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Rest Day

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Failing, Bailing, and Training Culture at CFSBK 

The original version of this article appeared on Inside the Affiliate.

At CFSBK, we discourage members from failing slow lifts—squats, presses, and deadlifts—on a regular basis. Of course, failing is an inevitable part of training for experienced CrossFitters, since we want to push our limits and really discern our capacity. But the key is that it’s inevitable for experienced CrossFitters. We particularly encourage new members at CFSBK not to hit failure on their lifts for at least four to six months of consistent training, since they don’t have a solid enough foundation to be working with training maxes. We believe that how we approach hitting failure on lifts strongly correlates to our gym's culture, safety, and training appropriateness. 

How we handle and teach failing is related directly to the intentionality of our programming and our overall culture of how to train well. For more information about CFSBK’s programming, check out previous ITA articles “Effective Programming Strategies at CrossFit Affiliates” and "The Benefits of Leveled Programming," which address how we program and offer our members different options based on training age and goals. In this article, I want to focus more on how failing should happen only within certain programming contexts.  

Training Versus Testing, and Its Impact on Gym Culture
Failing lifts too often can be seriously taxing on the central nervous system and frustrating for athletes—in addition, it adds psychological stress and creates negative expectations when approaching lifts. To prevent it from occurring too often and to gain control over teaching our athletes to fail well, CFSBK works testing our lifts into our programming macro cycles. For more experienced members, testing new rep maxes at the end of our cycles is an acceptable and inevitable part of serious training. But every day is not a limit test and we don't want anyone maxing out to failure with any regularity. Our day-in, day-out workouts should be considered training, and an opportunity to go a little bit heavier or hit prescribed percentages without reaching absolute limits.   

Teaching the difference between training and testing significantly impacts the culture of a gym, since training intelligently enables athletes to learn when to push through a difficulty instead of giving up. If an athlete is trained to think, "Okay, when things get hard, I've got an easy escape route in bailing," they learn to give up more often and expect missed reps to be a regular part of their training routine. Missed reps should be meaningful as an indicator of one’s current capacity, not simply the norm. When missing reps and failing become the norm, the experience can subtly undermine an athlete’s self-expectations and the mindset with which they approach their lifts. 

We teach our advanced members to respect heavy weight, and teach that when it comes time to work, you should grind. Of course it should feel difficult and it should feel heavy! You should expect to fight for lifts! But just like in real life, you don't start fights you don't think you can win—especially on a regular basis. A skilled athlete doesn't need to constantly miss reps to know their potential on any given day. A mark of real skill and intelligence in training involves developing an innate sense of one’s capabilities, and knowing when to call it quits. Missed lifts should be considered learning experiences for an athlete’s physical capacity, psychological outlook, and technique, and they always should be put into the broader context of the intended training stimulus for that specific day. 

Why Novice Lifters Should Avoid Failing Lifts
Having novice lifters attempt rep maxes on their lifts is both dangerous, inappropriate, and an ineffective use of training time. All our new members should start out with weights that feel "too light" and then gradually add weight on a weekly basis and as your technique warrants (better technique equals more weight). Over time, you'll develop the requisite motor patterns, soft tissue integrity, and experience to handle heavier weights and test your limits. But before that, the proper foundation needs to be established. Remember, literally anything will "work" if you haven't been training. You could squat on Day One, take a Zumba class on Day Two, run five miles on Day Three—and then a week later, test your squat and see some improvement. So the key is optimizing your novice training stage in a way that sets yourself up for long-term success. 

Long-term success happens through progressive overload and good coaching. As coaches, we want to provide you with the appropriate stimulus for your strength and experience, and most novice athletes have a pretty low baseline for what’s required to stimulate an adaptation. Having someone walk off the street and attempt a 1RM deadlift is well in excess of what they need to produce a meaningful adaptation. If you have no deadlifting experience and sit behind a desk all day, why not work up to 75lbs (which may feel "light" to you) for a set of five and focus on being perfect at the movement? The next time you come in, you can try 85lbs, and so on and so forth until you're gradually moving some significant weight with the confidence, experience, and consistent form that you need to get stronger.    

An overarching goal of our programming is to teach you how to train responsibly with longevity in mind, so you learn how to slowly approach gaining strength and competence with the required lifts. That's why we start you slow and let you know that just because you could go a little heavier today doesn’t mean it's optimal for you. If you focus on going a little heavier each week, you keep pushing the ceiling of your potential a little bit higher—instead of slamming into that ceiling and having nowhere to go but back down. When we see you missing reps out of the programming context, we'll probably pull you back and have a conversation about training versus testing. 

How to Fail Well 
Proper spotting and bailing techniques need to be taught and initially supervised—the same as anything else at CFSBK—so that when it comes time to test training, you are prepared and safe. Spotting technique for the back squat and bench press can be found in Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training (Third Edition), pages 62-64 and 172-172 respectively, if you're curious. All other lifts require teaching proper bailing technique through demonstration and practice at sub-maximal weights. If people are going to potentially miss reps, it's important that the area is clear of loose plates and other athletes that could make a good bail go bad. 

