You Have a Goat? You Lucky Dog! A Discussion on CrossFit, Running and Being a Masters Athlete

Here’s a clip from the book, “Power Speed Endurance: A Skill-Based Approach to Endurance Training” by Brian MacKenzie, an encyclopedic work that organizes and explains MacKenzie’s full-spectrum skill approach to running, cycling and swimming:

The problem with endurance sports is each discipline works within a limited range of motion. Continually working within these limited ranges for extended periods of time is a huge problem, especially if you are a veteran that has done nothing but your respected sport for years on end.

Ok, quick comment: I am an example of this. I took up running and marathoning in the 1980s and since then put a solid sent on the odometer using the same limited range motor patterns to wear down the outsole rubber of many pairs of running shoes. It worked pretty well for a while, then came the injuries and the decline in performance and then more injuries. To which my high school running coach (God love him, by the way) would have barked, “You need to stretch!”

Which draws me to another clip:

The issue is not that static stretching lengthens the muscle. The issue is that stretching addresses only ONE aspect of your physiologic system—your muscle. It doesn’t attend to motor control, it doesn’t attend to the position of your joints or what’s going on at the joints. Stretching doesn’t address sliding-surface function—that critical interplay of how your skin, nerves, and musculature react with one another. However, all these things aggregate into what looks like tight musculature. And that’s why we have dealt with these problems our whole lives with a good ol’ fashioned, old-school directive of “stretch it.”

The above paragraph is from a book set to arrive on shelves in April, “Supple Leopard,” by Kelly Starrett, another encyclopedic work including a panoramic transmission of Starrett’s thought and practice when it comes to position and movement within the “unified field theory” of athletics.

Starrett teaching a mobilization at a mobility cert held at CrossFit Invictus.

Starrett teaching a mobilization at a mobility cert held at CrossFit Invictus.

In particular, Starrett is talking about how athletes limping around with various ailments from training and competition are advised to stretch, or to stretch more, or to just “stretch it out.” It’s been a blanket answer used to address complaints that crop up when human beings train hard and compete hard, and want to train harder and compete better.

Starrett makes the assertion that the reliance on this blanket prescription has, generally speaking, killed off a lot of discussion and development that could have happened. Development that would may have led to a wiser and more potent system than the throwaway fix of, “stretch it out.”

This all ties back to how Starrett likes to characterize a CrossFit box as a lab–as a place where, with good coaches watching athletes closely–issues can be identified well before they become injuries. Additionally, these issues are probably sucking the life out of an athlete’s potential. Spotted and figured out, weaknesses are considered pockets of new energy and power.

I’ve needed to be reminded that this is a critical value of CrossFit training, one that I’ve been missing out on recently because I have been letting my pride get the best of me. And this goes back to a term used often by the likes of Starrett, MacKenzie, Diane Fu (movement and Olympic lifting) and Carl Paoli (movement and gymnastics)–the word being “goat.”

Goat: In CrossFit, goats are the weaknesses you have as a CrossFitter. They are the skills you dread having to perform, because you know you aren’t very good at them, they frustrated you and you’d much rather do something you’re better at.

The term goat is fit to be used in triathlon, by the way, because many triathletes have either one or two strengths and at least one weakness. The greats, like Chrissie Wellington and Craig Alexander, have no glaring weakness and are masterful at all three disciplines. Most doing the sport have at least one goat that is nagging at their performance. This applies to some of the champions athletes as well who either have to build up a huge lead with the bike leg (because their running is lacking) or make up a huge deficit with the bike and/or run. Many triathletes end up spending more of their training time on their strengths as opposed to their goats (I’m guilty of this), because it’s more fun and your ego gets some sunshine.

MacKenzie working on a runner's mechanics at a CrossFit Endurance certification.

MacKenzie working on a runner’s mechanics at a CrossFit Endurance certification.

