Note…I wrote this blog back in November 2019 but as we are approaching the Open once more I thought it was worth reposting.
*For those not in the know The CrossFit Open is a global competition comprised of five workouts over five weeks. The workouts are released every Thursday and all registered athletes have until the following Monday to submit their best score online.
I originally had big plans for the CrossFit Open 2020 (which takes place in Oct/Nov 2019) but those plans had to go in the bin. To explain this, I need to go back to Feb 2019, the start of the 2019 Open. I was recovering from an illness and never going to perform at my best. It became an opportunity to set a base line and see where I was at. I had gone backwards, as expected, but made my peace with it, making a deal with myself and Kerry, my coach, that the following 8 months would be all about improving my overall CrossFit ability so that I could give the Open 2020 my best shot. Unfortunately, in May I cracked/broke my rib and it took until the end of September for it to start to heal. I made the decision to not enter to ensure I didn’t set myself back further. The Open can become quite adrenaline fuelled. I didn’t want to get a bit overexcited and maybe do something that my body wasn’t ready for so I excluded myself from the process… as an athlete.
I spoke to Kerry, as during the earlier Open I had been available quite a lot to help judge those in the process and asked if i might be needed again. It was a resounding yes so I did my judges course, along with the hubby, and did whatever I was asked to help support the box as, from a management point of view, the whole thing can be quite stressful.
In the first week I was asked to judge Coach Lewis for his re-do attempt and then this stuck as a regular thing. This meant that I was involved in the Monday afternoon throw down where our 3 coaches, including Head Coach Toby, plus one of our best athletes came together to re-do the workout. It is a very different atmosphere in the box at this time and it was very cool to watch the best of our box come together like this and give it everything they have.
After the Feb Open Kerry set me a piece of homework which was to write down everything I learned during the 5 weeks and during one of the weeks in October she mentioned it might be interesting for me to do it again, having only been involved as a judge… I’m taking it one step further and explaining the 10 things I learned from our Head Coach Toby:
1) Walk the walk.
Don’t just say you want to do something, make sure you back your words up with action and fucking do it. Toby set himself a specific goal for this Open and made sure that he worked everyday to give himself the best shot of achieving it. He tells us tirelessly to work on our weaknesses and strive to be 1% better every day. Not only does he tell us. He shows us. Toby doesn’t talk about himself a lot but if you ask him a question about what he is doing or why, he will always take the time to have that conversation. Muscle Ups were a weak point in his game, so guess what, with the help of his coach and his programming he spent time every week working on his Muscle Ups, and all the accessory work required to become efficient. This is just one example. Trust me, there are many.
2) Control the controllable.
Now, I learned this a while ago and Toby hammered it home to me when I asked him for a chat after being invited to a casting day for SAS Who Dares Wins. I got a weeks notice and this was in June, a month after “the rib”. My head was all over the place… should I do this, focus on this, work on this and `i needed someone to just break through the noise. Kerry was dealing with her own stuff during this week and I didn’t want to burden her with anything unnecessarily. I messaged Toby and was in for a chat that same day. He made things very easy and clear for me. He told me what I already knew, that I wasn’t going to improve my fitness in a week, and helped me figure out a game plan for what I could do. Eat well, hydrate like it’s my job and get my 8 hours sleep a night… control the things that are in my control and don’t worry about the rest.
During The Open he showed, once again, that he practices what he preaches. He was working towards a particular goal and to achieve this goal he needed a particular placing on the leaderboard. While some people would spend minutes, hours and maybe days pouring over the leaderboard looking at what everyone else is doing Toby deleted the app and paid no attention to the leaderboard. What anyone else did didn’t effect his effort or execution in each workout. As long as he gave 100% each time then he had done all that he could do.
3) What others are doing shouldn’t concern you.
Leading on from the above, I have learned to become unconcerned with what other people are doing. That doesn’t mean I don’t care, it just means I am more able to be comfortable with what I’m doing. The Crossfit gym can become a competitive place, especially when everyone’s weights and scores are published on the board for all to see. I am not a competitive person at all but I can feel a little insecure about not choosing a heavy enough weight, or being too slow at a particular movement. Watching Toby over these last few weeks has really hammered home what I have been trying to tell myself these last 8 months. It doesn’t matter if everyone else in the gym is lifting heavier than you, running faster than you, cycling a barbell quicker… the list goes on and on. We all have our strengths, we all have our weaknesses and the sooner you concern yourself with just what you are doing, the better things get. Its something I have been working on a lot this year but over the last few weeks it has really clicked. That doesn’t mean a sly, well timed comment from Coach Harry won’t make me swap to heavier set of dumbbells though! I am still me and when a Coach encourages you to step a little further out of your comfort zone, you listen. They wouldn’t say it just to be mean and have fun watching you suffer… although in Harry’s case, he might ;0)
4) Be positive and don’t make excuses.
Toby’s attitude is just fucking brilliant. He was thrown a massive curveball just before that start of The Open which meant that goal he wanted to achieve became way harder. Did he complain, bitch or moan about it? Maybe behind closed doors with Kerry or his coach, a little, but not once was it a negative in the gym. If you asked him how he felt about it you got a cheerful “it is what it is, right?”. It all comes back to controlling the controllable but to see him again put that into action, get this done and just deal with it, was pretty inspiring.
5) It’s not just about the training
Just as he had advised me to do back in June, Toby looked at all of the things within his control. He logged his food… I know this because we both work with the same nutrition company and he, along with Kerry, helped me get to grips with it. He logged his water. He focussed on recovery. He focussed on sleep. He did everything needed to support his training and ensure he got the best out of every training session.
