Thursday, April 23, 2015

Strategies for Suffering

By Brandon Simpson

Suffering is the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship. Most CrossFitters get the idea of suffering, it’s in their blood. Ripped palms, scraped shins, and sweat angels are hallmarks of any box. The struggle is real. You affirm it as you make eye contact above heaving chests, rivulets of sweat staining shirts dripping from smiling faces. There seems to be a special place at about 3 months into one’s CrossFit experience where suffering is actually the goal of your training. It’s a chance to really feel alive as you overcome struggles and challenges that were often strangely absent before your arrival at the box.  Here are 9 strategies you can use today to disrupt your suffering to bring your experiences in the box to the rest of your life.

1. Get out of your own head.

One of the best things about CrossFit is that you’re suffering in a room full of friends who love training as much as you do. As you get into the challenging part of the WOD, the negative noise starts to roll through your mind. You know what that is, because you’ve been there. Unbidden your mind starts to fill with thoughts like, “I should quit, I don’t want to do this anymore, Why am I doing this to myself?” What do you do when you’re trapped in a room that’s filling with water? You make a way out! Take a deep breath, glance around the room, and cheer someone else on. There is something primal about shared suffering that bonds people together. Get out of your own mind, and lend some strength to the tribe!

2. Plan your work and work your plan

If you approach your workouts haphazardly, you’re not very likely to be successful. Gone are the days when the only thing CrossFitters did in a workout is go hard until they puke. This is becoming a thinking man’s game. As a general training tool, I like the 80 for 80 rule. I want my athletes to find a pace where they can work very hard at about 80% of their perceived effort for 80% of any given workout. Taking the 20 minute AMRAP above, 16 minutes should be completed at a pace that allows the same output at minute 14 as minute 2. When it’s time to redline in the last 20% or 3-4 minutes of a WOD, give it all you’ve got. If you’re completing a round every 2 minutes and then it takes 6 to complete the final round, your plan was off. Applying the 80 for 80 rule will take some practice and self-awareness, and even then you won’t optimize every workout you do. That’s good news, because it’s the failures that really make you successful.

3. Slow down to go faster

There is a saying in some circles that “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” If you’re constantly approaching 20 minute AMRAPs by redlining in the first 4 minutes, you’re doing it wrong. Learn to stay in control while pushing yourself to the limit. If you’ve watched top CrossFitters complete longer workouts, it looks like they are taking their time. Every rep looks fluid, there’s no pain on their faces, they are simply doing what they’ve trained to do. Success leaves clues… so watch and learn from the best! You can apply this by focusing your efforts in workouts on virtuosity, or doing the common uncommonly well. As you improve your efficiency, placing each part of your body precisely where you intended it to be each and every air squat, you will be able to increase your output at any given intensity simply by conserving the energy you used to waste with extraneous movement. Slow down and look for the 1% improvement in every rep of every warm up and workout that you complete. In time, mindfulness of how you move will lead to the kind of mastery that not only looks effortless, but inspires others to take up the practice.

4. The power of positive thinking

Mark Divine, founder of Sealfit, uses the mantra “Look good, feel good, I should be in Hollywood.” when approaching the dark parts of long workouts. Having a simple, repeatable mantra can help you to keep your mind positively occupied so that you can continue to push your body. It also functions like a seat belt for your mind, repeating your mantra keeps you from falling into negative thinking and self-doubt. Also try to give yourself encouragements that are entirely positive like, “Keep going, you can do this!” When you use negative reinforcements like, “Don’t quit! Don’t stop! Don’t slow down!” your mind tends to hear the quit!, stop!, slow down! a little louder than the admonitions not to do those things. Finding a short, rhythmic phrase that you can repeat to help you stay positive and present in the challenging moments of workouts will keep your head above water as you continue to train your mind and body.

5. Welcome it in like an old friend

Suffering is a part of life, no one is immune to it. Training is a special kind of suffering. You invite it into your life each day, knowing that it’s coming and welcoming the purifying fire in your lungs. You can immerse yourself in it and overcome it day after day.  Each time you emerge from the ice bath of adversity, you’re a little tougher, a little more resilient… a little more you. Welcome this suffering into your daily life to help make the other flavors of suffering more manageable by comparison. I’ve seen this play out over and over again as people who previously searched out comfort in every part of life start to see the power that comes through struggle. I’m not even sure they see it in themselves. They are transformed into men and women who stand a little taller, look forward to the next challenge, set and achieve goals, and are generally harder to keep down. Welcome the suffering of training into your daily life.

6. Reflect on it

Don’t miss this! After you’ve gone through the crucible, look back into it to see what burned off. Did you give it your best effort? Vince Lombardi said, “Fatigue will make cowards of us all.” Did fatigue break you? Did you suddenly remember a conflict or personal flaw? Getting your human brain out of the way through training can sometimes lead to your monkey brain throwing some interesting thoughts out. What strategy did the negative self talk take to get you to stop today? Did you have an answer? You can learn a lot about yourself in the raw environment of a particularly challenging workout. (This is one good reason not to cherry pick your WODs.)

7. Write it down

You should be keeping a log book if you’re serious about your training. In it you can write your experiences and begin to notice patterns of how you deal with suffering. You can note the days when you overcame the moment of doubt to look back on when you’re facing future challenges. Your ability to manage suffering and come out on top grows as you train it, and we all need reminders that we really can succeed. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

8. Avoid unnecessary suffering

There are no gold stars awarded for injuring yourself in a workout doing weights or exercises that you were not prepared to do. Is it worth ripping palms or tweaking a back because the last set of deadlifts was 20 lbs above your last PR? That’s up to you to answer. Intelligent programming and scaling workouts are necessary for you to have a successful training program. Likewise, if all of your workouts bring you to the breaking point, you need some variance in your program. Like all things in life, some ebb and flow is very important. I think 3-4 workouts per month that bring you right up to your outer limits is about right. More than that tends to push people towards burning out. There’s a quote commonly attributed to John Wayne that goes a little something like this, “Life is tough, but it’s tougher if you’re stupid.”

9. Know your why

You need to know why YOU are training. It’s not that important what the answer is, as long as the answer is important to you. If it’s to keep up with kids, feel comfortable in your body, or to improve your health, keep your why in mind as you get into the difficult parts of your training. This will keep you grounded in life as well. If you know why you do what you do, when the challenges arise (and they will) you can face them knowing it matters. There is nothing more depressing than purposelessness. There is nothing more inspiring than a purpose that is bigger than you.



3 rounds of:

5 strict handstand push-ups

10 strict ring dips

15 strict push-ups

20 strict pull-ups