Triathlon has nothing on CrossFit, however, when it comes to goats. The definition of CrossFit emphasizes that the more athletic disciplines involved, the better. Triathlon is swimming, cycling and running. CrossFit is swimming, biking, running, weightlifting, gymnastics, powerlifting, jumping, throwing, rowing, and on and on. Triathlon, by the way, was the first event of the CrossFit Games in 2012, a multisport event folded into a multi-day competition involving 2 to 3 multi-sport events per day, each of these events a surprise in itself in terms of composition and arrangement.

So the point is that it would be dreamy to only have one or two goats as a CrossFitter. Like in triathlon, the best tend to be those with few weaknesses. Rich Froning, Jr., for example is just all-around good-to-great at just about everything in CrossFit. From his standpoint, there’s always room to improve, so I’m sure he thinks he has some goats. But that’s a view-from-the-mountain-type thing.

Here’s the view from a mild foothill: A quick rundown on the worst-of-the-worst when it comes to my CrossFit goats:

Cleans
Jerks
Clean and jerks
Snatches
Pistols
Turkish-getups
Double-unders
Handstands

There are others of course, but those are the ones I am confronted by most frequently. And when it comes to these things, in general it’s not that I don’t know what to do, but limitations in my ability to get into to the proper positions is what gets in the way. And those limitations stem from my unique mobility, motor control and range of motion problems.

Let me again refer to Starrett’s fundamental declaration on the concept that “stretching” is the universal antidote to injuries, range of motion deficiencies and recovery.

The issue is not that static stretching lengthens the muscle. The issue is that stretching addresses only ONE aspect of your physiologic system—your muscle. It doesn’t attend to motor control, it doesn’t attend to the position of your joints or what’s going on at the joints. Stretching doesn’t address sliding-surface function—that critical interplay of how your skin, nerves, and musculature react with one another. However, all these things aggregate into what looks like tight musculature. And that’s why we have dealt with these problems our whole lives with a good ol’ fashioned, old-school directive of “stretch it.”

And so this is where the use of mobilization comes in for Starrett’s approach to attacking athletic problems—whether an injury-related problem or some sort of power drain that’s robbing an athlete of the full expression of their athletic capacity. The core intent of Starrett’s mobilization, as I understand it, is to look at a problem in terms of the positions you get into or can’t get into in relationship to joint stability and the flow of power, and using this analysis as a guide to what tools are appropriate in terms of making thing better. Tools to fix motor control problems or range of motion problems. The guide for analysis, relationships and the tools in the box are what’s at heart in “Supple Leopard,” and also deeply deposited into his long-running video blog at http://www.mobilitywod.com.

In my case, Starrett recently posted a piece about CrossFit training and mobility work for masters-age CrossFitters. For me, it was an invaluable read. Going to CrossFit classes four or five times per week is simply difficult to recover from. When you’re in your 40s–and I’m in my late 40s–one has to be careful not to compare a personal rate of workout recovery with that of the 20–somethings you may be working out next to.

And in particular, not effectively recovering from CrossFit workouts can make the next day’s workout all the more difficult. Not so much in terms of the strength needed, but I’ve noticed that it takes me a lot longer to warm-up. And even then, if the workout is calling for Olympic lifts, I can seem especially slow and clumsy. It’s best at these times to not look around at some of my younger cohorts, some of whom slip into these sleek, powerful and deep squat positions with apparent ease. I will get frustrated. At the same time I’ll be hearing from the coach, “You have to get deeper.” And then follows the lecture on how I have to get faster with the middle part of the lifts.

So frustrated, in fact, a couple of weeks ago, while lashing myself with a number of missed double-unders with a jumprope made out of what I would emphatically describe as razor wire, I completely lost my cool and threw the jumprope on the ground. It was like a snake that kept biting me and I wanted to stamp it dead. I’m not sure if any of my classmates saw the violent rage I was threatening my jumprope with–hopefully they were all blissfully focusing on their workouts. But it was a pretty dumb moment.

