Think Like a Coach: Train Objectively, Not Emotionally

Over the last two years, I've met a lot of athletes who celebrate everyone else's progress, but find it difficult to recognize their own. I've been thinking about that a lot lately.  

Do you ever find yourself empathizing with a friend who can’t hit a squat PR, but beating yourself up when you hit the same plateau? Do you accept that your gym buddy needs to take a week off when they’re sick, but don’t allow yourself to do the same?

(PS - The irony of me getting sick right after writing this post does not escape me. Funny, life. Funny.)

If you’re anything like me, you’re harder on yourself than anyone else. It’s easy to internalize the culture of no excuses, no pain no gain, don’t give up 'til you’re on the floor. But is that the most productive way to train?

Lately, I’ve been trying to emphasize the importance of training objectively rather than emotionally.

That means talking to yourself like a coach, respecting the process, and remembering your long-term goals.


Separate the emotional effect from the source of the problem

Have you ever thrown the bar down after failing to hit a snatch or a clean and jerk, or whipped your rope across the gym when their double-unders aren’t cooperating?

It might help relieve your frustration, but I'm willing to bet that little tantrum didn't help you nail the movement on your next attempt.

Giving in to the anger you feel in that moment is the CrossFit equivalent of going down the rabbit hole. It’s not helping you, it’s not solving the problem, and it’s probably making you look like a tired five-year-old. (Real talk.)

CrossFit is about mental fortitude as well as physical strength. Instead of giving in to all the feelings you’re feeling, take a deep breath and try to objectively identify the source of the problem. You know, the way your coach would.

Maybe you’re pulling too early in the snatch, or your hands sneaking farther and farther away from your sides in your double-unders. Maybe you need to keep the bar in closer, or calm your breathing. If you’re too busy trying to collect your bar or your rope after throwing it away from you, you’re not noticing (and fixing) the issue.


Start acknowledging your own hard work

Putting time and effort into your sessions, whether they happen three or five or ten times a week, means you’re getting better.

Remember, CrossFit is measurable. It’s not about your emotions. Even if you don’t think you’re improving in the exact ways you want to, you’re probably moving in the right direction - because you’re moving.

Don’t forget the fact that your 400m run time has gone down just because you’re still struggling with your 500m row. Progress isn’t linear, and it isn’t always easy to see. Give yourself a break. Acknowledge the work you put in.

I’m not just saying that to make you feel better (remember, this whole post is about how much you shouldn’t listen to your feelings). The fact is, establishing consistency is a key building block in the CrossFit journey.


Approach training systematically, not reactively

CrossFit includes elements of weightlifting, gymnastics, running, rowing, and more. Your programming is (hopefully) constantly varied, to maintain general proficiency, combined with specific sessions focussing on unique weaknesses.

That’s why you need to resist the urge to totally change your programming because of a single poor session. If you’re generally strong at squatting, but you have an off day, take it as an off day. Don’t incorporate a squat cycle on a whim.

That’s what it means to train systematically instead of reactively.

It’s about trusting the process. Continue developing your base movements, and putting in the work to make sure you’re technically proficient. The rest will follow.

After all, the magic is in the movements - the art is in the programming.

We already know to leave our egos at the door when we step into the box. Try leaving your negative emotions there, too. View your training the way your coach does - with objectivity, rationality, and support.