OMG Literally Dead

I have seen a lot of social media posts from movement educators (yoga teachers, physical therapists, and others) about various cues being inaccurate. Taking issues with cues is a distraction. The cue isn’t the problem. The cue is a description or a direction but it is not a literal/factual/actual definition. If I cue you not to judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes some uppity movement teacher would chastise me for telling people to steal shoes and blame me for the shin splints and plantar fasciitis resulting from excessive walking in ill-fitting footwear. It’s a power move where the internet coach tries to position themself as an expert by criticizing the way others are doing something and presumably set them straight. Classic. Perhaps that’s what I’m doing to some degree. Regardless, it’s a waste of time and energy and ultimately not advancing the cause of movement education. For example, the one that comes up a lot lately is the “breathe into your belly” cue that is popular with yoga teachers. It’s only been the last decade that movement educators outside of the yoga space have taken any interest in breathing and suddenly they come rushing onto the scene to tell yoga teachers how they are doing it wrong. These newly minted anatomists are quick to point out that we do not have lungs in our bellies and that the cue is woefully inaccurate and misleading. Please!

A “Cue” is a directive from coach or teacher to athlete or student to get them to move or position themselves better. A cue is often a shorthand for a much bigger concept or set of instructions. Some cues are “terms of art” which are words or phrases that have a precise, specialized meaning within a particular field. If I shout “hooks!” at my jiu-jitsu athlete during a training session, he should understand, that I want him to position his feet on the inside of his opponent’s thighs. It is important to understand that the cue is only as good as the result that it gets. The best cue is the one that works. While an anatomically more accurate cue might be less subject to criticism it is useless if it does not get your student into a better position.

If you have been teaching movement for any length of time you will start to realize that talking more does not lead to better movement from your students. Your students move better by moving more. Nobody needs to hear everything, nor can they assimilate everything, on the first pass. In order to free the angels in the marble you need to chisel away over and over. Better movement is more refined movement. More refinement comes from repetition and a gradual improvement on the previous iteration. The job of refining movement is that of a sculptor gradually chipping away the imperfections in the marble until the hidden beauty is revealed. A sculptor takes many passes over the marble with finer and finer tools to eventually get to the finished product. A sculptor that only has a large chisel will never be able to create the fine details in the piece and a sculptor that only has a very tiny chisel will never be able to create the rough shape of the form. Your cues should have many levels of detail depending on where you and your athlete are relative to where you are going.

The job of a teacher is not merely to educate with factual knowledge, The job of a teacher is also to inspire, to entertain, and to challenge their students. The mere recitation of anatomical facts does little to ignite a student’s curiosity or get them over their fear of getting upside-down. The teacher must wear the hat of cheerleader, poet, task master, sage, story teller, and wikipedia author. The job is to curate an experience for the student from beginning to end that will ultimately be the best part of the student’s day. Using flowery language, poetry, telling stories, and cheering for students in subtle and not-so-subtle ways is part of the teacher’s job. A balance must be struck between how much you speak in literal prose and how much you speak in metaphor but both are necessary. Taking any cue out of context will often reveal many deficiencies, but the point is you can never separate the cue from the context. Do not let the literal-minded extinguish your poetry!

Keto Fail

First thing is to acknowledge the failure.

The second thing is to avoid scrapping everything and compounding the failure. “Oh crap, I’m out of ketosis! Well, I might as well eat a whole pizza.” This is an all-to-common reaction. We fall off the wagon and then compound that failure with an even worse failure. Self sabotage at its worst.

Recommit. Get back on track. The sooner the better. Steer the ship back on course.

Assess where you made mistakes and correct for those mistakes.

I woke this morning and knew I was no longer in ketosis. The past 6 weeks I have woken up with renewed energy and a body that felt younger and ready for action. Today I woke up groggy and sore. The past 6 weeks I have used that excess energy to workout almost every day. I skipped Monday and Tuesday and today (Wednesday) my body has no motivation to workout. These feeling were unmistakable signs that I had slipped out of ketosis. I took my blood readings and it confirmed that fact. My ketones were at 0.1 mmol/L (ketosis begins at 0.5) and my blood glucose was remarkably high at 10.8 mmol/L (normal range is 4 – 5.4). I took these readings at 7:30am and my last meal was roughly 12 hours before. I had only drank coffee in the morning so not sure why my blood glucose was so ridiculously high. 10.8 is indicative of metabolic derangement in the form of diabetes or pre-diabetes. Not really worried as long as I get my but back into ketosis.

