Kote-gaeshi with Chris Miller

Kote-gaeshi with Chris Miller

Black belt testing at Sensei Seagal’s home, Brentwood, CA, April 2002

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Protocol in Training Venues

A brief info blog while I put some finishing touches on Situational Awareness and You: Part II.

I wanted to share an experience with those of you who train in martial art. A while back, I wrote a blog titled Are You Training, or Fighting. This blog was directed toward people who have a tendency to treat every (or most) training sessions as a fight. In like manner (relative to fitness), TNation recently posted a great article from Mark Rippetoe regarding knowing the difference between training and exercising. I appreciated his words, and between that article and some of my own opinions and experiences, it seemed to me that the universe was saying Write something about training perspective.

My Experience
I was teaching an impromptu class at a martial art school in the Midwest US last month. I’ve known the owner of this school for over a decade, and have trained with him at various locations around the country. I happened to be in town, so he asked me to take an hour with his students. Ultimately, it was good times had by all, but there was this thing that happened.

This Thing
I began teaching a technique involving a knife to the throat. I had an excellent uke (training partner) who had no real clue what I was about to do. The technique came off without a hitch. After demonstrating the technique a few ways, and giving a generic set-up for how this particular knife-to-the-throat situation could occur, I had the group brake up for practice.

One of the students, who apparently has many years of experience in martial arts and as a law enforcement professional, took it upon himself to list his résumé to me while showing me how the technique I had just demonstrated was flawed. That’s not gonna work, If you’re in that position, he’s better than you, etc. He managed to squeeze in his 40 years of experience in every martial art under the son, and the fact the he’s stabbed people. He had all kinds of recommendations about what should be done. So, I entertained him and told him to show me. He ended up creating a different circumstance than what I had presented, and turned the technique into a reality-based training scenario, complete with talking to the knife-wielding attacker to distract him.

Having had many years of really bad training in law enforcement, I had a perspective on where he was coming from. What I know though, is that reality-based training is bogus, and it is so for the very reason that any situation can yield countless variations of potentialities, and you can never train realistically enough to cover all of them, most of them, or even a small percentage of them. The purpose of this post, though, isn’t to detail these aspects of training methodology, but to highlight that there are differences in methodology, and if you’re not the one instructing, it may be best to just be a student.

So, what’s your point?
Firstly, regardless of what is being trained, it’s really not good protocol to correct someone in the middle of their teaching, especially when you haven’t determined their perspective or taken a moment to consider the method. In the case of my thing, the resident expert was thinking inside his own training environment and not seeing what I was doing for what it was (which was actually explained to the class and to him again): a generic set-up to introduce the group to the mechanics of the technique, period.

Secondly, having some level of respect for someone who is sharing knowledge or experience is tantamount. It’s really just a douschebag thing to do to correct someone like that, especially if you’re wrong.

Finally, as a suggestion to those who may be that guy or gal who sees something in a training session with which they don’t agree, ask yourself a few questions before making an ass out of yourself. Do I have a complete understanding of what it is I’m being shown? Is there anything inherently unsafe or dangerous about what’s being taught? Is the audience or group I’m training with receiving value from what’s being shown, and will my input help the situation, or confuse it? Is it socially acceptable to interrupt?

All of these questions and more are good things to consider prior to addressing an instructor and placing yourself and him or her in an embarrassing situation. In the case of my situation, I had a majority of white belts with less than a year of training. The “professional” who interrupted me, I found out later, had very little experience in Aikido, which is believable. He actually would have benefitted more from just listening and participating instead of trying to piss on the tree, because there were some key fundamentals involved with the technique (and variations) that I showed. So perhaps the most important lesson here, which I should also heed, goes back to what my late father told me decades ago: You learn more when your mouth isn’t moving.

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How to Take the First Step in Dietary Change

This is going to be a down and dirty quick post that I’ve been wanting to write for a while. It was inspired by a series of conversations I’ve had most recently while traveling with people who want to make changes in their food intake and food sourcing, but simply don’t know where to start today. I’ll read The Paleo Solution, but what do I do before I get to that part of the book?

Well, this is it, and its fast, so try to keep up.

