Rest Day Rant: Pursue Virtuosity

Posted: September 23, 2012 by Jim in Random Thoughts

Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a slight tendency in some of our Unbreakable athletes that needs to be addressed immediately: the often unconscious temptation to not achieve the full standard on a movement.

In most cases, I believe this occurs for two reasons: first, most of us get tired and that voice starts screaming at you. It says things like, “you can’t get that low,” or “no one will notice” if you don’t complete a full rep. A second, though less prevalent reason is zeal to conquer a movement that has historically plagued you. I can still remember when I was almost ready to perform unassisted pull-ups. Though I was close, I wasn’t quite there, but I still tried to make my chicken-neck, chin-below-the-bar pull-up count in a workout.

One of the blessings of working with our Unbreakable athletes is that we, as of yet, have not had to endure those “win at all costs” douchebags who cheat their motions and reps in order to scream “TIME” before anyone else. We have a way at CIA of weeding those folks out quick.

Whatever the reason for not completing the full movement standard during a WOD, this is a serious problem that can undermine your progress. Please make no mistake: we do not fuss about mechanics and movement standards because we believe that all athletes should compete. Our insistence on sound technique and full movement is an outgrowth of our intense desire to see you make progress.

One of these movements will give results…

Often over the last nearly two years, I’ve used the statement, “Only the full range of motion will give the full range of benefit.” This highlights one of the two major reasons we nitpick your movement. The full, below parallel squat, with your weight on your heels, your chest up, your hips locked, knees wide, and with full hip extension at the top is the only variation of a “squat” that will produce the type of physical and neuroendocrine adaptation needed to give you the results you want. An athlete comes to me and says, “I want my back to look like Katie’s back.” I will tell you that Katie’s back looks the way it does because she completes the full range of motion on her pull-ups, ring rows, push-ups, and bent-over rows, to name a few. The full range of motion on all of our movements will absolutely change your body and your life.

The second, perhaps more important, reason we fuss over mechanics involes injury prevention. Let’s take the squat for example. An above-parallel “half” squat often stunts posterior chain engagement and overloads the quads, thus overstressing the patella tendon to hold the athlete in place. Failing to complete full extension at the top of a press leads to muted trap involvement, thus overloading the deltoid and exposing the labrum and rotator cuff at risk. These are just a few of numerous examples.

Admittedly, you can spend an hour searching You-Tube videos and find thousands of CrossFit videos with very scary techniques. What’s most disturbing are those videos in which trainers and other onlookers are heard in the background cheering. Recently, I watched a video of a lift that demonstrated down right frightening and dangerous technique while finding a new 1 rep max. Now, I realize that when you’re trying to find a new 1 rep max, you will see decline in form. But to post such things online for people who do not know any better is irresponsible, in my opinion. There was a comment made, “And I am fine” along with the video.

One of the philosophies of Kelly Starrett that I love most is his “right or wrong” over “pain or no pain” comparison. According to K-Starr, you do

Never shy away from good PVC work!

not measure safety, or technical accuracy with the standard, “well, I’m not hurt, so it must have been fine.” For long-term injury prevention, you must make your rubric right movement over wrong movement. We must make ourselves come to hate wrong movements. While bad movements may cause a one-time injury, repeated bad reps may also add up to eventual injury. I’m not sure about you, but I still want to do CrossFit in my seventies. Continued acceptance of form like I saw on this video will seriously shorten the CrossFit life of any athlete, in my opinion.

So, what are we to make of this short, though very important rant? As you move into a new week of training, strive for a new standard: virtuosity.

You may be wondering, “what in the world is virtuosity?” CrossFit founder, Greg Glassman defines it as “performing the common uncommonly well.” Furthermore, “virtuosity is elusive, supremely elusive…” and is “always the mark of true mastery (and of genius and beauty).” You can read Coach Glassman’s entire article on the subject here.

Do not settle for anything but the full range of correct motion. Strive for mastery and beauty in your movements, and I promise you that your results will exceed your wildest dreams. Unbreakable athlete, Dr. Jeff Wilson, is a great example of the pursuit of virtuosity. Jeff was not even close to one of our stronger athletes when he started training last June. While some people would be discouraged when others outperform them, Jeff dedicated himself to mastering the movements. A little over one year later, Jeff consistently lifts as much or more as any other athlete, even athletes that outweight him. At a body weight of around 185 pounds, he PRed his back squat this week at 300 pounds, while also PRing the front squat at 245 pounds. With solid mechanics firmly established, Jeff is ready to see huge growth on these lifts when we begin our 12 week squat cycle in October. Right movements will always produce results: always.

“But JIIIIIMMMM, how do I know if I’m performing a movement correctly???” Well, the most obvious way is to come to class regularly and listen to, receive, and apply feedback. Also, don’t assume that we know everything. Exercise was not invented by Jim, Ellen, or Katie, and we certainly still have much to learn. Spend time educating yourself. Watch videos, read artcles, and spend time talking to your trainers and fellow athletes. Here’s my CrossFit Bromance, Kelly Starrett explaining better ways to do box jumps, for example:

Discipline yourself to hate bad movement. Strive for perfection and elegance. Become an Unbreakable Virtuoso, and then see what happens to your life.

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