What could have lead to this?

It probably started Saturday night when I indulged in wine with dinner with my friends. I still felt solid on Sunday and my workout was pretty good. Also Sunday I kept the diet under control so I thought maybe I was back on track. Solution is to go back to avoiding alcohol.

Another possible cause.

I added a little brown rice to my lunch. Even though I was cautious to keep it to 100g (approximately 23g of carbs), it probably pushed my total carbs over the limit.

I also snacked… a lot. Being a dad, I have access to a lot of uneaten snack foods. You give your kids something delicious and they don’t eat it and you decide to not let it go to waste. Once in a while that’s not a big deal but continuous grazing like this is an easy way to push your carb load over the limit.

Over the last week or so I have not been fasting. Usually I like to do an intermittent fast of roughly 14-18 hours. I stop eating roughly around 8pm and have my first meal around noon or later. When I do this regularly I feel great. A great benefit of this is that it shortens my feeding window and therefore I tend to eat much less. When I start eating upon waking (as is easy to do when the kids wake up hungry and I have to cook for them), I tend to eat 4 to 6 times per day. If I shorten the hours that the kitchen is open, then I only eat two or three meals. j

I’ve been eating less vegetables. The keto diet is a high fat diet and vegetables cooked in butter, olive oil, or coconut oil, are a great way to get good quality fats in your system along with phytonutrients and fiber. When I travel, nuts are the preferred fat source as they just travel better. Unfortunately, I got out of the habit of piling greens on my plate for the last couple of weeks. It is time to start piling on the greens again.

I have not been tracking consistently. I use an app called Macros + (My Fitness Pal is another similar app) to track how much I’m eating. It’s easy if you eat the same thing a few days in a row to get out of the habit of tracking. Also sometimes when you eat out, you can fudge the numbers and not completely track everything. Lots of excuses but the end result is less tracking means less compliance. It’s time to get back on track and enter what I eat into the app.

What have I learned?

First, Ketosis is real. I feel when I’m in or out. It’s noticeable and it affects my mood, my body, and my behavior. I feel crappy and I don’t work out.

Second, I have to fight “the creep.” “The creep” is that gradual relaxation of standards. When I started I was gung ho about doing everything right. As I got comfortable, I didn’t try as hard and I tried to get by with less effort. As my standards started to creep in the wrong direction it eventually affected my results.

On the bright side, I caught the error early. I did not compound the failure by eating a whole pizza. I know how to correct the error and am getting back on the horse. Tim Ferriss talks about jump starting ketosis in his book, Tools For Titans. He suggests a longer fast of 24-48 hours and some low-intensity cardio in the form of a long walk of an hour or more. So it’s time to put the headphones on and hit the streets.

Lifting and Rolling

Those of us that lift and roll, i.e. strength train in addition to jiu-jitsu, don’t see what the big deal is. Those that don’t lift and roll, find the concept baffling and the actual practice of it, confounding. The basic complaint is that after a lifting session, the athlete complains that they are too tired to roll or feel weak when they do this is in addition to complaining about the general soreness. The other thing to note is that people that lift and roll also feel sore and tired and weaker when they roll, but they do it anyway.

So why do it? Lifting, done correctly, makes you stronger. Being stronger helps your jiu-jitsu. Period. Training against a larger opponent requires more strength than training against a smaller opponent regardless of the technique. Every move you do you need to apply more force to in order to move that opponent. So being stronger will help. Additionally, strength training will increase the size of the muscles but also help build the tendons that attach the muscles to the bones. Stronger tendons and other connective tissues make your joints more resistant to injury. Strength training also increases your bone density which decreases the risk of fractures. In other words, strength training is protective. It makes your body more resilient and allows you to have greater longevity in the sport.