6) It takes a village.
As mentioned Toby doesn’t just rely on himself. He knew where he needed support and found the best people for the job. He has a Coach, the other Coaches and members at CFID, he works with We Dominate Nutrition, he works with a sport therapist. If he needs help he gets it and is never too big or proud to admit he needs it. I have massively adopted this approach during my Iron Man training.
7) Who you are when things don’t end the way you want says way more about your character than who you are in the good times.
I said that Toby had a specific goal for this Open. I told you that he was thrown a huge curveball that meant achieving it would then be way harder. The end to this tale is that he didn’t achieve his goal. Was he disappointed, probably. Did he scream, shout or cry? Very unlikely. To quote the man himself when I asked him how he was “I’m ok. I can honestly say I couldn’t have done anymore”…which I 100% believe…I’m currently in the best shape of my life and there is still room for improvement” What a fucking legend!
8) Find the good, and the lessons, in every situation.
The above quote proves this one. No feeling sorry for himself or making excuses. Just acceptance of the situation, recognition of the hard work done and looking ahead to the future. Not everything will go your way but every situation will present a learning opportunity.
9) Extreme ownership
Ok, so this one actually belongs to Jocko Willink, but it was Toby that turned me on to him and his book. And, it was Toby that demonstrated this. It’s ok to feel sad and disappointed but it is not ok to blame others or the situation and wallow in negative emotions. Dust yourself off and figure out what you can do to own your situation.
10) Enjoy what you do, have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously.
At the end of the day, all of this training, competition etc is a choice. No one forces us to do it. We chose to do it. So, if you take it all too seriously and stop enjoying it all then it becomes pointless. Toby’s final placing in The Open doesn’t actually change his life in any significant way, he has put in all this hard work and effort because he wants to, because it’s what he enjoys and it adds value to his life. This will be the same for my IronMan… if I complete the challenge and get to call myself an Ironman, my life won’t fundamentally change. I will have achieved something and the pursuit and achievement of goals is something I value but it won’t make me a different or better person. If I started hating the process I would stop. At the end of the day, no one actually cares if I’m an IronMan or not, apart from me… and I’m only really doing it for the tattoo ;0)
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is everywhere. Gyms run HIIT classes, people can download a HIIT timer on to their phone… it’s a really popular way of training due to its efficiency and effectiveness but unfortunately the more popular it’s gotten, the less it actually looks like an actual HIIT workout.
There seems to be a common thought process which is ” wow, 5 minutes of that was great… so 10 must be even better… and if I can do 10 then lets go for 20!” This is usually followed with “I don’t need 30 secs rest, I can cut that to 20, actually who needs rest, I’ll cut it to 10 seconds” To get a true and effective HIIT session, this is the opposite of what you want to do. Constantly adding more work doesn’t make the workout better… in truth it is probably destroying your chance of achieving the desired outcome and effect of the session.
What I want to do in this blog is give you a little more detail and understanding so that if and when you do a HIIT session, it really counts.
Lets start with the fundamental, the Why; Why is HIIT so effective?
As I said up top, the name of the game is efficiency. You can see great results in less time using High Intensity… if it’s done right.
Good HIIT programming does everything it can to maintain the intensity. If you lose the intensity then all you have is a shorter workout and that just wont get you where you want to be. The point of HIIT is to gain all the fat burning, muscle building, cardiovascular benefits that come from longer workouts in a shorter space of time. Essentially you need to go hard, rest and repeat.
The amount of work versus rest depends on your goal. If your goal is purely cardio/aerobic then longer bursts of effort with shorter amounts of rest are fine. However, if you want to throw some strength gains in their too then you will have to change it up as when you work out for too long, with not enough rest the intensity drops quickly.
So, now you get why it works, lets look at the How; How should you design a HIIT session?
As you can see long HIIT sessions with short rest periods will likely lead to a drop in intensity. The other issue is burnout. Trying to work at that pace and level consistently will just leave you feeling drained.
So, a good starting point for designing a HIIT is to look at the rest time. If you insist on having shorter rest times, you need to also have shorter workouts. Remember, the goal is to maximise intensity (so that you can maximise your results)
A common and effective HIIT timing is 20 secs work, 40 secs rest. Now to a lot of people reading this, this is going to seem backwards as they would have been expecting 40 secs work, 20 secs rest but I wrote it the right way round, trust me.
If you stick to a static work/rest timing for your workout then understand that in the latter rounds you will likely experience some drop off in intensity as you become fatigued.
A great way to program HIIT is to increase the rest as the rounds progress so that you can maintain the same level of output for the whole workout i.e. 20 secs work, 40 secs rest. 30 secs work, 60 secs rest. 40 secs work, 120 secs rest. The idea is that you rest just enough to recover, while being able to maintain maximum output each set and/or round.
As for how long the total session should be, well, that will vary from person to person. You should stop your HIIT session at the point where you notice your intensity dropping. Ideally you should start with a shorter session, to try and avoid the drop off, and as you improve you can increase the length of your session.
Ok, so now we have a how, we need the What: What exercises should be used in a HIIT session?
As has been said many times, the output is High Intensity so the exercises you chose must be ones that can be performed in that way.
The cardio choices are quite straightforward. You could use a stationary bike or elliptical for example and just go hard during the work periods.
Other good cardio choices are Sprinting, Rowing, Skipping, Ski Erg and the dreaded Assault Bike (other bikes are also good but I do love to hate the Assault Bike).
Strength is a little more complex as the weight needs to either be that you can lift it quickly and be explosive or that you can only do maybe 6 to 8 reps (depending on the movement and your timeframe). People often don’t think of strength work as intense but anyone that has done heavy Deadlifts or fast Power Cleans will understand.
