"What are you doing? You can't change your numbers on the goal board!" My friend looked incredulous.
I laughed, and then kept erasing where it read, "Steve K: 300-lb front squat."
"I'm not changing it. I am removing it. I am too immature for this sort of motivation," I said, not missing the irony that I was about twice the age of the guy I was talking to.
Somewhere in the early fall each year, the "goal board" appears at the CrossFit gym to which my wife and I belong. It's, generally speaking, a perfectly good idea: have people set a performance target -- maybe a first muscle-up, a particular lifting goal, whatever -- and try to reach it by the end of the year. And, again generally speaking, it is a very good motivator for a lot of people.
Sadly, I am not "a lot of people." I am way too obsessive to be on the goal board.
I spend a fair amount of time at CrossFit suppressing my natural competitive nature and, instead, focusing on general health, fitness and longevity goals. I not only have learned not to give a rat's ass about becoming "a good CrossFitter"; I don't want to even get near the subject in my mind. I don't care about beating anyone else at anything at the gym. I am there to be generally fit and happy. And simply doing that makes me fitter than most 51-year-olds. And it keeps me from getting injured.
But -- and it's a very big but that does not lie -- my real problem isn't competing with other people. It's always trying to top myself. For instance, I figure that I started deadlifting just before I turned 48, and, not long after that, I pulled 300 pounds. Now that I am 51, I can deadlift 405 for one rep. This means, in my mind, that, with that kind of progress, I should be able, at age 81, to deadlift... about 1400 pounds.
Because that's how it works, right?
OK, so even I know that it really doesn't. The reality for the older athlete is that every day is a balance between going reasonably hard and not crossing the line into injury. This can be a particular struggle if you are also prone to saying things like: "Life is a constant self-improvement project. Never be completely satisfied" -- which I truly believe.
Which brings us to the goal board.
I don't need a goal board. My whole fucking brain is a goal board. I can tell you, with near-perfect accuracy, my "stats" whether we are talking about lifting numbers, volleyball-team performances, wins and losses as a lawyer, whatever. I clearly do not need to kickstart my self-motivation by declaring publicly that my goal is a 300-pound front squat.
Even though it is.
Because I already know it is.
But what happens when I go and be a team player and write my goal on the board is that I get overly-serious about said goal. No, actually, I get overly serious about every fucking thing at the gym when I do that. I start trying to "improve" too much at once.
Which brings us to the sumo deadlift. I am a perfectly satisfactory regular deadlifter. I should be happy with a 100-pound increase in three years, especially at my age, but no, when I get in "goal board" mode, the change in my plan of attack does not merely infect the pursuit of said goal. The disease spreads more globally into all aspects of my game.
I start saying things like, "I was reading about sumo-style deadlifting, and it seems like it is really a good way for long-limbed guys like me to pull more weight." Now, this is true, actually, but there's a catch: you use slightly different muscles when sumo deadlifting. You need to ease your way into the new technique.
There was little in the way of "easing."
I felt the hamstring go on the third sumo rep at 325.
Fortunately, being the sort of guy who occasionally tries to do things that he shouldn't, I have flat-out torn my right hamstring previously. Black/purple bruise line straight up the back of my leg that other time. So, on sumo day, as soon as I felt it begin to separate, I dropped the bar, straightened my leg out, and didn't bend it again until I got some ice on it. A strict regimen of ice, bone broth, self-loathing and foul language over the next few days followed by days more of foam-rolling and stretching, and I was able to get back into the gym within a week. Three weeks after the injury, I PR'd my regular deadlift. So I got lucky. Really lucky.
Still, there won't be any sumo deadlifting in my future.
But wait, you say, that entry on the goal board was for a front squat. What does that have to do with deadlifting?
Everything. Once I get in that max-lift/PR state of mind, it crosses over into all my lifts. My front squatting over the last year has been solid. I really focused on form and, from October 2012 to a year later, increased my three-rep max from 185 (body weight) to 275. But I did that by focusing on three- and five-rep efforts at generally sub-maximal load, not by trying incessantly to grab the brass ring of the one-rep max. As soon as I wrote the 300-pound one-rep front-squat goal on the board, I started trying the odd one-rep max here and there... and not terribly successfully.
I got, as my wife says, "distracted by shiny things" and went off the health/longevity track straight onto the superhighway of ego.
And then I got the genius idea to push too hard my first time sumo deadlifting.
It's a simple concept, but I need to remind myself of it fairly frequently: health-and-longevity-based training will get you to very good results, with lots of progress, but it's a variation on the "healthy by choice, hot by accident" mantra that Jason Seib teaches his female clients. For me, it's "healthy by choice, stronger by accident."
Not "stronger by writing a number on the goddamned goal board and chasing it like an obsessive nut."
Live and learn. Know yourself first.
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