Growth Mindset: Probably Real but not all it’s Cracked Up to Be

Magical thinking goofballs love it because it seems to indicate that – just by changing your mindset – you can become better at just about everything that you want to do.
Rationalist-leaning scientists hate growth mindset because – well – magical-thinking goofballs love it.
And, Carol Dweck didn’t do herself any favors in her popular science book on growth mindset (called “Mindset”) by citing a bunch of examples that read like some sort of inspirational Horatio Alger rags to riches tale. “Ragged Dick sure was downtrodden and struggling. Then – he discovered the growth mindset! And his fortunes were changed henceforth!”
Growth mindset also sure does seem to check a lot of the boxes for a social science study that will fail to replicate that will be chalked up as part of the expanding replication crisis.
Depending on who you talk to, it seems like it either does replicate (with a small effect size) or it doesn’t actually do anything.
What I think we’ve got here is a really complicated situation. Any time we’ve got small effect sizes in complex systems, stuff gets really messy. Have you tried to keep up with which which foods and mechanisms actually cause heart disease, for example?
So, what’s the actual deal?
Growth mindset research seems to show that – through some framing and priming effects – children can be primed to work harder and longer on challenging problems or to quit more quickly. This result is surprising and counter-intuitive, since complimenting children on a trait like intelligence in a way that implies that it’s a static trait that you either “have” or “don’t have” results in them putting forth less effort.
So, what do I think?
I think that growth mindset is an actual thing. The research seems to have shown an effect across multiple scenarios. However, the effect isn’t quite what people – including Dweck in her popular writing – make it out to be.
While growth mindset critics pounced on the study from this year showing that growth mindset had no impact, I can’t say that this is terribly surprising – since the methodology of the study involves training teachers to implement growth mindset lessons in their classrooms.
I spend a significant amount of my weekly time and energy trying to teach coaches – most of whom I see nearly every day – to coach in more effective ways.
And it’s really, really, really hard.
Transmission of knowledge is hard.
Creating behavior change is hard.
Creating accountability structures to make sure that policies are being followed is hard.
We do a pretty good job, and we put a lot more energy into coaching development than any gym I’ve ever seen, and there’s still a huge gap between what I think should be happening and what is actually happening on a daily basis.
(This is not meant to put our coaches on blast – more just a recognition that transferring a skill or knowledge from one practitioner to another is just unbelievably challenging).
So, I can’t say that growth mindset failing to create a tangible effect in a third or fourth-hand scenario is terribly damning evidence against it.
Still, I am skeptical of the framing of growth mindset as some sort of elixir for success in business, fitness, love, wealth and success.
Is “the willingness to stick to a hard problem longer and to not think of yourself as a failure with an inability to get better” the actual limiting factor for most people’s performance in the things that they care about?
Likely not.
Is there potentially a difference between short-term “stick-to-it-iveness” than can be primed up or down through growth mindset style interventions and long-term “stick-to-it-iveness” that is a relatively stable personality trait (or maybe another TED Talk)
If someone’s mindset, per say, isn’t their limiting factor, what could it be?
How about:
•Interest in the subject matter
•Understanding and application of effective learning strategies (like spaced repetition, active learning, etc)
•Intelligence (dun dun dun)
•Ability to transfer learning across multiple domains
In some cases, could a poor mindset prevent someone from taking the steps necessary to move forward on their actual limiting factors…and thus be the one true cause of all lack of progress? I mean yeah I guess so.
In other cases, can transcendent talent or overwhelming interest more than make up for a lack of a growth mindset? Sure can.
[In fact, many of the examples that Dweck used in her book of athletes or business people with fixed mindsets behaving badly and shooting themselves in the foot were, in fact, stories of world champion athletes and billionaire business owners. So, in these cases, clearly the fixed mindset was not too much of a limiting factor.
She also mentions Michael Jordan as a shining example of the growth mindset. This may be true, but – if you saw the controversy around Michael’s acceptance speech – you may think of him more as a ruthlessly competitive crazy person who manufactured endless perceived slights and thrived off of negativity and proving others wrong. And that might be an excellent way to get really good at something. Better even than having a growth mindset!]
So, yes, I still coach my athletes in ways that utilize lessons I’ve learned from Dweck’s work. I try to praise effort rather than innate talent. I try to frame things as “improvable” – because they usually are.
I discuss growth mindset in our coaches meetings. We use the framework of the fixed mindset to understand why clients sometimes behave strangely when they think they’re being evaluated. We also use the the fixed mindset to understand why some clients constantly beat themselves up for falling short of their own unrealistic expectations.
it’s a valuable tool. I think it makes a difference in the performance of our competitive athletes. I think it improves the long-term results of our clients. I think that it helps our coaches better understand what clients are experiencing.
But I still hate magical thinking.

