By Ryan Humphries
Co-Founder: Axistence Athletics
People exercise for all sorts of reasons. Some do it to get off of medications, some use it to lose weight, build muscle, and some do it just to get that rush of dopamine... kinda like how some people use cocaine.
When it comes to how people live their lives, I like to take a pretty libertarian approach. That is to say, if you want to feel good from time to time, and you're not hurting yourself or anyone else, I say go for it!
Here’s the thing though, if you go chasing dragons too often, you’ll find yourself in a very dark place.
Tired of my vague fitness and drug references? Keep reading and it’ll all make sense 😊
The proverbial dragons I’m talking about are the workouts that leave you staring up at the ceiling wondering what just happened. I’m talking about those workouts where the coach asks for your time, you try to speak and you can’t. I’m talking about classic all-out "MetCons"* or as I like to call them, TESTS.
*MetCon = Metabolic Conditioning
Example (As Many Rounds as Possible of specific exercise(s) in a specific time period)
Most people just look at a MetCon as a really hard training session and not necessarily as a test...and they're........kind of right...
I don’t watch a lot of sports but I’m told other people do, so here’s a sports reference. Before playing one's opponent, teams will always run through a few “practice games”. It’s like a little test to see how their training is paying off. However, if a team's entire training program was made up of only practice games, it’s unlikely that they’d be worth a damn when they really needed to perform.
The same is true of your training.
If all you're doing is testing and beating the crap out of yourself, it’s unlikely that you’ll see the results you’re looking for. To achieve a RESPECTABLE AMOUNT OF FITNESS, not the stuff hyped up in Muscle & Fiction magazine, or the shit promoted on late night TV (is that still a thing?), they key is a combination of both training AND testing.
So what’s the difference?
TRAINING will leave you challenged, yet still able to function in the world. You’ll probably feel a little sore the next day, but not incapacitated. When the session is over, you shouldn’t feel like you need a pizza and a nap. You also shouldn’t have too many choice words for your coach 😉 .
I know a lot of you LOVE that feeling of your legs shaking, the room spinning, and your heart pounding out of your chest. Well, you’re not alone. There are plenty of people who have become addicted to this sensory overload euphoria. See the above cocaine reference...
Here's the issue with this level of intensity multiple times per week; even if you’re doing all the mobility work, eating like an adult, and prioritizing your sleep, this type of training may cause enough damage to your muscle tissue that its almost impossible for a full recovery by the next session.
That damage may not be physically hurting you yet, but it may well be hindering your progress. The question we should be asking ourselves is, could we see quicker results with less damage if we tweaked our protocol? The answer is yes.
So should we take MetCons out entirely? Not so fast...
Look, there is absolutely a time and a place for queuing up Eye of the Tiger, putting your game face on, and throwing down; but I’m talking about when you block out everything else that matters and your sole focus is on pushing yourself to the max. This is called TESTING.
TESTING will demand that you push yourself to the limit of where you have thus far trained. It will take the skills that you have mastered, and put them, well, to the test 😊.
Testing can come in many forms. You could test your absolute strength with something like a 1RM Back Squat. You could test your strength endurance with 2 minutes of max push-ups. Curious about your glycolytic "engine"? Let's see how hard you can work in 5 minutes... The StrongFirst Snatch test is a great indicator of that, as well as something like “Fran” or “Grace” in the CrossFit world**. What about your aerobic capacity? Go for a 3 mile run and you’ll have your answer. If you want an all around test and you’re an advanced athlete, the workout “Murph” is a solid choice.**
Here’s the reality of the situation. Most people who are going to big box gyms aren’t actually pushing themselves enough in their workouts. This could be due to the lack of motivation, education, a solid training plan, or even accountability. On the flip side of things, there are plenty of people falling into the trap of chasing the dragon and testing themselves far too often. The outcomes are similar for each group: Pissed off because they’re not seeing the results they were hoping for, and worse case scenario, they get injured.
Example Tests mentioned in the article:
StrongFirst Snatch Test = 100 Snatches in 5 minutes or less kettlebell weight based on bodyweight)
Fran = 21-15-9: Pull-ups and barbell thrusters (95/65)
Grace = 30 Clean & Jerks for time (135/95)
Alpinist Fitness Assessment = MTI (See link)
Murph = 1 Mile Run (Then complete 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 air squats) then another 1 Mile Run [Wearing a weighted vest (20/14)]
In the video below, I lay out how to take the classic CrossFit test "Fran" and use the same movements to train a little smarter, with less physiological damage, and potentially more GAINZ:
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