Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tales from the Front - Capacity and competency - are you "earning the right" to do more work?

Competence (As defined by Websters) - the quality of being competent, adequacy, possession of required skill, knowledge, qualification or capacity.

Capacity (As defined by Websters) - the ability to receive or contain; the maximum amount or number that can be received or contained; cubic contents; volume - i.e. The inn is filled to capacity. The capacity of this gas tank is 20 gallons.

A new year, and with it, new ways to view the work we do, how we do it, when to do it, and why. What sparked my recent interest in the discussion of capacity and competency? Much of it came from my own training and racing; realizing why my coach would up my volume at certain times and decrease it at others. As we discussed the "why" and "when" of my own training, I began to look at my own coaching, teaching, breaking down the word - competency. Webster's can define it, but what does that mean in terms of training? Moreover, what or how do we apply it:? When? The same could be said for capacity. So let's look at this a little deeper.

In the terms of training, endurance athletes, and functional fitness athletes, have a pretty good understanding of capacity. To put it another way, the amount of work we can do. If you ask a triathlete, they will quickly quote you the amount of hours, or miles they put in during a week of training. They can break it down into each specific area, and thanks to the power of GPS watches, give you the exact distance to the millimeter. They are quick to puff out their chests to let you know that they cranked out 25 hours, 60 miles of running, etc, and in the month of January, with no race planned till May. They put on Normatec boots, pop up their legs, and figure all is good in the world. Yet, they are perplexed as to why they have a nagging injury that started to creep up in March, then becomes a full scale problem in April.

Functional fitness athletes are not an exception to this rule. They pile on hours in the gym and outside it, then quickly place the pads of a stim system or hope that a lacrosse ball, or a foam roller is going to solve all their problems. But all the mobility in the world, all the cool, new gadgets can't fix perhaps the most overlooked part of training - competency.

How does competency work or fit in the world of training? Its simple - its the "how" you do the work you have prescribed. If you are running, and know that your gait is messed up, that you have a heavy heel strike, and experience chronic pain after every run, then your competence in running is not what it should be. Hoping to out-run or "roll out" your issues isn't fixing the real issue - you need to improve run form. Once your form, or run competence has improved, then adding in intensity and distance is safe and will yield the results you want. Same goes for all disciplines - swim, and bike, and, yes, transitions.

The carry over to functional fitness athletes is no different. Look, I love Crossfit. My coach is Crossfit Endurance coach, and a damn good one. But he wasn't allowing me to through a ton of weight around or run a bunch of insane mileage while my run form and squat form were garbage. We needed to go backwards a bit to make real forward progress. For all of you FF athletes out there, I know Rich Froning set the standard for work ethic - 10 hour days of training in prep for his 4 CF titles. But that wouldn't have been possible without having the competence in everything he did. And, even with that amount of training, he still had weaknesses exposed during his runs to the titles. He didn't win every event. He didn't always place in the top 5 of every event.

 Competency isn't something that you work on for a week or a month and then forget. Its constant. Its a huge part of the training process. The more you work on your competency in ever area of your sport, hell, your life, the more work you can handle. Simply put - you can't out-work bad form or bad competency.

But what is it that makes us skip this critical step, essentially putting ourselves in the same position year after year? January is typically when endurance athletes kick it up a notch, and we see spikes in the volume of training. But in all that volume, there is rarely any skill work? Why? I know so many athletes who in the month of October, bemoaned the fact they didn't do enough drill work in the pool. They swear, that come the next season, they will make skill work a part of every swim. And then amnesia sets in as January 1st rolls around and they are still thrashing in the water, gasping for air. We have created a sense of urgency on "amount" of work vs the quality of it. Should someone who suffers during every kick set of a swim continue to add more yardage to the workout? No. Fix your kick. If you are going to add pool time, make it skill work first. We are so deathly afraid that our friends or our competition, or are training partners are doing "so much more work than me!" that we lose sight of what our needs are, what our goals are. This sense of panic can be toxic to an athlete, and can lead to illness and injury.

I'm not saying that the moment you come to terms with the fact that your run, swim, deadlift, clean, needs work, is easy. Its not easy admitting that you need to take a step back and work on your competence in the areas that give you the most trouble. But its the most critical step at improving. If you can't be honest with yourself about the lack of competence you have in your sport, then you lose the right to complain about not getting faster, stronger, better. Either consciously or unconsciously, we all know there are areas of our sport that need work. I've been there, several times. Coming to terms with it is tough as hell. Its a knock to your ego. But guess what? Fuck your ego. Your ego is preventing you from doing the stuff that is most critical to your improvement. You might have a massive engine, but if the wheels don't turn correctly when you steer, it doesn't matter. Face your flaws and fix them now. Or don't. Just know that you control the outcome. If you don't fix flaws they are bound to haunt you at the worst possible times. Its just how they work.

Here's your equation - better competence allows for more capacity. That capacity will produce better results as a byproduct. Keep it simple, be an adult. Deal with your shit. You'll be glad you did.

Stay strong,