Don’t Tell People They’re Broken Because of Your Movement Screen

Coaches will often get excited about the possibilities of detailed movement assessments.
Wouldn’t it be great to go down the rabbit hole and find all of the potential dysfunctions with a client – then fix them one by one?
Every stone would be overturned for elite athletes, and all of those 1% gains in efficiency from having perfect movement would certainly aggregate to a massive improvement in performance! Wasn’t there something about a British cycling team winning the Tour de France based upon creating these small improvements? (Oh yeah, and – how could we forget – doping.)
New clients would start with a totally clean slate, and they’d be able to build perfect technique on top of a pristine movement foundation!
However, we can also easily spend a lot of time and energy chasing phantoms of dysfunction and ending up empty-handed.
And, the impacts of chasing dysfunction where it doesn’t exist aren’t just limited to wasting our time. We can easily make our clients feel fragile and broken by convincing them that they have all kinds of movement issues that require excessive foam-rolling and special breathing exercises before every training session.
But, there has to be some sort of value in screening for movement issues, right? We still run all new clients through the SFMA top tier at South Loop Strength & Conditioning. We just have to find the balance between screening for major issues, giving clients helpful tips for minor issues, and not over-optimizing for a screen.
Ideally, we all have an understanding of what the “base rate” is of clients having a movement dysfunction that causes them an actual problem – either injury or significant movement restriction that limits their training.
In other words, what percentage of people coming into the gym have some sort of significant movement issue?
From that base rate, we can make adjustments of the likelihood that a client will experience issues based upon their movement screening results, whether or not they have pain with certain movements, and how they move when performing actual exercise (not just screening protocols). If we want to think of this in terms of a Bayesian prior, that may be helpful.
This stepwise process of thinking through how likely someone is to have an issue gives a more complete picture of a risk profile, and also gives a framework for thinking about the amount of time and energy that should be spent on “correcting” a pattern that is dysfunctional on a screen.
There’s an opportunity cost to everything we do in the gym, and – by getting too far into the weeds on tracking down every “dysfunction” – we are potentially wasting our time and our clients’ time.
And, we also need to make sure we are not overloading clients with unhelpful information that will overwhelm, confuse and scare them.
So, don’t stop screening people for movement issues. Just be careful with how you communicate those issues, and develop a framework for your own reasoning so that you can understand when a movement issue “matters” and when it’s a red herring.

“Old Man Hats” and Correlation vs Causation

Everyone knows that “correlation does not equal causation,” but most of us don’t know it.
Like most people, my mind is quick to jump to causal relationships in just about every scenario possible.
It’s always looking for things that I did wrong (“Why didn’t that client sign up?” “Why didn’t that potential podcast guest get back to me?” “Why didn’t that athlete do better on that workout?”)
It’s always looking for ways to justify my pre-existing beliefs (“Yeah, social media is distracting and a net negative for society!” “Yeah, energy balance is the primary factor in body composition change, and other explanations are mostly inputs into the energy balance equation!”)
I have at least partially trained myself to recognize these snap judgments, and to find some pleasure in recognizing when I’m wrong (since it’s an opportunity to learn more) or quickly flipping any alleged causal relationship around to look for reverse causality (sleeping more than nine hours per night is associated with poor health not because sleeping a lot is bad for you, but because people with health problems tend to need more sleep), external causal factors (the notorious correlation of ice cream consumption and drowning deaths…because summer), selection effects (drinking a small amount of alcohol is correlated with better health…because people who are able to drink small amounts of alcohol consistently without binge drinking have other beneficial traits that create positive outcomes)  or spurious correlation (check out the relationship between Mt. Everest and opium production in Afghanistan!).
One of my favorite cases of “correlation does not equal causation” is when people talk about how they’re going to be “getting old, walking around with my old man hat on.”
People talk about “old man hats” as if – at some point when they reach their 70th decade – they’re overwhelmed with an urge to only wear newsboy caps.
No, those hats were super popular in the early 20th century! So “old men” are just wearing the hats that they think are cool!
In 60 years, people are going to be like “Yeah, when I’m old I’ll be hanging out with my old man Supreme sweatshirt…”

Gretchen Leslie (GrowthLab | I Will Teach You To Be Rich)

Gretchen Leslie

We’ve romanticized being a “digital nomad.” Being able to work from anywhere. Sending a few emails, then spending the rest of the day relaxing by the pool or booking your travel to the next storied European city on your hit list.

