I was weak. I had a better-than-a-year-ago levels of conditioning, which had moved from zero to running a half-marathon at 10 minute mile pace. It is an average number, absolutely but to me, it represented possibility and a huge achievement. This was previously unfathomable - I ran 13 miles?!?!
CrossFit immediately told me that while I was fit to run 13 miles, I was not fit for CrossFit. I had no idea how anything worked - lifting weights, gym etiquette, CrossFit etiquette. I had zero ego coz what?!?! I loved class - I moved houses to be closer to my gym! I cannot quantify how much I looked forward to going to class, to being in class, and to just let go. Show up, dont' quit and all that.
Common sense does go a long way but with zero systemic education, I just worked out. The choice was simple - brute force or to put it flatteringly, linear progression.
The brute force method
I finished bottom of class pretty much every workout. I was too busy celebrating being able to last the entire workout to worry about stupid things like finishing last.
The not-so-bad workouts that had running in them, I'd do well. Everything else involved lifting weights, and while I loved it, I struggled. Coz I was weak.
I'd just go at it. Most workouts were 25 minutes long or so, and I'd go at full tilt until I no longer could. And then I'd work at maintenance pace, which was defined as "continue doing as much work as you can but not end in throwing up". Slowly, if this is such a thing to be measured, my full tilt minutes increased, and work done in maintenance pace increased too. As a training approach, it was a blunt instrument. Here's why.
Let's say I have to squat 32kgs for 50 reps in as little time as possible. And let's say my heaviest squat is 40kgs. My brute force approach in CrossFit, using a non-CrossFit example can be summarised as
- Lift 32kgs for as many reps as I can until tired. Okay, 13.
- Tired? Can I do a few more? Great. 14-15-16-17.
- Rest, walk around.
- Can kinda breathe again. Pick it up, let's try to do 13.
- Holy shit, 8 is hard.
- Tired? Can I do more? Great. 30.
- Repeat next time, automagically with grit number of steps will reduce. Keep repeating until stuck (but that's another story).
Hard. Fun. Learned to suck it up and work. Learned to find limits to my body, and just let go for an hour. Occasionally got hurt in the process. Kept trying to improve.
On ideal and better and CrossFit
The ideal approach for me back then would've been to get my squat to 100kgs. Now, am lifting 32% of my squat and I can easily do 50 reps with it without taking so much time, rather than 80% of my squat which for 50 reps is just gonna take a lot of time and effort, and potential for injury as an inexperienced trainee.
Ideal does not mean that would've worked better for me. I am glad I found CrossFit and I loved that experience. The brute force method taught me a lot of things, and I was able to chip away at strength as well due to the coaching at SFCF. Maybe not as fast as just a structured strength training programme.
CrossFit has turned a lot of people into lifting weights than any other entity. A lot of people stay in it, other people move to things like strength training because it answers the question better for them. To be clear, I love CrossFit. I had a great gym, a great set of coaches, and a great community. I love it because of the experience I had, which is very subjective. Worked for me, at that time and at that place. Worked brilliantly!
It might not be the best training modality or whatever and what not. That might be missing the point. As a starting point, and for getting people excited about fitness, it works! Yes yes, there's a lot of BUTs and bad things about it. If it doesn't work for you and you know better, don't do it. Simple.
Back then, it was perfect for me and an indelible part of my journey and who I am today.
Where does this leave you and brute force? Well, let's try
- Strength is a skill
- There's enough science and smart people, backed by a lot of empirical evidence, that tells you what good is in fitness. StrongFirst, Coach Dan John, Mike Boyle, Alwyn Cosgrove - start there.
- If you want to get better, approach strength as a skill. Find a coach. Get coached. Have a plan. Get Strong Enough.
- If you are doing HIIT and CrossFit and bootcamps, and that's what clicks for you - do that.
At The Quad, our philosophy is to focus on strength and mobility, and getting strong enough. And having fun in the process, a lot of it. We interpret the teachings of people smarter than us, and say it with our own flavour. For folks who lack a systemic education in fitness, or for those who want to continue one, for beginners. You might be a beginner, or have not even started today. We work with a lot of people like that, who are stronger than before and do things they did not think possible. It is a fun thing to call work.
Remember - what works for you is what's best. What story resonates with you is the one you will do with the mental commitment needed. It might be for the short-term or the long-term. It does not matter. As long as you fall in love with fitness, you will eventually find your way to strength training. For now, the goal is to do what works for you.