At any rate, Starrett’s post was a reminder that for Masters athletes and otherwise, as hard as it may be, you have to leave the ego out of it and address your individual situation with honesty and intelligence. Use the competitive structure of CrossFit training to your advantage but not to your self destruction. The past couple of weeks I’ve left far too many CrossFit workouts with a despairing level of frustration, and I can trace this to not being lucid with my thinking.

Here’s the clear assessment: If I’m going to mix CrossFit workouts with CrossFit Endurance workouts, I have to toggle the variables to find the jet stream of training and improvement that I wish to be in.

I have to keep in mind that it’s not just all the mileage of rolled up with the limited range of motion that MacKenzie has talked about, but it might be of some distinct impact that while I was running those miles, the calendar pages flickered by and, alas, I seemed to have aged.

For me, this means don’t worry about whether I come in last in a CrossFit workout. Use the others to keep myself honest and pushing myself in a WOD, but that’s it.

And a few other pieces of advice gathered from the coaches I’ve spoken with over the last two years.

Long, thorough warm-ups are not a matter of option. They’re required for me to start a WOD. I imagine a common mistake for newbies and Masters athletes alike is to count on the in-WOD warmup, which may last only 5 minutes. It’s just not enough to warm-up the shoulders, hips and everything else so that when you do start something like Olympic lifts, you’re at the high range of your mobility rather than just starting to get the engine going.

Follow the workout with post-workout types of mobilization. Starrett generally counsels at least 10 to 15 minutes a day for most people. For runners, especially older runners, we’re going to need two or three of these sessions a day. These sessions require using a variety of tools from the kit and really honing in on what Starrett commonly refers to as “ugly” or “nasty” areas of tissue where things are glommed up. And if you sit a lot at work all day, the sitting needs to be countered with frequent breaks from sitting and building mobilizations “into your day,” as he puts it. For example, if you’re going to be on a long phone call and are chained to your desk chair (he’s prefer you stand by the way), get a lacrosse ball under a hip and stir things up.

Tweak the variables so that the program is correctly scaled to you. Again, this was referred to in Starrett’s post about Masters-age CrossFit athletes. Variables like intensity and number of workouts per week. I’ve had a similar conversation with MacKenzie about how to properly adapt to a CrossFit Endurance program. If you blow yourself apart with a massive session of heavy deadlifts and a long met-con, and don’t effectively recover to a sufficient level before a scheduled running interval workout, you’re not training effectively.

Goats are good. This has been an underlying message in just about every interview I’ve ever conducted with Starrett, MacKenzie and Paoli: that by discovering a goat, you’re also discovering a possible stream of performance you haven’t been using. You’ve been “leaving it on the table,” they would say. CrossFit founder Greg Glassman talked about this long ago in the first days he was conducting certifications–that an argument for an athletic specialist, like a runner, CrossFit will reveal weaknesses that, if solved, will unleash a jolt of performance and potential that never would have come about through standard “sports specific” styles of training.

So rather than trying to kill jump-ropes, I realize I have to (once again) let go of my bloody ego, look at things clearly, cultivate patience and get to work. And first of all understand: goats are good. Following is the one Mobility WOD I’ve appeared on, where I learned about a tool for hamstrings.

For more info, go to http://www.mobilitywod.com and http://www.crossfitendurance.com.

SUPERSEDED Inside the Box book cover imageInside the Box: How CrossFit® Shredded the Rules, Stripped Down the Gym, and Rebuilt My Body is available from these online retailers:

3 thoughts on “You Have a Goat? You Lucky Dog! A Discussion on CrossFit, Running and Being a Masters Athlete

  1. Great article, as a fifty one year old athlete attempting to work within CFE programming and going to my local xfit box I thought it was just me. This offers a sound strategy of how to go about this for an athlete who may have a few miles on its chassis. The warm up piece is especially key. I hope the young xfit coaches out there read this.

  2. Pingback: Tuesday 3.12.13 | Crossfit South Bend blog

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