High Intensity: The Blurred Lines of Competing and Training

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by TARYN HAGGERSTONE

In my last post, “Constantly Varied” vs Random: Do You Know the Difference?” I talked about how constantly varied can get confused with random, often resulting in poor programming. This week’s topic is about “high intensity” workouts and why it is important to remember that there is a difference between training and competing.

High Intensity Training

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[T]raining is still training — the emphasis should be on longevity and becoming better athletes/fitter individuals.
Before CrossFit, I can honestly say that going to the gym on my own rarely motivated me to do a workout that could have been considered “high-intensity”; the choice between 45 minutes of slow and steady cardio over 15 minutes of sprint intervals was an easy one. The idea of going to that “dark place‘”(or even getting close to it) was not something I contemplated during my elliptical sessions (I’m not even sure it would have been possible), and the only time I truly pushed my limits was in competitions.

Part of what sets CrossFit apart is the competition element that the whiteboard, timer and “Rx” bring to training. Having that whiteboard motivates people to push harder than they otherwise might and have fun at the same time. People who have never been competitive before often get their first taste of competition and find they love it; former athletes who may not have played in years have the opportunity to compete again; and CrossFitters looking to compete can have fun and train at the same time.

However, as a coach or athlete, one must understand that although CrossFit brings competition into everyday workouts, training is still training — the emphasis should be on longevity and becoming better athletes/fitter individuals, not simply getting the best time on the whiteboard. It’s not that we shouldn’t go hard in workouts and enjoy competing against the clock, our friends or ourselves (that’s what makes it so fun!); what I’m saying is that we have to keep in mind why we CrossFit to avoid getting too caught up in the competition aspect.

“So… Why do YOU CrossFit?”

I’ve asked a number of people this question and have heard so many answers and reasons, including

  • to compete
  • to become faster, stronger or more agile
  • to lose weight and have fun, or
  • to be strong/capable enough to do the other things in life we love.

The list keeps going, obviously. But therein lies a problem: if we treat every training day as if it were a competition by

  • always giving 110%
  • sacrificing good form/technique for a good time
  • doing weights we aren’t yet ready for, and/or
  • ignoring our bodies when they tell us to take a rest day…

then we are doing ourselves and our goals more harm than good.

Know Your Underlying Goal/Reason

I want to Cry

[I]f we throw ourselves into each WOD blindly and don’t take the time to correct movements and become more efficient, we will — inevitably — have a difficult time becoming the best athletes we have the potential to be.
If the goal is to compete, then training should be about perfecting our technique, building on our strengths and attacking our weaknesses so that we are as prepared as possible for when we step onto the competition floor. Training should be tough, and should make us push hard (really hard) so that we know what to expect in competition. But if we throw ourselves into each WOD blindly and don’t take the time to correct movements and become more efficient, we will — inevitably — have a difficult time becoming the best athletes we have the potential to be.

It took me a long time to realize this (I still have to remind myself pretty regularly, and it was almost harder to understand/accept this concept when I didn’t compete, because for me the daily WOD was my competition. The thing is, if the underlying goal isn’t to compete but rather to have fun, get in shape, and become a stronger individual, etc., then things like not listening to our bodies, skipping rest days, and/or sacrificing technique for a good time/score are all excellent ways to end up sidelined by an injury and unable to continue training and doing what we love.

[N]ot listening to our bodies, skipping rest days, and/or sacrificing technique for a good time/score are all excellent ways to end up sidelined by an injury.
I think what CrossFit has done — bringing competition into daily workouts — is awesome because it makes training fun (in a sick, twisted “I-sometimes-feel-like-I-want-to-cry-or-be-sick” kind of way). I love seeing people change as they learn how to push outside of their respective comfort zones and discover what their bodies are capable of. What I don’t love, however, is

  1. getting injured because I didn’t listen when my body told me to ease off, or
  2. seeing other people get hurt by going balls to the wall every time they train.

Both of these possible results only serve to slow long-term gains, possibly take us out of training completely, and give CrossFit a bad name. As coaches and/or CrossFitters, it is important for all of us to us to remember that in the end, training is training.

Visit Taryn Haggerstone’s blog, Go Hard Get Strong, for more of her thoughts on training and follow her on Twitter @TarynHaggerston.

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