Are You “Hypermotivated?”
Four Training Principles for the Hypermotivated CrossFit Athlete
By: Dr. Marc Taylor
We each have our own reasons for “CrossFitting,” and the challenge of CrossFit lures athletes from all walks of life. There are, however, certain CrossFit “archetypes.” One such archetype – the hypermotivated athlete – is proactive, goal-oriented, and competitive. She has probably excelled in sports throughout life and has a persistent desire to test her limits and expand her potential. The hypermotivated athlete is essential to the CrossFit mission and a joy to train with. She breathes life into the gym, and her enthusiasm is infectious. The intense nature of CrossFit training, however, may place the hypermotivated athlete at increased risk of overtraining, illness, or injury. In this article, we establish four principles to support the hypermotivated athlete in her quest for a healthy, sustained, and injury-free CrossFit career. If you are hypermotivated, we encourage you to push yourself incrementally, not hesitating to scale your workouts. Also, we urge you to set process goals, and to allow time for recovery. Finally, we encourage you to be intrinsically driven so that you can derive maximal satisfaction from your training.
Push yourself incrementally. Perhaps you’ve heard of guidance provided to marathon runners to increase running volume in modest amounts (e.g., <10% over the previous week). A similar concept applies to CrossFit. It is important to increase the intensity and volume of your training incrementally. This allows your body to adjust to the initial “shock” of the training stimulus, to adapt to repeated training sessions, and then adapt to increases in weight or difficulty of workouts. There are many individual differences in how athletes tolerate and respond to training loads, and there is an “optimal” amount of training for each of us, beyond which the risks outweigh the benefits. Take your time to determine what is best for you, and don’t hesitate to scale your workouts. Scaling confers a great opportunity to derive the full benefit of the intended training stimulus while adjusting the intensity or volume to meet your individual needs. While increasing intensity incrementally, it is especially important for the hypermotivated athlete to remain vigilant for overtraining symptoms, such as persistent fatigue, extreme soreness that does not dissipate, or proneness to infection, colds, or other illnesses (McCardle et al., 2008). Competitive CrossFitters may wish to utilize a scientific program which monitors overtraining biomarkers, such as anabolic (e.g., testosterone) and stress (e.g., cortisol) hormone profiles (Taylor et al., 2016), inflammatory markers, and profiles of mood states.
Set process goals. Most CrossFitters are familiar with basic goal setting principles, such as long-term (e.g., decrease bodyfat percentage from 18% to 15%) and short-term goals (e.g., attend the 7am CrossFit class on Monday!), and committing goals to writing. One principle that may be especially useful for the hypermotivated athlete concerns process goals (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). It is challenging to not focus exclusively on outcome goals, such as achieving a certain time in a WOD. Paradoxically, the best way to progress toward outcome goals is by focusing on process goals, such as maintaining form during a grueling hero workout or concentrating on rapid hip extension to generate explosive power from the hips during the clean and jerk. In another, non-CrossFit example, perhaps your goal is to get into graduate school – an outcome which is largely outside your sphere of influence. In this case, a more useful focus might be to complete three 45-minute training sessions per day with your test prep course. Overemphasizing outcomes may create anxiety, such that you worry excessively about something uncontrollable rather than focusing on the task at hand. As a general rule, for every outcome goal that you set, set at least one performance goal. This will enhance your sense of self control; you will derive continuous feedback about your progress, and you will continue to have fun!
Allow yourself to recover. This principle cannot be overemphasized. The hypermotivated athlete has a strong work ethic; as a result, it may be ingrained in her psyche to underestimate or deny the importance of recovery. You do NOT get stronger by lifting weights in the gym. You get stronger by recovering and adaptations that are caused by lifting weights in the gym. Whereas CrossFit training places significant physical stress on our bodies, the resultant physiologic processes that promote regeneration, adaptation, and performance gains occur during recovery. A recent study, for instance, evaluated the effects of heavy resistance exercise (5 × 10RM leg press and 4 × 10RM squats) in strength-trained men (Ahtiainen et al., 2011). The exercise led to an acute decrease in maximal isometric force; during the subsequent 2 recovery days, maximal isometric force remained 8-10% lower while indicators of muscle damage (+100%), soreness, and swelling (+7%) remained elevated compared to before the exercise. This implies that when a workout is particularly intense, it can take a healthy, trained athlete at least 2 days to fully recover! This is one of the reasons why CrossFit workouts are continuously varied – not only to decrease repetitive stress and prevent overuse, but also to optimize the body’s hormonal response to the training stimulus (Kraemer et al., 2008).
Be “intrinsically” driven. Intrinsically driven athletes strive to be competent and self-determining in their quest to master the task at hand. These athletes enjoy the excitement of competition, focus on having fun, and aspire to learn skills to the best of their ability (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). Maintaining this mindset will set the stage for you to achieve the other principles outlined in this article, such as setting process goals, and pushing yourself incrementally. It will also prevent you from overemphasizing comparison to your peers – which, when practiced in excess, may prompt you to exceed your limits, overtrain, or become injured. By contrast, CrossFit offers myriad opportunities to master skills. In just one example, the “squat snatch,” – as intricate as a golf swing – is deeply rewarding when executed correctly. Seize opportunities to master the CrossFit fundamentals, thereby deriving the intrinsic satisfaction of skill mastery.
If you are hypermotivated, you have all the tools to derive maximal benefit from CrossFit. We encourage you to push yourself incrementally, set process goals, and to allow plenty of time for recovery. Finally, we encourage you to be intrinsically driven, deriving all the rewards of skill mastery. We hope these principles are useful to you. Together, let’s “collectively advance the art and science of human performance!” (CrossFit, 2018, p. 4).
Ahtiainen J.P., Lehti, M., Hulmi, J.J., et al. (2011). Recovery after heavy resistance exercise and skeletal muscle androgen receptor and insulin-like growth factor-I isoform expression in strength trained men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25, 767-77.
CrossFit (2018). CrossFit Level One Training Guide.
Kramer, W.J., Vingren, J.L., Spiering, B.A. (2008). Endocrine responses to resistance exercise. In Baechle, T.R. and Earle, R.W., Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd Edition, National Strength and Conditioning Association.
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Taylor, M.K., Padilla, G.A., Hernandez, L.M. (2017). Anabolic hormone profiles of elite military men: robust associations with age, stress, and fatigue. Steroids, 124,18-22.
Weinberg, R.S., Gould, D. (2015). Foundation of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 6th Edition. Human Kinetics Publishers, Champaign, IL.