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The Athlete's Journey. Part 2: The 'Conventionalist'

Part 1 (and bonus part 1A) of our series in the athlete's journey, we distilled down some of the phases and key concepts in that developmental stage. Here we will focus on the intermediate stage, labeled 'the conventional"

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The Conventional athlete is, well, average. It’s not a character flaw; normal and average is where most of us are in most things. Some typical characteristics of a conventional athlete is our

  • Ability to do the basic movements dealing with body and bar control.

  • Tenure from as soon as 6 months on up to 2 years. 

  • Experience with different types of workout lengths, movement combinations, and therefore rates of perceived exertion or ‘paces’.

At this point (and this is extremely noteworthy), we have made 'moving blood' (aka exercise) a normal, ordinary thing we do as a part of our weekly routine. While we may know the basic moves the body can make, what we still lack might be the specific movements:

  • Competency at skill gymnastics,

  • proficiency with more technical bar movements, &

  • ability to pace at specific time domains and movement combos.

Sometimes, the results and improvement found in the novice stage start to slow or come to a complete halt. Totally normal for us, as a, uh, normal athlete! 

Although not the entire equation, a big part of this plateau is our emphasis on performance instead of our progression.  It's easy for us to get so good at the "finishing first" aspect as a beginner that we let that continue to drive our workouts.

It should come as no surprise then that most of us who only focus on racing usually stop progressing or ‘shift into neutral’. That doesn’t mean we stop exercising, it just means we never quite move up in skill. We may have experience to make up the difference, but we aren't as evolved of an athlete as we possibly could be.

Even despite these challenges, it's tremendous to acknowledge that being out of the beginner phase drastically improves our chances of continuing to move, be active, and make fitness a life-long pursuit.

So what is the goal/focus of this stage? 

Improve rate of perceived exertion

We should give ourselves full permission to dork out here. Be a kinetic problem solver and learn the rules and boundaries of movement combinations and patterns. Take more notes each time we train and start to reverse engineer what made us redline (load, particular movements, etc) as well as some of the different insights we receive from pacing at different time domains with different movements.

  • For example, how did my rate of perceived exertion change when I went from 12-15 minutes? How did the local muscular endurance (or lack thereof) interfere and influence my cardiorespiratory endurance in that couplet?

All this sounds technical and a ‘little over the top’ but we think it's great to become a ‘laboratory of 1’ and fall in love with the beauty of collecting data as we notch more workout types under our belt.

Introduce variety versus consistency

It’s easy in the beginner phase to scale because, hopefully, we are scaling everything! As we enter the conventional phase, everything we’ve done in the past is now…conventional! Some of the reasons that our progress slows or stalls is because there isn’t the novelty of learning that there once was. Now is the time for us to reintroduce that novelty.

  • If our go-to for kettlebell work is always the 26, let’s take the 35 for a spin - sure, you’ll have to potentially modify the volume or even the movement but the slightly added load will do wonders for your progression.

  • Whatever scale we typically go for, let’s agree to ask the coach for the next scale because “we’ve gotten pretty used to the one we got”.

  • Lastly, in the previous phase, our focus was on mechanics and being consistent with said mechanics as well as attendance. We don’t want to interfere with any of that great progress but now is the time to see what it’s like to push the pedal down just a bit.

  • We aren’t looking to load a bar up or throw ourselves into some position we don't feel safe with, but with the road, erg, or bike, see  what’s under the hood, so to speak. There are lots of workouts with these mono-structural elements in them and these give us a great opportunity to introduce some variety in our pacing by getting closer to higher intensity. 

Trade moves for concepts 

From day one, we should be treating ourselves like the physical education students we are! However during this phase, it’s time to kick our understanding into high gear. This is where many of us get our official education at the Crossfit Level 1 but even outside of that, we should start to go from the basics of what an air squat entails and start to see how the hip, knee, ankle move thru everything.

  • We should start to see the big picture about how the body moves, not just thru the basics but thru different situations outside of the movements we’ve been taught.

  • Movement is everywhere and from capoera to rugby, from the elderly to the infant, from the known to the unknown, our bodies move thru the same shapes and poses.

  • Once we understand the general framework, we can quickly learn and play with things outside of the gym. That’s really livin, man!

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Tune in next week as we tackle the next stage in our athletic journey: The Advanced!


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