When to Quit a Skill

When it comes to training, especially if it’s part of your job, it’s pretty common to feel pressure to be the best at what you do. To show you’re capable of so much, and to be able to perform a variety of exceptional skills. As a result you want to train all the things at once, and it can be hard to find focus. Deep down you know that when you try to do everything, you end up doing nothing. Or you achieve very little. When you finally choose a skill or a goal it’s so exciting. Trawling Instagram or YouTube, or even on my Facebook newsfeed, something will pop up that I’m in awe of or I think it’s just really cool. There’s the new focus. I’ve had that lightbulb go off in my head so many times thinking I’ve found the exact thing I want to work towards right now, this very second. That’s the skill I want to learn.

When you’re right at the start of your journey you’re filled with motivation. It’s so exciting to be starting something new. But the honeymoon stage doesn’t last. As humans we tend to want instant gratification and having the patience to put the work in can be tough. We demand things from ourselves and create high expectations, including our progress with training. How many times have you had a bad training session and come away feeling deflated and discouraged? Rather than seeing it as time invested, it’s a waste of time. You question your choice in training goal and wonder if you should find something else. This is one of many reasons why people jump from skill to skill. Getting bored easily, dissatisfaction with progress, or lack of focus are all contributing factors. On the flip side, being completely obsessed with that one particular thing, that you push too hard, don’t listen to your body and don’t allow rest or time out is just as detrimental to your progress. But this isn’t necessarily the time to give up what you’re working for. A change in perspective can help greatly with reigniting motivation.

Things don’t always go to plan. You might have patience, follow your programme diligently and listen to your body, but you can’t account for injury or illness or a disruption to your progress. Something out of your control might interfere and force you to change course. At the beginning of the year I was working towards a muscle up. It’s a pretty cool skill to be able to perform, and I thought it was about time I make it my goal. I didn’t achieve it. I had good programming and coaching, and I put the time and effort into each session, but that wasn’t the issue. An old injury from several years before that hadn’t properly healed meant that I couldn’t pull through the transition on my left arm without feeling like something was about to rip in my tricep. Rest, massage, stretching, nothing helped. As much as I hated to admit it, this was not a skill my body was ready to learn. I could have persisted, I could have ignored the pain, but I could have also really badly injured myself. In this case, it was the time to let it go. This is an example of when it’s definitely time to change your training and move on to something more appropriate and beneficial for your body.

At GMB, the Support Team receive emails all the time from people sharing their goals. Sometimes about training, and sometimes about life. This was a goal someone wrote in that caught my attention and made me think.

“I want to have a very healthy and vital body that I have a great level of control over so that I can use it to live life to the fullest, play and have fun.”

Then I remembered to think about the bigger picture. Yes, we need direct and specific goals, but looking at the bigger picture made me think about what training meant to me in the first place. In the beginning it wasn’t to be able to perform X, Y and Z. I didn’t even know about X, Y and Z. I remember my first workouts when I started going to the gym and how good I felt about myself afterwards. How physically and mentally strong I felt, even though at the time I could barely do push ups on my knees. It felt like an achievement to be moving my body. Every time I trained it felt like progress because it was another session I’d started and completed. And that’s why I continued.

I wanted to think about what training really means to me. What it means to be able to move and have strength and control, and the freedom it gives me. There are so many things I can’t do. But what about the skills and goals that I have achieved? I am discounting them against everything I still can’t do. I don’t feel my training should be about that. It should be about staying healthy and having fun. If there’s something I can’t achieve then I need to focus on something else. It’s actually quite simple.

So does quitting a skill mean giving up or failing? No. It means moving on to the next phase of training whatever that needs to be. Everything changes, and you need different things at different times depending on the circumstances. You can’t always control your circumstances, but you can control how you approach them. Work with them rather than against them. It’s the same with your body. Work with it to give it what it needs. It won’t always be that one perfect skill you’d love to master. It might be something much simpler like rehabbing a shoulder, building core strength, stretching to improve posture and alleviate pain. Always remember you can revisit a skill you want to learn at a better time. You can always start something again. In the meantime do what you need to do, and appreciate everything you’re already achieving.

