Athlete Journal: Pat McCarty, Entry 9 – 4/24/2013

This week provided a lesson in the difference between quitting and making a judgment call to avoid injury. As promised, I’ve also included video of my progress on my goals from last week.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the athlete journal of CrossFit trainer and masters athlete Patrick McCarty. Patrick competed in the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games in the 45-49 age bracket and has his sights set on the Games again this year. Follow Patrick’s journals here every Wednesday.

Athlete Journal Entry 9: 4/24/2013 – It’s Okay to Quit

Last week I discussed goals and make this statement: I will string three no-false-grip muscle-ups together by April 22nd, 2013. A video link will accompany. Here is the result:

Saturday morning my prescribed workout was “Amanda.” This workout is one of my favorites. My previous personal record (PR) time on this is 9:18. However, Saturday, I could not finish the workout because I got stuck at the seventh muscle up in the second round and had to call it a day. I left very frustrated and disappointed, but I did manage to find a few nuggets from which to learn.

This may be entirely heretical, but here goes: Sometimes, it’s okay to quit.

As CrossFitters, we exist in a world of superlatives and hyperbole. We have a mascot that glorifies working out until you vomit. We have apparel called “Harden the F*** Up.” We have firebreathers, and “throwdowns,” “gauntlets,” and badasses.

We have statements like “Know your limits, then DEFY them”. Go to any CrossFit fan-style Facebook page and you will be deluged with messages that say “Don’t Ever Stop.” We live in a culture where doing anything less than giving your all in each and every workout is not only frowned upon, it’s actively discouraged. A culture that tells us – never, ever stop.

But if fitness is really what this is all about, then the opposite of fitness is injury. And there exists on the risk-reward matrix, a point at which the lines intersect, and those lines intersected for me during the seventh muscle-up of the second round of “Amanda.” Meaning, I quit the workout because it was the right thing to do under the circumstances. Here are a few reasons why it happened:

1. Warming Up: The first issue was that I failed to properly warm up. As a fifty-year-old man, I really need to spend a solid 30-45 minutes warming up. In this case, I hurried myself to go-time, and I just did not have enough oxygen flowing to my muscles, I felt heavy, the bar felt heavy, etc. We’ve all been there. So the first round of 9 took much longer than it should have.

2. I Got Greedy: I came out on the first round of 9 muscle-ups with 6, then 2, and then 1. Due to my lack of warm up, the 6 felt horrible. On another day, 6 would be fine, but on this day, I was greedy. I wanted to make a dent in the reps but did so at the expense of air in my lungs. Once I moved to the snatches, I plodded through the 9 slowly, barely able to breathe.

On the round of 7, I did singles on the muscle ups until I got to number 7. Then I began to fail. And fail I did, for several minutes. I tried that seventh muscle up at least six times without hitting it. It was decision time.

I decided to pack it in, and come back to fight another day.

‘Quitting’ is a misnomer for a decision like this. I have been present at times when athletes have stopped in the middle of a workout. What usually ensues is a barrage of good-natured bullying. People tend to be incredulous that you would quit mid-workout.

But what if we changed the vernacular a bit and instead of calling it “quitting,” we simply referred to it as “making a judgment call not to continue”?

There are times when continuing a workout despite all indicators otherwise will get you injured. Think of workouts where perhaps you’ve stripped the weights, or picked up a slightly lighter kettlebell because continuing at the current weight will wreck you. I call that making a judgment call to not get injured. Hell, even choosing the weight you’re going to use is a calculated effort to maximize the value of your workout so as to minimize the risk. So in theory, there should be support for stopping when the risk-reward ratios have turned upside down.

But again, there’s that pesky culture thing eating away at your conscience.

Now, I am not talking about quitting because it’s hard. We have all felt that pang in our guts, and we are right to ignore that voice that says, “Give up – this sucks.” I am talking about calculated analysis whereby one weighs the value of continuing against the risk of doing so.

So I quit “Amanda” on the seventh muscle up of the second round. After all, what real training value lies in coming back time after time to the rings, and flailing unsuccessfully, more fatigued, discouraged, and frustrated with each successive fail? Zero.

Of course, there was that voice in the back of my head that severely questioned my choice. But that questioning turned into resolve to come back and do it right. I rested up and fueled up properly then came back 24 hours later. I spent a solid hour warming up properly for this workout and completed it with relative ease in 9:08, a 10 second PR. No failed muscle ups. No failed snatches.