But, how do remote organizations work where people actually get stuff done?

Gretchen Leslie is the Director of Operations for GrowthLab and I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

I recently attended a live event that Gretchen and the GrowthLab team put on in New York, and I wanted to talk with Gretchen about her management philosophy and how she manages an entirely remote team.

Gretchen has an extensive background in Six Sigma and large organizations, so – between that and her work with GrowthLab – she has deep insights from a wide variety of organizational scenarios.

We cover some tactical management strategies for creating alignment on a team working on big projects and encouraging feedback and suggestion from employees

And, we also discuss key organizational tipping points that anyone running a business should be aware of, as most companies can either be too lose or too rigid with their data tracking, their process adherence, and their internal staff development process.

Check out the full conversation with Gretchen to learn:

  • Why some people are a great fit for remote work – and what she looks for in candidates when hiring to join a distributed team
  • The framework that keeps everyone on track when working on large projects – and why just having a detailed spec sheet is not enough
  • How to make meetings not suck – and why GrowthLab has a “No Meeting Wednesday” policy

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from Gretchen, GrowthLab and I Will Teach You To Be Rich:

Show Notes:

  • [01:07] “The Venice of the South” – where you can take your boat to the casino and pick up a daquiri on the way
  • [06:46] Tips and tricks for running operations on a distributed team – and what to look for in order to hire people who are a good fit for remote work
  • [14:09] Gretchen’s key management framework: “What does done look like?” And why just having a hyper-detailed spec sheet doesn’t mean that everyone is aligned on a project.
  • [21:15] A real life example of successful project management coordination across teams: The “Founding Class” event that GrowthLab recently put on in New York.
  • [27:29] How to find the balance between bottoms-up idea generation and top-down decision-making in an organization. And, how to effectively challenge employees so that they are able to vet their own ideas.
  • [35:20] The two types of mistakes that organizations make when tracking data. And, how Gretchen uses psychology to create compliance to process.
  • [45:50] How to make meetings not suck – and why GrowthLab has a “No Meeting Wednesday” policy.
  • [53:45] Music, subcultures, and the trajectory of “excitement” to “jadedness” within a subculture.

Links and Resources Mentioned

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Buzzy Social Media

If you ask me if I want to go to a nightclub, the answer will be an emphatic “hell no.”
In fact, I can’t really think of a place that is ostensibly for fun and enjoyment fun that I would rather go less.
However, there’s a good percentage of people who emphatically want to go to night clubs. People who look forward to going to night clubs. People who quit their normal, high-paying desk jobs in order to work in night clubs because they like them so much.
I think there’s an analogy here to social media.
It’s no secret that I kind of hate social media.
That I’m totally onboard with Tristan Harris’s Center for Humane Technology attempting to restructure how we think about the parasitic devices that are always in our pockets leeching our data and – more importantly – our attention.
That I think the supra-normal stimulus of notifications, newsfeeds, and algorithmically predatory headlines are equivalent to the junk food clogging our supermarket aisles and the discarded plastic floating in our oceans.
That the metricized social hierarchy on Instagram creeps me out – and makes me insecure in my own social signaling skill set.
Still, I think that a certain type of personality gets a lot of fulfillment and value from social media.
Some people enjoy the stimulation of social media and find the “buzziness” of it to be enjoyable and exciting. Other people are more sensitive to stimulus and find things that are optimized to create excitement (like bars, casinos and television programs) overwhelming and unpleasant.
Some people enjoy being aware of the networks of relationships around them and find joy in keeping up with friends and acquaintances. Others find discussions about other people to be boring, “gossipy” and irrelevant.
Some people have careers where they need need to be plugged into a constant stream of communication, and they do their best work when engaging in rapidfire iteration of ideas and mental models while plugged into the idea stream of social media. Others need huge blocks of uninterrupted time to chip away at hard problems.
Most people are probably a blend of each of these traits – and they may switch what “mode” they prefer based upon what they’re working on.
In my case, my disposition, my work and my preferred working style make social media a really unpleasant place for me.
But, just because I never, ever want to go to a night club, that doesn’t mean that I think that no one should ever go to night clubs.
Still, I’d be pretty annoyed if there was a night club in the next room over all the time, and – every 15 minutes – a bunch of club bros popped out and started dancing while I was trying to get some goddamn work done.
So that’s why I hate social media, and why I try to leave my phone as far away from me as possible.