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Photographer: Simon Carter

The Freedom in Flexibility

Most people want to wake up every day with no aches and pains, and move easily. Having a good level of flexibility is one thing that will make a difference to this. However, even if you know that, it doesn’t mean it’s as simple as just getting started. It can be hard to know where to look, which programme to follow, which piece of advice to listen to. Surely there is a correct way to stretch? Yes and no, because everyone’s different. There is no correct way, but the best way for you and your body.

If you know you aren’t very flexible or you feel stiff you might think you need to start stretching every area of your body. This would be time consuming, hard to maintain long term as it’s a big jump from no stretching at all, and it can mean slower progress. It’s the same as working towards any goal. You pick just one, or sometimes two, but you don’t try and work towards ten at once. That’s too much to focus on at once, and it’s likely you wouldn’t reach any of those goals.

It helps to keep stretching simple. Figure out what you want to prioritise, and focus on that. If you wanted to improve movement in your hips, you only need a couple of stretches to practice. Choose a protocol that makes sense to you and follow it. Then build a habit of adding stretching in to your daily routine, whether that’s first thing in the morning, during a break at work, or after your training session.

As a coach, put an emphasis on exploring flexibility training within your own practice. Stretching is something that takes time to gain confidence with. It requires listening to your body and understanding the difference between no stretch, a bit of discomfort, and when to stop before you push too far and hurt yourself. Making it a priority means when it comes to teaching flexibility, you can pass on that ability to develop confidence and independence to your students.

In one of my classes I asked my students to choose what they needed to work on and start stretching, and then I’d come round and help. They all got started, using different techniques we’d been learning, and really they didn’t need much input from me in that particular session. After months and months of practice, they’d gained awareness of their own needs, and they’d developed the confidence and independence to go and do it themselves.

As you would with your own training, you’ve got to be able to progress with your students. Recognise that they will improve, and what they need will change. Teach them new things if and when it becomes helpful for them to learn. Show them that they can push to a certain point. You’ve got to be able to modify for different abilities and make flexibility training accessible to all levels. Learn from what you experience, pass this on to your students, and then in turn learn from them.

If you don’t have someone coaching you through it, there are some important things to remember. Slow down. Stretching requires a lot of patience as progress can often be slow, so trying to rush your progress won’t be beneficial. We receive emails asking how to achieve the splits in two weeks, or asking why not much progress has been made after a month. Stretching is one step at a time. It’s little and often and being consistent.

Less is more. You don’t need to do all the stretches you could possibly find to improve your hip flexibility or achieve the splits. Try out a few and see which ones feel like they target your tightest points. Focus on just three or four stretches at a time, and pay attention to your progress. Whenever you feel you’re hitting a plateau, reassess and make changes if you need to. You can always change your approach. These concepts are something I’ve learnt from GMB Fitness by following their stretching programme, Focused Flexibility. If you’re unsure of where to start, or you’re looking to supplement your flexibility training, this is a great programme to check out.

There is no universal rule on how you should stretch. When it comes to improving flexibility there is no right or wrong way. Progress is a reflection of the time and patience you put into it. Stretching is a way to explore your own body. Whether you’re stretching with weights, holding static stretches, or stretching with a partner, you’ll get out what you put in. So take your time, be consistent, and keep working towards better movement and more freedom in your own body.

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Realising Why Health Matters

When training is part of your job, it takes priority on a daily basis. What gives us the ability to train is our bodies. If our bodies aren’t working then we can’t train. This sounds like an obvious concept, but it’s not something I focus on or think about. I take the time to appreciate that I can train, but I take my body for granted. I’m used to waking up every day knowing that at some point I’ll be moving around. I had forgotten what it feels like when this isn’t an option, and you no longer have the choice to even get out of bed because your body won’t let you. I had forgotten what it feels like to be sick.