Here is the common problem. It’s similar to the New Year’s Resolution problem. You get all excited to go back to the gym for the first time in forever and you jump on every machine and do every exercise that you can think of. Then a day or two later you are so sore you can hardly walk much less train. Then you avoid the gym for another week or two and repeat the process and then you quit going to the gym. We see this play out every January when the gyms are packed with people and then in February it’s empty.

What you should do, especially if you are looking to train jiujitsu, is under train. What is under training? It’s going in to the gym and doing much less than you think you need to get any results. When you start training after a long lay off, the excitement to go back and hit it hard is great. But you should be thinking about consistency. Make a commitment to go to the gym two or three days a week and try to spend minimal time and effort there for the first two to four weeks. Just make going to the gym a habit before you try to cram in a bunch of exercise. Over time you can increase the volume and intensity of your workouts, but don’t even worry about that until just showing up is a habit.

For example, let’s say I used to be able to squat over 300lbs when I was training hard. If I go into the gym with the idea that I can still squat over 300lbs even though I haven’t trained in 6 months, I’m going to hurt myself or the very least set myself up for disappointment. Instead, I would start very humbly and load the bar up to 95lbs and do several sets of 5 to 10 reps and call it a day. The next time maybe I would stay at 95lbs or maybe go up to 105lbs. Even if the weight felt ridiculously light I would make it a point to hold myself back. The same goes with upper body exercises. I would make it a point to do far less than what I was capable of. To leave the gym with the desire to come back and do more is far stronger than leaving because you simply couldn’t do any more. When leave the gym and you go to jiujitsu you will walk in full of that energy to continue training. Essentially, using your strength training as a physical and mental warmup to prime the pump for rolling. Gradually from there you can increase the volume and intensity of your gym sessions.

I’m sure someone will read this and say that you will never get anywhere if you keep under training. That’s true. Ultimately, if you want to get stronger and faster, then you have to train harder and lift more. However, what I am advocating is prioritizing your primary goal, getting better at jiujitsu, over your secondary goal, getting stronger. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get stronger, it means that you shouldn’t be trying to do that to the point of it interfering with your primary goal. If your deadlift goes up from 250 to 275lbs you’ve gotten stronger. If I train you just on weightlifting, I could get your deadlift to go up in 6 to 8 weeks. That would be optimal. But that would require making the weightlifting the primary goal for the 8 weeks and your jiujitsu would probably suffer. If I focus on increasing your deadlift over 3 to 4 months, it is less optimal with respect to weightlifting, but still very doable while keeping your jiujitsu game strong. Slow gains are still gains. Consistency is key.

The Sugar Problem

Sugar is possibly the perfect drug. It’s perfectly legal, it’s cheap, it’s highly addictive. Sugar is ubiquitous and quotidian. There is absolutely no barrier to acquiring it. To the contrary, it is so omnipresent that you have to go to surprisingly great lengths to avoid it. I believe that sugar is the most insidious drug facing our society today. I’m sure we can all point to lots of things that sound far worse at first blush. What about opioids? Unlike opioids, sugar doesn’t require a prescription or any illicit transactions to acquire and at least when you take an opioid, you are aware that you are taking a drug. We ingest sugar without a single concern that it may be harmful and addictive. Furthermore, our society is so accepting of it that we do not even bat an eye when purveyors of sugars begin to get our children hooked on it from birth. It is considered so harmless that I sound like a crazy person for even suggesting that it is the cause of a worldwide health crisis.

The Perfect Drug

On average, Americans consume between 150 and 170 pounds of added sugar per year. That degree of sugar consumption leads directly to a condition called hyperinsulinemia, too much insulin in the blood. Hypersinsulinemia is the catalyst for metabolic derangement and chronic disease. Chronic diseases are conditions that last for more than 3 months and are largely self-inflicted and include such killers as coronary heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. Eighty percent of our health care expenditures goes to dealing with these conditions that are largely preventable. There is a mountain of evidence that shows sugar is horrible for you. There is another mountain of evidence that shows that removing added sugar from your diet will have almost magical effects on your health.