10 Things I’ve Learned from Putting on a Fitness Competition for Five Years

We recently ran the fifth iteration of the South Loop Games.
The event had 51 individual competitors and 126 team competitors.
Over the years, we’ve had many high level competitors participate (including quite a few CrossFit Games athletes as well as Sanctional and former Regional level competitors).
While the competition is probably not “worth it” from a pure numbers perspective, we get a lot of fulfillment out of running it and it’s a top priority for us every fall.
Over the years of running the competition, we’ve learned quite a few things and made quite a few mistakes.
Here’s a few of them that may be helpful to anyone else attempting to put on an in-house competition.
People really value an on-time event
The bar is set very low for local competitions. People expect the event to be disorganized and to be running 45-90 minutes behind schedule.
Keeping the event on time requires a pretty significant amount of upfront work, including – but not – limited too:
•Creating detailed heat schedules with specific transition times between heats and between events
•Planning and setting up all equipment transitions ahead of time
•Having the following roles in place for the day of the competition:
On floor event supervisor who is starting and stopping the clock. This individual can double as a head judge as well and observer the flow of the event during the actual events.
Athlete control supervisor who is responsible for making sure that every individual who is competing in the next heat is in the warm up area by the team the previous heat starts
Equipment transition manager who is keeping track of coming equipment transitions and staging all of the necessary equipment
Each of these areas will ideally also have multiple volunteers working with them moving equipment, chasing down missing athletes, etc.
Other things that we’ve learned that help keep an event on time:
-Having different transition times between heats allows for a bit of a buffer – and also prevents people standing around excessively between their heats
Short transition: 2 minutes
-This is ideal for transitions between events that require minimal resetting of the competition lane. An example would be a transition between heats of the same division where the only equipment is an assault bike and a dumbbell.
Medium transition: 3 minutes
-This transition works well for events where some equipment must be moved on and off, but there is not a huge amount of work to be done. An example here would be transitioning between two divisions with minimal equipment – for example, moving from an intermediate male division to an Rx male division where the only change is moving a dumbbell on and off of each lane.
Long transition: 4 minutes
-When we have events that involve a lot of equipment and significant resetting, allowing for a bit more of a buffer is usually wise. An example here would be some an event with some sort of max lift where athletes have loaded several plates onto the bar. Between each heat, the bars need to be stripped and reset for the next heat.
It’s also wise to leave a little bit of extra time between heats during the first events of the day. This allows a little bit of breathing room so you don’t start out behind schedule right away. Also, athletes will often settle into a rhythm after the first event and will start doing a better job of showing up on time, finding their lane, etc.
The best way to market your event is to repeatedly put on a high quality event.
This year was the best year yet for the South Loop Games – in terms of registration, revenue and spectator attendance.
We also probably did the least amount of promotion of the event this year.
(All of that said, it is still a relatively low margin event. We overshot a little bit by increasing the prize money this year more than we probably should have relative to our registrations.)
At this point, we’ve run the event five times, and people have some idea of what to expect. So, when we announce that registration is open, people are excited to participate and they sign up without much coaxing.
That’s not to say that some of the promotion that we did in the past wasn’t valuable since it probably helped build the profile of the event.
However, after running this multiple times, we now have the luxury of having an event with a solid reputation as well as a large list of competition alumni who are eager to come back and participate again.
I’m generally skeptical of “build it and they will come” marketing advice. But, for our competition, it seems that “building it” year after year has in fact resulted in people coming to the event.
It is much harder to program for intermediate and scaled divisions than to program for elite divisions.
The abilities of competitors in intermediate and scaled divisions are often much more variable than the abilities of athletes competing in an Rx division.
If you’ve worked with enough high level athletes, you probably have a decent idea of what a typical Rx competitor can do and what will be appropriately challenging for them. And, if you program for that avatar, you will probably get a good distribution of performances from the rest of the competitors in that division.
Intermediate divisions are a different story, though.
You will have some athletes who can lift just as much weight as any “Rx” athlete, but they struggle with high rep gymnastics, so they are in the intermediate division. You will have athletes who can do huge sets of pull-ups and can handstand walk for days, but are unable to lift the typical Rx weights.
Based upon this, you will find that intermediate divisions will inevitably have some events that are “too easy” for a chunk of competitors while another chunk of competitors can barely get through the workout.
On a related note, intermediate male division competitors – on average – are often much more comfortable with gymnastics than intermediate female division competitors. It adds complexity to have different rep schemes for different divisions, but this is something to potentially consider.
I don’t think there’s a perfect solution here, so just keep this in your mind when programming, and – as discussed in the next point – make sure to test the events extensively.
Testing events extensively is crucial – particularly for intermediate divisions.
Some of our biggest mistakes in programming have come from the intermediate versions of our events. We’ve usually tested everything in some form or another, but – especially with intermediate divisions – it’s important to have a wide variety of athletes try the event to see how it’s going to go.
It’s usually better to have an event be “too hard” for some competitors, rather than having it be “too easy” for the top of the division.
Particularly in intermediate divisions, there are a few different avatars of athletes who should test an event (ie “Strong but struggles with gymnastics,” “Good with gymnastics but struggles with heavy barbells,” “Good engine but struggles with both heavy barbells and high rep gymnastics”)
Similarly, for high level competitors, it’s important to have a network of athletes who are willing and able to test events for you.
You will still be caught by surprise – either by athletes moving through something much more quickly than you expected, or by athletes really struggling on something that you did not anticipate. However, having every event tested by at least two different athletes should give you a solid perspective on the difficulty of the event and whether or not the timecap is reasonable.
Something else to consider is the total accumulate volume of the day. People will typically move faster in a competition environment than they will in a testing environment, but being aware of the number of reps of similar movements (like squatting, hinging, pressing, pulling, etc.) that athletes have already done in the competition will potentially modify how long something will take.