At CFSBK, we seek to address your needs at the various stages of your development—so listen when a coach tells you to temper your loads to be safe, and also when you might need to put more weight on the bar to get better.

Juice Cleanses: The Worst Diet The Atlantic
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Why Walking Helps Us Think The New Yorker
Kitty Cleans

Reader Comments (21)

Wednesday's Programming

Back Squat

Fitness: 3 x 5 Linear Progression
Add 5 pounds to last exposure.
BSQ e11/12

Performance: 1 x 20
Add 5-15 pounds to last exposure. Use spotters.
BSQ e6/6

Post loads to comments.

4 Rounds, As Many Reps As Possible:
1 Minute Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift High Pull 72/53/35
1 Minute Box Jumps 20/16
1 Minute Push Presses 75/55/35
1 Minute Rest

Post reps and Rx to comments.

September 8, 2014 | Registered CommenterDavid Osorio

6am with Jess and McD. Continued the LP on the HBBS, working up to 180# x3x5. I'm shocked that these are still moving well, as it's 40lbs higher than my last HBBS cycle in November and approaching the same weight as my LBBS (185).

WOD - it was nice to get some prep work in for FGB. I did 206 reps, which is 4 more than when I did FGB last year (although not an apples to apples comparison since it's one round more with two less movements). I'm excited to see how it goes for the real deal.

Love the kitty cleans video! Crossfit for cats could be the next big thing :)

September 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Morning mini class with Jess @7am

Push Presses Perf. 135, 145, 155, 160 there was a slight dip in the end, so lets chalk this one up as 160F, I think I couldve gotten it on another try. I'm very surprised because my racked split jerk 1RM was 160, gotta give that another try at a higher weight. My ultimate goal with these two lifts is body weight.
Wod, finished the 1000m row in 3:50, 30 DB PP @35#, these got heavy real fast, and a slow run to finish @ 12:28. Im still taking it easy on my ankle before upping the run pace.

Fun morning.

September 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPigeon

6am with Jess and a surprisingly not so sleep deprived looking McD... Congratulations! by the way.

Partnered with Nate for performance push press. It's been a long time since I've pushed the envelope with PP, so I had to make an only slightly educated guess about where I'd end up, and was thinking I'd be closing in on 200#. Ended up hitting 200# for a PR when time was winding down, and think I could've had a little more if I'd set a higher goal and organized the work sets differently.

WOD in 13:04 Rx'd. Row was around 3:40. HPUs felt good: 13-6-5-5-1. Could have run the first lap a little harder.

September 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBrad D

I really like those Atlantic videos. I came across the juice cleanse one about a month back and proceeded to watch most of them. I want to be that guy's buddy.

September 9, 2014 | Registered CommenterDavid Osorio

kitty cleans!!! and if you liked that kitty cleans gif, wouldn't you just LOVE your own cat!? i'm still a-searching for cat home options check out my classifieds ad under PETS!

6:30p class last night

push press 3-3-3: 85#, 90#, 100#PR, last time i 3s i ended at 85, so yay for that.

wod: 11:30ish row 1000m 4:01, db push press 25# 3:12ish, row 1000m 4:11, forgot to look at the clock when i slumped over the erg at the end, then decided to slow row then remembered to look at the clock. womp.

September 9, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterginacatto

sorry, but we know that red panda muscle ups > kitty cleans!

6am with Jess and McD. Props to McD for showing up at 6am!

BSQ 240x5x3. Still moving well.

WOD: 258 reps Rx. We shortened to 4 rounds as class was running over.
KB SDHP @ 32kg / BJ 20" / push press 75#
27/23/23 = 73
21/19/19 = 59
21/19/19 = 59
23/21/23 = 67
258 total

I'll need to work on getting elbows high in SDHP. Linda suggested step-ups and jumping down, so I'll have to test that out before FGB.

September 9, 2014 | Registered CommenterElliott

Not quite as cute as pandas doing muscle ups, but my friend just sent me this "CropFit" commercial. Funny to see crossfit jokes going mainstream:


September 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterErin

6am with Jess and McD.
BSQ 185x5x3, which was a PR for me. Must be the lifting shoes I just got.

WOD: 203 reps
Thought this was a good introduction for me to FGB. I've got some work to do before October as I was gassed.

September 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMM

The cleanse video is a good one. This guy cracks me up
@david - have you seen the email one

September 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLauren

I am amazed to see that the guy from the Atlantic is 36 years old! He doesn't look a day over 17.

September 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

12pm with McDowell and Jeremy

Push press
85, x 3, 90 x 3, 95 x 3
I failed my first attempt at 95#, rested for a minute or so and went again. McDowell knew I had it. Thanks for the encouragement. This is a lift I have not done recently so this is def a PR.