Determine: know that you are making change, no question about it, and its happening now. Get your mindset right, and commit to lifestyle change. That means permanent change, but don’t worry, it will also be an evolving and progressive adventure. Science adds new finds all the time, so there may be adjustments you’ll make down the road, as well as things you add and take away, but forget about that for now. It’s boogy time!

Assess: pull everything out of your pantry, refrigerator and freezer and assess the ingredients. If you find anything loaded with High Fructose Corn Syrup, corn syrup solids, more than 4g of sugar per serving, or high amounts of soy (typically in the form of an oil or as a protein replacement), throw it in the garbage. But, before you do that, collect everything in a pile on a table and take a pic. It will have future use.

Toss the SSPPRB (read superb): Starches, Sugary products, Pasta, Potatoes (even sweet for now), Rice and Breads have to go! This is change, people, and it takes a little commitment. Trust me, there are other things to eat! I’ll get to that next.

Eat What?: Everything else, but don’t go crazy. There is a host of meats and veggies out there with awesome ways to cook them. Buy red meats, pork and chicken, fish and other seafood. Whatever you can eat out of those protein sources you should. Add to that leafy green vegetables, and fruits, but keep it to berries if possible. Nuts and seeds are handy too, but don’t abuse them.

Stay away from corn forever. That’s an entirely different blog, but just trust me on this for now. Also, don’t get caught on the apple and banana kick just so you can have your sugar fix. These fruits are addictive as well, and can become replacement foods which can still keep you in fat storage. For now, you may also have to make a hard decision about coffee. Tea is awesome, but if you’re putting stuff in them, both coffee and tea just become a delivery system for insulin response and excess fat intake, and storage.

Drink lots of water, but you don’t have to overdo it and force feed yourself water. The recommended amount of water that we commonly hear about includes intake from other sources in food (especially vegetation) so don’t think you have to consume gallons of water a day. Take in water when you can and think about it. If you’re beginning to exercise, you may want to be taking in enough water at night so that have to go to the bathroom first thing when you wake up. Sleep time is where the magic happens!

Read: I’m going to recommend that you read The Paleo Solution. In the meantime, the above info is a decent, quick lifestyle adjustment. Yes, there are other books out there that you could read, but this is my favorite, and changed my life. I’ll plug other folks another day. For now, get intimate with Robb as you read through his funny and educational approach to your new lifestyle change, you’ll have something as a go-by.

Best of luck to you, and to those I’ve spoken to recently about this, this one is for you.

Have no fear, Part 2 of Situation Awareness and You is coming. This just had to get out. Enjoy.

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Situational Awareness and You

While the research effort behind Situational Awareness is relatively new, the concept is not. Sun Tzu referenced it in Art of War, and the term situation awareness was used in American military aviation as early as World War I. The term situation awareness (commonly termed situational awareness outside of academia) continued to develop in military aviation circles throughout the Korean and Vietnam wars and was later assimilated into human factor psychology in the 1990’s, mostly revolving around military aviation and nuclear power plant operation.

There is a close connection to SA and the Boyd Cycle, commonly referred to as the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) Loop. The Boyd Cycle, named after U.S. Air Force Colonel, DoD military strategist, and mid-20th century fighter pilot John Boyd is well adopted in military circles and has been earnestly adopted in American law enforcement training, but perhaps not accurately interpreted. The Boyd Cycle attempts to explain what occurs in the human brain regarding the recognition of [potential] threats (part of SA) and applying the appropriate response to them.

Situational Awareness is a complex topic, and for that reason will be discussed here in parts over at least two blogs. It would be easy to write 1,000 words about SA, referring to it very superficially, and calling it a day, but the topic is too vital and important to the reader to do such a disservice. Given that the concept has been used over such a broad range of fields and is commonly misunderstood, it’s best to approach it from a clean slate, understanding its origins and usage and determining the impact that it has for the average individual.

Broad Usage
Situational Awareness was understood and used by humans long before it was researched and studied. The earliest reference was in a military context during the time of Sun Tzu. He would not be the last military strategist to consider it. The term has also been applied to various other fields, such as aviation, nuclear power plant operations, and anesthesiology (of all things) but it is not surprising that the origin of Situational Awareness is uniquely military.

