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Lessons from the Gym: Periodization and Beginners

The last week at CrossFit SSP and Summit Strength was spent finding a variety of maximum effort lifts so that periodization could be used in programming more often. In our CrossFit classes, we found everyone’s one rep max (1RM) on Back Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, and Strict Overhead Press. Our athletes worked toward a true five rep max (5RM), and overall both groups did fantastic. Perhaps more important than the numbers, however, have been the lessons learned both during and in the training sessions since. A large portion of our community is very inexperienced in the weight room, and as a coach that presents different challenges than an athlete who comes in with years of training under his or her belt. The following are my observations from the past week:

 

  • Beginner athletes do not know how far their body can go. It is an old cliche that your body can do more than your mind believes it can. However, cliches are cliches for a reason, and this one is certainly true. In the last week alone, the athletes in our development program have all added over 40 pounds to their 5 RM deadlift. That is not a usual jump, and it showed that they just did not understand what a heavy lift felt like. While I am not a big proponent of just moving weight, sometimes an athlete needs the external confidence to add more weight. This same experience was seen in the CrossFit class, as well. There were multiple times an athlete would say, “That was definitely my max,” but in reality they ended up adding another 20-30 pounds. It was not that they weren’t trying hard; rather, they simply needed to hear that they could go harder.
  • Periodization does not always work for beginners. In yesterday’s workout for CrossFit SSP, the deadlifts got nasty. High volume and decently high percentages left multiple athletes simply unable to complete the strength portion of the workout. While one newcomer completed it and excelled, most found it to be a little too much, too soon. As a coach, this is great to know, and a fantastic learning experience. Those in our community with a collegiate or higher athletic background handled it fine; those who are less trained needed a reduced number, and it was obvious quickly. As I don’t believe in forcing weight, we adjusted where needed and made a doable workout for everyone involved, but we also learned that the typical periodization may not apply for everyone.
  • Most blocks are mental, not physical. As I mentioned above, there were multiple athletes who said, “this is my max,” and they were 100 percent incorrect. What was happening was they saw a weight that they presumed to be heavy, and became intimidated. There are still so many misconceptions about lifting heavy weights, such as, “They will make you bulky! Only guys should lift heavy! Girls can’t handle a barbell!” All of these really drive me insane, because of how false they are. Don’t be intimidated by a weight. Mentally know you’re strong enough, believe that, and go move it. Zero questions asked.

 

 

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