Assessing Values and Goals, Part III: Application to Training

Ryan ODonnellUncategorizedLeave a Comment

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The following is a 3 part series dealing with assessing or reassessing your gym values and goals and how to then apply your training to those goals. In a more basic sense, I want you to find your reasons WHY you come to the gym and then help you figure out HOW to apply your training to those reasons.

This is part 3: Application to Training

For 99% of the population, I think that the standard 3-5 times a week CrossFit routine with a decent diet will get you and keep you as fit as you need to be. This post is aimed mainly at those who strive to do more.

Many of the more experienced athletes at the gym may have noticed me asking them a lot of questions about their extra training:

“Why are you doing barbell club and a class WOD in the same day?”

“Why are you working on your butterfly/muscle up/HSPU/etc. so often?”

“Why are you doing some extra weightlifting/cardio/etc. today?”

The typical answers I get to these questions sound like this:

  • “Because my lifting sucks.”
  • “Because I need to get better at muscle ups.”
  • “Because I need to improve my cardio.”
  • “Because I have to get better.”

These answers are all very general, and, honestly, not very good ones. I’ll give you a few reasons why.

First, nothing you do in the gym sucks. The fact that you’re here is awesome. Simply putting in the time to get fit is fantastic. You might suck at video games, or basketball or cooking, but your lifting and cardio don’t suck. Second, unless you’re an active competitor you don’t NEED or HAVE TO get better at anything. If you’ve got a competition coming up and want to work on some skills that’s great, but do it smartly. You don’t need to get better, you need to get fit and healthy. Games athletes NEED to get better, it’s their job.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with doing more than straight CrossFit programming, in fact I do. However, it’s important to make sure you’re doing that extra work both intelligently and effectively. So how to do we that? Here’s the first step.

Identify if your is training problematic

Coming to terms with the fact that your training is not in line with your goals is the first step to helping you stop spinning your tires. I’ll give you a personal example. Here was how I trained previously:

  • I worked out twice a day three or four times a week.
  • My focuses outside of normal CrossFit programming were:
    • strength training
    • gymnastics skills (I really wanted to get 10 unbroken muscle ups)
    • snatching (I was frustrated because this was my worst lift).


Aside from trying to do way too much, there were several problems I encountered. The first was too much volume. This affected both my physical well being and my schedule. My muscles couldn’t recover in time to follow my program and I had little free time. I look back now and think about how stupid I was to spend so much time at the gym considering I’m not even close to being a competitive athlete. The second problem was that it was no fun. I left the gym more frustrated than when I came in almost daily.  The third, and biggest problem, was that I was constantly in pain. My shoulders were wrecked from the gymnastics movements and OH barbell lifts. I wasn’t getting fitter, I was getting hurt.

I’ve already touched a little bit on this in part II, but chances are if your training affects you in any negative way then it’s problematic. Take a little time to think about how it affects your physical well-being, your work-gym-life balance, your relationships and your mental state (are you frustrated after workouts?).


Don’t run before you can walk

Master the simple movements before you start to challenge yourself with more difficult ones. This is a principle we follow in every other facet of life. No author wrote a novel before they learned the alphabet.

Many crossfitters put too much pressure on themselves at times to go “RX.” Which means we have people working on kipping pull ups when they can’t do strict pull ups or overhead squats when they can barely back squat properly, just to name a couple examples. This can lead to aggravation and disillusion with the gym at best and a serious injury at worst.

Master the basics, the basics are what should make up MOST (I mean like 90%) of your training, before you move on. Next time you’re staying after class to practice butterfly pull ups or muscle up transitions, ask yourself, “Am I ready for this?”

Focus on purpose and balance, not numbers

I get made fun of at the gym for some of the stuff I do (plenty of you have given me shit about doing these: However, every movement I do serves a specific purpose. If you ask me what it is, I’m more than happy to talk to you about it, whether it has to do with balance, muscle activation or targeting a specific nervous system or energy pathway, etc. Yet, I’m a fitness professional. I don’t expect you to be able to go that in depth. But you should be able to give a better answer than, “I need to get stronger.”

If you’re trying to “get stronger” ask a coach to help you find out what your weaknesses are. Once you know what you should target you can apply that to your training. Perhaps your lats are weak and you need to do some rows and strict pull up work; or maybe you’re too quad dominant and need to work in some stiff-leg deadlifts and sandbag carries to build your glutes and hamstrings.

In addition try to keep your training balanced. If you focus too much on one aspect of fitness you’re going to regret it in the long run. Two years ago I followed a squat program for 8 weeks. I squatted three days a week. The results were a 15kg PR in the short term and a regression of all my lifts including my squat over the next 6 months. Your body craves balance, so give it what it wants.

Whatever it is you and your coach decide you should work on make sure it serves a purpose and is helping you get fitter and stay balanced. And for God’s sake don’t worry about the numbers. Faster and heavier doesn’t necessarily mean fitter.

Don’t waste your time

For most of us life is busy. We have families, jobs, hobbies, etc. Your time at the gym is valuable. Make sure your training reflects that.

Staying after class and practicing muscle ups 4 times a week might seem productive, but it’s not. Think about how much more fit and balanced you would be if you changed what you did on three of those days. How about one day of muscle up practice, one day of strict pull up work, one day of carries and another of muscle isolation accessory work? The results won’t come right away, but in the long run you’ll be happy you did.

Lastly, and most importantly whatever you do, do it right. That means focusing on what you’re doing, making sure your form is a perfect as can be and listening to your coach. If you’re simply “going through the motions” you’re wasting, not only your time, but ours as well. Remember that taking a day or two off is fine to recharge mentally and physically. If you can’t give 100% effort 100% of the time, then it’s not worth doing. This goes for anything you do in life.

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