The term and concept addresses a uniquely human psychological trait which includes self-awareness. It is possible that other animals, like wolves and bears, have a similar adaptation to SA, which may be a part of instinct. I say that only to make the argument that SA is perhaps instinctive in humans for survival.

That would bring us to the point where we understand that perhaps SA applies to more than just someone who has chosen to be a soldier or police officer, but is also applicable to each of us in our daily lives.

Psychologists have found application for SA outside of military command and control, but those fields are defined as high risk/high stress jobs, and while the world of a soldier and that of a nuclear facility technician may seem very different, the psychological approach to problem solving under stress is likely similar. We’ll touch on this again when we discuss specific and general training.

The goal of understanding SA then is to develop training to help humans function effectively and efficiently in those environments. Our goal is to pull as much as we can from SA and apply it to daily life, which can sometimes become immediately and unexpectedly violent.

SA Defined
A lot has already been said about SA, but I haven’t really defined it yet. This is where SA gets complex. While the likes of Sun Tsu and Colonel John Boyd and their contemporaries had an understanding of SA at a practical level, actually using it without even having named it, modern psychology has extrapolated a large amount of research information on the topic and as researchers will do, have developed competing definitions and models to “help to understand” it.

They range from broad to specific, complex and wordy, to simply stated. For example, Dr. Endsley’s widely referenced definition is broad in defining SA as “the perception of elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future.” Sorathia’s definition, perhaps in an attempt to be “academic”, is a little wordy, defining SA as “a state achieved when information that is qualitatively and quantitatively determined by given configuration as suitable for assumed role is made available to stakeholder by engaging them in to appropriate information exchange patterns.”

I have found the most simple definitions to be the best to initially grasp the concept of SA: “the ability to maintain a constant, clear mental picture of relevant information and the tactical situation including friendly and threat situations as well as terrain” (Dostal, 2007); “keeping track of what is going on around you in a complex, dynamic environment” (Moray, 2005); “what you need to know not to be surprised” (Jeannot, Kelly, & Thompson, 2003); and “knowing what is going on so you can figure out what to do”. (Adam, 1983)

Clearly there are many perspectives about SA, and the differences in definitions resulted from unique perspectives. At this point though, you may be wondering so what?

So What?
None of this information is meaningful unless it has application. None of it’s interesting to you unless it has application to you. So, asking so what is valid.

This blog is far from even touching the surface on all of the research literature available on SA and its many facets. It is a growing field of study, but ultimately must have a basic existence in the human psyche. After all, Sun Tzu was aware of it and used it in his military exploits.

Stay tuned for Part II of this post, where we’ll get down to brass tax about SA, and how it applies to you.

The Aikiology Staff

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Are you training, or fighting?

Aren’t fighting and training to fight the same thing? As we’ll discuss, they’re not. The very catalyst for this post is the regularity over the years in which I’ve encountered students in training who would rather test their skills, or the skills of the trainer, than learn through rote process and planned training. The training I’m referring to specifically is martial training, but I’ve seen it in a variety of contexts. Have you ever been in a class in school, for example, with “that guy” who regularly pits himself against the knowledge of the instructor? I think many of us have. Hopefully this isn’t you, but I know that I’ve done it. What I realized a long time ago though is that it isn’t profitable and worse yet, I didn’t learn anything. I’m sure that ego plays a large part in this type of behavior, but I don’t think that’s always the case. Even if it is, those who know better owe it to those who don’t to guide them in the process. So, here are a few points I’d like to make on the topic in hopes that it helps direct both student and teacher.

Training is not fighting. While simulations of fighting an opponent (like sparring) may exist within a training routine for a martial artist, boxer, mixed martial artist, etc., the two are are not the same. In fact, even sparring sessions will have a general set of rules and controls put in place because there are specific training goals for that particular session. In aikido, for example, there is jiyu-waza (open technique) and randori (literally meaning controlled chaos). Judo also uses randori (dissimilarly from aikido) and kata (which contrary to popular misinterpretation is not individual forms training but is paired or partnered training). Jiu-Jitsu schools will have formats that are similar to Judo, which makes sense since Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is essentially Kodokan Judo.

Training is preparing the mind, body and spirit for a specific task. Training is participating in tasks that give our minds and bodies stimuli so that there can be a proper response from them when we need it. Essentially, training is the regular practice of physically or neurologically encountering stimuli in order to construct a base level appropriate response.