Some of my favourite HIIT choices are Kettlebell Swing, Deadlift, Dumbbell Snatch, Slamball, Battleropes and Power Bag Burpees.
And now as we have got our What, we need the final piece of the puzzle, the When; When should I do a HIIT session.
Given the demands on the body you shouldn’t do a HIIT session more than 3 times a week and just as you should build up the length of the session you should also build up the amount of sessions you do.
Start with one session. Do it well and do it right. After a couple of weeks, add in a second session if you feel like you want to. After another couple of weeks add in a third and stop there!
Just as intensity can drop during a long session, trying to do too much too often will have the same negative effect on your sessions, and therefore your results.
Improve your cycling – Know your FTP. Yes, it does matter!
As many of you will know, I am an Indoor Cycling Instructor and over the last 3 years I have developed my skills and knowledge to become a Power Trainer.
I am lucky to have done courses with two of the best Power Training Providers in UK Indoor Cycling; ICG and Stages. What they have taught me has been invaluable and allowed me to completely overhaul my classes and really help my students see true and robust improvement.
Their success is measured by the result of their quarterly FTP test and any decent cyclist that’s been around for a while and truly cares about their performance knows their number.
So, what is it? FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power. It is a number. That number is representative of Watts, a measure of power.
What does it mean? Your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is the highest average watt output that you can sustain for an hour.
Why should I care? FTP is the gold standard in the cycling world. Once you know your FTP you have a bullet proof, quantitive way to measure your improvement. It will also allow your set your training zones accurately, meaning you make your training more targeted and meaningful.
“But I know I’m getting better” I hear you say. “I beat my friend up box hill last week and I never do that” or maybe “I beat my strava time on that time trail segment” These are all good indicators that yes, you may be getting better but other factors may have been involved and they are not scientific. FTP is. Number goes up, you have improved… Fact!
Ok, sounds good, I want to start caring… how do I do it? Welcome to the grim world of FTP Testing. We love it but we really, really hate it (for the 20 minutes we’re in it!). You can do the test inside or out, depending on the equipment you have. Purists will tell you outdoor testing is best as you can generate more power when you are outside, than you can indoors. You will need a bike (obviously) and either power meter or a smart trainer. Some indoor bikes in the gym also have testing capability.
The Test You need a good warm up protocol as the test demands a lot from you so you have to fully prep both the body and the mind to be ready. A full test warm up can be anything as long as (brace yourselves, this is how I do it) a 20 min easy ride, 6 to 10 mins of 1 min max effort intervals followed by 1 min recovery riding, another 5 min easy ride, 5 min max effort and finally a 10 minute easy ride. This may seem extreme but it works. Some people do less… I’m not sure if anyone does more!?
Once warmed up, it is straight into the test and it couldn’t be any simpler… ride as hard as you can for 20 minutes. Make sure you record the 20 minute test as a separate lap/segment on your device as we don’y want the data from your warm up confusing the results. You must stay seated for the 20 minute effort. Yes, you can push more power standing but it isn’t a sustainable position for very long periods so we need to know what you can do in the saddle. There’s no hard and fast rule for preferred cadence. The slower you go the more your legs muscle fatigue will play a part in the result. The faster you go the more stress there will be on the efficiency of your pedal stroke and cardiovascular system. The advice I was given when I attempted my first test was to ride between 80 – 95 RPM and I generally stick to this. Make sure you stay on the bike once it is over (even though everything in your being will be screaming for you to get off, make it stop – thats how you know you did it right) and cool down properly. Ideally you want to ride easy for about 15 minutes, longer if you want.
Getting your result Once you have completed your test we need to do some maths. Look up the data on your ride and find your average power for the 20 minute test. Subtract 5% from that number and jackpot you now know your FTP. * we have to subtract 5% to find your average power for the hour and this sum is always pretty accurate. If you want to do a one hour test you can but I personally don’t advise it. I have done it once and I meant it when I said never again!
Final thought… power to weight ratio. As you can see, FTP doesn’t take into consideration anything about you other than what you can do on the bike. It doesn’t know how old you are, your gender or how much you weigh. This is why I also tell my students to monitor another number which is their watts per kilogram or power to weight ratio. To find this simply divide your weight (in kilograms) by your FTP. For some this wont be important but for for anyone that really cares about their cycling performance, and I work with a lot of people that really do, it’s important because how much you weigh relative to how much power you can generate will determine how well you perform. In a nut shell, if you are shedding a bit of fat and therefore getting lighter and that FTP still keeps going up, you are definitely doing something right.
Improve your running, get in the Zone… Zone 2 that is!
Let me preface this by saying if you are already a Zone 2 convert then this post is not for you as you have already learned the secret and it would be a pretty safe bet to assume you are reaping the benefits.
However, it seems lockdown has pushed a lot more people to get outside and get running. I’m guessing a good percentage of these will not continue to run when they can get back to their old routines but some will. Some will have started to find that place where running starts to suck a little less and actually becomes something (almost) enjoyable.
Maybe thats you, or maybe you’ve been a runner for a long while now but you’ve never heard of Zone 2 or you’ve heard of it but not bothered to look into what it actually means. Well lucky for you, I’m going to break it down and make it real simple for you.
Zone 2 training is probably the best tool available to improve your running, especially if you want to get faster over longer distances. This is also the perfect solution for those of you that struggle to breathe properly whilst running.
Zone 2 refers to heart rate zone 2 so in order to unlock this magic you will need a heart rate monitor, preferably of the chest strap variety (as these are way more accurate than the monitor in the watch on your wrist).
