“If you want pain, learn Muay Thai. If you want to learn about failure, play golf. If you want to vomit, drink syrup of ipecac. If you want to become stronger and more fit, train appropriately”
– Brian Petty, RKC (extracted from Easy Strength by Dan John and Pavel)
All strength coach’s (as worth their salt as McDonald’s french fries) passionately share Petty’s disdain for confusing the nearsighted approach of exhausting workouts with the intelligent farsightedness needed to achieve peak performance. Any fool off the street can reach into a bag of sweaty tricks, pull out a random assortment of soul sucking exercises, assign an insurmountable amount of sets and reps to them, start the timer and name his newborn coaching genius after his 7th grade girlfriend. However, not all “workouts” are extreme – some are simply random or possibly mundanely routine. Other than caloric expenditure, what value could any of these workouts possibly lend to athletes of any type? Most coaches would argue none. To play my own devil’s advocate, I’m going to admit that there is some value in the occasional gut wrenching sweat session or return to a lame routine, so long as these are very few and far between, and the athlete and coach alike recognize the high risk involved in earning such little reward. The more an athlete has at stake and the closer to competition, the less appropriate these shortsighted workouts become. Understand that there are HUGE asterisks attached to these observations and proceed with caution.
Not every average Joe athlete that strolls into the gym is training for any purpose beyond burning some calories by moving more than he or she does during their 9 to 5. WODs, the elliptical, or even prancercise increase the heart rate and at least get people moving, a concept becoming increasingly foreign to today’s sedentary society. I’ll take stupid movement over none at all.
While coaches choose specific metrics to measure the training progress of our athletes, many of our athletes prefer to evaluate themselves through their ability to handle the mental, physical, and emotional demands of challenging workouts. They like to see how they stack up against fellow athletes as well as themselves from a former life.
Athletes find comfort in performing workout staples from before the days when they learned how to train smarter. This theory helps explain why Monday is International Bench Press Day and why many who’ve missed a significant amount of training time begin again with old favorites.
Athletes battle stress daily. They don’t always want to stare down the barrel of a program loaded with sets, reps, and performance outcomes. Sometimes they just want to breathe heavily and sweat profusely to help them breathe easier and sweat less in response to the negative stresses of their personal and professional lives.
5th quarter conditioning does not necessarily make an athlete more physically prepared to handle overtime or unpredictable circumstances. But pain is the brain’s interpretation of a stimuli and positively changing how this stimuli is perceived when it is received can encourage a more favorable physical response to future occurences.
It’s no secret that CrossFit style gyms thrive on their sense of community among the members, not only within each facility but among geographically separated ones as well. They maintain this transcendent comradery because of benchmark workouts such as Murph (see above), Fran, and Helen. The collective suffering forges friendships in similar manner to basic military training. Social media now facilitates the sharing of these experiences.
Sometimes a workout is in fact an end in itself, particularly in less athletic populations. Workouts for all of the above stated purposes can be executed safely. Coaches must establish left and right limits based on the risk tolerance of the population they train. I am not as much promoting their existence as I am seeking to understand it.