do not necessarily need to move our bodies in order to keep momentum going, although that is a requirement for physical challenges. But we do need to keep our minds moving in order to keep our dreams alive and on track.

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Momentum of the Mind

It is useful to conceptualize momentum as the speed at which a person propels themselves toward their goals. Those who achieve much during their lifetimes are also the people who constantly move toward making their dreams a reality. While the first part of a goal may be to visualize attaining that goal, it is far from the only action that must be taken. Those who have big dreams, but stop the process at the visualization stage, are an object at rest.

Psychological momentum borrows much from the concept of physical momentum, but with a few metaphysical properties mixed in. Researchers have defined it as:

“… a perceptual phenomenon that changes human behavior and performance. It is ‘experienced as a psychological force in which several factors or qualities converge in a synergistic way to enable one to perform at a level not ordinarily possible”

Once someone has enabled their own psychological momentum, they become more likely to string together successes and achieve multiple goals in a short duration of time.

Momentum Killers

Psychological momentum is every bit as important as physical momentum, and the two become intertwined when striving toward physical goals. However, there are several impediments that can interfere with your psychological momentum.

The most common and most powerful impediment to momentum is fear. While dreaming of significant success is necessary for achievement, those goals often require a large amount of time, commitment, and energy. These requirements tend to intensify the chances of failing at the goal in question. This risk of failure is often perceived as scary, as nobody wants to perceive themselves as a failure, or worse, have others perceive them as a failure. This fear stifles psychological momentum, which then stifles physical momentum, stopping a person from achieving their dreams.

Another impediment to psychological momentum is poverty of the mind. Questions like, “What if I am not good enough?” or “What if I try as hard as I can, but fail anyway?” indicate poverty of the mind, and it is a large part of why so many people fail to realize their achievements and accomplish goals. These obstacles are all mental, which means the only way to overcome them is to persevere, equip a positive attitude, and most importantly, never stop moving toward the ultimate goal, regardless of what it is or what it entails. 

Fear and poverty of the mind are akin to the time of slavery and oppression. Slaves were given a sense of fear and poverty which made them stationary. Because of this, they were obedient and conformed to everything the slave master demanded.

Consider the relationships in your life. Who is injecting the virus of fear and poverty into you? Maybe it’s your work, gym, or school environment. Perhaps it’s the people on your social media networks. Regardless of the source, if you feel enslaved, it is because you are afraid and have been made to feel poor. 

Reversing Inertia

While in Naval Special Warfare training, I suffered a career-altering injury to both of my knees. I immediately felt fear. I was afraid to take the necessary steps to regain my momentum,because I feared the probability of never achieving my vision of success. I fell into a dark place, gained a lot of weight, self-medicated with alcohol, and isolated myself from co-workers, friends and family. I viewed myself as a failure, and had very low self-worth. In short, I became an object at rest.

In order to climb out of the void I was in and free myself from the grips of all that stifled my momentum, I needed to change my environment and set aside limiting beliefs of myself. I surrounded myself with people who gave me courage and made me feel rich inside.

Believe that you are resilient. Find strength in past accomplishments, and see the value in failure. Past performance is not a predictor of future results.

The Tire Won’t Flip Itself

Through my Twelve Labors Project, I have pushed my body to the brink of exertion, and quite honestly, past it. I owe all my previous and future successes to the concept of momentum, both physically and psychologically.

Positive physical and psychological momentum is what allowed me to accomplish my second Labor, flipping a 250-lb tire for thirteen miles straight to raise awareness of veteran mental health issues. I performed this feat the morning after my father passed away, and I attribute my ability to do so to positive psychological momentum.

From a metaphorical perspective, the tire represented an impediment to both physical and psychological momentum. It also represented the heavy burden that some of our nation’s veterans carry from their service. If I stopped flipping the tire for even a moment, or if I put in only a fraction of the effort required, the tire would have fallen back on me, quite literally putting an end to my physical momentum, and putting a large dent in my psychological momentum.

But with enough physical and mental tenacity, that tire kept on flipping, and while the task was nothing like easy, it was much more manageable when I kept my mind and my body moving forward. If I had faltered, or allowed fear, hesitation, or the grief of losing my Dad stifle my momentum, that challenge would not have been completed.

Commitment and a concentrated effort are what allow psychological momentum to continue, and thus allow for the human body to continue moving forward.

Mind Your Mental Momentum

Momentum is something we all know about, but it doesn’t happen on its own. With enough psychological momentum, it is possible to accomplish anything, no matter how big or how small. Pay attention to your own internal momentum, because once it is stopped in its tracks, much like physical momentum, you’ll remain remain right where you are, instead of getting closer to your goals.

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! :)