When I started CrossFit, all I had to do was show up and my numbers would improve. That's kind of how the first 1 to 2 years of CrossFit seems to work.
I those early days, I thought I didn’t have a good workout unless I ended up in a giant nauseous heap of sweat, with ripped hands, and possibly blood oozing from my shin. I thought the metabolic conditioning portion of the day was where the gains were made. And I thought that if I wanted to get a muscle-up, all I needed to do was hit the rings persistently, relentlessly, and will myself through the rings, dammit.
Six and a half years later, I’ve come to my senses. Thankfully.
I know now that most of my gains are made from careful skill work, strength work, accessory work. I know now that I don’t need to redline to have a good workout, that I need don’t to sweat to the point where it looks like I went swimming, in order to have a productive training session. I know now not everyday is a test day. And I know now that to improve my muscle-up, the answer isn’t to kick and flail five days a week.
So when I come across a client who thinks she needs to stick around after an hour strength session to hit “Annie” in order to get her heart rate up a bit, I understand her mentality. When I hear someone say they don't feel like they had a good enough workout after 5 x 5 back squats, I get it. And when I see someone off in the corner before class flailing around attempting and failing muscle-up after muscle-up, I understand how he's feeling. I was there.
I don’t know how to say this without sounding patronizing (and I’m not pretending to be a great gymnastics coach like Louise Eberts), so I’ll just say it: As a CrossFit coach, when I see someone who can barely do a strict pull-up struggling on the rings, I see this as an opportunity. An opportunity to educate the client about a better way to learn a muscle up. To explain to him he needs to build pulling strength, pushing strength, core strength. That he needs to do a ton of accessory work and practice tons of seemingly silly little gymnastics drills etc etc etc...
I want to see my client get his first muscle-up. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing the excitement in a person’s face when she gets her first pull-up, handstand push-up, or muscle-up.
And, I’m not too proud to admit I like money. So when I see the determined muscle-up flailer, I see an opportunity to sell an individualized weakness program. I make a little money, my client gets stronger, and eventually gets his first muscle-up. He becomes so excited about it he sends a video of his first muscle-up to a friend at work. The friend is impressed by his friend's fitness, not to mention attracted to the girl in the background, and decides to join with three of his work buddies. More fitness for four people, more revenue for the gym.
I used to believe that as a coach I should give clients exactly what they want. But now I realize that giving them exactly what they want might mean letting them do their 7-minute ab routine after class—a routine their body has completely adapted to and is no longer improving from. Giving them exactly what they want might mean programming a 45-minute Grinder 6 days a week. Although they might be happy in the moment, neither the latter nor the former is actually helping them.
But giving them tools and a plan—one that might be tedious at times—that will help them achieve a specific goal like a muscle-up or a 30 lb. back squat personal best will actually make them happier in the long run. It's better for the client. Better for me. And better for the business.