Workout of the Day

How a Cue Becomes a Law

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Let me tell you a hypothetical story about a hypothetical athlete.

We’ll call him Dudley. Dudley is a member at a CrossFit gym and has been actively engaged in CrossFit training for around a year. Dudley is performing back squats as part of a workout, and mentions to his coach that he is feeling some minor hip pain when squatting. Dudley’s coach watches him squat a few reps, and then tells him to drive his knees out. Dudley does as he is told, and notices that the uncomfortable sensation in his hip goes away. Dudley is stoked. The next week, Dudley is working out at home with a friend (we’ll call him Chaz) who is just getting into the whole fitness thing. As they are doing squats, Dudley tells Chaz to drive his knees out, that his coach had him do that and it helped him squat better. Chaz, knowing Dudley has more experience, listens to Dudley and does as he is told. A few months down the road, Chaz joins a gym; while performing squats during a workout, he is told by his coach that he is doing them incorrectly⏤that his knees shouldn’t be going way outside of his feet. Chaz, confused, says that his friend Dudley was told by his coach that you’re supposed to squat with knees out. Chaz’s coach tells him that Dudley’s coach must not know what he’s talking about. Chaz is confused. He trusts Dudley, and Dudley seems to squat quite a bit of weight and respect his coach, but Chaz feels that his own coach also seems to know what he’s talking about, and his squat did start to feel better when he stopped driving his knees so far outside of his feet. Chaz is now suspicious about whether his own coach or Dudley’s coach is right. Chaz confronts and questions Dudley, and Dudley is now left with doubt in mind about whether his coach knows what’s going on. Everyone is confused and thinks everyone else must be wrong. Confrontation, ill-informed disagreement, and searching for answers in YouTube comments about squat form ensue. All bad.

This story is hypothetical, but it’s also a story that’s happening every day. I’ve seen it personally, and have been on both ends of it. There’s quite a bit going on here, so let’s take a moment to dissect it.
First off, who’s right and who’s wrong? Well, no one and everyone. What we have here is a case of cue-turned-dogma, and maybe a bit of a game of telephone. If we look at the whole story from Dudley’s coach’s perspective, perhaps we’ll get more of an understanding. When Dudley asks his coach for advice about the hip pain he experiences when squatting, his coach notices that Dudley’s knees tend to collapse in at the bottom of his squat, and that his femur is actually hitting his hip in the bottom of the squat. Dudley’s description of his hip pain seems in line with some anterior hip impingement, and so he gives Dudley the cue to “drive your knees out.” Dudley does so, his knees now track over the middle of his foot, and his hip doesn’t feel so weird any more. Dudley’s thanks his coach, his coach gives him a thumbs up and a butt slap, and all is well. Dudley’s coach was “right” here.

Now let’s look at the situation from Chaz’s coach’s perspective. Chaz comes into the gym and performs squats as part of a workout, and Chaz’s coach notices that he is driving his knees way outside of his feet, his squat is unstable, and he is partially rolling his weight to the outside of his feet. Chaz’s coach tells him to stop the madness, and that he shouldn’t be squatting with his knees way outside; Chaz does so and finds that his squat does actually feel better after making that adjustment. Chaz is confused, but his squat is improved. Chaz’s coach was “right” here.

In the end, no one was truly at fault. The coaches both provided "correct" cueing to their athletes, and the athletes were simply passing along a tip that helped them. No one had malicious intentions, and no one was really incorrect.

The “issue,” if we are willing to call it that, is a widespread confusion about the distinction between coaching cues and performance standards. Both coaches had the same performance standards in mind, but they used completely different (opposing) cues. This is because cues are individual to the athlete. They are constraints given to the particular athlete to guide them to perform within a standard. Two athletes with completely different form faults will be given two completely different cues to get their form within the same standard. You get the idea.

Ultimately, both coaches and athletes have responsibility here. It is the coach’s responsibility to work within the unique constraints of each individual athlete, to guide them to perform within standards that produce the safest, most efficient movement. More often than not, this involves cues. It is the coach’s responsibility to recognize and work with the unique attributes of their athlete. It is the athlete’s responsibility to understand that the coaching they receive is coaching molded to them specifically, not a recital of globally recognized form standards or rules. It is therefore the responsibility of the athlete to also understand that the cues they receive may not be applicable to their friend or their mother or their dentist.

This is a classic story of humans: good intentions and poor execution and communication. Ultimately, the answer is as simple as some basic understanding and responsibility. We’re all in this fitness thing together, and most of us probably agree on things more than we think. The end game isn’t to be more “right,” it’s to be more better.

- Preston Sprimont

P.S. This is not a story about a real person. No need to try to read into it.


11/4/16

  • Take 8 minutes to find max standing broad jump

  • “Mini Cindy”

  • 5 min AMRAP

    • 5 pull-ups

    • 10 push-ups

    • 15 squats

  • Spend 15 minutes on tumbling