Blending Scaled divisions and high-level individual divisions is very challenging.
Scaled competitors will usually be intimidated to come to a competition known to attract high level competitors. So, unless you’re running an event that is already quite large with a significant reputation, it probably makes sense to focus in on a specific demographic (beginners, serious competitors, “just for fun,” masters, etc) and include divisions for a few adjacent demographics.
If you try to run a competition that doesn’t already have a significant reputation that includes Rx, Scaled, Masters and Team divisions, you may end up with a mess on your hands. And you may also struggle with registration since none of those demographics feel like the competition is “for them.”
And, if you have too many different types of competitors at your event, you will potentially run into some problems during the event.
You will probably have a lot more issues with scaled competitors.
Many people would intuitively think that there are more likely to be judging complaints, emotions running high, and problematic athletes when you’re dealing with high level competitors.
Our experience is the exact opposite.
Elite athletes typically intuitively understand the flow of workouts, are used to being held to high standards in their movement quality, and have competition experience (so they understand roughly when they should warm-up, they’ve probably checked heat schedules online for an event before, etc).
Elite athletes also have often developed the skill of controlling their emotions in high-stakes situations.
And, they probably have some understanding that maintaining a good relationship with their judge and the event organizers is in their best interest.
Scaled competitors, however, they are often doing one of their first competitions. The events are confusing and opaque to them, they’re not great at sticking to movement standards, they have little experience competing so they struggle to understand the flow of heat times and lane assignments, and they have not practiced exercising in high stakes exercising situations so they are easily overwhelmed by emotion.
If you want to have scaled competitors at your event, it’s probably best to structure the event to focus specifically on that group. Otherwise, the scaled division can derail your event by consistently showing up late to their heats and having difficulty setting up in the allotted transition time.
Also, the judges are more likely to take a beating in scaled heats, since teams are particularly likely to become emotional about being held to movement standards or to create confusion about the flow of the event.
I see the same thing in the rec soccer leagues that I play in. While the more competitive leagues can certainly get intense, the lower level leagues are much more likely to feature complaining and berating of the referee, dangerous late tackles, and games ending in awkward shoving matches as people lose their tempers.
Try to minimize the number of moving parts for team events.
Even if you think the flow of an event is super clear, there’s a good chance that many competitors and judges will be confused by it.
Consider that most people are typically doing workouts on their own (even if they’re in a group class), so they’re familiar with all kinds of scenarios (AMRAPs, intervals, for time, “death by” workouts, etc).
However, people have much less practice working out in teams. So, they are going to be more easily confused by different work/rest scenarios and things like synchro movements.
If you can keep the amount of equipment needed to a minimum and make it very obvious how and when athletes transition, you will reduce the opportunity for confusion and dissatisfaction.
If you are not very specific with event flow, athletes will come up with crazy ways to do things – and judges will get confused.
We’ve learned that it’s important to specify the flow of events – particularly with teams – in great granularity.
Where do non-working athletes have to stand?
What happens to equipment that isn’t being used?
Where can athletes do specific movements – and which way should they be facing?
What order do athletes have to go in?
How do athletes transition from one movement to another?
While it can seem restrictive and “hand-holding” to force athletes to stick to some of these standards, it’s essential to maintain overall structure of the event.
If these things are not specified, athletes will find bizarre loopholes and crazy ways to do things.
If the flow of the event is very specifically laid out, judges will be confused by the crazy stuff that athletes are doing and start to make mistakes.
I’m generally not a fan of “slippery slope” types of arguments for being harsh and draconian with rules, but this is a situation where everything needs to be strictly and literally enforced.
If athletes see someone in a previous heat doing something, they will expect to be able to do the same thing – if not push the enforcement of the standards even further.
Judges struggle to count double-unders
If you are relying on volunteer judges (which you probably are if you’re putting on an in-house competition), you can anticipate that there will be some potentially serious miscounts in any workout involving double-unders.
This isn’t meant to say that you can’t program them – just be aware that the potential for judges being off by not just 1,2 or 5 reps, but potentially 50-75 reps is there and program accordingly.
We had a big set of double-unders in one year of our competition, and we had some athletes who probably did over 100 extra reps and some athletes who probably did 100 too few reps.
Based upon this, we’ve avoided programming large sets of double-unders since we don’t want the very likely event of a judging error to significantly impact the outcome of the event.
Have contingency plans for judges
A monitor on an assault bike will freeze. A plate will break. Some crazy thing will happen, and an athlete will end up losing 30s of a workout. Something will go wrong with the clock, and athletes will end up starting their interval later than they should.
Empower judges to make quick calls as to what the best way to handle these issues are.
Have back-up equipment ready.
Give each judge a stopwatch so they can have their lane keep going on a separate clock if the clock gets screwed up.
Allow judges to use their stopwatch to add or subtract time from an athlete’s event if an act of God messes up the timing of their event.

