On Going Rogue: Stages of Learning

Hey, athlete. I see you.

You’re in open gym. Or absent altogether. You’ve gone missing from classes.

You may not even know it, but you’re what I call “going rogue”. I get it, I’ve been there.

Maybe you’ve been lured by shiny new high-volume programming you saw on Instagram. Maybe you really love your new Beats headphones and you can’t bear taking them off. Maybe you’re sick of scaling, so you’re going to do your own thing so pesky coaches will stop holding you back from doing the fun stuff. Maybe you’re still not cured of the cardio queen mindset and you think half an hour of daily rowing will slim you down faster. Maybe you’re hurt, and you are afraid to ask for help, or don’t think you can be helped.  Maybe you’re losing that old thrill you used to get from classes when you were a beginner. Maybe you’re sliding back into some spinning classes. Maybe you’re bored.

Most likely, it’s a combination of some of the above.

My Story

It’s important to note I know exactly where you are coming from.

In 2014, a couple years into my time as a coach at CrossFit9, I started to get more and more interested in olympic weightlifting, attending a couple of seminars and learning more about the sport. I was still CrossFitting 5-6 days a week, but I had a wandering eye and started spending more time off to the side working on my snatch and clean & jerk.

That’s about the time I tore my ACL. There are no two ways about it. The injury completely derailed my athletic progress. But what’s more, it directly challenged the identity I’d built up in Rx’ing everything and making the daily whiteboard fight to prove, at least for the next 24 hours, I was the top female athlete at my gym.

In retrospect, I see the injury for what it was: The manifestation of a lot of warning signs I’d ignored because, well, I could. A complete reboot to my way of thinking about movement and rehabilitation. A death to my old scarcity viewpoint around competing. As a coach, a total 180 on my old mindset of struggling to coach athletes through their own physical limitations.

But at the time, I wasn’t ready to be so mature. I stopped going to classes because it was such a blow to my ego to have to scale and substitute so many movements. I got tired of getting creative to keep my heart in the game. It wasn’t fun to watch everyone else squat and lunge when I was benching and doing weighted pull-ups yet again. My physical therapy sessions were fueled exclusively by the thought of one day snatching more than my bodyweight, and signing up for a meet.

As I returned to barbell, the relatively narrow confines of olympic weightlifting were appealing. It was clear exactly what I needed to work on, and I did.  I had to relearn almost every lower body aspect of the snatch, clean, and jerk. God-given fast, solid footwork, gone. My old back squat PRs, history. For the first time in my life, I had to work at mobility and flexibility.

It never once occurred to me that maybe seeking out coaching beyond my physical therapy window would help me get back to those things faster. For whatever reason, I refused to believe the coaches were qualified to give me guidance. My problems were special, like me.

I skipped classes for Open Gym all the time. It became more and more of a habit. I lost my muscle ups, and got pissed I hadn’t earned all the skills back I’d previously had. I was frustrated so many other athletes were surpassing my benchmarks.

Instead of looking towards the classes and coaches that were right in front of me, I signed up for cookie-cutter online subscription programming that was really meant for people who weren’t struggling with rehabilitation. Shocker: I didn’t progress much at all, and set off a chain of interrelated injuries.

Due to my gross egotism, I couldn’t yet expose myself to GPP (General Physical Preparedness: Fitness-speak for CrossFit). Deep down inside, I knew the task there was so monumental, and I knew I couldn’t do it without comparing myself to other people. And if I couldn’t win, I refused to find joy in it.

I know, gross. My mindset was infected. I wasn’t a fun person to be around, inside or outside the gym.

No Special Problems

I think back on that window of my life when I see my own athletes trickling off into open gym time for whatever reason. I’ll see them rowing for an hour on end, with no clear goal in mind. Or they’re making up WODs that make zero sense for the participants, and roping as many people in as possible. I’ll often chat with them and they hem and haw about CompTrain or “wanting to do their own thing”. Sometimes they just lack a clear desired outcome.

Honestly, I’ve struggled to have that conversation with them about the “right” answers. When I was a younger coach, it seemed like an affront to my business, which is full of amazingly helpful, experienced coaches, intelligent programming, and a culture of scaling up and down as appropriate. It felt like a rejection of all the hard work we put into those things. And I didn’t want to say anything because I felt like a complete hypocrite.

I’d bite my tongue when…

  • I wanted to tell them going it alone on an advanced skill for which they lack the prerequisite strength and range of motion is not going to work out well.
  • They usually hadn’t yet earned the volume of elite athletic training, and they’d be better off working on achieving consistent intensity in classes.
  • Writing your own WOD isn’t always a great idea if you don’t understand the why and how of proper programming.
  • Their real issues lie in mastering basics, not prematurely scaling up.
  • We have ample options for private and semi-private training, rehabilitation, as well as personalized  programming.
  • That I’ve received cancellations from plenty of athletes who go rogue and then get hurt or burnt out and never recover their zest for this thing– and I’ve come dangerously close, myself.

I wanted to tell them: You do not have special problems. Your problems are something we’ve seen a million times, and have a solution for. Your mindset is what’s backwards.

That is until this past week, when I discovered this video by a movement teacher I much admire, Carl Paoli:


Recapping from Carl’s blog post:

The 3 Student Stages:

  1. The Child. At this stage the student’s success is heavily dependent on the teacher. The Child needs to be handheld, provided with all the basic needs for survival, and guided through every movement, decision, and emotional process.
  2. The Teen. At this stage the student has laid a foundation for independency and has the ability to provide safety for themselves and the ability to move, think, and process feelings.
  3. The Adult. At this stage the student realizes that true freedom requires one to return to a state of dependency, but with the nuanced understanding of interdependency where there is room for a higher level relationship that allows for the individual’s freedom to remain intact while producing collective growth.

Nailed it.

Instantly upon reading those sentences, my defensiveness lifted. I almost laughed, purely out of relief. I was instantly able to forgive myself for my own teenager streak.

The realization, yet again, is that we’re all forging and re-forging our own relationship with our bodies, what movement means to us, and what it does for us. It’s so personal, and it’s difficult to let others step in to teach us about ourselves. Being coachable is its own skill, just like a muscle up, or hitting the perfect jerk. Asking for coaching means we have to be honest and vulnerable, and everyone comes to that in their own time.

So… by all means. Do the self-discovery. Screw up. Have fun. Whether that’s in class or in open gym.

I’m here to assure you we’ll support you and love you through your awkward teenage phase. When you’re ready to grow up, we’re waiting with open arms, whiskey, and war stories on the other side.

The next level of learning awaits, and it’s infinitely more satisfying.


3 thoughts on “On Going Rogue: Stages of Learning

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