Practice, Train, or Compete, what’s your focus today? Every time you enter the gym you should be asking yourself, what am I here to do: practice, train, or compete? Most of the time, we (coaches included) don’t think about this, and fall into competing without even realizing it. If you are checking the leader board, adding weight to be equal or better than the person next to you, or comparing your score to everyone else’s, you are competing. To train or practice is to remove the influence of others and focus on you. To train means you are focused on personal performance goals, while practice removes all focus on the performance measures and instead aims to learn, reinforce, or master proper movement mechanics. Here are a few examples:
Programmed skill work should be a mix of practice and training. Let’s use a high skill movement like handstand push-ups as an example.
Practice would focus on perfecting the movement pattern of lowering your head into the correct spot in relation to your hands and keeping the legs close during the load and extension of the kip. While reps should be completed, a few at a time, the total volume would be high to develop muscle memory.
Training would be something like 3 sets of 10 unbroken with 90 seconds rest while maintaining good form to build overall capacity.
Competing would be trying to do more reps than the person next to you regardless of how good the reps look or feel. While it may boost your ego, this will only reinforce poor movement mechanics and decrease your ability to progress to the next level.
Along with skill work, strength work is also a mix of training and practice. As coaches, we assign you a specific number of reps and sets with a goal load, such as 4x4 back squats at 75-80%. You should use your warm up sets as a quick practice session, ensuring your body is moving correctly and efficiently as you increase towards your working weight. Once at working weight you are trying to maintain good form, but also understand the goal is to improve upon your last performance of 4x4 back squats. While we all like to talk about the weight we lifted, we understand our own limitations and stick to small improvements in load rather than throwing on the same weight as the strongest person on the whiteboard and trying to hit the lift no matter how our form looks.
So, what about the metcon? First off, for those who don’t know, metcon stands for METabolic CONditioning. That means it is not a strength session, nor is it a skill session. Now is not the time to try to learn a new skill or load up a barbell so heavy that you can only move it for a few reps at a time before breaking. Metcons are the ideal time to push your body to move better while fatigued and improve your metabolic capacity. Let’s use the benchmark WOD “Diane” as an example. The workout consists of 21-15-9 of Deadlifts at 225/155# and HSPU. This workout is intended to take less than 5 minutes, with all sets completed unbroken, or maybe broken a few times with minimal rest between sets. Based on your abilities in the deadlift and hspu you should be scaling to meet these criteria, while also creating performance goals for yourself. This may mean using the same weight, but breaking up the sets only once instead of twice, or moving from 2 Ab mats to 1 for HSPU. If you are more concerned with just doing the workout RX or beating the person next to you then you are missing out on the opportunity to create a personalized goal and set yourself up for success. At the beginning of class your coach will provide you with an idea of performance goals you should aim for, but feel free to come up with your own goals to reach so long as they don’t change the workout completely.
So when does competition come into play? For most people, either at a local competition or the Open. In these two environments, the goal is to produce the best score possible by giving maximal effort and taking every legal shortcut you can to beat the person next to you. For the members of the Stealth community, we provide you the extra opportunity in the form of benchmark testing. However, competing too frequently can take a toll on your body, not just physically but mentally, and you may even see decreases in performance as a result. You may have experienced this yourself if you try to PR every lift and workout during the two weeks of benchmark testing. Of course this is not what we want to see as athletes. Rather to be smart about our training so that we continue to improve in the right way so that when we do truly compete, we have placed ourselves in the best position to succeed.
At the end of the day you should have fun every time you come in and remember the end goal for most of us isn’t to make it to the Games or Regional’s but to improve our lives outside of the gym by remaining strong and healthy.
For more detail and insight on the subject, here’s a podcast with Ben Bergeron: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOobQ4TDVmw