Evan Peikon (Training Think Tank)

John Friel

Anyone who has coached or competed in CrossFit for awhile sees things that kind of don’t make sense.

Athletes with 15+ unbroken ring muscle-ups and a 6:30 2k row who are surprisingly bad at “metcons.”

Athletes who can only do 5-10 unbroken strict handstand push-ups who are able to quickly chip away at a set of 50 and beat athletes who can do 20+ unbroken reps.

Evan Peikon from Training Think Tank has done a lot of work with the Moxy unit on measuring muscle oxygen saturation and blood flow, and he’s developed a model that is able to explain a lot of these seemingly confusing contradictions in performance.

In this podcast, we break down Evan’s model for fatigue in mixed modal athletes, and we also give some practical training tips so that athletes can improve their conditioning or their strength based upon their individual limitation.

Individualization in a program isn’t just about understanding what an athlete’s strengths and weaknesses are, but understanding what each individual’s specific limiting factors are and focusing training on improving those weak links.

Check out the full conversation below to learn:

  • The 3 different types of limitations in CrossFit athletes – and how each of these types of athletes should think about training to improve their capacity or get stronger
  • How Evan currently thinks about fatigue – and what is outdated about the way that most people are thinking about getting tired in a metcon
  • When “mental toughness” plays a role in performance – and when athletes are hitting hard physiological limiters that they can’t push through

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from Evan and Training Think Tank here:

Show Notes:

  • [01:10] Evan’s opinions on metalcore
  • [10:55] The basic physiology of oxygen delivery and what different measures like VO2 max, muscle oxygen saturation and heart rate can tell us about performance
  • [16:58] What are different types of fatigue that can occur at the muscle level? And – the 3 different types of limiters in CrossFit athletes.
  • [23:35] What is the difference between Evan’s model of fatigue based upon his work with muscle oxygen saturation and more traditional models of fatigue based upon acidosis?
  • [31:45] What is happening when athletes feel “burning” in the muscle vs when athletes feel a “pump” in the muscle? How do these sensations in the muscle create global feelings of fatigue? What role does the “mind” play in governing our effort?
  • [41:44] Psychological gamesmanship in racing – particularly in track athletes
  • [45:00] What role do occlusions play in creating fatigue for athletes in CrossFit? And – the 2 different types of occlusion and what those mean for your ability to “push through.”
  • [01:03:40] Why do some people always have one specific muscle group “blow up” – like their grip, their shoulders, their low back, their calves, etc.
  • [01:09:23] How can athletes who tend to get muscle pumps improve their ability in CrossFit? What would an ideal training session look like for this athlete – and why do some common training protocols potentially make this kind of athlete worse?
  • [01:17:25] What does Evan think the most common limiting factor is for athletes who do not tend to occlude in their muscles? These athletes often struggle to build strength – how should they structure their strength training protocols so they can actually get stronger?