This situation of people flagrantly disregarding the overwhelming amount of evidence is not unlike the situation with smoking a few decades ago. For years people thought smoking was great, even healthy, then finally people realized that smoking caused lung cancer and then we got so outraged that the tobacco companies had lied and concealed this fact for years that we sued the tobacco companies and put warning labels on cigarettes. Can you imagine? Tobacco companies knowingly sold harmful, deadly cigarettes for years and all we did was put warning labels on them. People still smoke despite knowing how bad cigarettes are. It hasn’t changed much. But at least we don’t have as many ads targeting children.

The same situation is happening with sugar except the sugar people are marketing to everyone, kids and parents especially. Maybe one day we can bring a class action suit against the sugar companies. Maybe we can get warning labels placed on every product that contains added sugar. But the problem would be that would require us to put a warning label on almost every processed food. At that point nobody would really notice because everything they touched in the store would have a label. If everything has a warning label, then nothing has a warning label.

Maybe the best thing is to just get everyone to give up sugar. Sadly, I’m sure that will not happen. The companies that make all those sugar-laden foods, have too much at stake to let us just give up sugar. A company like RJR Nabisco, Coca Cola, and Pepsi have billions of dollars tied up in sugar-laden foods and beverages. They have lobbyists in Washington, DC. They have scientists putting out studies that say their processed foods are “healthy.” They have billions of money in marketing putting out propaganda that says sugar is perfectly fine and “exercise is medicine.” They put the burden on the consumer to try to out exercise their crappy diet.

As a recovering sugar addict, I know how hard it is to give up sugar. Hyper-palatable foods laden in sugar call my name every day. I can’t go anywhere without carbs staring me in the face and challenging my resolve. That’s just the way the world is. However, I know if I can resist them them, then so can you.

Athlete vs. Warrior

What does it mean to be an athlete? Athletes tend to prize certain characteristics such as drive, determination, competitiveness, commitment, and adaptability. Athletes also comport to a code of conduct referred to as sportsmanship. Good sportsmanship means to play fair, be a team player, lose gracefully, win with class and dignity, respect the officials, and respect the other team.

What does it mean to be a warrior? To be a warrior one must possess strength, courage and honor. Warriors follow a code of Bushido which espouses honor, obedience, duty, and self-sacrifice. On a philosophical level these two groups are not at odds, in fact, they overlap nearly perfectly. Thus it is not surprising that many athletes look to the great warrior texts such as The Art of War and The Book of Five Rings for inspiration and guidance.

What is surprising is that martial artists do not look more closely at the best practices of athletes to help them physically prepare. I work with a lot of athletes and the best ones all do similar things. They eat right. While each athlete might have a different plan for how they eat, they all have a plan. Good athletes are in control of the quality of their food as well as the quantity of their food. They keep track of there macro and micro nutrients. Good athletes understand that proper nutrition is essential to your performance and health.

The best athletes work hard in the gym to keep their bodies functioning at a high level. Varsity and professional weight rooms are filled with athletes getting after it. There are coaches helping them not only get stronger but also fixing imbalances and preparing their bodies to be injury resistant.

The best athletes warm up. They show up early and prepare their bodies and minds for the training session or the competition at hand. They know that a good warm up not only helps them avoid injury but also helps them get mentally prepared to work hard.

The best athletes take their recovery seriously. The best athletes are nerds and go to bed early. They stretch and roll and get massages and take care of small aches and pains before they become bigger problems.

The best athletes use their practice time to fix their mistakes. I see a lot of athletes that are not that impressive in practice. They seem a little slow and sometimes look like they have two left feet, but when it’s game day they are MVPs. What I have come to realize is that good athletes will use their training sessions to fix mistakes and work on new skills. They are not concerned with how they look in practice because they are consciously working on new skills which naturally makes them slightly slower and more awkward. That’s how the best athletes continue to improve.

In addition to spending time with high level athletes, I spend a lot of time with enthusiasts and hobbyists. It is okay to merely come to the gym or dojo to look better for the summer. And, honestly, sometimes it’s more fun to hang out with people that are not seriously competitive athletes. However, we could all adopt a few better practices that would help us improve.

