Coaching (and Being) an Under-Construction Athlete

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by ISABEAU MILLER

Coaching (and Being) an Under-Construction Athlete

As CrossFit continues to gain popularity and success stories continue to surface, CrossFit is bound to become a bigger piece of the weight loss industry than it intended to be.
It’s arguable that all athletes are always “under-construction”– trying to get stronger/faster/leaner/bulkier. Many seek out CrossFit because of these exact goals. Mine, however, were different. After being on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” where I lost 113 lbs, and then getting lazy, letting life get in the way — oh, and having a baby — I found myself almost right back where I had started: with a seemingly insurmountable amount of weight to lose. My goal was not to get to The Games. It was not to do a double under. It was sure as hell not to get a muscle up. My goal was not to be super human; it was to be normal.

I remember my first drive to CrossFit. I was more scared stepping into the box than I had been being wheeled into my C-Section. Fortunately, through 18 months of dedicated work and incredible coaching by Aaron Martin at CrossFit Vector, I’ve had the support and information I’ve needed to surpass my expectations and feel not only “normal,” but strong. Capable. Beautiful. Enough. I still haven’t gone to the Games, and muscle ups are a ways away. But I did find my double unders. And my box jumps. And countless other movements that, on day one, seemed like near impossibilities.

I don’t like the term “fat” because, realistically, we ALL have fat. Some of us just have more than others. There are certain aspects, however, of training the average CrossFitter, and training (or being) one of those athletes who has more fat than others. As CrossFit continues to gain popularity and success stories continue to surface, CrossFit is bound to become a bigger piece of the weight loss industry than it intended to be. Initially a workout for the fit to become fitter, there are certain aspects to scaling and accommodating for the true “under-construction athlete” that both trainers and athletes need to be aware of. Things that could be only be known if you’ve been there and done that. Since I have, here’s what I think should be known:

Sometimes Your Body Just Won’t Do Stuff

Sometimes Your Body Just Won’t Do Stuff

I can’t explain to someone who’s never had a significant amount of weight to lose that it’s not my will (or lack thereof) that’s preventing me from doing lat activations or holding myself on a pull-up bar for longer than 10 seconds — it’s that I have more mass than I do strength.

When coaching “under-construction athletes,” understand that there are some things that are physically much harder, if not completely impossible. A great coach sees this snag before it even happens and walks the (very challenging and intuitive-based) line of knowing when to push someone because they can do it and are afraid to, and when to modify a movement because they can’t do it (yet), even though they wish they could.

Sometimes Weight Loss Is the Focus

Oh boy, do I get frustrated when hard-core CrossFitters talk about how weight loss shouldn’t be the focus — that people just need to show up, follow the programming, and allow it to just happen. False. Weight loss doesn’t always “just happen” for all of us. Some of us have to work REALLY hard at it. All the time. There should be no shame in going to CrossFit to lose weight. It doesn’t mean that strength, speed and all-around badassery can’t be a priority, too. But before (or, while) I’m a badass, I’d like to fit in a smaller size, please. As a coach, the best thing you can do is support individual goals, even if they wouldn’t be your own, and provide tools to help athletes achieve them.

Workouts Can Actually, Physically Hurt (Not in the Good Way)

[T]here will (hopefully) come a point where scaling isn’t necessary and the athlete can ramp up to complete WODs with less concession made for movements, time or reps.
Imagine doing your next WOD with a 100 lb vest on. Imagine how much weaker you would feel, how much slower your time would be. That’s tough, right? Now, understand that even wearing a 100-lb vest does not compromise the alignment of your joints, the constriction of your organs and muscles the way that carrying 100+ lbs of fat does. Working out when you’re “under-construction” can really hurt, and sometimes, WODs need more than a scaling of movements, but rather a scaling of volume or a time cap. Because until someone’s fit enough that s/he’s not going to risk injury during every workout, s/he shouldn’t be doing exactly the same thing as everyone else.

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