WOD in ??? Our clock was hijacked by tomorrow's workout. I did this with 30# push press in 6,4,5,5,5,3,2. I usually come in on Monday but was exhausted yesterday and I am really glad I waited until today to do this one. It was not as bad as I had expected but I did get some CRASH-Bs flashbacks during the row.

After class- about 10 mins DU practice. I managed to string some together for the first time and I got so excited about that that I tripped up but then I was able to do it again. Cannot f#*%ing believe it. It felt amazing. I travelled back about two mats but I did it!!!!!! Looking forward to trying this again tomorrow to see if it was actually real.

Worked a little bit on kipping swings also. Getting there.

September 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

Workout from last night:

hit push press for a 75#x3 PR, im dipping too fast though before i drive, and need to control that a little more... mental note on my aggressiveness once again on another lift whoops. i think it only really works for snatches haha.

WOD 14:03 with 25# dumbbells. i really liked this one, i think i was a little gassed for the push presses with 5 sets of 6, but glad to go with this weight rather than it be too light again.

kitty cleans are a+, don't make me choose which is better, red panda muscle ups or this! though biased i am a crazy cat person....

juice cleanse guy - haha i love this vid. a friend of mine who is a cranky, stubborn, old man yells at cloud kind of guy tried to do master cleanse and it made him even more cranky!!!

September 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCamille


HBBS: 45x5, 95x4, 135x2, 155x1. 160x5x3
-when I was low bar squatting last cycle, I wasn't hitting 160 for sets across, so the fact that these all happened with relatively good positions and speed today makes me verrrrry happy!!!!
-getting stronger is the coolest

FGBish with 35# Strict Press (for shoulder purposes), 24kg SDHP, and 20" box
1: 23 press, 22 sdhp, 22 box jump = 67
2: 18, 22, 25 = 65
3: 14: 20, 25 = 59
4: 15, 22, 28 = 65
= 256 total

this was hard, and in the middle of the third round i thought to myself... "DAAAAAAYUM girl, you have some work to do before FGB!"

Heading to Toronto tomorrow afternoon for the weekend, mainly to walk on top of the CN tower with my 84-year-old Nana. I plan to drop in to at least one CF gym while I'm there!

September 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterWhit H

Yes that was maybe my favorite one.

@Michael C
I agree, I was like how the hell does this teenager have an MD?

September 9, 2014 | Registered CommenterDavid Osorio

oh snap whit!! it's happening!! re: cn tower!! have fun in toronto!!

September 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCamille

Today totally ruled!

Got off work at 12:30. Ate lunch by the pool. Then went to the gym to get SWOLE!

C&J for a heavy single: 105, 115, 125, 135 ,145

Ten pounds below my old PR. So so happy this is coming back. Wanted to go for 150 but it was SO hot and I felt kind of funky after that lift.

Wall ball
KBS 35#

September 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterK HarpZ

5:30 class.
Worked up to a 1RM on the push press of 130 (failed 135), which is 15# heavier than my 1RM in April. Yay!
WOD in 12:30-ish, with 30# DB. I never caught my breath on the run, but was able to keep going.

Loved working out with Laura tonight. We were on ergs next to each other, and before the row, she quietly said, "Wanna race?" She finished a couple seconds ahead of me on the row but I wouldn't have pulled that hard if she hadn't said that. I'd brag about beating her on the run except that she used 40# DB. Love this stuff. :)

September 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKate R

6:30 - - Monday's - Whitney & Jess

Push Press

I said it in class tonight, I felt "horribly organized"...timing just sucked on my push press. Out of the strict, push, jerk...it's definitely the one I need to work on the most...I'm dropping too quickly and my transfer timing from the drive to overhead feels off. Confident I could've gotten 195, but tonight wasn't the night

Metcon - 13:20
Row went good tonight 3:12 or :14, always black out for :30seconds after getting off the rower...after that, hspu's felt off and run felt tonight like my upper body was slowing down my lower body...how the hell does that happen in a run? After a couple weeks of workout feeling great, I needed a shit day to fire me back up...FGB is one of my favorites so looking forward to tomorrow.

@Kate...definitely need to take the blog/comments section to a whole new level of ridiculousness and allow inline gifs/images

September 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

6am with Daddy McDowell and Jess...

Got up to 75# on the heavy 3 but it was not pretty. Will probably stay at the same weight next week.

WOD in 13:54 with 17.5#DB push press

September 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNan

Summer's over and now I'm really, seriously, back to the gym on the regular. Yesterday's work at 5:30 with Whit. Went for heavy 3s on the push press, at 110, 125, and then only a set of 2 at 135 (failed my last rep). Maybe a little too aggressive, but everything up until that last one felt great.

Wod in 13:07 with 40# dumbbells. Kate crushed me. Tried to catch her but my legs just wouldn't go any faster on the run. Cardio-what?

September 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Mc

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