I’ve been thinking a lot about goals recently. It’s a fortunate coincidence that Jackie wrote a blog post about goals as well! Read that HERE.
This post was inspired by a handful of conversations I had with people when we did the CrossFit Total in class. After several of those classes someone would tell me they had a goal to reach a certain weight that was significantly higher than the one they just hit or to get back to a weight that they had lifted at some point. I see nothing wrong with that. Lifting heavy weights is fun and if your maxes go up, that means you are improving, right? Well… maybe.
CrossFit is and always has been about improving overall fitness across the lifespan. According to Greg Glassman, the creator of CrossFit, fitness is defined as your capacity to do physical work and this capacity for work across the span of your life is the definition of health.
Now that you know that, let’s discuss something called the “waves of adaptation”. When you do something that your body isn’t used to doing, it is physically stressful. Your body has many systems that are SUPER dialed into keeping you at homeostasis. So when you introduce a new demand to your body, it adapts so that it will be better prepared to handle that demand the next time. This is why you can’t just keep running the same distance or lifting the same weights and expect to keep getting fitter. Your body doesn’t want to get fitter. It wants to stay the same because growing/repairing muscles is very costly energy-wise. Spending a lot of energy on something like that, historically, could get a human killed faster than conserving energy. Anywho… on we go.
Wave 1: Think of this as “muscle memory”. In the first 4-6 weeks of a new training regimen, all the gains you make are mostly neurological. For the most part, your body hasn’t physically changed yet. It has simply “learned” how to do those movements better. You haven’t necessarily improved your physical health very much yet because there just hasn’t been enough time to make significant physical changes.
Wave 2: Here is where the physical changes start. Your muscles grow, the capillaries in those muscles become denser, your neurons become more myelinated which means the signals travelling from your brain to your muscles move faster. You become more efficient at absorbing/using oxygen and getting rid of CO2. These are the adaptations 99% of people are chasing and will actually make a difference in your overall health.
Wave 3: This is what you call “sport specific” adaptations. These have nothing to do with improving health. Let’s say I get a brand new athlete who has never squatted before. After spending some time learning the correct form, they can squat 100 pounds. They do CrossFit regularly for a few months and then they are able to squat 150. First-wave adaptations. Now they’ve done CrossFit for 2 years and they can squat 225. Second-wave. It is safe to say that they are now healthier because they can squat more. The physical makeup of their body has changed in order to do so. Now let’s say they come to me and tell me they have a goal of squatting 275. They already eat reasonably well, sleep at least 7 hours most nights, drink minimal alcohol, and minimize stress in their life. But they’re a parent and they have a full-time job. Making these Third-wave adaptations will take specific, dedicated work to increase their squat. If you’ve already maxed out your recovery methods, outside of steroids, the only other option is to sacrifice your other training to squat more. This would not improve your health more than you already have. In fact, I’d argue it would worsen.
Think about it. If you haven’t maximized your options for recovery then you are definitely leaving pounds and seconds on the table. But if you are a typical busy adult and you’re doing everything you can to get adequate sleep, eat well, stay hydrated, and keeping stress under control, what else is there? At some point, due to the nature of CrossFit, you will have to sacrifice something in your training. You can say you “need to get better at pull-ups” or “really want to squat X pounds”. But if you’ve been training for a while already, do you realize what that will take? And is it worth doing what it takes? Is it worth missing 2 CrossFit workouts per week so you can do your special squat program during open gym? That’s a question only you can answer for yourself. Remember, those third-wave adaptations aren’t making you healthier. So what is your true goal? Are you still doing this for your health? How important is that number to you?
One final thought on this. On Ben Bergeron’s podcast he tells a story about his athlete, Katrin Davidsdottir, winning the CrossFit Games. She comes to see him in the warm-up area after just being declared the Games Champion literally minutes ago. With the medal still around her neck the first words out of her mouth were, “I’m not as happy as I thought I would be.” The reason, according to him, is because lasting happiness DOES NOT lie on the other side of achievement. Katrin didn’t achieve lasting happiness because she was already thinking about next year. Just like if you hit that number on the squat, there is always another number out there. Why do people who set world records keep training and competing? Because they could always do more.
My call to action for you is to simply give some conscious thought to the goals that you set for yourself. I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t chase numbers. I’m just telling you that the likelihood of that pursuit bringing you permanent happiness is very low. If you need help setting goals, TALK TO A COACH! I’m not sure if we’ve made this clear yet, but we care about you guys. Peace out girl scout.