Why You'll Never Be Done With The Basics

I like to lift heavy things. Can you relate? There is just something about knowing you can lift more than you could last week/month/year. Something deeply satisfying about getting stronger, and

that feeling of core strength and competence that carries over into other areas of your life.

But last week in class, my coach asked me to take weight off my bar. We were building to a heavy 3 rep, and I wasn’t even close to my max, but my form was off that day. I knew it--but I really wanted to hit my number--my initial instinct was to feel frustrated; okay fine, I was frustrated, but not with coach. My coach saved me from making a tempting mistake that day: load weight on the bar when my mechanics were just not dialed in.

Sometimes it’s just because it’s that kind of day. You know how to do the lift, you’ve done it a thousand times. Other times, it’s because we haven’t yet put in enough time to gain the strength, correct movement pattern mechanics (brain body connection), and/or mobility needed to execute the movement correctly. Sometimes it’s a combination of other variables like sleep, hydration, etc. (stress anyone?) which can throw everything off.

Personally, I’ve worked very hard on my lifts over the last few years, and I’m grateful for what my body can do. But do you know what I’m even more grateful for? My coach that day.

Sometimes it’s hard to work hard on something, to know what you’re able to accomplish, and yet be told by your coach to scale back. But you know what? I’m FAR more grateful to have coaches in my life that are more concerned with my well-being than my gains. I’m grateful for coaches that are trained to be able to recognize what safe, effective functional movement looks like, and what it does not.

For some, maybe we’re new to lifting or other CrossFit movements, and it can feel frustrating when coach modifies us in the middle of a workout. We might feel frustrated that our body isn’t cooperating with what we’re trying to get it to accomplish--others might just want to do what they want, and not hear from coach...but we’re not that kind of gym.

Here’s the thing--regardless of how long we’ve been at fitness, we can’t see what our coaches see--and we often can’t feel the incorrect movement pattern because it’s a deeply ingrained habit, mobility compensation, or an off day. Some days we might feel it because we’ve gotten it right before or under a lesser load, but we dismiss it because we’re focused on a goal. Other days we may not feel it at all, and keep going.

That’s why we have our coaches to help us scale back when needed. It’s why we’re so fortunate to be training in a gym like ours. Because if we persist in an unhealthy movement pattern and add weight and/or intensity to it, we’re telling our brain this pattern is acceptable--except it’s not, and there are far reaching reasons (and consequences) for this.

Something as seemingly simple, and to some even inconsequential, as not reaching full squat depth in a front or back squat, or movement like wall balls, can signify quad muscles overcompensating for weak hamstrings. We do not reach full depth because getting out of it is more difficult, and we’re likely to end up on our toes at the end of the movement. We have to jump in front of the bar, or dip forward to catch the ball.

If we persist in this kind of movement pattern, we’ve left much of our power on the table simply because we didn’t want to take time to correct the pattern before adding load. We’ve also opened ourselves up to compensatory movement dysfunction and possible injury.

Any movement compensation can lead to dysfunction and injury in our body over time. At the very least it will limit what we are ultimately able to accomplish and how well. But what happens when we remove load, and take time to perfect the movement pattern? It’s uncomfortable strengthening weaknesses, yes. But you already know it’s well worth it if you’ve been at CrossFit for more than a month.

If the goal is to be fit and healthy, and to become as strong as we can, we need to embrace the idea of scaling back. If we work on strengthening those weaker muscles and/or correcting compensatory movement patterns, we build a strong foundation for greater strength, and enable out body to fire on all cylinders when we execute the movement properly.

To use our squat example, we’re now able to engage our hamstrings, glutes and core, our chest and gaze is upright. Our heels remain on the ground, and far more power is available to execute the movement well. Our systems are significantly less taxed trying to compensate for weaknesses because we first took time to build a solid foundation for the movement--so we’re able to significantly increase out output as well.

Building the foundation takes time, consistency, and repetition at lower weights and intensities than we might like. Some might have athletic backgrounds and feel it’s too much of a step back to rebuild foundation--but ask yourself how much strength you’re leaving on the table by trying to make gains your body can’t support in a healthy way. What injuries might be lurking in your future by putting loads on faulty, compensatory movement patterns you’ve just gotten into the habit of “working around” over the years? Maybe you’ve slipped through the cracks, or just not listened to coach thinking you know better--but at what cost to yourself?

How much of your future strength will be inaccessible to you as a result of simple impatience or ego? If we’re all willing to check ourselves--vertran and new athletes alike--listen to coach, and be willing to build or rebuild a solid foundation upon which we can safely add weight and intensity, then the health, fitness, and strength possibilities are exponentially higher for every one of us.

There are plenty of gyms I could go to and be left to my own devices--I could pile weight upon movement dysfunction all day long, and no one would notice or care. But we pay a premium to have caring coaches that will call us higher, and help us reach our fitness goals safely and effectively. Our gym is committed to helping every member find the best quality of health and fitness possible for them, with trained coaches who are not afraid to reign us in so our movements are healthy and sustainable.

I don’t know about you, but I am incredibly grateful for this community and our coaches. The next time coach asks me to pull of the weight, I will do so and work on my foundation. I’m here for the long game and my foundation needs to be tight. So does yours.

When coach asks you to scale back, don’t feel discouraged or frustrated. If this was easy, most of us wouldn’t be interested, right? Let’s not be afraid or too controlled by our egos to scale back, do the foundational work for however long it takes, and build sustainable movement that will serve us inside and outside the gym for the rest of our lives.

Norma is a Masters Athlete and the Head Coach of the CrossFit Fargo Actify 40+ Program

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