Your Heart Rate Zones
Zone 1 – 65% to 79% Zone 2 – 80% to 89% Zone 3 – 90% to 94% Zone 4 – 95% to 99% Zone 5 – 100% +
% of what ????
I know, I know.. the next question is % of what exactly and the answer is your Lactate Threshold.
It is better to work off your Lactate threshold rather than Max Heart as this gives better results for running performance and it is easier to work out your Lactate Threshold than Max Heart Rate; no Max Heart Rate is not 220 minus your age. It’s a calculation used as it’s better than nothing but wildly inaccurate for a lot of people and doesn’t take into account he myriad of factors that affect your heart rate.
What is my Lactate Threshold?
Put as simply as possible the lactate threshold is defined as the fastest pace you can run without generating more lactic acid than your body can utilise and reconvert back into energy. I’m sure you’ve all experienced that uncomfortable burning in the muscles when working at high exertion. That burn is lactic acid!
How do I calculate my Lactate Threshold
With an uncomfortable 20 minute max effort run. This must be completed while feeling rested and refreshed – Do not do this under fatigue! Here are the steps to follow…
1) Ensure you can record your run on a device that will record your heart rate for your 20 minute effort.
2) Put your heart rate monitor on (if you have a chest strap)
3) 10 minute warm up run. Gentle pace but with 2 or 3 sprint intervals that spike your heart rate as high as you can. Ensure the last spike allows for 2 minutes easy recovery. Do not record this warm up on your watch or if you do make sure it can be separated from your 20 minute effort. You do not want heart rate data from your warm up mixed in with the data from your 20 minute effort.
4) 20 minute max effort run. Basically ensure your watch starts when you start and run as hard as you can for 20 minutes. Distance is not important, only time and your effort. Stop the watch after 20 minutes. If you do not go as hard as you can the data will not be accurate, which means your work following this test will not yield the best performance improvement possible. Make sure you give this your all. It will hurt, it will not be any kind of fun but it is important and necessary.
5) Recover! Make sure you take some time to walk off the effort. Please do not finish the 20 minutes and then just collapse on the ground. Take a few minutes, walk around the park/block. whatever.
6) Workout your Lactate Threshold – yay… at last I hear you say, and it’s really simple; Your Lactate Threshold = your average Max heart rate for the 20 minute effort.
Now, you add Zone 2 runs into your programme. Some of the best runners and endurance athletes do nearly all their training in Zone 2. All you do is go for your planned run and keep your heart rate in Zone 2.
Sounds easy huh? ell, it is easy but it is also hella frustrating when you first start out. It’ll be frustrating as I can can pretty much guarantee you will end up walking a lot because as soon as you run your heart rate shoots into zone 3 and above. I usually advise people to start with 5k. If you haven’t got to that distance yet then you do whatever you can.
The key to Zone 2 training is patience and perseverance. Because you end up walking a lot in the beginning many, many runners give up, claiming it can’t be doing any good. Oh how wrong they are. For maybe the first month it might feel like a pointless exercise but just hold on, good things come to those who wait.
Once you manage that first 5k where you can run the whole way and that heart rate stays in the right place you are well and truly on your way. You will soon find you can run that 5k at your old pace but in Zone 2, where it feels soooo much easier than it used to. Then you start increasing distance and soon you are running long distance, at a great pace, all in Zone 2 where you feel comfortable and in complete control.
Don’t Get to Comfortable
Just remember to retest your Lactate Threshold every 3 months or so. The heart is a muscle and like every muscle, the more you train it the fitter it gets.
To continue getting great results you must ensure you are working with accurate information.
Is your fitness suffering thanks to overtraining ?
One of the things we have likely all seen a lot of during this lockdown period is unqualified Fitness Influencers (seriously, someone still needs to explain what this even is!) and even in some cases PT’s and fitness brands setting up crazy bodyweight challenges as a way to “help” people maintain their fitness during lockdown.
Think being challenged to do 100 squats, then add 100 push ups, oh and 100 lunges and hey, why not, do 100 burpees while you’re there… and lets do that every day for 7/14/30 days!
So, maybe you are thinking that sounds banging, its hardcore, Yeah! push the limits!… and you’d be right, IF you did that workout maybe twice a month, although that could still be deemed excessive, depending on your current fitness level.
Indeed, one of my favourite workouts is one of the CrossFit Girls – Angie; ‘For Time 100 Pull Ups, 100 Push Ups, 100 Sit Ups and 100 Air Squats’ However, as much as I love it, it’s a workout I will likely do 3 times a year, at the most! In fact I think I’ve done it twice in the last two years. There is a value to doing high rep work but doing so often is just counter productive and probably a waste of your time.
Personally, I am huge fan of the minimal dose response, which basically means achieving the desired result with the minimum amount of work required. Do you really need to do 100 squats for 7 days? I’m going to guess that the answer is no! Its a pretty safe bet you can get where you want to go with a smarter approach.
You have to ask the question “why I am doing this?” “what is it achieving?” and if you don’t know and the person setting the challenge cannot give you a good explanation beyond “Do it! “Go Hard or Go Home’ then do you know what… don’t do it!
These are the main issues to consider:
Form Can the average gym goer actually maintain proper alignment and form for 100 reps? Take the squat as one example… Let’s be frank, there are a fair few videos circulating showing people doing these types of challenges and squatting with poor form. Now, I know not everyone has the hip or ankle mobility to be able to squat to or below parallel but a good majority of people don’t even know that this is the standard to aim for. We see shallow depth, knees pushed in front of toes, chests falling forward and hunched shoulders to name but a few issues. Whats the point of doing 100 reps when the first rep isn’t good? Quality over quantity at all times and if you know you cannot squat to parallel with good form then put the work in on your mobility to fix the issue. This would be a much better use of your time! Same goes for every other movement.