Fighting is not training, but like training it exists inside a controlled environment. Fighting is seen in sports contests like boxing, grappling, mixed martial arts competitions and such. Fighting is the competitive or sportive engagement of persons in a controlled environment utilizing knowledge and skills accumulated through training. Within this potentially imperfect definition is the point that training leads to improvement in sport combat. That is the goal of training. Thus training yields a product, i.e., better performance.

This distinction may still not be clear for some, or perhaps trivial for others. If you want to advance in a given skill, whether it’s playing the piano, becoming a better grappler, shooting a rifle more effectively, or learning a foreign language, you have to approach the task intelligently and planned. Training should be a series of varying tasks that are designed specifically to neurologically build you up in the area that you may be lacking, or in which you must maintain proficiency.

It is fairly common for beginners to mistake training for fighting. In a training environment such a Ju-Jitsu school, a newby can become overwhelmed and intimidated by other students, or may have a feeling of inferiority or a desire to please the instructor, so he puts his entire heart into it and goes very hard and fast. I’ve never seen this happen in a martial art school from a woman, and I feel it’s probably something that is predominant among men, and probably statistically non-existent among women. Sorry guys.

The problem with this approach to training is that it typically can end in an injury to either party, which should be avoided. An injured person can’t train, and isn’t able to help others train either, and worse than that, the goal of the training session is not achieved. It’s a lose-lose situation for everybody.

Earlier we defined fighting loosely as a sportive or competitive engagement. This descriptor is specific for planned acts of simulated combat in controlled environments (i.e., boxing, grappling matches, judo or sambo matches, etc.) Fighting as a term does not describe actual life or death scenarios or parking lot battles. Those instances in life of unplanned, spontaneous violence are termed “engagement”. Engaging another individual or several people is different from fighting for many obvious reasons, namely the fact that at least one of the parties involved is unaware of an engagement prior to its occurrence, and there are no rules applied outside of those inscribed on the moral code of the parties involved. There will be a future blog detailing this nuance, but for now there should be an understanding that training can encompass preparation for fighting or engagement, fighting and engaging are not the same, training is never a fight or an engagement in and of itself, and training is useful for both.

To summarize, training, fighting and engagement are three separate terms describing three separate but interrelated concepts. Training prepares the mind, body, and spirit for a given task. Training should be specific to the task for which one is preparing, and should be planned and progressive.

Fighting and engagement have similar characteristics, but are differentiated in that fighting exists in a controlled environment and has rules. Engagement, prior to its occurrence, is most often unknown by at least one of the involved parties and has no rules other than individual moral code. (In the context of military engagement, the act of engagement is more complex. A future blog will discuss these nuances.) Both fighting and engagement utilize training for better effectiveness.

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The Certification Conundrum

Wikipedia defines a certification in the following paragraph: “Professional certification, trade certification, or professional designation, often called simply certification or qualification, is a designation earned by a person to assure qualification to perform a job or task. Not all certifications that use post-nominal letters are an acknowledgement of educational achievement, or an agency appointed to safeguard the public interest.”

Our society is inundated with opportunities for anyone to obtain training in just about anything imaginable. We are hyper-focused as a culture on training, certifications, degrees and diplomas of all kinds. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not about to write a blog trashing education, or valid certifications. But within the concept of aikiology and all things budo, there are some points which need to be made.

Certifications aren’t always the final authority on someone’s qualifications to perform a given task. Just because someone has a certification to teach high school, for example, does not mean that he/she necessarily possesses the intuitive characteristics of a successful teacher. Or, just because someone has a degree in exercise physiology or a certification as a strength and conditioning coach doesn’t necessarily say anything about their experience and background that makes them qualified beyond the certifying body’s standards.

I don’t know everything, but I know what I know. I’ve completed ridiculous amounts of professional training over the past fifteen years, from impromptu workshops to training from a highly recognized agency’s training program. I’ve trained people and have been trained. I’ve earned certifications online and attended highly physical training in various climates. I’ve earned a B.A., an M.A. with a graduate certificate, and am working on an M.S. I’ve been trained to be a trainer in several subject areas. So, I have a certain perspective about training. It’s my experience though which has given me the biggest insight: most training isn’t worth a dam compared to actual experience.

