3 Reasons to Stop Cherry Picking Your Workouts

Nigel O’Connor, owner of CrossFit Basingstoke (http://www.crossfitbasingstoke.co.uk) in the UK, tried an experiment a little while ago. He didn’t post his gym’s workouts on their blog for one week.

All hell broke loose!

“It was like I told them Christmas was cancelled", O’Connor said. “As much as I try to educate my members that they need to work on all areas of fitness—strength, mobility, endurance, I still get members on working on their weaknesses, not turning up to strength sessions as they feel they aren’t getting a sweat on, or other spectrum people hitting weights all the time but miss the met cons because they’re hard.”

Workout cherry pickers exist at almost every gym in the world, and as coaches we get a little sad when they cross our paths. Why? Because we have your best interest in mind.

The three main reasons people choose to cherry pick their workouts seem to be:

  1. “The workout looks ‘too light’ or ‘too easy.’”

  2. “The workout looks too hard or intimidating, and I’m not good at any of those movements.”

  3. “Isn’t what we do just random anyway? Who cares if I cherry pick?”

Let’s address all of the above:

1. “Too light:" A workout may not be what it seems

Have you ever looked at a workout and thought to yourself, ‘That won’t be very hard.’And then when you do it, it proceeds to kick your ass?

The other day at my gym we did Tabata chest passes with a light medicine ball against the wall. On paper, it looked pretty easy. In fact, people were asking what the point of this simple task was.

"So we just throw this ball against the wall for 20 seconds eight times?”, they asked confused.

But after four minutes, shoulders burned, lats ached, and mental wills were tested.

In reality, the seemingly light 4-minute throwing interval workout was programmed to gain muscular endurance. As lactic acid starts building in the arms after a few intervals, shoulders and lats start to burn. Often when this happens, athletes stop and take a break before they reach muscle failure. But in this case, the task of throwing the light ball wasn’t so difficult that anyone was ever going to fail a rep, so instead they were required to continue to push through the pain, ultimately training their bodies to flush lactic acid out of their arms and into other areas of their body. This improved efficiency at buffering lactic acid, and increased muscular endurance, will translate into movements like high-rep handstand push-ups. 

The point is only to say you can get unexpected value out of drills and workouts you’d least expect. So instead of wishing there were harder movements programmed every day, like high-rep handstand push-ups, take comfort in the fact that your handstand push-ups can get better in many ways.

So the next time you’re debating skipping the day because it doesn't seem hard enough for you, think again. It might hit you in a productive way you won’t see coming.

2. “It’s too hard and I’m not good at it:" Put aside your worries and fears

On the other side of the fence are athletes who skip workouts because they look too hard. Talk to any gym owner and ask them what happens when they program a 5-km run? The gym becomes a ghost town because everyone knows how awful a hard 5-km run feels.

I challenge you to find a way to put your fears and ego aside and just walk through the door. Once you’re at the gym, the energy from the coaches and other athletes will carry you through the workout. One way to do this is to verbally commit to a friend that you’re meeting him/her at the 5 p.m. class after work.

Often, people get scared of workouts and skip daunting sessions when benchmark workouts like Fran or Helen show up. If you have been training for a while, you've probably done those workouts a few times and know how hard can be. And how painful it will be if you try to PR. 

Here’s my advice: Get that word PR out of your mind. Look yourself in the mirror and say, “Who the F cares if I PR today? It’s not a reflection of my self-worth! All it means is I happened to exercise faster than the last time I did that workout.”

And then remind yourself that you’ll feel more guilty and shame bailing from the workout than you ever will from showing up and failing to go a little faster than last time. 

3. “Workouts are random, right?:" A bigger plan in place

Because we do so many types of movements and workouts each week, it might seem to you that workouts are random and varied, but we can assure you there’s more thought and planning to it than that. 

Much planning has gone into creating a plan for the week, the month, the quarter, and even the year—to help you get as fit as possible. Choosing to skip certain days or certain types of workouts just means you won't be getting the most out of the programming we put a lot of time and effort into creating.

When you skip workouts and cherry pick, you’re actually turning the program into a more random one. It’s not that you won’t still improve from chaotic programming, but your improvements will be better if you follow a balanced program with more consistency to your weeks.

Soif you know whats good for you, show up on the days your mind is feeling dread, fear, disappointment, confusion or skepticism. Those days might just be where the gains will be made.