Links and Resources Mentioned

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Unlearning the Habits of a Bratty Teen

I’m taking a guitar lesson this week.
In high school, I thought it was “cool” to be self taught.
Who needs all that stupid music theory? Who needs some dork at a guitar store who probably listens to Joe Satriani telling you what to do?
To be fair to my obstinate and opinionated teenage self, I do think that the ability to self-educate is pretty rad.
And I did probably develop my ear pretty well by just sitting there and figuring out Slayer and Megadeth riffs.
But, I’ve wasted a bunch of time by learning a bunch of bad habits – then having to unlearn them.
(Like how I hold my pick. I think part of it is just my extreme hitchhiker’s thumb, but I definitely have had to do some serious practice to at least get my pick in a somewhat reasonable position.)
Also, as a person who has skills and knowledge that people pay for my advice in (fitness and business), I can see how much I can help my clients prioritize what’s actually important and get out of their own way.
With most of my coaching clients, my primary role is to either:
  1. Help them prioritize the actual thing that is super important that they need to work on – instead of whatever mess of half-baked tactics they’re worried about
  2. Teach them mental models so that they can make better decisions and problem solve on their own
I absolutely need someone to do this for me with my guitar playing.
Looking at how I live the rest of my life – especially with things that I’m interested in – I kind of can’t believe I haven’t invested in music lessons.
I did most of my practice and learning in a time period when I had a lamentable attitude toward “learning from experts.”
I also had a pretty unforgiving attitude toward “corniness” – which was basically anything involving jazz fusion or the pentatonic minor scale. This criteria unfortunately eliminated all guitar teachers in the entire world.
But now, I’m ready to bend some blues riffs with anyone who will teach me.

Top Down and Bottom Up Trust

Last weekend, I headed out to New York for a $2000 course that I didn’t really know much about – just that it was going to be a small group of 15 folks working on growing their businesses.
Why would I do such a thing? Especially when I barely knew what the course would entail?
Some of it was probably related to the application process – I had to record a short video answering some questions and was selected from an ostensibly large and competitive pool of applicants.
Ask any good social science researcher about effort justification in initiation rituals – there’s a reason fraternities have elaborate hazing rituals. The difficulty and discomfort inspires participants to create a narrative justifying their effort, which increases their buy-in once they’ve made it through whatever blindfolded, sexually charged initiation process they’ve been subjected to.
Also, Ramit Sethi – the proprietor of the course – has built tons of trust with me over the years through his blog, his email list, his books, and his online courses. We’ve implemented many of his systems and tactics for marketing and copywriting at South Loop Strength & Conditioning and seen great results.
So, it was a no-brainer to swipe my credit card for the course and book tickets out to New York, even though we have construction going on at the gym, and the South Loop Games are coming up in just about a month.
During the weekend, I had a breakout session on “How to stand out in a crowded niche.” Legion Strength & Conditioning – our online coaching company – plays in the saturated and overcrowded competitive CrossFit coaching space.
I’m often extremely frustrated by the nonsense from prestigious coaches in our industry that masquerades as solid training principles. I’d love to do my part to stamp out the misconceptions and myths that pollute our market – but Legion doesn’t have enough trust in the marketplace as a whole to be able to combat the bad ideas that are out there.
That trust that I have in Ramit? To fly to New York and spend thousands on a course that I don’t know much about? We need to figure out how to build that.
And, unfortunately, the dense, nuanced discussion of abstract ideas that I enjoy is not necessarily the best way to build that trust. Once you have trust – great. Go down the rabbit hole, get detailed, and get after it.
Until then, there are probably better strategies for establishing a foothold in the marketplace.
I had a 5-10 minute conversation with Ramit after the course that was worth the trip alone.
Side note: As someone who is often in a position where people are lurking around me and attempting to monopolize my time to ask me lots of questions (often while I’m trying to focus on something else), I’m very sensitive to trying not to do that to other people. So, I was hesitant to approach with my self-interested questions, but I’m happy that I did 🙂
We discussed this trust building process, and here’s my distillation of those lessons:
There are top down and bottoms up ways of building trust.
In the market of competitive CrossFit coaching, the “top down” model is coaching or working with “famous” athletes. This is a somewhat unpredictable process, since it’s not enough to coach athletes who are really good – these folks also need to have struck whatever je ne sais quoi results in them becoming “influencers.”
I liken the process of becoming a “famous” athlete to that of becoming a “famous” pop star. Quality is only loosely coupled with the actual success in the marketplace. Take a listen to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance” and tell me that isn’t one of the 10 best pop songs of the last decade. But, guess what – it only has 756k views on YouTube and wasn’t even released as a single. And CRJ already had built-in attention from her breakout breakout mainstream success with “Call Me Maybe.” What the hell!
So, anyone playing in the competitive CrossFit space should probably be trying to stumble into whatever serendipity they can that will push them over the tipping point into some sort of influencer status.
However, that’s a relatively unreliable business plan.
Fortunately, there’s another road that is probably more under your control.
This is the “bottom up” method of building trust.
To succeed here, you need to deeply understand your market and the problems that they are struggling with – and provide them very tight, crunchy, low-barrier to entry solutions to those problems.
Then, when they actually test drive the advice that you give, they have a quick win, are surprised at their success, and start to build trust.
In Ramit’s case, he opens his book I Will Teach You to be Rich with word-for-word scripts on getting credit card fees waived in the first chapter. This is a very low barrier to entry, tactical tip that will work almost all of the time.
And, once someone sees a late payment fee waived with 60s of work on a phone call, they start to build trust – and are much more willing to engage in the higher barrier to entry behaviors Ramit recommends like setting up automatic investment into an index fund.
This is tricky in fitness since most things that actually work are nuanced and take weeks – if not months – to produce results.
And, most of the things that people say they want are not what they actually want.
“Yeah, I’d love a meal plan.”
“A six week accessory work program would be awesome.”
“I’d like videos on proper form.”
Bullshit! All of them!
Not that these things aren’t valuable and some people don’t utilize these kinds of resources, but these solutions are way too ambitious for most people.
They love the idea of a accessory work and think it sounds nice, but there’s no way they’re actually printing off the PDF of their accessory program from some company they don’t really know about, taking it to the gym, and following it for six weeks. And, most people are lucky to consistently accomplish their main training goals in a given day. Very unlikely that they’re going to spend additional time in the gym doing accessory work.
So, how do you create a tactic that is low barrier to entry and gives nearly immediate results? And actually solves a problem that people know they have and that is a burning pain for them? I don’t really know but I’ve got some ideas.
(If you think of anything, please email me as well.)

