Coach’s Corner: One Size Does Not Always Fit All

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By Randy Hill | CPT, Coach

Coach’s Corner: One Size Does Not Always Fit All

The problem lies in the literal interpretation of the idea that everybody should be doing the same things for General Physical Preparedness (GPP).
CrossFit is based around the idea that all human bodies function relatively identical to one another. The physical needs of the Olympic athlete and the needs of the elderly vary by only a few degrees. It’s a beautiful thought — the hip and knee move in exactly the same fashion in all humans, and incidentally, the same muscles are used to complete a proper squat by either one. However, this idea sometimes becomes misinterpreted as “Grandma needs to test her max height box jump every three weeks while she’s on this Bulgarian squat cycle.”

No. Please, no. While Gertrude has a hip and a knee (regardless if it’s made of organic matter or plastic), she is still quite a different person than, say, Kendrick Farris. She’s using her knees and hips to bend down and pick up her grandchild or to be able to squat down and check the oven to see if the cookies are done. She is not doing a 29551.7kg squat jerk. Obviously, we don’t need to train her exactly like an Olympian.

The Issue: Range of Motion vs. Quality of Movement

Range of motion is king!

Consistency of mechanics is part of the foundation of quantifying strength.
The problem lies in the literal interpretation of the idea that everybody should be doing the same things for General Physical Preparedness (GPP). The issue is exacerbated by the strict range of motion requirements in regular, day-to-day CrossFit classes that have gained popularity since the advent of the CrossFit Games. All too often, the only coaching that can be heard throughout the gym is “Open your hips on the box!” or “Get lower!” But is that really what we need to be cueing for? Is that the most important part of the exercise? Or should the cue be this: “Get lower… if your mobility and body awareness allows it”? Definitely the latter.

Range of motion standards are important; we can all agree on this point. How else can we quantify how much work an athlete has done? This scientific way of measuring an athlete’s output is a defining aspect of CrossFit, and it is a big reason why it is so effective. We’re all about numbers, and that’s part of the reason why our style works. How could you know if you got stronger during your last squat cycle if you cut your depth every time you add weight to the bar? Consistency of mechanics is part of the foundation of quantifying strength; thus if the weight has moved less distance than the standard of the movement, it would not equate to strength gain.

It is up to the coach on the gym floor as well as the coach writing the programming for the gym to collectively understand the population that they are working with in each class, and plan accordingly.
CrossFit gym members are paying upwards of $300 per month at some locations to train and take group classes. I consider a CrossFit class “semi-personal” training. These people could just as easily get a membership at any “globo gym” and do the same workouts, albeit not under the watch of what is supposed to be a skilled trainer who cares enough about their movement, well-being, and overall health to act as a reliable guide. Without question, the trainer should be able to prioritize which is more important – the range of motion or the quality of the movement, depending on the individual athlete.

Are You Guilty of Applying “One Size Fits All” Standards?

One size does not fit all

Let’s walk through a hypothetical situation: today’s workout is 3×5 back squats, sets across. Your class has three athletes, two of whom are young, injury-free males who play football at the local community college, and the third is a 63-year-old grandmother who has what she describes as “achy knees” and a “pinch” in her lower back. During the warm-up, when they are using the bar only, the male athletes easily achieve a squat depth that is well below parallel, maintaining strong positioning, including good lumbar and thoracic extension. When Grandma is warming up, you notice that she is only squatting to about three inches above parallel. When you inform her that she should squat lower for the safety of her knees and for the proper completion of the movement, she almost bites the dust in the bottom position. Her lumbar rounds out and her knees cave in. Not to mention that she gets forward on her toes and lifts her hips too soon.

FYI: Cuing healthy college athletes during strength training is not the same as cuing first-time CrossFitter Grandma Gertrude.
What happens next? Let’s add weight. When the two football players begin playing “who is bigger,” they each squat 225 to a nice depth, and then 315 goes on the bar. Bam! The quarter squats are on display. Somewhere from above, Louie Simmons curses the heavens and Mark Rippetoe cries. Although the boys still have decent mechanics, they are cutting depth to make it easier. The proper cue for these guys is definitely “GET LOWER!” (or some variation thereof).

However, telling your third client — Grandma Gertrude — to “GET LOWER” is probably NOT the best thing to do right now. In fact, it’s downright dangerous and irresponsible.

Three bodies that technically function similarly, but require far different approaches to coaching. When they are all in the same class, coaches are responsible for providing the appropriate guidance and cues.

Provide appropriate guidance

Put on your thinking caps: As with any scaling, consider what stimulus you are trying to emphasize when selecting an alternative movement for an athlete.
Now class moves on to a new movement: after their 3×5 back squats, the next piece of the workout is written as “Take 5 minutes to find a max height box jump.”

I’ll give you a hint on this one: Grandma needs to modify — not just use a lower box, but modify the entire exercise because not only is finding a max height box jump dangerous for her, but it is completely useless. This is not a metric that is going to be useful for her to have. She does not care, and the football players don’t want to get showed up, so let’s have Grandma work on some other form of the same type of movement. Have her do some hip bridges on the ground — we’ll tax similar muscles with a roughly similar movement, and everybody will end the day injury-free. Everyone is a winner.

Common Sense Should Conquer All

Obviously, these examples are extreme. It is up to the coach on the gym floor as well as the coach writing the programming for the gym to collectively understand the population that they are working with in each class, and plan accordingly. Yes, you can apply CrossFit’s principles and nine foundational movements anywhere, but be smart about it! Most of the preceding sounds like common sense, but please take the time to ask yourself if you and/or your gym’s coaches are getting too caught up with the CrossFit Games standards and neglecting what’s more important: the overall health and well-being of each individual member.

Randy Hill is a Level I CrossFit Instructor with three years of coaching experience.  He currently resides in San Diego, California and trains and competes at CrossFit Brand X under his coach, Jeff Martin. Randy posts his own daily training log at:  www.randyhillfitness.com

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