We all walk into the gym on a daily basis with different goals. Ultimately, we all tend to want to get fitter, but individually we may differ in other regards. Maybe we want to get our heart rate up to make up for the cheesecake we ate over the weekend. Maybe we want to post the best time on the leader board for the WOD. Maybe we had 4 too many beers while at the beach. Or maybe we just want to catch up with our gym friends and happen to workout by default. Rarely however, does someone walk into the gym and think, "I want to focus on keeping my shoulder blades together and maintain good spinal alignment while deadlifting today." To avoid injury, increase our performance, and have more efficient and effective workouts, we all need to remember the three primary aspects of our workouts: practice, training, and competition.
On a weekly basis, we all should be working in each of those categories. But, especially in our world of CrossFit, where lifting the heaviest, working the fastest, and doing the most reps is king, we tend to neglect how much time we should be doing each of these. In Ben Bergeron's Podcast, "How to Train with Intention," he hits the nail on the head. As CrossFitters, we tend to spend very little time practicing, a lot of time training, and way too much time competing. He defines each of the following below:
Practice - low loads, low heart rates, with the goal of improving movements
Training - heavy loads, high heart rates, with the goal of improving your engine or strength
Competition - max loads, max heart rates, with the goal of beating someone else.
Essentially, we should be practicing about 45% of the time, training about 45% of the time, and only competing about 10% of the time. In short, on a daily basis, you should be practicing about half the workout and training for the other half. Then, once a week, you can crush that workout and compete to your highest level.
Most of us walk into the gym ready to train, often with competition in mind. The leaderboard is both a blessing and a curse. It can be a fun way to compete against your fellow athletes and also extremely supportive when Jane Doe finishes Fran for the first time RX. Fist bumps and comments flood her SugarWOD with amazing support.
However, the downfall comes when someone looks at the scores on a daily basis with the sole intention of winning. I am one of the most competitive people in the gym, but have recently begun to realize, I am just doing it too much. My lifts were hitting a plateau and I was just not improving at the rate I expected. I was spending was too much time competing and never really practicing. I was also trying to win every MetCon, even if form was sacrificed a bit. Keeping this trend is a great way to compete yourself out of shape, or in many cases, into injury.
Given our typical workouts at Aspire Sports Lab, we should be practicing for the first portion of the workout. During warm-up, we should be striving towards perfect form, asking questions, and keeping the load light. As we warm-up our lifts in a strength workout, this should all be practice.
For example, today's Back Squat looked like this:
Back Squat for load: #1: 5 reps @ 45% #2: 5 reps @ 45% #3: 3 reps @ 50% #4: 2 reps @ 60% #5: 5 reps @ 70% #6: 3 reps @ 80% #7: 1+ rep @ 90% (all loads based on 1 RM)
The goal of rounds 1-4 is practice. Work on technique while slowly increasing load. One aspect of the movement should be focused on to correct. As we get into sets 5,6 and 7, now we are training. Although technique is still vital, here we are free to push our body to heavy loads, thus increasing our strength. This translates to 4 sets of practice and only 3 sets of training. Technique is drastically improved through practice, not competition.
Now, our metabolic conditioning portion of the workout (on most days of the week) should be all training. We do want to push our body to intensity, as long as proper technique is maintained. We are not looking for short cuts just to beat Sally on the leaderboard. If you can do it with great form, go for it. But, we should have thought and precision behind all of our movements. Today is for training. Tomorrow may be to compete, but that's not today's goal.
In all, if we truly want to progress as athletes and do it safely, we need to remember where we should spend most of our time. Although we may be tempted to come into the gym and begin training immediately then compete, we are only setting ourselves up for plateaus, injuries, and frustration. Practice everyday. Train everyday. And compete once a week at most!
Watch Ben Bergeron's podcast here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOobQ4TDVmw
Sean Spire is the Head Coach of ASL. He was a competitive swimmer who discovered CrossFit and Ironman Triathlons. He has his BS in Exercise Science from Florida State University.