You do not need to revamp your whole diet, but you could make sure you eat more protein especially after you work out. You could consider removing some processed foods from your diet. You don’t have to hire a professional coach, but you could do some more burpees and swing a kettlebell every other day. You do not need to hire a professional masseuse, but you could make sure you show up in time to warmup for class and stay 10 minutes later and do some stretching before you leave.

Taking a few small steps will add up to better performance and longevity. Think like a warrior and act like an athlete.

All Other Things Being Equal

There is a common argument that is put forth so much that we do not think about how stupid it is. The argument goes like this, “All other things being equal, the person with more X will prevail.” The argument is always used by someone that is trying to sell you more X. The fallacy of the argument is that the way it is set up, no matter what X is it will confer an advantage over people that are otherwise equally endowed. So no matter what X is, the statement always holds true for X as well as Y or Z.

For example, you hear this in competitive sports all the time, “All other things being equal, the athlete that is _________ will win.” You could fill the blank with “stronger,” “faster,” “heavier,” “better conditioned,” etc. The point is anybody that has an advantage of any kind and can capitalize on that advantage will be victorious. The argument that one advantage is more advantageous than another is specious.

Yes being stronger than your opponent is helpful if you can capitalize on that. The same is true of having better endurance or a better strategy. But all other things are not equal. They are never equal. Ever. You and your opponent both have strengths and weaknesses. The best path to victory is not trying to merely outdo everyone with strength, speed, or endurance. Because what will you do when you encounter someone stronger than you? Remember, there is always someone stronger than you. Always.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

-Robert A. Heinlein

You need to be strong when your opponent is weak. You need to be fast when your opponent is slow. You need endurance when your opponent is gassed. You need strategy when your opponent is confused. You need to be centered when your opponent is scattered. Your fitness is not one thing, it is many things. Your success should be built on many things not one thing. Specialization is for insects.

Your training off the mat should make you formidable on many levels. Train to have no weaknesses that your opponent can exploit. Train so hard off the mat, that rolling is always easy in comparison.

Your Cardio Sucks

Here’s a phrase I want you to ponder, “cardio-respiratory endurance is modal specific.” What does it mean? Let me give you an example. Lance Armstrong won seven Tour de France victories and was considered the best cyclist of all time. Prior to becoming the greatest cyclist, he was a reknowned triathlete as a teenager. After retiring in 2005, he decided to run the 2006 New York Marathon. Yet the best cyclist in the world, who had triathlon experience, who was coached by elite marathoners, and who was likely taking the best performance enhancing drugs available at the time, was only able to perform above average at the marathon. Many people speculated that since he had the best cardio endurance of any athlete alive at the time, he would be able to dominate in an endurance event like the marathon. Yet human physiology proved them wrong.

You take the best cyclist in the world and put her in a boat, in running shoes, on cross-country skis, in a gi, or in any other event other than cycling, and she will cease to be dominant. How many times have you heard people new to jiu-jitsu remark that “grappling is a different type of cardio” or some version of that statement. At the most basic level, cardio-respiratory endurance is the exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide. As you train, the body will get more efficient at intaking oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide. That’s a good thing. However, efficiency at running does not translate perfectly to efficiency at jiu-jitsu. Jiu-jitsu uses many more muscles than running, it requires changes of tempo and direction, it requires both isometric holding of positions and dynamic, explosive movements. Jiu-jitsu utilizes the anaerobic as well as the aerobic energy pathways. It should not come as a surprise that 20 minutes of cardio on a treadmill doesn’t have much carry over to a 7-minute grappling session. This is why you see people come in to jiu-jitsu for the first time and they seem fit from the gym, but they gas quickly when on the mat.

This is not an excuse for you to stop doing cardio!

If you want to improve your cardio-respiratory endurance on the mat (and you should!), then you need to train in such a way that has carryover to BJJ. You need to do short fast intervals. You need to do longer workouts with high rep full-body movements, You need to train with multiple modalities in a single workout. You need to change your workouts often to avoid plateaus.