I’ve been injured in the past and this has put certain things on hold. But an injury doesn’t cause you to stop training. Physical injuries can often be worked around. If you sprain something, break something or bruise something you can still move other parts of your body. Even if you’re rehabbing damaged areas, you still have the ability to move your body and be active.

I woke up one morning a few weeks ago, not feeling great, but I assumed I was tired from the previous days training. I fell asleep until lunchtime and once I’d woken up that was it. I threw up, and through the day anything I tried to eat just came back up. My head was fuzzy, my limbs felt numb, and when I wasn’t kneeling with my head over the toilet I was lying in bed. I wasn’t able to concentrate on work. Walking up and down the stairs became hard work as my energy levels dropped.

Injury or illness is often a sign to slow down. But who wants to slow down when they can keep pushing and keep achieving? Maybe because you’re supposed to be an example of health, maybe because you don’t want to lose gains. But sometimes you’re forced to. So after two days I finally gave in and accepted I was sick and stayed in bed.

The frustration of not being able to train when that’s what you do is not a comfortable or desired feeling. It’s one of the best parts of my day. But I realised it wasn’t going to happen for a while longer so I let it go. The frustration and discomfort of not being able to eat was what really got to me. Something that is so natural, and necessary for day to day function wasn’t possible. Despite barely doing anything over a couple of days I started losing weight, which you never want because that means your strength is being flushed down the toilet along with your vomit.

Unhelpful thoughts entered my head. I’m missing the sunshine and being out in the fresh air (sunshine in England is precious). I’m missing out on spending time with my friends. I’m wasting time that I could be spending doing useful things. Im wasting time doing nothing and not having fun. I’m being lazy. Except I wasn’t being lazy, I simply needed some rest.

When you take a step back and look at the situation, you have to focus on a different priority. Being healthy. Taking the time to build back up, not being impatient, and actually having a bit of self compassion. Give yourself a break. Take it one step at a time, like the stairs that feel so hard to climb just to go and get a drink from the kitchen, but it’s worth it when you get back upstairs and can fall back into bed.

It’s ridiculous how much I take for granted. I feel frustrated when I have a bad day training, but that’s a stupid attitude because at least it’s a day of being able to move around and use my body. Training seems far less important when you can’t even keep food down. Once I was able to start eating again it felt like a luxury. The simplest things like drinking a black coffee, being able to chew solid food, and waking up with the energy to get out of bed, felt magical. Like sunshine and unicorns. I could get back to work. I could go out for a walk. I didn’t need 20 hours of sleep a day. This was what I was grateful for before I even considered going and smashing out some training.

Eventually, ever so slowly, I was able to train again. I did not think “first session back, time for squats and deadlifts followed by sprints in a weight vest to finish up with!!!”. Not that that’s my usual training. I did some stretching, some locomotion and practiced handstands. I stopped before I felt tired and then went home.

Regardless of any gains you lose or how much being unwell sets you back, it brings you back to reality. You realise you aren’t invincible, and you can’t always “push through it”. You become more considerate of what you’re training, plan your sessions out more thoroughly to help get you back to where you were, and perhaps even reassess your goals. As a result you come back stronger. Don’t forget that strength comes from health. Health is the foundation for everything you do. Eat well, sleep well, take time out to relax, and then be grateful for all the handstands, all the pull ups, and all the weights you lift.

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Finding Your Community

One of the amazing things about our world of fitness and movement is the community that’s been created. Community is simply people who are considered as a unit because of their common interests. We love to move, we want to find others who love the same, so we find a way to reach out and unite. There are friendships and connections that wouldn’t have been built without the passion shared for working towards the same goal. The strong support system that’s evolved to help one another become the best version of ourselves.

