I remember reading a book by Dr George Sheehan, a physician and running athlete who made his fame writing books about running, when I first started competing in individual sports as a teenager. Something he said really stood out to me. He said the first thing he opens all his speeches and coaching sessions with was, the wish that all the junior runners listening could win their first race as soon as possible. He was wishing them this so they could see that winning wasn’t what they most likely expected - that when you win, you’ve ‘arrived’, you’re done, job is finished, success and happiness are yours. He wanted them to learn, early, how fleeting (and almost empty) winning was, so they’d realise the fruit was in the efforts pursuing the win. Sounds obvious but many pursue the end as the end. An end goal, state, asset, thing… The smart ones when they get their win, move on to the next thing. Like any moment, our wins pass, and then, win or not, success or failure, you need to decide whether you start again.

Recovering properly and well is a hot topic nowadays. There are plenty that still find it hard to stomach, and sell the harder, faster, more approach. But it’s definitely getting more air time, which is great! Slowly people are learning how to track their recovery and their readiness for exercise with tools like HRV, what signs are typical and/or personal in terms of indicating the need for more recovery work, whats methods to use when, and what constitutes a recovery session in the gym.

Training As A Process

Any task you take on will most likely fail unless your mindset matches what’s required to meet the desired outcome. With that in mind, if you want to be good at CrossFit and it’s two biggest skill sets (weightlifting and gymnastics) you can’t walk in to training approaching it like a workout. It’s practise. Like any other sports person stepping on to the field/court/mat etc. The mentality required is that of practising a skill to perfect it. You also need to make up your mind as to whether you are doing it for health or to perform to the best of your ability, to be competitive with those around you and yourself, to keep driving yourself to be better. Health and performance are not the same and they carry a completely different risk profile. If you want to step up to the plate of performance, you need to accept the risk that comes with it, and the extra work (in the form of prehab and the inevitable rehab - because you will get hurt, eventually). So first we need to know our why.

Getting back in to competing recently I stumbled across Dr. Jack Llewellyn, a US sports psychologist who’s performance program has long been considered one of the worlds best. His approach seems so simple, implementable, and transferable, I really wanted to share it with you. So as not to bastardise his program, understand this is simply my summary of his process as I’ve been exposed to it so far.

Train To Recover

I get a lot of people asking for help with overtraining, Adrenal Fatigue and Chronic Fatigue issues. It sounds silly but it needs to be said, because I had to learn this. If fatigue is your issue, doing anything that makes you more fatigued isn’t going to help. Sounds obvious I know, but everyone wants to know how they can keep training, how much they can do, and are very resistant to hearing that they can’t keep doing what got them to this place. Funny that. And before anyone else contacts me saying I’m suffering from over training, it’s not just the training! These issues, unless you’ve been unlucky enough to have a virus create it for you, are lifestyle stress disorders. You have an inability to handle the stress you’re being subjected/are subjecting yourself too. Training is ONE contributing factor.

The most important recovery/anti stress tool we have at our disposal is sleep. Sleep is probably the most underrated tool when looking at recovery with athletes I work with or know and likewise with stress heads and de-stressing. People talk mental strategies, nutrition, breathing etc. All are great but mediocre at best without sleep. When you begin to study the benefits of sleep, its function, and the effects of depriving yourself of it, sleep really does sound like the panacea. Recently I wrote about adrenal fatigue, chronic fatigue, and my experience with both. During my recovery process one of the biggest turning points was actually giving in to the fatigue. I had resisted feeling half dead for a long time, and everything that that state ‘meant’ for me, what it took away. So giving in to it was a big step. It was a massive turning point because what it meant was that when I felt tired, I respected that and rested. I slept A LOT. Any time of day, for as long as I felt I needed to feel like I could function again. My recovery improved greatly with this approach.

When it comes to programming for CrossFit, I like to look at things through a modified powerlifting lense. So let’s start with some basic definitions from the powerlifting world. In it’s simplest form, a supplemental lift is a movement that mimics the lift/movement. You could think of this lift as being more joint related. Accessory lifts are typical (or not) bodybuilding style lifts that focus on muscles. Where things can get confusing is that you can separate further in to force bias exercises or control bias exercises. For example with an accessory force exercise, you hit the muscles that produce force in the target movement, as opposed to accessory control exercises which hit the muscles that provides control during the movement.

A good mixture of ego and eagerness will almost always be the reason for getting hurt. Every coach/pt/athlete I know has been there. Chasing weight/reps/time instead of form. Whilst it’s obviously infuriating because you’ve failed, and are paying a price in terms of not being able to do what you want, the lessons are always sitting ready to smack sense in to you. The amusing thing is, the lessons almost always seems to be the same things that cause the injury to happen; not having the orthopaedic profile for the exercise (I’ve discussed this many times from a joint, muscle, and pain perspective), or you don’t have appropriate control/tightness. How many people have you heard say “ I was doing X when I just lost concentration/tension/tightness, felt my knee drop in, shoulder pop up, etc”. I’ve found that the rehab process is always a lesson in re-establishing tension, and is a tool for educating how to dial up/use appropriate tension.

The whole lacking motivation thing in Winter is a weird one. It’s 100% a head based thing. People deciding that the discomfort associated with being out while it’s dark, cold and or wet simply does not justify the rewards gained from it. I’ll make you a deal. If you want to hibernate over winter and do nothing, then during summer you need to behave like the good hibernating animal you are and eat all the pies. Fatten yourself up so you can survive your weeks of couch surfing with no food. Or… you could just change your mental approach and let go of your resistance to the fact that it is about to get dark, cold, and wet.

Everyone talks about what to do in training to train harder, faster, get more gains. Very few mention that it’s the return to a parasympathetic state and the rest in between that is THE most important part of any state you want to take your body/mind to. This article is about the maladaptations of stress. I plan on writing a series of seperate articles on conditioning your brain, nutrition, training, sleep, gut health, etc explaining how these things place stress on us in the first place, and how to manage that stress to allow you the results you are after. Apart from being valuable to those who seek me for help, the following articles will be valuable to anyone looking for health, athletic performance, weight loss, growth, and more. I’m starting on the topic of maladaptation so you can understand why it’s so important to manage your recovery.