I'm cross-posting an interesting blog entry from Melissa Byers' blog "Byers Gets Diesel" which comes out of an online conversation between us.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Confessions of a CrossFit hussy
First, let me just say that after killing myself in yesterday's WOD... things just HURT. It started to hit me last night, which did not bode well for today. Thank Oprah it's a rest day, because I'm pretty sure I'm not good for anything else right now.
Continuing from Tuesday’s post, where I discussed leaving “Noviceland” and all those regularly scheduled PRs behind…
Confession: In the past, I’ve been a bit of a PR slut. I would do anything to be able to tack those two letters on to the end of something. So at the end of my workout, despite being mentally and physically spent, I’d invariably load up the bar with a few extra pounds and try to pull one more rep, just to say I did. Even on days where I was supposed to be working straight sets across, I’d almost always finish off with a new 1RM attempt. It just felt GOOD to be able to say that I pulled a new PR. And it’s oh-so-tempting to toss just one more plate on the bar and give it a go.
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, because I see other people stretching to put those letters on lots of different things. We’ve claimed “PR for reps” or “PR for sets”, for example. But where does it end? Is there a “PR for rest” – I moved the same weight, but I rested less between each set? Can I claim a PR for a brand new workout – I’ve never done it before, so it’s a “PR by default”? I recognized that my PR motivations were starting to get out of hand. And it wasn’t long before these cheap and dirty workout one-night-stands were actually weakening my form, jacking up my programming and steadily pushing me down the path to injury.
I realized that I’m not doing myself any favors by whoring myself out to these two little letters. For one, if I’m supposed to work a 5x5 and instead work a 4x5 and a single, I’m shorting myself four whole reps and a whole lot of weight. Two, I’m also not getting better at these exercises by sacrificing practice with good form in favor of hitting a sloppy 1RM attempt. And three, throwing in these haphazard PR attempts often resulted in failure, which only made me MORE determined when it came time for the next day’s (unscheduled and ill-advised) attempt. Can you say “overtraining” and “injury”?
And yet CrossFit expects – no, demands – 100% effort and intensity… which should translate to frequent PR attempts, right? I mean, “100%” IS “max effort”, which means in my overachieving, perfectionist little brain, CrossFit WANTS me to shoot for a PR every day. But that just sounds unrealistic, doesn’t it? Not to mention that pulling single reps day in and day out isn’t the most effective path to strength, skill, and balanced fitness. So given what I believe is a CrossFit paradox, how am I supposed to reconcile the “intensity” that is demanded of us (and is synonymous with setting PRs) with the “perfect practice” required to build strength, improve form and increase skill? I decided to ask Max Lewin of CrossFit East Bay for some advice. Here is an excerpt from our discussion.
BYERS: Okay, so am I really supposed to shoot for a PR EVERY time I hit a workout?
LEWIN: This is not really possible, or many of us would be superhuman by now. How often you can hit PRs depends on where you fall on the continuum of genetic potential versus genetic actualization. If you are a beginner, far, far away from your genetic potential, gains come easy and hitting PRs every time is not out of the question. The closer you get to your genetic potential, the harder it is to hit PRs. As solid intermediates, we should be trying to hit some PRs, perhaps one every few weeks, depending on how long we have been doing it. Of course one good way to hit new PRs is to try something new, and be back at the bottom of the food chain.
BYERS: Okay, so maybe I can’t hit a PR every day, but CrossFit says I’m supposed to go after every workout at 100%. If I’m going for high intensity in every workout, when do I get the chance to just PRACTICE these movements?
LEWIN: First, it is impossible to give 100% effort to every single workout. Second, one excellent scheme that allows practice in the context of CF is two or three weeks at full intensity and the third and/or fourth week at 1/2 volume. Using light weights, reduced volume, intentional reduced speed or all three allows for practice. Also, if you are not practicing the movements with light weight/speed/intensity before the workouts, you ought to be. Pretty much every time.
We should all keep in mind that it is no virtue to pound through a workout as fast as possible at any cost. That way lies injury, a lack of coordinational improvement, poor form, decreased efficiency, and, generally, less than full range of motion. This last point is important. A lack of full ROM automatically equals less work volume and makes no sense, if full ROM is possible. This is so often simply ego, or a desire to move as quickly as possible. If you deadlift 300# but can only stand up to 90% of full extension, you might as well have lifted 270# with perfect form and full extension. The amount of work is exactly the same, it is safer and those who understand will be much more impressed with a beautiful maximal lift than a heavy ugly one. My favorite quote of all time from Coach Glassman on full ROM: "I ran a three-minute mile, but it was only half a mile".
* Perfect practice can live in harmony with high intensity
* Max efforts should be included, but in a structured fashion
* Check your ego at the door
* Follow the path of virtuosity
More on my conversation with Max later this week, as he had some more great advice about setting goals and structuring a strength-based program. And you can read his “virtuosity” post in its entirety here. It's worth clicking through.
So as of today, call me a good girl, because my PR promiscuity is a thing of the past. My new program will include a lot more 3x5 and 5x5 weight sessions, and far fewer 1RM attempts. In addition, I will incorporate “perfect practice” into my programming on a daily basis, in my work sets, as part of my warm-up AND in dedicated half or three-quarter intensity weeks without a time or weight component. And finally, my new rule is that a PR attempt is not allowed during perfect practice time. If I’m feeling strong, I’ll just do more reps, but I will not load the bar up past my previous 1RM.
A big thank you to Max for all of his help. Post thoughts to comments, and visit CrossFit East Bay for more great programming and WOD ideas.