Injury Risk Let’s just take a second to consider the injury risks for the volume of repetitive work, especially when repeated over multiple days. The possible shoulder, knee or hip problems that might arise are plentiful so why would you take the risk. So many people are willing to push through workouts suffering from aches and pains and I never understand why. I constantly have to talk to class members about long term success over short term gain.
Overtraining – Volume and Intensity Simply put overtraining occurs when you the work you put in exceeds the bodies ability to recover. So, doing the same movement pattern over and over again, and then again, and then again will not allow the muscle groups involved to recover. When the muscles aren’t allowed to recover, they can’t perform properly so the end result is a drop in output. There is a huge difference between overloading and overtraining. When done right and applied properly, the overload principle will yield brilliant results. Maybe some of these people plan these excessive workouts thinking that they will achieve overload but unfortunately not! They have tipped over into over training.
Overtraining – Duration Some say over training, some say under recovery. Both amount to the same thing and both are correct. As well as programming excessive amounts of reps and high volume work, the other way to over train the body is by skipping rest days. Often these challenges are set with “Hey, lets do this every day for a month!” Yeah, great, let me know how that works out for you in the end! Why is it seen as hardcore to say screw it to the rest day? Anyone with this attitude clearly doesn’t understand how to programme fitness effectively.. if this is your coach, please… walk away now! The body needs recovery time. It’s as simple as that. Without recovery not much will happen in terms of progress. It often feels like rest is a dirty word. How often have I heard “it’s ok, I’ll rest when I’m dead”! OK then. But why not send your time alive actually making positive adaptations and seeing progress rather than just wearing your body and mind into the ground. Yes, to see change you need to force an adaptation. You need to stress the body and trigger it to adjust to the new stimulus. Just not all the time!
There are so many negative effects related to overtraining aside from the injury risk and drop in performance and ability. Maybe you aren’t actually injured but it is likely you will suffer from increased inflammation. It can also affect your amount and quality of sleep.
Ask yourself.. is it worth it?
Train smart, rest well and achieve something truly bad ass!
No! I hear you cry indignantly… and maybe thats the truth but something I see all the time is people sabotaging their chances of success and the reason boils down to ego.
Ok, what do I mean…
You know that person in your fitness class or on the gym floor that always puts a bit too much weight on the bar and then lifts with poor form meaning they are doing more harm than good? Ego.
How about that one person that always goes out way too fast on a run and gets overtaken by those that took it slow and steady? Ego
What about that person who is always saying “oh I would’ve/could’ve done x/y/z but unfortunately I got injured/felt a niggle/ had a stomach issue/it was too hot/too cold? One time, ok, it’s probably genuine but that person who always seems to come armed with excuses? Ego.
If you cannot recognise yourself if these examples I’m betting you can recognise someone you know. And, maybe if you are honest with yourself, you can probably think of at least one time when you have let your ego get the better of you and your training session or event has been crap because of it.
Hell, we’ve all done it. Maybe you loaded the bar a bit too heavy and then skipped a couple of reps every round as your workout is taking way longer than everyone else’s. Maybe you stepped outside to do your run, realised it was really hot but didn’t adjust your pace and burned yourself out.
If we all do a little bit of critical (and honest) analysis, we can probably all identify one time when we let our ego get the better of us and it came back to bite us in the ass.
This week, the worldwide CrossFit community took on one of the most famous Hero Workouts in the world, Murph. It’s a gruelling suckfest of a 1 mile run, 100 Pull Ups, 200 Push Ups and 300 Squats, plus another 1 mile run… oh, and you do it in a weight vest.
I saw so many posts and had so many people comment on my social things like” oh I wish I could but I can’t even do one pull up so I’m out” or “oh it would be amazing to be able to do this but I can’t :0(”
I would point out that there are many, many scaling options (especially this year as more versions of Murph were released to accommodate those without equipment and those that hadn’t been near their gym in 10 weeks). The responses were upsetting! Along the lines of ‘oh scaling is cheating, either do it or don’t do it!’
Now, at this point I would like to make sure you know, I scaled Murph. I always scale Murph. I don’t have a choice as guess what, I can’t do 100 pull ups! I split that fucker down into 20 rounds of 5 Ring Rows (for the pull ups) 10 Push Ups (to a 12″ box as I prefer to do a full push up on an incline, than do them on my knees and I can’t do 200 good push ups on my toes) and 15 Squats.
The point of Murph, and any workout, is not to be exclusive. The point is to challenge yourself to do something tough, something unpleasant and prove to yourself that you are a true bad ass because you finished it.
It shouldn’t be easy and if you’ve adapted it to the point where it’s easy and you’re posting ‘Hey, Murph smashed sub 30 mins, Boom!” (yep, I saw many of these) You missed the point and do you know why? Yep, you guessed it… Ego!
But this is the other way ego can hold you back… you make excuses to not do stuff, or you only do the stuff you know you can do, because really, you are too afraid to try.
It’s pretty obvious that doing something is better than doing nothing and honestly, what is the worst that can happen? You’re a little slower than others you know? You lose your shit mid workout and throw something across the gym (this one is based on personal experience!)? You cry? You scream? You even quit maybe? So what! I truly believe we learn way more in the bad times and in the mistakes than we do when everything is good.
I am the first one to celebrate the wins with my clients whether they are achieving a new pb, learning to take rest days, dropping fat and inches, or fitting into old clothes but I will spend more time talking about the bad times as thats where the big lessons are.