Communities come in all shapes and sizes. They range from small individual gyms which form a family dynamic, to global networks including people from all over the world. So how can being part of a community be a benefit?

If you’re a newcomer to training and are unsure of where to start, then finding other people with a similar goal is a great way to keep motivated and inspired. We’ve all experienced the initial excitement of starting a programme or joining a gym, and then a couple of weeks in momentum is lost, and it’s hard to get back in to the swing of things. We aren’t all able to self motivate, and a lot of us don’t want to hide away training alone. Finding a community that you feel you fit in to, and that fits your needs, can make such a difference. Let’s look at some of the movement and training communities out there.

The Gym Community.

Whether it’s a Crossfit gym, a Parkour gym, or a Globo gym, you get to know the familiar faces. Members become friends. Even as a coach, it’s impossible not to form friendships, and I consider my gym a family. This has been built by the coaches putting effort into teaching, the students wanting to learn, and taking the time to show an interest in one another. Many people join gyms for the social aspect and to meet new people. These are tiny groups full of love and support.

The Online Community.

This is how connections with people we’ve never even met develop. GMB’s online community is Alpha Posse. It’s a place for like minded people who enjoy moving and training, and is so welcoming to anyone and everyone. Being part of AP gives you access to programmes and resources, you can create a training log and share your training, ask questions, and generally have fun. The GMB Trainers are there for support and advice. One of the most important things is that there’s no judgement. And what’s really special about Alpha Posse is the relationships that have been created through the ability to share and interact with one another in such an encouraging, motivating and safe space.

The Social Media Community.

This is the medium in which the biggest community has been created. We all know social media can have a negative impact on people. It’s easy to compare yourself to others. You see some cool movement or a skill that you’re unable to do, or something better than what you’re capable of, and it can knock your confidence. You might feel reluctant to share your training. But I’d encourage you to share. On the flip side, challenges are set, games are played, and it becomes all about the fun. People can get involved and challenge one another to create movement practices and develop them beyond what they thought was possible. Instagram, for example, is a fantastic tool for this. Without social media we wouldn’t have so many people to share what we love with and constantly inspire.

The Trainer Community.

Trainers are a community within themselves, and if you ever feel becoming a Trainer is something you want to pursue then you’ll naturally become part of this. If you already are a Trainer and new to teaching, then just like someone new to training, a good support system is important. As a GMB Trainer I’m part of a group of people who want to help one another become better at what they do as their occupation. We have an online forum for interacting with one another since we’re based all over the world. A huge aspect of our community is communication and sharing. Teaching ideas and tips, making suggestions for improvements on how to coach specific movements, or sharing helpful cues. Our job is to help and guide people, and that starts from guiding one another as Trainers.

When it comes to fitness, getting started can be the hardest part. We never know exactly what’s right for us until we try it, and this applies to training. But sometimes it’s just about having the right people around us. A little bit of guidance and reassurance that we’re on track. And like I said before, finding what fits.

Looking at the bigger picture, although we train for ourselves, we’re one of so many people who are working towards the same goal. Being part of this amazing community of movement, fitness, whatever you want to call it, is something to be proud of. Make the most of everyone around you, whether it’s your student, your training partner, or your friend on the other side of the world. We need to utilise our communities to continue becoming better and better at training, and at life.

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Crossfit: The Sport of Fitness vs. GMB Fitness

The reputation of Crossfit is so varied, just like the sport itself. You can read about how “Crossfit Changed My Life”, and in contrast how “Crossfit Led To My Physical Demise”. There are arguments as to why it’s good for you, and why it’s the worst possible choice of exercise. But it clearly has something going for it because it’s growing as a sport, and it’s growing as a community. It’s an entry point into fitness, and it can be used to improve or condition for another sport, plus it increases the capability of doing certain jobs. It offers an environment where you’re surrounded by like minded people who share your passion for burpees.

