After mechanics, consistency is the next step in an athlete’s development. In this context, “consistency” has two important meanings that must be understood and applied before increasing intensity.
The first and arguably most important meaning relates to consistency as it applies to a single movement. During athlete development, the initial question, and one that must be revisited regularly, is, “Does the athlete understand how to complete the movement with proper mechanics?” If the answer is an easy no, then the path forward is more deliberate practice at reduced load and speed until mechanics are refined.
If the answer is yes (or leaning toward yes), the next question to ask is, ”How consistent are the mechanics across multiple repetitions and sessions?” An athlete who is ready for the next step will have no problem executing the movement to standard most of the time. This does not mean they will not still require coaching, but it should be clear they have a strong foundation that can be challenged and further developed. Expanding on this idea, an athlete who truly understands the mechanics of a movement should be able to apply the broad movement patterns across minor variations in equipment, rep schemes, and loading.
Let’s use the air squat as an example. An introduction to the movement will not emphasize the speed of execution or total repetitions performed. As the movement becomes more familiar, we can expect the athlete to perform the majority of the technical elements with less prompting; they know the full range of motion for the movement, how to keep their midline stable and their heels on the ground, but they may still need reminders as they fatigue or lose focus. With more familiarity still, the athlete will be able to arrive at the session and perform the movement to a high standard with minimal to no prompting. And lastly, we know the mechanics are becoming second nature when we can introduce another squatting variation (such as the front squat) without much trouble, as the athlete is able to apply the mechanics of the previously learned movement to the new variation. The athlete has now developed enough of a physical vocabulary around the thematic elements that typify a squat that they can express the movement well under different conditions.
Once it is clear that this level of consistency is present on a technical level, there is another level to consider and a new question to ask: “How consistently is the athlete exposed to the stimulus?” This question contains two significant considerations:
- How many exposures to the specific movement are happening on a regular basis?
- How many workouts, in general, are happening on a regular basis?
Starting with the second consideration, if an athlete has not yet established a consistent training schedule, it will be difficult to justify increasing intensity. There simply hasn’t been enough opportunity to adapt to the current training stimulus. The first goal in this scenario should be to set up regular training sessions and stick to them for several weeks before worrying about leaps in loads, reps, or to more advanced movement variations. Generally speaking, training a minimum of three days per week should be a habit before pushing for greater intensity.
With regard to the first consideration, if it has been a while since an athlete has experienced a particular movement or range of motion, excessive re-exposure is likely to create fatigue and soreness more quickly than may be expected. Walking lunges are a great example of this phenomenon; athletes with great general capacity still report surprising soreness after a session with lunges if they haven’t been performing them regularly. GHD sit-ups are another movement with a known track record of inducing surprising soreness (or worse) after laying off of them for a bit, even for advanced athletes and even if other abdominally focused workouts have been completed recently. If there has been significant time between exposures to certain movements, adjust accordingly by modifying reps or load (or both).
Conceptually simple at face value, consistency can be difficult to codify, as it presents several moving targets and variables to consider. Each new skill will need to be evaluated on its own timeline; an athlete may be consistent with one movement, but this by no means guarantees the same qualification for other movements. Consistency in one month of the year does not suggest the athlete will always maintain this schedule. Variables outside the average athlete’s control, such as programming bias or luck of the draw regarding attendance (e.g., missing all squatting movements for a few weeks simply due to chance/schedule), will always place the onus back on the trainer to restart the investigative process and determine what the best guidance is for each athlete each day.
To learn more about human movement and the CrossFit methodology, visit CrossFit Training.