Realizing these issues alone doesn’t do much good. Virtually all of us have been in some form of training at some point in our lives that is incredibly boring, fails our expectations, and is a close second to being water boarded. In some of these sessions, they’re required training so there’s not much we can do about that. What we can do something about, however, is the training we chose.

So when we have a choice about who our trainer will be, what should we look for? Where is the balance of education and experience, and are those the only two important factors in choosing a quality program, course, trainer, coach, Sensei or instructor? No single characteristic of a teacher or trainer defines the whole person, but here are a few areas to consider when trying to find your next yoga instructor, Ju-Jitsu teacher, professional training seminar or course, firearms instructor or personal trainer.

Nothing trumps experience. There is a strong intangible element to a person’s experience that cannot be replaced. I’ve been exposed to a lot of teachers and instructors both personally and professionally, and I’ve nearly always appreciated the experienced professional over the educated, but lacking professional. This is not to say that education is worthless, but anecdotally there is a growing perception in America that education is everything. This is not true. However, if I had to pick one characteristic for a trainer or teacher, it would be experience. I’d rather have the man who has traveled the 1,000 mile path leading me, than the engineer who drew the map from 1,000 miles away.

Education is undoubtedly an asset, and is particularly powerful when paired with experience. Many of the successful people I’ve known in industry have spent years or decades in their field without the education needed to advance into upper levels, yet ultimately have pursued education and are doing exceptionally well as a result. And admittedly, there are certain fields where formal education is a requirement, and not just a bonus.

Desire and passion are two characteristics that bring home the trifecta for a well-rounded and exceptional instructor or teacher. By itself, desire or passion is simply a dream of what someone wants to be. But when it’s merged with experience and education it becomes the missing link to an instructor’s success. Look for the desire in your next trainer, teacher or instructor.

Hopefully this information makes you think a little and helps you with making a decision for your next instructor, program or seminar. And if you are in a position to teach and train others, hopefully you’ve been given some food for thought about where you are professionally, where you want to be, and what you might have to do to be a trainer of any sort that people will want to encounter.

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Quantity vs Quality

Synopsis: This blog looks at the argument of quantity over quality in exercise programs. Is doing a lot of one thing poorly, better than doing less of the same thing well?

With the recent explosion of the CrossFit fitness movement, more people are exploring their athletic potential. This is an exciting direction for American society, which still leads the world in obesity, with heart disease and cancer as the top two leading causes of death in both its men and women. Within the rapid growth and excitement, however, there is debate regarding the importance of proper technique both in training and competition.

Within the concept of Aikiology, fitness is paramount. (Read the About section for reference.) The short argument on this topic for those who consider themselves warriors is that one cannot call himself or herself a warrior and not care for his or her own body. This goes beyond merely watching what you eat, but how you maintain yourself physiologically, and how you excel athletically. For the purpose of this blog, it’s a foregone conclusion that a significant exercise program is paramount in the life of anyone who considers himself or herself a warrior.

The impetus for this blog is the aforementioned explosion of the CrossFit methodology of high intensity interval training, which focuses on metabolic conditioning. CrossFit is defined by its founder, Greg Glassman, as “constantly varied, high-intensity functional movement.” For those unfamiliar, CrossFit workouts can involve a wide variety of exercise modalities, such as Olympic-style weightlifting, body weight exercises, running, rowing, and a litany of other variations of hundreds of exercises involving kettlebells, dumbbells, and medicine balls, to name a few. Selected exercises (or occasionally a single exercise) are grouped into a workout typically lasting from 5 to 20 minutes, occasionally longer, and can be performed in a variety of modalities, i.e., for total time, for total reps, for most rounds completed, etcetera.

The clincher for CrossFit workouts though is that the athlete works against the clock under a given modality. The positive side of this is the motivation it gives to the athlete to push harder. Additionally, by establishing a set maximum time to complete a workout, intensity must be maintained. This is the counter culture to standing around the gym for two hours doing curls.