Chris Mills (Harm’s Way)

John Friel

Chris Mills is the drummer for Harm’s Way – and he’s also a clinical social worker for an addiction and mental health residential program.

Many folks who are touring most of the year piece together random part-time jobs or have their hands in a few different pieces of the music industry (management, booking, merchandise, etc.).

Chris, however, is a highly trained professional in an extremely difficult field.

We dig into music nerd stuff about how Harm’s Way writes songs – and how they think about the roll of “heaviness” and “rhythm” in their songs. And Chris also explains why he thinks that many of the models that we use to think about addiction are outdated – and what he prefers instead.

Check out the full conversation to learn:

  • Why Chris got into angsty nu-metal as an adult – and how that influenced his songwriting process
  • Why the most common models for thinking about addiction are outdated – and what methods Chris has found to have more success for patients
  • What is typically the biggest barrier to lasting behavior change – and why it’s much harder to “stay sober” than to “get sober”

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from Chris and Harm’s Way here:

Show Notes:

  • [01:08] Getting into nu-metal as an adult – and how that influenced the process of writing music
  • [08:31] Harms Way’s change in sound was more “organic” in that the new riffs that they were writing started to sound different. And, how songs can be “heavy” without just focusing on the “breakdown.”
  • [15:15] The album writing process: trying to create a cohesive work – and writing through jamming, building songs in practice, and grinding it out.
  • [26:02] The crappy practice space that Like Rats and Harm’s way share.
  • [29:08] Working as a social worker in a residential program in the field of addiction and mental health. How does Chris prioritize what clients work on in terms of their biggest priorities in treatment?
  • [37:44] What’s the difference between the 12 step model, the disease model of addiction, and a more behavior-based model? What framework does Chris prefer for treating his patients?
  • [45:42] Differentiating psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers – and understanding what is usually the biggest obstacle to creating lasting behavioral change?
  • [54:14] Harm’s Way’s history as a straight edge band, and how Chris thinks about playing in a band that often focuses on negative emotion in its art through the lens of a social worker.
  • [58:14] Harms Way’s upcoming touring plans

Links and Resources Mentioned

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