Remember those days when every time you stepped into the gym, it didn’t matter what was written on the whiteboard, you were going to hit some sort of PR? Those same days when every time you looked into the mirror you could see your body changing just the way you had hoped? If only those days would last forever…
The longer you train, the less frequent we see “progress”. I purposely put progress in quotes, because the reality is, progress is subjective and open to interpretation. It has more to do with how we read the data and view it as a whole. The unfortunate truth is, as you get further into your training (higher training age), the frequency in which we see those results, changes or PR’s will decrease. But, that doesn’t mean the gains have vanished forever or that the program you’re following is failing you. I have been participating in CrossFit for almost 8 years now and those early days were a dream come true; I was constantly learning new skills, adding weight to my lifts and feeling better each and every day. Fast forward to today, I have most certainly hit those plateaus and felt like I needed to switch directions with my training. But, I can reflect back on my early days versus where I am now and I can say definitively that I have made substantial progress. My weightlifting numbers haven’t skyrocketed, but my efficiency with lifts has dramatically improved. I have more confidence approaching workouts that a few years ago would’ve given me anxiety. Most importantly, I am happy with where my fitness is currently at. Could it be better? Always. But, I know overall that I am more efficient, confident and happy as an athlete.
The most common thing I hear from athletes who have been training for a couple of years is that the program they’re following isn’t what it used to be. They aren’t seeing the same results any more and often times feel like they have regressed as athletes. So, for those that might be sharing that same sentiment, let’s assume it isn’t the program but rather how you’re approaching it. The biggest factor that most people are missing in continuing to see the “results” they want, is intensity. Intensity is a big buzzword, especially for us CrossFit folk and for good reason. Intensity, simply put, is how hard you push yourself. There is a vast difference in someone having to sit down because they are out of breath after a set of 5 back squats versus someone who is carrying on a conversation during their set. The latter lacks intensity and will likely continue to use the same weights for a much longer (unnecessary) amount of time. If you can reflect back on your training for the last few months, can you honestly say that you’ve pushed your intensity and still aren’t seeing the results you want? I’m willing to bet that’s not the case if you’re being completely honest with yourself. It won’t matter if you’re following the best program in the world (which if you’re at NorthEast CrossFit, you are), if you’re going through the motions and lacking the intensity necessary to promote change, you will never see what you want to see come out of it. I could go off on a tangent of its own blog about finding that intensity whether it be going lighter in conditioning pieces to move faster, adding weight to your strength sets or a slew of other things, but I think if you can be more aware of your intensity, you’ll start to see the changes that you want. Or at least you’ll be made aware of a lack of it and can begin to adjust accordingly.
The next big factor, that has nothing to do with what program you follow and affects every demographic equally, is recovery. I am going to lump nutrition, sleep and stress into this category, but again this could be its own lengthy post as there is so much research that has been done on the adverse effects of not having optimal recovery strategies in place. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, if you’re reading this blog there is a high probability that you’re an adult with a job, family, friends, maybe a few kids or pets and lots of responsibilities
scattered throughout your life. With those responsibilities comes stress and time that takes away from your recovery.
The sad truth is, there is a difference between surviving and thriving. There is a difference in how your body will respond and adapt to 4 hours of sleep versus 8 hours. And there is a difference in how your body will react to quality foods as opposed to heavily processed foods filled with sugars, fat and god knows what else. I can tell you from experience that all of this plays a far greater role than you probably realize. I used to be a nightowl who thought sleeping 4-5 hours a night was plenty. I come from a water polo background where I could eat anything I wanted and not gain a pound, so I never cared much about changing my nutrition. Some of you are probably reading this and saying, “but, Cam, I still PR all the time and I don’t count my macros or anything like that.” Kudos. You’re probably surviving when you could be thriving. If you’re seeing progress without paying attention to your food, sleep or stress, imagine what you could do if you did?
To be completely honest, when I sat down to write this blog I had a different version in mind, but as I began writing I went off on tangents and I’m glad that I did. I originally wanted to write a light fluffy piece about how beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. I wanted to focus on how there are different ways to measure progress. But, the unfortunate reality is that a lot of times we play the victim and cast blame onto outside factors rather than reflecting on what we can do to change the situation. The quest for gains has more to do with you than it does anything else. I have seen people progress on a program I thought was inadequate. I have seen people make zero progress on a program that I thought was of the highest quality.
So, what’s the difference? It all lies in what is put into the program from the athlete; what is their intensity like? Do they push themselves or do they often take the easy way out? What does their recovery look like? Is this an athlete who has a daily stress level of 10? Are they getting an appropriate amount of sleep to promote recovery? Is nutrition something they should be paying more attention to? If you can honestly say that your intensity is there and that your recovery (all subsets) are on-point, but you’re still not seeing results, come see me in person.
This is not a shot at anyone specific, because we have all been there. I have been guilty of this just as much as anyone. It’s easy to fault a program for a lack of “progress” and it’s easy to avoid having a difficult conversation with yourself about how you could be the issue. If you take anything away from this post, I hope that it’s to improve your self-awareness and potentially evaluating how you stack up in the various categories. Because, just like Captain Jack Sparrow, we never want to run out of gains.