23 December 2020

What is it that holds you back?

You train hard, smart and consistently but feel like you’ve reached a plateau.

So, is it your psychology that holds you back or your physiology?

Psychology – The characteristics of the mind and its functions, especially those affecting behaviour.

Physiology – The functions and mechanisms within a living system.

Both these topics are multi faceted and incredibly nuanced. But for sake of this discussion I’ll aim to distil it down to something much more oversimplified and keep it within the realm of training.

Let’s call these terms your ability to “suffer” and your “capacity.”

These are terms regularly used within the CrossFit sphere and would be two sides of the same coin that make up the athlete as a whole.

A common misconception.

The term “suffer” is the one most thrown around. There’s endless talk and marketing around it and similar terminology. We’re led to believe that how much someone can suffer, or how much they love the pain cave and all this nonsense is the holy grail. The attitude and belief being that all you need to do is suffer more and more and the one who suffers the most wins.

Ironically the best performers in endurance sports are more efficient and economic then the rest, meaning that each rep comes easier and with less cost to the system to them, then it does others. Does this sound like suffering?

This is not to imply they can’t or don’t suffer, but in terms of what makes them great and better then the rest, it’s not purely suffering in isolation.

Attempting to answer a complex conundrum.

Back to our original question, “What holds you back?”

Truth is unfortunately its most likely a combination of both. GOSH DARN IT!! Probably not the answer you wanted. But let’s create some practical approaches to develop both of these in tandem, allowing us to break plateaus and consistently progress.

Simply the way we would do this, is by building larger amounts of controlled work, to allow both systems to develop together in order to progress to faster rates of work over time.

We already know this to be true in some degree and accept it in other domains. For example, strength. If someone has a back squat of 100kg, would you load 200kg on it and tell them to just suffer through it as they fold up like a deck chair in front of you?  No! We know in order to build that squat, we need to perform volumes of work at sub maximal efforts and slowly creep up those numbers we hit consistently towards our max, for long periods of time.

A building is only as good as its foundation.

Something I ask my clients and we consistently preach at CrossFit Light is sustainability. We create this foundation through the recording of our round times. Recording round times and creating sustainable and repeatable times is the first step in the process. This is building our “capacity.” Its important that it is consistent and sustainable first, in order to set the foundation to build from.

If its not consistent, if it’s not sustainable and if its not repeatable then we are shooting in the dark! We are using subjectivity to decide whether we did well or not. Meaning I suffered, there fore it must be a good session, right? This is guess work. This will not create a strong foundation and will not promote long term progress and purpose.

It’s just like dangling a carrot.

Once we have put the time in to build this base and we understand the edges of our capacities, then all we need to do is reach a little past. We all have a natural proclivity to reach for things. This is when we learn to “suffer” correctly.

A very simple example, when we know through long term repetition and consistency that we can sustain and repeat a 2min effort on a given piece, then we reach for 1:59, and then in time 1:58 and so on. As we reach ever so slightly more and more, our capacity grows along side our ability to dig deep. As we dig deeper and deeper, the suffering sets in more and more, but because we know and understand our limits, we know all that we are asking ourselves is to reach just past that. This is how the best in the world suffer. They intrinsically understand their limits and there able to reach just outside them.

Most people never set their foundation and they never take the time to learn their limits. They never learn to suffer or truly work to the edges of capabilities because everything they aim at is out of reach. Their progress and purpose are lost somewhere within the unknown.

Indiscriminate action is a form of laziness.

You beat everyone off the first machine, well done, but you then spend the next 20 minutes putting chalk on your hands and staring at your feet.

Guess what, it’s easy to buckle yourself straight out of the gate in a workout. It’s also amateurish and demonstrates an immature approach to training. Its what novices do! Its also lazy. That’s right, your being lazy! It takes no effort or purpose to do this.

For some this may feel like you’re taking a step back initially. It may feel as though you’re “going slow” or “not working hard” but as a coach who watches people train for a living, I’m telling you now, you’re not!

The best truly understand what they’re capable of. Its not just guess work. What gets measured, gets weighed. Start to record your split times, learn to understand where the edges of your capacities lie, then use that as your base to explore from.

Suffering is always closer than you think, but suffering for suffering sake, just so you can tell yourself and others “you worked hard” is not how we improve long term.

Let’s level up.

-Written by Andrew collins