Strength vs. Technique

Being stronger is better. Period. Anybody that tells you otherwise, doesn’t know anything about being strong or about being better. Strength is not just how hard you contract your muscles nor is it how big your muscles are. Strength is the productive application of force. Strength is force applied at the right place and at the right time to complete a task. If you cannot complete the task, then you are not strong enough. No amount of stepping on the pedal or turning the wheel will make your car go forward if there is no engine under the hood. The bigger the engine the faster the car goes. There is no real world situation where strength is a disadvantage. It’s not the only important thing but you should never pass up an opportunity to get stronger and avoid people that encourage you to do so as they are not to be trusted.

Jiujitsu guys love to give lip service to technique. And you see guys complain when they get tapped that the other guy was using too much strength and their technique was bad. A tap is a tap. In the real world we don’t tap just because someone used good technique. We tap because the move worked. Technique is merely the movements or positions used to accomplish a task. There are many many different techniques that can be used to accomplish the same task. When we rate a technique as good or bad what we are really looking at is the amount of energy expended to accomplish the same task. One technique is “better” than the other if it accomplishes the same task with less energy. Both good and bad techniques can be effective and accomplish the task, but the more efficient technique will lead to better results in the long run.

I want you to have strength and technique because both of these vectors point in the same direction. We have all faced the person who has limited technical ability but they make up for it with a lot of strength and they are tough opponents and can overcome very advanced practitioners just based on their size and strength. We have also faced some tiny black belt that seems very frail yet they are able to gradually break down our defenses and submit us. However, the most formidable opponents are the ones that are strong and technical.

To separate strength from technique is actually a fallacy and cannot be done. Strength and technique both point toward task accomplishment, i.e. getting the job done. An athlete that has good technique will appear stronger because the techniques they use will maximize the force they can apply to an opponent. Conversely, a stronger athlete can overcome technical deficiencies with their strength and pull off moves that a weaker athlete would not be able to.

Choose strength and use that strength to bolster your techniques.

Simple Jiujitsu Workout

A common problem in jiujitsu is that people fatigue and give up position or their grip gives out when they are going for a submission and eventually have to let go before the opponent taps. These are failures of stamina and cardio-respiratory endurance. Stamina can be thought of as localized muscular endurance. Muscle fatigue is usually due to 1) the inability to supply them with enough ATP and/or 2) the inability get rid of the waste that is the byproduct of vigorous muscular activity. “Gassing” or failure of the cardio-respiratory system is due to 1) the inability to uptake enough oxygen and/or 2) the inability expel carbon dioxide expediently. Regardless of the deficiency, you need both stamina and cardio. It is of little use to have strong grip but get gassed before you can apply a choke or, in the alternative, can run circles around your opponent but cannot hold on to them. While these are different physiological and biological functions, in truth, there is lots of overlap.

Training your grip and lungs simultaneously might not optimize either function but will more accurately replicate the demands of a jiujitsu match where you need to be able to grip while your heart rate is high. With a little imagination you can create a vast amount of great workouts that will address both issues. Here is my suggestion for a very jiujitsu specific workout that will immediately start to improve your game. This is also the simplest workout I could think of that requires a minimum of space, time and equipment, thus it is nearly impervious to all your shitty excuses.

Equipment: 1) A pull-up bar or something to hang from. If you do not have a pullup bar, exposed beam, door frame, scaffolding, or staircase to hang from, then open a door and simply hang off the top of the door or throw a towel over the door and grab the towel. You will also need enough space to jump and lay on the floor.

Workout: Hang from the pull-up bar for as long as you can. When you finally come off the bar, immediately do 20 burpees and then jump up and hang from the bar again. Continue for as long as your typical match would be according to your rank.

White belt -5min; Blue belt – 6min; Purple belt – 7min; Brown belt – 8min; Black belt – 10min.   

If you are an adult blue belt, your matches typically last 6 minutes. Start the clock and jump up and hang from your pullup bar. Let’s say you can hang for 45 seconds, when you drop down you immediately start doing 20 burpees. As soon as you finish, you jump up and grab the pullup bar. Let’s say the burpees took 1 minute, you should be back up on the pullup bar at 1:46 and trying to hang again. Most likely you will come off much sooner the second time and each time after. If you find that you cannot consistently do 20 burpees consecutively and quickly (90 seconds or less), then drop the burpees down to around 10-15 reps. Any resting time should be done while hanging from the bar and any time on the ground should be spent doing burpees. Work to the point where you can hang for one minute or more each time you get on the bar. Then work on increasing the speed of the burpees until 20 can be done in less than a minute.

