Coach’s Corner: Know Thyself

It should come as no surprise to you that I’m a fan of journaling your fitness. After all, you’re reading this article on the Official CrossFit Workout Tracker, BTWB.

I began keeping my own training notes before the internet was a thing, way before we all carried around these powerful mini-computers we affectionately call “phones” in our pockets. I used a pen, sometimes even a pencil, and wrote “stuff” on a piece of paper in a notebook. I’ve collected dozens of these throughout the years, and sometimes like to dig one up and look back with a mix of amusement and embarrassment at what my 20 year old self was doing in the gym at the time. One recent browse turned up a body part split template that had days called “Upper Body Pump” and “Lower Body Pump”. Don’t laugh too hard at me, this was before CrossFit, and I have to say it worked well enough at the time.

While I have a certain nostalgia for those notes in the chocolate whey protein stained notebooks of my past, it sure is easier now. It’s so easy that you’ve really got no excuses to NOT keep some notes. You always have your phone so you never have to worry about forgetting your book, and the tracking functions provide easier access to information, whether it’s knowing what you should squat this week (based on last week) or what goals you should set for a go at Fran. (based on your notes from your last date with the OG gal). What “stuff” exactly though, should you be recording?

The Quantifiable

One of the main legs that CrossFit methodology stands on is the fact that it is “measurable, observable, and repeatable” (Understanding CrossFit, April 1, 2007). When you journal your WOD times and rep maxes, you’re collecting numbers and stats. Those numbers and stats are essentially observable measurements of your performance. When you repeat the same workouts or movements you can use to compare your performance across time. As the saying goes, numbers don’t lie. The numbers, your raw data if you will, help to keep you, your coaches, and the whole process honest. You should be improving, getting stronger, faster, and fitter across time. If you’re not, then either your programming or some other variable that affects your fitness needs to be manipulated to be improved.

Bro… what are you gonna bench?

Numbers are informative, and your coach loves when you have them. What you did in the past is informative on what you can do today and in the future. When you show up to class and know that you Back Squatted 315 lbs for a heavy triple four months ago, you have information that tells you what ballpark you’ll be in weight-wise for today’s heavy single. Then, when the coach calls out “Who’s going to be squatting in the low to mid 300’s today?”, you can raise your hand for her to pair you up with the appropriate rack mates. Don’t be the person left squatting 445 when the coach gets down to the low hundreds. It’s annoying to the coach, and you’ll be inconveniencing yourself and your rack mates.

Hey… it’s working! I’m gonna keep doing the CrossFitz!

Better numbers are affirmative, and you’ve likely made more progress than you give yourself credit for. Seeing measured progress begets a stronger commitment to the process and thus, more progress. When your programming is solid, your training is consistent, and your recovery is on point, it’s almost a guarantee that you will get fitter. It’s nice to look back in six weeks, six months, and six years to see how far you’ve come. The quantifiable aspect of CrossFit is a significant part of what separates it from other forms of high-intensity exercise, and these markers of improvement are worth paying attention to. Again, if you’re not getting better then something is amiss. How will you know whether or not it’s working if you don’t measure?

The Qualifiable

Your fitness doesn’t live in a vacuum, and factors separate from the gym will affect your performance on any given day. This less “concrete” information is just as important to make note of, and having it will help you assess your process and progress.

Tell me how you really feel.

I’ve known some athletes who can take a bad work day, hulk out, and turn it into a new clean PR. I’ve known many others (including yours truly) who can let the stress of a particular day creep into their training, often resulting in lackluster performance. If you’re distracted by something going on in your mind grapes that you need to deal with, recognize that you may not have a great training day. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re feeling like a million bucks, it’s very possible that positive attitude will carry over and you’ll have a great training day. Mindset matters. Note it when it’s off and work on avoiding a recurrence. On those days when you’re firing on all cylinders, note what led to a great day and try to do more of that in the future.

Sleep? You mean the band?

Yeah, I’m into them too (Jerusalem is my fav), but it hopefully isn’t new to you that 7-9 hours of quality shut-eye is a potent performance enhancer and less than 6-7 is a potent performance killer. If you sleep like crap, expect to have a crap day at the gym. If you have some notes to this effect you can take look more objectively at the days numbers in the future.

Don’t forget to feed and water the athletes

This isn’t about good nutrition and what that means, but to encourage you to make some parallels between what you eat and how you look, feel, and perform. When your nutrition is more dialed in, you are absolutely maximizing your potential and the effects of your training. After a few beers, some nachos, and a 2AM pepperoni slice, the next morning will not be so hot. When you’re eating like crap you are absolutely diminishing your potential and the effects of your training. Alcohol, as fun as it can be for some, will dehydrate you. Dehydration leads to subpar performance (and headaches). Be sure to drink plenty of water, and extra when you choose to imbibe. I’ve seen athletes change nothing about their effort in the gym and achieve better results by eating better and not drinking a bunch of empty calories. I’ve also seen athletes who spin their wheels for months or even years due to poor nutrition and frequent drinking. If you take some general notes on what you’re consuming, then over the course of time you can step back to analyze the data and see how nutrition affects your fitness. One of the most common questions I get when teaching our Foundations course is “What should I eat before/after training?”. What works well for Mat Fraser or myself (basically the same athlete, I know) might not be best for you. If you experiment and take notes, then experiment some more, you’ll provide your own best answer for this. And if you decide at some point to work with a coach on improving your nutrition, you’ll be able to have a more informed and productive conversation about it.

*I’m not necessarily advocating weighing and measuring your foods and/or tracking macros or calories. Simple notes like: “Lunch at 1pm – chopped veggie salad with chicken and almonds + mineral water”, “Lunch at 1pm – cheeseburger and fries + 2 beers”, or “Breakfast at 8am – Coffee with milk and sugar” will provide useful info.

You’re gonna need a bigger boat…

Every now and again, you’re gonna mess up. The bar will be too heavy, you’ll have gone out too hard on that first 400m, and you’ll be up against a much larger shark than you anticipated. If the coach says the round of 21 should be done in 1-3 sets and you had to break it up into 7 sets of 3, note that. If you raised your hand for high rings and then got time capped after your 10th failed muscle-up in a row, note it. Sometimes the opposite is true and you take it too easy on yourself too frequently. Scaled too heavily and got 15 rounds on a workout the coach said to expect 5-6 on? Note that you should go heavier or choose a more difficult scaling option next time out. It’s okay and even expected that you’ll make mistakes like these from time to time, especially in the beginning. Learn from them, and choose wiser going forward.

Dear Diary…

To summarize, you don’t have to write down every little thing in your training notes. Have some numbers, aka scores. Have some data about how you felt before, during and after your workout. And finally, have some in the moment notes about what went well or what you can do better next time. Having these types of data helps you and your coach make better decisions for your fitness.

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