Crossfit was my entry point into fitness and the world of training. That was years ago, before there were any boxes in Cambridge, and I had to make it work in a Globo Gym, using the smith machine for pull ups, and trying not to crack the ceilings with wall balls. I came back into this community when I was approached about teaching hand balancing at Crossfit Stags and Does in Milton, Cambridge. I taught for two months before I moved to Japan, and since coming back last year, I have worked alongside the box owner and Head Coach, Duncan Bolt, to create Crossfit Gymnastics Skills classes. The good thing about having done Crossfit in the past is that I’ve had some practice programming it and I understand it to an extent. I’ve been able to develop how and what I teach so that it’s not purely Crossfit, but a combination of what my students want, and what they need.

Your average Crossfitter wants to be pushed, train hard, and occasionally leave feeling like their limbs might drop off. They want varied movements to feel constantly challenged. We’ll get complaints at the gym if there are front squats three Mondays in a row. I’m used to focusing on one or two goals at a time. It’s a different mindset toward fitness, and very different to how I approach my own training.

But whatever the reason is behind people joining, they stay because they want to be better at it. It becomes about performance. Improved performance is what anyone who trains anything wants. This is where I’ve seen the value in integrating GMB Fitness material in order to benefit my students’ Crossfit, to help them become better at what they do. And so what I teach is different from the other classes in our box. The Gymnastics Strength and Skill classes focus on quality of movement, skill work, and flexibility. Although all of these elements are included in each Crossfit class, I’m able to spend more time on an individual skill, for example handstands or back levers. Everything is strict right down to push ups. I work with my students to find the best progression in order to work on that skill in detail. Everything from the warm up to the stretching is geared towards that skill. And I’ll include a WOD to condition for a skill, often focusing on specific gymnastics movements, which will be a combination of Crossfit and GMB. There is a surprising amount of overlap here, and whatever we train, it’s always about quality.

There is an emphasis on mindfulness. Nothing is rushed because it’s not about how fast you can perform any of the movements. I want my students to become more aware and really understand what’s happening in their bodies when they move. For example, how it feels to be upside down, completely still on your hands, and being able to breathe slowly is very different from the way you expend energy when performing handstand walks. Locomotion involves distributing weight across hands and feet in a way that improves body control and coordination. There might not be monkey cartwheels in today’s WOD, but the ability to move in a wide variety of ways will help with movement efficiency in every WOD.

I have the opportunity to target areas that might be overlooked simply because they aren’t the immediate priority of a Crossfitter. If you’re learning a specific lift to be able to perform reps efficiently and safely in a WOD, then spending the majority of your training session practicing that lift might be more of a priority than developing better ankle flexibility. However, at some point you might need better ankle flexibility to improve your technique so that you’re able to lift more weight or break through a plateau.

Crossfit is becoming more technical. At regionals this year they included strict muscle ups and strict handstands push ups. For the elite Crossfitters, these high level skills are becoming more and more important to be able to perform, especially at high volume. If you want to be at this level then you can see what you’re aiming for, and how developing that kind of strength and control is a priority. Eventually those skills will require more focused training.

As it filters down through different abilities, it’s simply about being able to move better. To be able to progress past a certain level of Crossfit your body needs to be able to do more. And this is where I feel GMB comes in to play. GMB is not just an entry point for people looking to move again for the first time. It’s something that can be utilised and applied to so many different sports or disciplines.

I’ve been very fortunate to have the support of all the coaches in the box, and I’m constantly learning from them as much as I learn from my own practice and being part of GMB. I’m fortunate to work alongside people that see the value in what I teach. I might not be a Crossfitter but it’s an amazing community to be part of, and I hope that what I bring to the gym as a Crossfit Gymnastics Coach (because one time I got a certificate that says I am) and GMB Trainer continues to benefit and challenge my students.

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Thank you to all the wonderful coaches at Crossfit Stags and Does: Will Stacey, Nick Apps, Duncan Boltt, Joe Kenney, and Ed Miller.