Gwen and I have begun an Olympic Lifting Program based on Catalyst Athletics workout routines. I’ve been reading Gregg Everett’s excellent book on the subject and frequently study his videos in the absence of a physical coach. I decided to spend the next two months focusing almost exclusively on Olympic Lifts and heavy squatting in our workouts. While we will still be incorporating running and metabolic conditioning; it will be only two days a week and not coincide with lifting days. This is something I’ve been preaching about for a while now along with several high level CrossFit coaches in the community. If you lack the strength to perform the lifts you want then you need to take time off from WOD’s and metabolic beat-downs and spend some time cultivating strength and adding muscle to your frame. Though I’ve said it a hundred times here on my blog and in my gym; it’s nearly impossible to add significant muscle and perfect lifts just from following WOD’s every day.
Shifting this much focus towards barbell work and a few keystone lifts also got me thinking about another maxim of training that seems to be quickly forgotten in this modern age of “constantly varied” fitness; the old tricks are the best tricks. You can pretty much gauge the effectiveness of a piece of equipment or exercise move by its complexity. The simpler it is the more effective it will be. Too many clients and trainees today have filled their homes and gyms with a complicated suite of technical gear and gadgets. CrossFit gyms are by no means exempt from this with their rowers, racks, medicine balls, jump boxes, bands, TRX straps, Dip bars and the list goes on. The fact is that it is possible for any human being to build a tremendous level of fitness with nothing more than a barbell, a few plates, and a Pullup bar. I sometimes feel we have become too reliant on gear in cross training and less dependent on ingenuity and intensity. I kind of admire the direction strongmen are taking with their training in that they just look around for heavy everyday objects to lift, pull, push, or shove. The little gym specific training they do practice consists of simple, and to the newest wave of trainees, ancient movements like Deadlifts, Military presses, and Back Squats.
Personally I feel training should be more about dedication, drive, and focus and less about making it interesting and fun. Let’s be honest; if you have time to get bored with your workout you’re really not working that hard then are you? I’m usually more concerned with not puking, peeing myself, or blacking out when I’m lifting then whether or not this is exciting. Of course I think for me and those who train like I do working out is not our new hobby or obsession it’s almost a career. It’s a means to an end and part of a journey to a goal. We suffer through repetition and repeated workout because we understand this is how you “train” and progress. We repeat certain lifts and moves to become proficient at them until setting up and performing becomes muscle memory and almost automatic. If you’ve ever worked as a CrossFit instructor and groaned every time you have to re-teach groups moves they did two weeks ago because you do them so infrequently then you know what I’m talking about.
I’m not arguing against cross training, it’s actually what I teach and even what I use to train myself. However I am saying there’s a time and place for simplification and specialization. Nobody will ever be great at everything and it’s a mistake to expect students and trainees to become complete fitness ninjas by occasionally exposing them to moves as you cycle through a constantly changing program and varied regimen. Will some get bored whine complain and maybe even leave; probably. But that’s okay. That type of person isn’t doing this for the health benefit or to train for a goal it’s a compulsion to them, an addiction to feed and nurture. Gym-jumpers, and program tourists, as I like to call them are everywhere these days. I consider it my job to weed them out early so I can focus on the dedicated clients and the focused trainee. My time is not unlimited and I’d prefer to spend it on those who appreciate it and listen, not someone who expects me to entertain them for an hour because their lives are so shallow, empty, and meaningless that they need others to fulfill them.
So what’s the take home from this article? First sometimes it will benefit you to keep things simple. Don’t let fancy equipment, gear, and apparel delude you to the necessities of training. I often get caught up in this myself. All that’s really needed to achieve results are your own body, determination, focus, and intensity. Second I always tell my clients that building a foundation of strength and range of motion is more important than flashy moves, and crazy exercises. For instance if you can’t do a strict Pullup leave the muscle-ups to others. Don’t worry about snatches and cleans if you have not even mastered the Deadlift and Back Squat. Finally fitness is made by what you put into your workouts, not where you workout or what you use to exercise. Dedication and the discipline to complete your workout as programmed everyday will beat out showing up at a well stocked gym and screwing around to have fun for an hour.