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Would You Rather Be Right Or Would You Rather Be Fit?

By October 12, 2008 One Comment

I am one of the most stubborn people I know. I have strong convictions and those serve me well. I have strong opinions and they sometimes irritate other people. However, it is my stubbornness that gets in the way of me really getting results both as an athlete and as a trainer.

There are some things that I refuse to do. I will avoid things that make me look bad. If I suck at an exercise I might come up with a bunch of good reasons to avoid doing a particular workout. Also even if I am sick I might refuse to rest and do a workout because I just feel like I have to. In both cases I am setting myself up for failure. When will I learn?

The fact that I have this quality as an athlete makes me recognize it immediately in others. I can immediately recognize qualities I hate about myself in others: stubbornness, laziness, foolishness, etc. I try to be compassionate about it but sometimes it gets under my skin as a coach. I find my inner voice often becomes my outer voice. The harsh criticisms I usually direct at myself are sometimes projected outwardly towards other stubborn athletes. I mean well. I hope people know that.

I have been coaching long enough now to see a great many people stick with the Crossfit program and get great results. I mean I have seen some real hopeless cases that have turned into strong, fit athletes. The common denominator (other than my impeccable coaching) was that they kept coming. They did not quit. Even though they couldn’t get it right in the beginning. Even though I tried so hard to get them to squat properly for months and it seemed like they were hopeless. They eventually got it. They figured it out. I have to remember that over time people get it and my screaming will not significantly speed up the process.

I am also stubborn when it comes to training people. I love Crossfit and I take great pride in being able to teach exercises well. However, every once in a while I find a case that is really impossible. There are some people among us that cannot squat or deadlift or move their bodies in a way that is conducive to high intensity exercise. I have recently begun to think outside of the box in terms of training some of these people. My yelling can only take me so far. What I have to do is be more creative in the way I train people.

I have some clients that no matter how much I tell them to arch their backs when they deadlift, they simply cannot do it. I mean I have spent years with some of them doing every manner of back extension exercise and whenever I try to put a barbell in their hands and get them to deadlift it goes wrong. What’s a trainer to do? I recently fell in love with the Sumo Deadlift. After hearing Mark Rippetoe recite an anecdote about someone that had such interesting anthropometry that he had to have her do sumo deadlifts, I decided to give it a try on some athletes that seemed to have chronic issues with deadlifting. It worked. I was able to fix two people’s deadlifts immediately simply by putting their feet wider and their arms inside their legs. This is not the first place I would start but these were two athletes that had been Crossfitting for a while and could never get it right. Because I am so fixed on doing things “by the book” and doing things “right,” it took a long time for me to consider changing what I was doing with these athletes. My goal is to make these athletes stronger and get them to lift more weight safely and if their bodies cannot do a standard deadlift correctly, then I have to find another way to make them stronger.

I watch the TV show “House” where the main character is an antisocial doctor. He is also a genius and only gets the most problematic cases that nobody else can diagnose. He and his team use a Black Box method to figure out what is wrong with these patients. Every episode involves Dr. House trying three or four treatments on the patient that nearly kill him or her (very dramatic!), but in the end stumbles upon the right diagnosis and treatment. He tests the inputs and the outputs until he gets the output he is looking for. What is also admirable is that he really is willing to try anything that might work as outlandish as his colleagues think it is.

With Dr. House in mind, I have even started to play with some inputs that the Crossfit world might consider wrong, but when dealing with individuals with unique injuries and movement pattern I am forced to try different things. Recently I have had to incorporate some isolation movements with certain athletes that have certain issues that I cannot adequately address with compound movements. One of the athletes that I switched to the sumo deadlift also has a tendency to jerk the weight off the floor with his arms. In fact, he has a lot of spastic behavior when he performs exercises which leads to recurring injuries. I have had to slow him down and start doing some isolation movements in order to get him to use the muscles that I want him to use. I had to make him do leg presses because he was not getting the concept of using his legs on the deadlift even though I finally got him to arch his back. He used to be a competitive climber and has a lot of upper body strength but cannot finish his pullups so I have him doing some seated rows and other isolation exercises to get him to use his upper back muscles and utilize a full range of motion. Gradually I will get him doing the exercises that I really want him to do, but in the meantime I am trying to get him fitter, stronger in a manner that is safe and reduces the occurrence of dangerous habits that lead to injury.

The point I am trying to make is that sometimes we have to give up being right in order to make ourselves and our clients better. The greater goal is to make my clients stronger and more fit and if they cannot perform the exercises I want them to do safely, I better find some exercises that they can perform safely in order to get the job done. Thankfully my clients are willing to stick around because they know in the long run they are going to be in the best shape of their lives.

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Good Sam

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