In my defense, we just didn’t know any better back then.
We were so excited about this fun, new, highly-effective approach to fitness that we threw ourselves at the WODs as they were written, or as close to as we were able, without considering their intended effect. We didn’t read CrossFit.com’s “New to CrossFit, start here” advisory regarding scaling loads, modifying volume and prioritizing movement mechanics. At least I didn’t.
In the early days at CrossFit Vancouver, we were all about the leaderboard and to be at the top, you needed to chase that RX because a 22 minute Grace at the prescribed weight of 135lbs was better than a 3 minute Grace at 115lbs. But is it really?
They called me the Lunger for good reason. Cardio has never been my thing and I was never going to win any WODs that depended upon engine. Elevated heart rate, breathlessness, nausea, not my idea of a good time. On the other hand, I don’t mind the long slow, strenuous WOD that taxes strength or muscular endurance. My quickest and most comfortable route up the leaderboard rankings was to RX those heavy WODs that stymied the athletes with better engines. Never mind that Amanda took me 55 minutes to complete. Never mind that Coach T-Bear described my 6-minute Grace as the ugliest clean and jerks he’d ever seen. I was climbing that leaderboard!
This was such a successful strategy that gave me so many wins without forcing me to work on my under-developed conditioning that in later years I would do workouts at weights heavier than prescribed. I told myself this was in order to get stronger but it was also a way of slowing down the WOD and avoiding metabolic conditioning. And if someone else finished quicker than me, I could tell myself that it was because they were using the lighter RX weight.
Many years and many injuries later I’m reconsidering my immature approach. How many of the injuries I’ve suffered are a product of moving weights in excess of the intended load at volumes programmed for lighter loads? Why have I never achieved a sub 5-minute Fran? What if I had trained the way I train my athletes?
We know so much more about training these days. Experience and maturity have changed our approach. As a coach I won’t have an athlete perform Fran at the prescribed 95lbs until they have a sub 5-minute Fran at 55lbs, then 65lbs, then 75lbs, then 85lbs. This is how Fran was intended to be approached. It’s how The Touch trained himself and his Fran hovers around the 4-minute mark.
I know this. I coach this. And yet as an athlete I’ve continued to battle through benchmarks at the RX’d weight with sub par results. Why? Because that’s how I’ve been doing it for 13 years. Because ego is loathe to give up on that hard-earned RX. I worked so hard to achieve the RX, to make my workout count on the leaderboard, it is hard to give it up now. But the reality is that, until I do, my progress will be stalled and my body will continue to suffer the consequences of over-reaching it’s thresholds.
To move forward I must first take a step back to work on my metabolic conditioning. In recent months I’ve taken on the habit of using lighter loads to push me into that uncomfortable place where my engine, not my strength, is being taxed. And my cranky old body has felt great afterwards! It’s an opportunity to heal while I go back to rebuild that foundational metabolic conditioning level from our hypothetical pyramid of athletic development. Molecular health (nutrition)-Metabolic Conditioning-Body Control (gymnastics)-Moving External Load (weight lifting)-Sport. Because of my early success in this domain, to my own detriment, I’ve been specializing in the athletic skill second from the top of the pyramid while neglecting the two foundational layers just below.
Sometimes it’s hard to get out of your own way. Patience isn’t my greatest virtue. But as they say, “If you don’t take the time to do it right the first time, be prepared to make the time to do it over.” At this point, a step back may be the only strategy that will allow me to make a leap forward. Ego is the serpent whispering in the garden. And sometimes chasing the RX is chasing danger.