I have this one mantra when it comes to my own training: No one cares. Work harder. Now I know that of course Kerry, my coach, and Toby, Head Coach at my gym, absolutely care about my progress but this mantra just sums up the required absence of ego.
Focus on the lessons. Stop holding yourself back. Unleash your inner bad ass.
OK, so this post might upset a few people but I really think it needs to be said and I’m going to be the one to say it.
Let’s talk about chasing that feeling… the burn, the agonising soreness. Has anyone ever said to you, or maybe you’ve said it yourself, “that must have been a great workout, I hurt so much!”
Any workout can be curated to make you feel burnt out, sore and sweaty but not every workout will actually be curated to make you better.
Here’s a hard truth people. You don’t need to destroy yourself in the gym. You don’t need to feel dead inside and out every workout. You don’t need to torture and punish yourself to get results. Brutal/long/crazy doesn’t mean better. Only better means better.
Walking away from your session tired, beaten up, sore and sweaty doesn’t automatically mean your workout was better or more effective. It does mean you are tired, beaten up sore and sweaty… but maybe thats it.
You might be working your butt off and not getting results. If this sounds like you then its time to rework the problem and sort out a new plan.
Because here’s the thing. It doesn’t take a great coach to program a class or workout that will burn you out. It sometimes feels like some coaches on the gym floor are constantly trying to outdo each other with how “hard” they can make a class or a workout. But, it’s easy to make a class hard and have participants leave feeling like they left their soul behind… but what did it actually achieve? I’d bet that if I asked for someone to put together a class that will make everyone exhausted and sore, most of you reading this could do that.
So here is the second thing. It does take a great coach to produce meaningful outcomes with their classes and programmes. A great coach knows what is required to get those real, visible, tangible results.
Let’s not get it twisted though. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard work and that it isn’t going to completely suck at times. It is and it will.
Outside your comfort zone is where the magic happens. You will have to find a way of turning off that limiter in your brain – that little switch that holds you back and convinces you are done, when actually you are just 40% done.
Real results take real work but you have to be smart about it. You need to understand what you are actually trying to achieve and figure out what you actually need to do to get where you want to go. Figure out the goal.
So right now you might be like “but Liza, I’m not training to achieve something specific. I don’t want to run a marathon/half marathon/obstacle race/triathlon/whatever.
Maybe you just want to be able to run around the garden and keep up with the kids and be able to pick up the youngest without worrying about your back.. OK, so actually in fitness terms what you want is to improve you cardiovascular fitness, your overall strength and have a strong posterior chain. Guess what, thats a fitness goal. Now you know what you need figure out how to get there but remember…
Body Comp Stats Weight: 75.6kg (-0.4kg) Body Fat %: 29 (+/- 0) Muscle %: 33.4 (+/- 0)
Mon: 12.15pm Total Body Conditioning
10 Rounds of 40 seconds on 20 seconds off; Row, Bike Ski, Rest. That rest minute meant that each 40 seconds of work should be a hard effort. I tried but it got tough!!
Mon: 1pm 10 min Pull Up EMOM + 10 min Push Up EMOM
Same as last week but we (meaning me and my friend Amy, who is doing this extra work with me) have added in some negative phase work before the banded work to try and fast track our Pull Up progress.
Tue: 12pm Pool Swim
Today was a CrossFit day according to my training plan but I decided to go back to the pool and put a bit of extra work in on my swimming. Just a short session focussing on trying to improve my breathing, working specifically on breathing on every 3rd stroke. I’m fine on 2 but if I do 3 stroke alternating sides, after 50 meters my lungs feel like they want to explode. It got a little easier but it needs a lot of work.
Wed: 6:45am Indoor Cycle Class
I do love coaching indoor cycle and no matter how tired or sluggish I feel when I wake up by the time I start this session I am buzzing. Tracking my performance this year I can already see that I definitely don’t perform as well at 6:45am as I do later in the day.
Wed: 7:30am 2 Mile Run
Straight out of the spin studio on to the road for a little run. Training is usually better with someone else and this was no exception. My friend, PT client and fellow Ironman in training (he has already done one though) Gary did my Indoor Cycle class and then kept me company on the run. I do love my friends :0)
Wed: 1pm PT with my Coach, Kerry
Does your Coach make you cry with laughter during your sessions? Mine does! We did some strength work, specifically Strict and Push Press, and between lifts she was telling me a story that had me howling with laughter. Thank goodness, as the lifting was enough to make me cry with frustration… but so far I’ve only cried over a deadlift and I don’t want to add to that list! I know I lost a lot of strength due to “ribgate” but it’s still a little frustrating to realise how much. At least knowing where I am means I can figure out what I want to do about it. Before I signed up for the IronMan I had planned on focussing on the Barbell and improving all of my lifts. I think this will be the first thing I do after… once we get back from our trip to the CrossFit Games.
Thu: 9:30am Indoor Cycle Class
Ohhhh the hamstrings were feeling the workload today. I got asked recently if, as the instructor, I ever turn it down and coast through the class. The honest answer is no I don’t. I ask my class participants to give me 100% so it only seems fair I give them the same. I know that I find it difficult to engage with an indoor cycle class if the coach isn’t in it with me. If I have a reason to take it a bit easy I tell the class beforehand. I coached a 1hr class the day before the London Marathon. I said to the group I was heading straight to London after the class so I would be just having an gentle ride (what I call a “Do as I say, not as I do” class) but I got wrapped up in the class and ended up leaving a sweaty mess as usual.
Thu: 11:45am Pool Swim
It was time to increase the distance with 3 x 400m metre intervals with a 3 minute rest in between. I alternated between 2 and 3 stroke breathing so that I could focus a little more on distance and pace. It still isn’t what I would call smooth or easy but it did feel a little better.