Once your hang times are consistently over a minute and your burpees are consistently less than a minute, then extend the time to the next belt level. Once you can do this for 10 hard minutes, you start to alternate hands while hanging so you are only hanging by one arm at a time or put on a weightvest.

If you want to make it more challenge, hang from one arm at a time and/or wear a weightvest.

Should I Scale?

It’s “Open Season!” The CrossFit Games Open: The five weeks from February through March where CrossFitters all over the World compete with each other to see how they stack up. It is an amazing and stressful time of year for athletes and affiliate gym owners. For the affiliate owners, it throws a wrench into your regular flow of classes and programming because you have to clear out at least one day per week to run the weekly workout as well as time for people to make it up if they miss it or want to repeat it. You are also stressed because you have no idea what the workout is every Thursday night when it is announced. You do not know in advance what equipment or space or time requirements you will need for the weekly workout. The workouts have ranged from 4 minutes to 20 minutes and have required multiple pieces of equipment and space requirements that can tax the resources of smaller boxes.

On the other end, the athletes are faced with a new challenge each week that they are expected to give their all to. This means that between each weeks challenge the athlete has to continue to train but also recover enough to be prepared for the next challenge. Program has to be potent enough to keep athletes progressing and getting fitter throughout the five weeks, but also forgiving enough to allow athletes to be fresh each weekend to perform the workout once (or possibly more times).

The biggest question for most athletes is whether they should scale the workouts. For many athletes, the Open presents an opportunity to try going Rx’d for the first time and getting a personal record (PR). It might be some athlete’s first double under or pull-up or an opportunity to lift more weight than they ever have before. It’s this aspect of the Open that is the most inspiring across the community. Watching people dig deeper and expect more of themselves and those around them is the best. That being said, scaling is still a great choice for a lot of people. Take a realistic look at where you are at with respect to what is asked of you in the workout. If you cannot do a pull-up or a dip, then spending 14 minutes trying muscle ups is pretty pointless. Scale it so you can workout hard. If you’re close to a skill and have never had success previously, then the Open might be the right time to go Rx’d and see if you can get a PR.

However, if you really are going to sit around for most of the workout practicing, then maybe you should allocate that time to practice, but then do the workout scaled and get a good workout. Here is what most people forget about a properly scaled workout: it’s still a hard workout. You’ve simply taken what is an impossible workout and made it possible. If you think your scaled workout is too easy: you either did not scale it correctly or you were not trying hard enough. I recommend most people work on their movement first and their intensity second and then worry about the weights. People are eager to master more complicated skills and add more weight and that’s great but, in the meantime, work on getting the most out of the lighter weights and easier variations but being able to work at intensity. It’s the intensity that is going to get you results.

The workout this weekend (18.3) was a long one and I scaled it. I feel good about my choice, because it became a good workout for me. None of the moves or reps or weights in the scaled version by themselves were a challenge to me: single unders, overhead squats at 45lbs, dumbbell snatches at 35lbs and pullups. However, the challenge was to move as fast possible through the 928 reps. My goal was to keep moving and rest as little as possible. I finished the workout in 12:26 and I only had very small breaks in the transitions or when I tripped on the jump rope or could no longer hold on to the pull-up bar. Certainly there is room for improvement. It was a good test of my fitness and let me know that while I have some capacity in one gear, I need to find another gear and work on going faster still. My goal was to finish in around 11 minutes, so I missed the mark by about 90 seconds. The althernative was doing a bunch of double unders and overhead squats and then spending the remaining time trying to eek out a couple of muscle ups. Sure that would be fine but not much of workout. It would be a different kind of victory to get some muscle ups and feel good in that regard. However, the workout of 200 double unders and 20 overhead squats would just be an appetizer to the main dish of muscle up practice for 10 minutes. Whereas, by scaling I got to just push myself 14 minutes and get a fun and challenging workout.

There’s not one right way to do things, but choosing your adventure can change the outcome so think about what you want. And there is no rule that says you can’t do both.