Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fail Please: Improve By Leaving Your Comfort Zone

We're all admittedly trying to get better, in everything it seems. Every day someone posts in FaceBook an update that they're cleaning up their Paleo diet...again. Every day someone posts how they can't wait to get back to the gym, or how they PR'ed...again. It's great! But sometime I'm going to need you to fail. On purpose. Let me explain.

I'll never forget coaching a WOD and mid-way through I stopped at one woman & quickly reminded her to drop under the power cleans she was doing (instead of struggling to muscle it up to her shoulders). Even though she knew I was trying to help, she yelled, "But I can't DO them if i do them RIGHT!" I laughed pretty hard but haven't forgotten that.

The Trouble

We've got some strong people in this community and we all get excited to see how much we can lift. Sometimes we can muscle (ie force) more weight than we can finesse. You know, you see someone that can pull and wrench a heavily weighted bar up their shoulders for a "clean" but they can't properly squat clean the same bar because they lack the form and balance to move and receive the bar correctly at the bottom of the squat.

Left: slight early arm bend, hips open. Right: no triple and early arm bend. Both got job done, but not ideal! It's nice to be strong eh?
Next you'll see the same person adding weight to the bar because, well, they "got" the last one so it isn't their max right? Um, wrong. This is where I'll be asking you to fail. On purpose. For the sake of all your future lifts.

What happens is we see the workout of the day on the board and get stoked, "I can so do this sub 10min...those power cleans will get tough but I just have to get it done." And so "just getting it done" becomes our primary goal. If your body knows it can get the work done, when you're exhausted, form is likely to revert back to the old incorrect "adrenaline only" method. So all the pointers you'd learned and have been drilling, because they aren't habitual yet, drop to the wayside in favor of "just getting the work done". Truthfully, you can't turn off the Lizard brain that controls this type of fight-or-flight approach to lifts in WODs. What you DO need though is the awareness and humility to remain in control and not allow Lizard to take over.

What To Do

Yeah, I asked you to fail a lift. What I mean is that we are so well trained now to get the work done that I'm re-phrasing the assignment. Find the weak spot in your lift, whether it's lack of speed under the bar, inability to stick the bottom of the squat clean, or not hitting triple extension. Do some lighter lifts focusing on HITTING whatever it is you need to. DARE to fail in order to progress!

*check the pic, correct individual start positions. Due to varying body proportions they look quite different on first glance, but look at the angle of their femurs!
So if I'm working to stick the bottom of a squat clean let's say, I'll start light and make sure that I STICK each rep. If I don't, maybe catch it a little high or lose balance at the bottom, the the rep doesn't count. Do it again. If I have a tendency to short change the triple extension and pull under the bar without opening my hips, I'll put some lightish weight on the bar and start drilling making sure to HIT that triple. I will likely screw up & miss it many times. Sometimes I'll hit the triple but miss the lift because my timings all off (because trying something new). Sometimes I'll get so excited about getting under that I'll forget the triple again. Do it again. This is why we call it practice :)

We all come together at the gym with different backgrounds (football, track, dance, gymnastics, channel surfing), different muscle imbalances, different body proportions, different favored learning techniques and so on. So we all learn and translate our lessons slightly differently and we all end up doing our lifts a little differently. In each class then, we end up with a ton of shades of each lift or movement. My job (our job as coaches) is to get you to YOUR most ideal form, taking into consideration limb length and flexibility etc etc. What YOU need to do is dare to have a worse time today so that you don't continue to add glass bricks to your ceiling with each incorrect lift you engrain into your being.

An Olympian Olympic lifter once told me that form is everything because "your muscles will NEVER lift these weights you want to lift." You have to exploit lever angles and technique. If you insist on doing the lifts wrong (ie just muscling weights) there will always be someone that was willing to develop form that will pass you.

So please, I'm asking you to fail. Dare to fail so that you may learn and learn so that you may kick ass!

With fittest intentions,


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