Thu: 6:30pm Coach By Colour Indoor Cycle Class
Oh my god, I struggled towards the end of this one. It’s week 4 of my programme, which means ‘The Scorpion’, an intense, progressive interval session which improves active recovery. Twice in one day was tough. Enough said really!
Thu: 7:30pm 2 mile Zone 2 Run
Rather than doing a double in the spin studio I swapped the second class for another little brick session of cycle and run. This time the Boy (meaning the Husband) kept me company and to be honest, to have 20 minutes of side by side running, just the two of us, was pretty lovely. We train at CrossFit together quite a lot, participate in OCR together quite a lot but hardly ever is it just the two of us. Hopefully there will be a bit more of this.
Fri: Unplanned Rest Day
Today was supposed to be a TBC and CrossFit day but after coaching my three classes at Nuffield Chichester I decided to take the rest of the day off. I tweaked my glute during Insanity at 6:45am and if a client had done that I would be telling them to go home, stretch and look after themselves. So, I listened to my own advice and did just that.
Sat: Pool Swim
My friend and client Anna wanted a bit of company in the pool so she picked me up at 7:15am (!) (Saturday is normally my rest day which means I lie in until about 7:30/8am) for the lane swimming session. Just an easy recovery session for me consisting of 800m all done in breaststroke.
Sun: 8am Bike Ride
The boy was happy to stay in bed with the dog so I was on my own today. God, it is a bit dull on your own! I’m also not overly familiar with cycle routes, roads etc so headed out to see if I could do 30 miles without getting lost. I chose a fairly straightforward (and straight) out and back but after 9 miles my hamstring started to really pull so I turned round earlier than planned and headed home. Slightly annoying but with a 6 hour hell session tomorrow and a 50k ultra run on Sunday it is all about the long game.
* I am not including the classes I coach in this training log but for reference I coach 3 indoor cycle, 2 Insanity, 2 Boxercise, 1 LBT and 1 Tabata class a week between Tuesday and Friday.
The plans I had this week didn’t quite work out. I didn’t get in the three runs I’d wanted but I still trained 6 days out of 7 so I’m not going to stress about it. Running was programmed in a couple of the workouts so it’s not like I didn’t do any.
Life will sometimes get in the way and thats ok, it has to be otherwise I’d be a gibbering wreck rocking back and forth in a corner thanks to the amount of set backs I’ve had over the last two years! Things are what they are, you control the controllable (thanks Toby for drilling this in to me) and do what you can with what you have.
Mon: 12:15pm Total Body Conditioning Class
More simple but effective cardio conditioning. 3 minutes on, 1 minute off rotating between the Assault Bike, Rower and Ski Erg for about 35 minutes.
Mon: 1pm Crossfit Class
4 Rounds for time; 800 meter run (so theres 2 miles straight off the bat), 20 Push Ups and 20 Box Jumps. Trying to run efficiently straight after quite a high volume of box jumps was not easy and this is something I’m definitely going to incorporate more into my training.
Tue: 1pm CrossFit Class
Two 6 minute AMRAP’s with a 3 minute rest in between. First one involved a 750m row and then 50 15kg Thrusters. If you finished within the 6 minute time cap you got a longer rest. I got an extra 12 seconds 🙂 Second AMRAP was 200 Double Unders, 20 15kg Thrusters and then as many Over Bar Burpees as you could do. Safe to say this whole thing was a sucky sweat fest but the major positive for me was that I was able to do Thrusters without pain for the first time since cracking the rib. I left the gym on a real high as I finally felt like maybe, just maybe, it was healed and I could put the injury behind me.
Tue: 2:15pm Zone 2 5km Run
I’d finally managed to adjust my heart rate zones on my Garmin to work off the % of my Lactate Threshold Heart Rate, rather than Max HR and this run felt more effective than those of last week. It also means that my 30 minute Max Effort Assault Bike workout was not for nothing so you know, winning.
Wed: 12:15pm Total Body Conditioning Class
Three 10 minute workouts with 2 mins rest in between. More running in the first one, this time 200m sprints teamed with 10kg DB Deadlifts. Second one was Ski Erg Max Effort intervals and finally an EMOM alternating between the Assault Bike and a 12kg Slamball.
Wed: 1pm CrossFit Class
This class was all about being calm and controlled and working though the technique of a Ring Muscle Up (RMU). It involved breaking the movement down, practising the different components and adding some accessory work in the form of DB Strict Press and Hollow Holds. Although I am miles away from being able to do a RMU I was again able to do things without feeling pain and discomfort that even a couple of weeks ago were causing me issues so more elation ensued.
Wed: 2pm Meeting with my Coach
No PT session today as we had a planning session. The upshot of this was that for the rest of 2019 (all 12/13 weeks of it!) I am going to focus on the fundamentals… staying injury and illness free, getting my weight down, making sure my rib is 100% healed, building my upper body and core strength and increasing my base fitness in relation to endurance and power.
Thu: 1pm CrossFit Class
Snatch tekkers and then more running today. I have lost a lot of the confidence I had built when it comes to throwing a barbell above my head. Hopefully, with the rib issue becoming a thing of the past, I can get over this pretty quickly. For the second week in a row I put 25kg on the bar and then failed to get it off the ground. My snatch 1RM is only 35kg anyway as it’s a complex lift and not one that I have spent a huge amount of time on. As the workout was a 15 min AMRAP of a 200m run and 3 Snatch I decided to keep it light and focus on drilling my technique every lift. With only a 15kg bar, Coach Harry made it very clear I was not to miss one lift. Roger that!