The down side to racing against the clock is that in the heat of it all, form WILL break down. The body begins to recruit incorrect muscle groups to replicate the correct movement, and the invitation to injury is sent. When this happens repeatedly over time, the cumulative effect will most likely (and often does) result in an injury. Anecdotally, the bulk of injuries in CrossFit occur in the shoulders. When you consider that the weights are typically prescribed (Rx) heavy and with higher volume than a traditional weightlifting program of 3 sets of 10 reps, one has to question the concept of quantity over quality, and search for the balance.

In sport-specific fitness programs, such as a college football team or an Olympic athlete training for a decathlon or swim meet, the exercises and drills themselves are merely the tools that allow the athlete to perform a different task better: they are the means to the end. In CrossFit, and similarly evolving programs, the exercises themselves are both the means and the end. For this reason, CrossFit and metabolic conditioning programs like it may need to be assessed and approached from a slightly different perspective.

This is a longtime argument in CrossFit that is polarized into two groups: the purists, who state that exercise is to be performed with proper form on every repetition throughout a full range of motion (ROM), and the non-purists, who believe that a breakdown is inevitable and there is no point in worrying about improper form because it’s just going to happen. Essentially, the purist believes in driving the car responsibly in training, and the non-purist believes in crashing the car in training and competition.

World class martial artist and fitness guru Scott Sonnon says that when the form begins to break down in a particular technique or exercise, for example a sagging torso during a pushup, or a hunched back and forward lean on a body weight squat, it’s time to cease that exercise, or modify it to a position where the structure is no longer compromised.

The logic behind this simple concept is that once your structure breaks down, you’re no longer doing the exercise you started, assuming you began with proper form and structure. At this point, it is prudent to modify the exercise. A full planked pushup can become a kneeling pushup until the knee form fails, then it’s time to stop. With a weighted movement like a push press with an Olympic bar, dumb bells, or kettle bells, the weight can be lowered to a weight that allows proper form to return. There is a natural progression and digression in exercise that follows a planned and logical pathway.

The non-purists don’t hold this point of view. They hold a philosophical approach to exercise (as opposed to the purist’s scientific approach). This approach says to gut it out, push it out. Your body is only as strong as your mind. This approach seems successful. The non-purist pushes hard, uses a lot of weight, and seems to make it through the routine exhausted but successful, measured by the fact that “he made it”, he didn’t quit and he got in all of his repetitions faster than anyone else. This is acceptable to him or her until the body breaks. Then, there’s a lot of head scratching and second guessing, perhaps a visit to an orthopedic surgeon, and a bigger recovery period that won’t be fun physically or psychologically.

To give credit though, many athletes in CrossFit circles have realized the broader benefits of the inclusion of general, fundamental training protocols such as standardized warmups, cool downs, mobility and periodization.

There is a point, though, where exercise ends and competition begins. Remember that CrossFit is a sport. Its partnership with Reebok in 2010 and the resulting increased marketing has landed ESPN coverage. What becomes problematic for those training for local events or regional and national competition though is how to properly and safely train to become better for competition. For programmers at boxes (gyms) there is also the consideration that the majority of people participating in CrossFit aren’t actively training competitors, but are part of the general population realizing the fantastic benefits of CrossFit’s metabolic conditioning.

Consider that a football player, for example, goes through an organized training routine throughout the week which will involve strength and conditioning, sprinting, mobility and flexibility drills, agility drills, etc., and scrimmages and real play. The format depends on the position played, so not all football players train exactly alike. Much of the work prior to the scrimmage, or the actual game, is not anything that the player will be replicating on the field. Sprints and sled pushes, yes. Snatch, dead lift and push ups, no.

For the CrossFit athlete, the work done in training is exactly what is being done in competition, taking into account some oddball tasks that local competitions and even CF itself are known to throw into the mix. These are minimal though, and the vast majority of training work is the same as competition. This doesn’t mean that you should train the way you compete, balls to the wall, “crashing the car”.

These theories sound great, almost heroic, (the way you train is the way you perform), but are a pathway to setbacks. Rich Froning said it well: “In training, I listen to my body. In competition, I tell my body to shut up.”
This approach has lead him to two consecutive CrossFit Championships.

So what does all this mean? For the competitively focused, avoid injury, develop a plan and a set of progressive goals. Listen to your body and save yourself for competition day. For the non-competitor, do the same, and save yourself for the moment of truth when your new found strength and smart training approach rewards you with real world success.

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