Raj, it’s just a workout!

While we still remember the posts about overtraining (part 1 and part 2), I’d like to describe an incident from a few months ago that taught me the importance of training smart.

There is this guy called Ryan Wooley (above). For those who don’t know him, he is a Crossfit trainer at Crossfit Sunnyvale (inside Planet Granite) in California. If you observe him in one of his workout sessions you’ll notice the following.

  • The dude is ripped to shreds.
  • He throw up some awesome strength and conditioning numbers.
  • His form is perfect.
  • He does some crazy gymnastic stuff on the rings.

But only if you talk to him you’ll notice the following.

  • Ryan is completely chilled out. And by that I mean chilled out like no one’s business! Super calm.
  • He doesn’t stress out for any damn thing. He gives his 100% during each lift focusing on form big time.
  • He’s extremely helpful. Not just to the clients he trains but to anyone needing exercise related advice.

I did not the get the pleasure of attending many of his classes due to scheduling conflicts, but I did get the opportunity to workout during the same time as he works out right next to him (just before his crossfit class starts) almost every day. So one day…

I walk into the gym. Row my 1000m meters, do dynamic stretches, warm up and get ready for my Starting Strength workout (squats, deadlifts and cleans that day) and I see the Crossfit Sunnyvale WOD posted on the board. It was a conditioning piece.

For time:

Row 500m

5 rounds of…

Row 500m

I’m thinking…

“Pretty bad ass workout. Most people wont even be able to do the workout as Rx-ed (prescribed). “

Looks like a bunch of people (like 20) had done it and their times were on the board. Approximately 15 of them had modified the deadlift to a weight they can handle and their times were anywhere from 13 mins to 30 mins. The remaining 5 had done the workout as Rx-ed. Their times ranged from 16 mins to 25 mins. Ryan, having completed his strength workouts for the day, decides to give it a shot and gears up.

Now, am not sure how many have you have seen a crossfit style conditioning piece go down, but it is pretty brutal. People stress the fuck out. They fight for every second. They run from station to station like their houses are on fire. They try to squeeze in as many reps as possible before their bodies literally break down. People throwing up after a short workout is very common. Here’s some evidence.

So Ryan starts the timer and jumps on the concept 2 rower. Easy 500m row in about 1:50. He calmly walks to the loaded barbell (315 lbs) and cranks out three solid reps with impeccable form. He ‘places‘ the barbell on the floor and walks to the pullup bars. 30 easy toes to bar followed by 30 unbroken clean double-unders. He walks back to the loaded barbell, takes a 10 second breather and repeats. He completes 4 more rounds with such grace and authority and rows another 500m. Total time for Ryan’s workout – 9:20 or thereabouts. The next best time was 16 min something. Bloody insane!

I’ve seen tonnes of people (myself included) struggle through conditioning workouts fighting for every second, every rep while risking safety in a hundred ways all at once. So I go to Ryan and say…

Me: Dude! You were way too relaxed. If you’d rushed through the workout you could have easily chopped off like 15 seconds. Why didn’t you?

Ryan: Raj, it’s just a workout. (and walks away)

Me (thinking): Whatever that means. Aren’t you supposed to give your 110% every workout? Oh well!


A couple of weeks later.

I complete my strength piece and get ready for my conditioning piece. This was the workout I planned on doing that day.

For time:

5 rounds of…

I was on round 2 and on my 7th box jump, for whatever reason, the box fuckin flips on me and I land on my left palm and butt. Epic fail! (I blogged about this incident here.)

I’m obviously fogged in my head and my left arm hurts. I check if everything still works and it looks like everything’s fine except for a little pain. I drink some water (clock still running) and get back to the workout. Box jumps are fine. Pullups are fine (!). Cleans are good. Presses are harrrrrrrd. I struggle through the workout when Ryan stops me and  says…

‘Raj, it’s just a workout!’.

Holy shit! It was just a damn workout. But I was so into it that wouldn’t give up. Even though my left arm was fractured at that point, I let ‘the pump’ drive me and pushed through the pullups and clean and presses. Result: Radial head fracture. I was out of action for weeks and it took me months to get my full range of motion and strength back.


Note the words in bold when I described Ryan’s workout. Easy, calm, walks, grace etc. Ryan basically paced himself so well that he did not have to murder himself repeatedly. As a matter of fact I remember seeing him smile and greet folks walking past him when he was doing the double-unders. He did, however, complete the workout in awesome time and solid style. How? Ryan has clearly been training to produce maximum work output while still maintaining great form and remaining sane. Something a lot of us need to learn to do.

What did I learn? A possibly irreversible injury for a slightly earlier finish and some pride is not worth it! Never again. Not in a million years.

Take home message –  Train smart… compete hard… finish-up strong.

Thank you Ryan. Much respect to you!

PS: I might be a little off on total times on the Crossfit Sunnyvale WOD I described.

5 responses to “Raj, it’s just a workout!

  1. mssriram October 25, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    Loved this post! Love the way you narrated the story. And having been in Ryan’s class a few times, I can totally vouch for his chilled-outed-ness. What a great outlook!

  2. nousreigns October 26, 2010 at 4:55 am

    Interesting observation. A lot of times when we are passionate about something we do tend to be very particular about results, even to the detriment of the process itself. I feel there is nothing wrong with that – its a great way to get the initial momentum going. Imagine if a person not prone to working out at all, is trying to stay on the wagon, misses a few of them and says “Its just a work out missed. ” But in the context of over training, it makes perfect sense!

    In any case, the maturity & serenity of Ryan comes with lots of experience and false starts and finally, the journey starts mattering more than the destination. Thanks for narrating – it is a much needed reminder to take a deep breath and enjoy the ride as it unfolds.

  3. Adam October 31, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Great post, highlights some very important points.
    “It’s just a workout” – one of the extremely common mistakes everybody makes is treating training workouts like competitions. Your goal is to get the most out of your training, which is not the same as adding the most weight. In Olympic weightlifting I see many of my teammates continually trying to put extra weight on the bar, even after their form breaks down, and when they start missing reps they get frustrated and try to do even more sets with the same (or heavier!) weight. As a result they drill bad technique and overtrain.
    Similarly, people like to go in the gym and try to max out every day – NOT the best way to get results. Training needs to incorporate different levels of intensity in a planned fashion, and surprisingly most of our gains come from working in the 80%-90% range.

  4. Simon December 7, 2010 at 6:27 am

    What a wonderful story, Raj.

    Not knowing it I actually got to think about the right approach to conditioning, as I pondered the question, whether or not repetitions with sloppy form should count. Regardless, there is a profound sense of satisfaction in doing the workout with 100% perfect form. Whenever I stress things, I feel like I have missed out on something important, no matter how good the performance seemed to be.

    As for me, I consider Ryan’s mindset to be perfect: 100% there in the moment, never letting the ego interfere with the performance.

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