Fri: 12:15pm Total Body Conditioning Class
Another three 10 minute workouts separated by first 2 and then 1 minute rest. First up, one of my favourite combinations; Assault Bike sprints and DB Snatch. Second; max effort Row intervals and lastly Wall Balls and Burpees. I gave this everything I had, to the extent that I had nothing left in the tank so signed myself out of the 1pm class. The biggest takeaway today was that I felt stronger on the rower than I have done in months so once again, proof that my injuries were fading fast.
Sat: Rest Day
Sun: 9am Gym Session
Brunch plans were the most important thing today (priorities and balance right) so after coaching a Bootcamp Class at Nuffield Chichester I made use of their facilities and the half hour I had available and decided to just do all the things I enjoy. I repeated the Assault Bike and DB Snatch workout from Friday. I did Annie, my favourite CrossFit Girl workout (50,40,30,20,10 Double Unders and Sit Ups) and some Ski Erg Intervals. I did look at the treadmill but I have no interest in running inside. There was a guy in the gym, who I know is an IronMan and in training for another one next year. He did a serious amount of time of the Watt Bike (I know this because he was on it when my class started at 8:15 and still on it while I was skipping) and then hit the treadmill. I guess that’s the traditional, and in most peoples eyes, more sensible use of time (especially in the winter) when training for an IM but no thanks. It just isn’t me!
**The other thing I’ve added in to my routine this week is more mobility and stretching work. I am finally making use of my ROMWOD account ( I should after it auto-renewed and over £100 left my bank account!) Hopefully this will help with the ‘staying injury free’ goal 🙂
The two most asked questions I have had since blogging about my IM journey (apart from when/where is it? and why on earth would you want to do that?) are 1; Why do you, a coach/pt/trainer yourself have a coach, can’t you do it yourself? 2; Why haven’t you switched to an IM coach?
So, let me explain…
1; Yes, it’s true I am a Coach myself and I have now worked in the fitness industry for more than 4 years. For that reason alone, of course I have my own coach. Why would I not buy in to the very thing I put so much value in, it is now my life’s work! Yes, I could write my own programming and do it effectively but, if I do that, my world becomes very insular. In that scenario I am accountable to no one, I am not learning from anyone else and I am not being held to any kind of standard.
Kerry, my coach, has a Coach – Head Coach of CrossFit Iron Duke (and also her husband), Toby. Toby has a Coach, his coach has a coach and so on and trust me, the chain is long. We are all progressing together, albeit at different levels, and my clients benefit from this as I continue to develop and grow, both as an athlete and a coach. Personally, I wouldn’t work with a PT or Coach that wasn’t involved in the process themselves from the other side.
2; There are so many reasons why I haven’t switched to an IM coach. First and foremost I love Kerry. We have been working together for nearly two years, since January 2018. I had stopped working with my previous PT about 6 months previously and started CrossFit in August 2017. Given the amount of coaching you get via the regular CrossFit classes I decided to take my time picking my next Coach. At the time we had 4 coaches at CrossFit Iron Duke, 3 of which offered PT and I decided pretty quickly that I wanted my next coach to be one of them. I asked Kerry for a chat to find out how it works and she explained that I simply had to decide which one I wanted to work with and go from there. That was a tough decision as each Coach offered something slightly different in both skill set and manner. At the time I was starting to plan for a 36 hour SAS Hell Week style event and I decided to go with Kerry as, gods honest truth, she scared the crap out of me and I thought that might be a good experience, bearing in mind what I wanted to take on! It took all of our first session for me to realise that actually she is a complete sweetheart and not in the slightest bit scary.
She may not be scary but she is thorough, committed and very inventive. When I gave her carte blanche to create what has lovingly become known as my “6 hour hell sessions” she certainly seemed to relish the task. These basically involved me turning up to the gym, knowing I would be training for 6 hours but never knowing what exactly I would be doing. My brief to her was make it as tough and varied as she felt appropriate/necessary. I will post a couple of the full sessions in a separate blog for those that are intrigued.
As soon as I booked the IM I contacted Kerry, we scheduled a meeting for the very next day and my statement to her was ” I want to do this and yes, I know that the next year has to now be all about this IronMan but I don’t want to leave CrossFit and I don’t want to leave you… unless I have to, what do you think” She had clearly given the matter some thought and laid out just a few ideas of how we could make it work and I knew instantly that I would be staying.
Another key reason is simply because I don’t want this to take over my life and I don’t want to forsake everything else for it. Yes, I want to do an Iron Man and I want to do it as well as I can (although do not ask me my time as I don’t ever participate for time) and most importantly I want to enjoy it but, when this is all over I don’t want to only be good for endurance/ triathlon events.
The CrossFit open will take place 3 months after my IronMan and I want to be able to compete, and finally, give it my best shot. The Open in Feb 2019 was meant to be a chance for me to see how all of my hard work in 2018 would pay off but I was ill in January, to the point that the doctor ordered bed rest, and so The Open became only about setting new benchmark’s as I had lost a lot of fitness and was still being warned to protect against post viral fatigue. The Open that starts tomorrow was going to be my next shot but I cracked my rib in May and only this week does it actually feel like it’s healing so I am not even signed up for this one. With all this behind me I can assure you that I have other goals next year besides my IM.
The Open, October 2020, I am coming for you! SAS Who Dares Wins.. I want another shot…My Coach can help prepare for all of this whereas an IM coach can only help me prepare for the IM so for me, that is not the right choice. If I wanted a specific time or had a goal beyond, finish it with a smile one my face, I would likely make a different choice but this is what will work for me.