DOIN’ IT, AND DOIN’ IT, AND DOIN’ IT WELLposted August 09
Acquiring proficiency at Crossfit movements is like learning how to drive. Lots of complex things going on, but once your body gets used to it you can simply focus on the road ahead. We all experienced this on some level. “Ok, the right one’s the gas, and the left one’s the brake…uh oh, pushed the pedal too hard…time to turn…shit, use the blinker…I have to check all three mirrors!?” Eventually your body knows exactly what to do and you’re able to eat, text, and drive at the same time (and if you do, please don’t ever let me get in your car).
So how do we learn? How do we go from seeing to knowing to doing? I just have one word for you – myelin.
Before I get all scientific on your ass, consider the following situation described by Bruce Holmes, certified USA Triathlon coach.
Imagine you’re going to be living in the middle of a forest, and in every direction you look it’s shrub and bramble. You’re going to have to be able to move about, but you don’t have a machete or anything to clear brush with. However, you do have a magical elf standing behind you, and you discover that as you push through the thicket he follows behind and does a quick cut or two to clear the path. So the next time you take that path you’ve created, it’s a little easier. By the hundredth time the “path” is now paved and ready for speed. The only drawback is that the elf is stupid. If you go in a direction you regret and announce, “Well, that was a bad idea.” The elf isn’t listening. He’s still going to improve the path. And the problem then is that the next time you’re out in the woods you’re liable to mistake that path for a good idea. And when you once again go down it, the elf will be right there with you, clearing even more of the brush. Making it even more inviting for the next walk.
Your body is constantly learning. Every time you move, you are training yourself to repeat those motor patterns. It all happens as electric impulses across the axons of your central nervous system. You send a signal through your nervous system, creating and enhancing an insulating sheath of myelin, thus making it easier to repeat that signaling the next time. The more you repeat something, the more myelin gets reinforced, and the stronger the impulse that fires across your nerves. Pretty remarkable system.
But just like with the elf story, things can go awry. If you continue to move incorrectly, you will only reinforce those bad habits in your nervous system. Regardless of how fast or slow you move, the patterns you create are more likely to be repeated next time.
This is why practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
One of the most common ways to inhibit perfect practice in the gym is trying to go too heavy too soon. This is especially true with crossfitters. Many new crossfitters fall into one of two categories. (No, they are not gender specific. The names just sound better that way.):
1. JOHNNY ATHLETE. He played sports, regular globo gym attendee, and considers himself pretty damn fit. He’s looking for something to shake up his regular routine, so he starts crossfit.
2. SUSIE NEWBIE. She hasn’t done any regular exercise in a long time, or ever. Her standard workout for the week is a 45-minute hike where the biggest obstacle is avoiding dog poop. She wants to tone up, lean out, and get in shape.
I repeat, men and women fall into both of these categories. So no hate mail saying that I’m being sexist, ok?
Both of these members eventually run into the problem of trying to go too heavy too soon. Johnny Athlete can’t leggo his ego and uses weights he thinks he’s strong enough to handle. He might hit all the reps but at the cost of proper form and technique. Eventually the strength will hit a ceiling and he is at severe risk of injury. Susie Newbie is starting to see dramatic improvements in her lifts early on and wants to keep riding the wave of the “novice effect.” However, she also has not mastered the movement yet and is at extreme risk of injury by loading up the bar too heavy.
Always always always prioritize form and technique over weight, and even (god forbid!) slow down to make sure you’re doing it right. The numbers will come quicker and improve faster down the line if you give yourself the proper foundation of movement.
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