I want to improve my deadlifts — both in technique and in my capacity to lift more. Also, I like deadlifts, so it’s a skill I want to practice.
After a CrossFit class in which we do a deadlift workout, I’ve developed a practice of doing a few sets at lighter loads before I put away my bar.
My Driving Beliefs
If you want to improve at a skill, you have to practice diligently every day.
To get better results, you must work hard.
These are beliefs that are well-entrenched in my internal operating system. They are also beliefs reinforced by the dominant cultural conditioning of the past several generations.
You might say that they are part of the beliefs “operating system” that runs the ethos of America.
This is a country where people come because they know they can succeed here if they work hard. It is the Puritanical underpinning of our culture.
Consider the images of the star athlete alone in a dark gym late at night or early in the morning. Or the lone worker burning the midnight oil at the office, long after the cleaning crew has finished up.
Cultural lore tells us that this is how champions are made; that this is the secret to success:
Work harder. Do more.
What if that advice is wrong?
What if constant hard work and effort may actually be a form of self-sabotage?
This past week in CrossFit we tested to our 1 rep max lift.
We started the week with deadlift day. Although I set a new PR, I failed at the next increment and didn’t reach my goal number.
I was frustrated about my result because I felt I had it in me. In fact, I had done the hard work of getting the bar off the floor; I just couldn’t finish it.
My impulse to work harder and practice more kicked in.
After we finished the Workout of the Day, I started with my routine of doing a few lighter sets of deadlifts to practice my technique.
But the coach — who happens to be the gym owner — cut me off. He said I had done enough for the day.
I was resistant to his command.
How am I going to get better?
He responded that I would get better by doing less.
In fact, doing more this week would only increase my Central Nervous System (CNS) fatigue.
He advised that if I wanted to have a good performance in my other lifts during the week, then I needed to do less training and less practice all week.
I knew he was right.
The Strength of Cultural Conditioning
I’ve spent the past several years learning about trauma responses, sympathetic overload, and how nervous system fatigue can impact our productivity as well as physical performance.
I write often about the importance of rest and recovery, both physically and mentally.
This work has been a huge piece of my personal journey and is a core element of my coaching practice and what I teach.
And yet …
Even though I knows this, even though I teach this, and even though I have experienced —several times! — the consequences of pushing too hard only to end up burned out, I still felt resistance to his guidance.
In that moment, putting the barbell away and stopping felt like quitting. It felt like giving up. It felt like defeat.
How am I going to get better?
was evidence of the strength of cultural conditioning to “work hard” and “practice more.”
We often can’t see it because it’s the air we breathe and the water we swim in.
The Reality of Science: Less is More
That cultural belief is out of touch with the reality of the science.
The science tells us that you get better by resting.
This doesn’t mean to never work hard. Rather, it’s about knowing when to push hard and when to back off.
It’s about knowing when you need intensity of effort and when you need to rest.
Just like nature, a good weightlifting program is structured in cycles.
These same principles apply to our cognitive work — especially to “knowledge work” and other creative work.
Pushing hard all the time to “get more done” at the expense of rest and recovery only leads to one guaranteed outcome: burnout.
To be more efficient and effective in our work — to achieve better results from our efforts — we must balance our practice and hard work with proper rest and recovery.