In English, Please: The Art of Explanation in CrossFit

As trainers, it’s very easy to overcomplicate things when describing movements or explaining a workout. The situation can quickly deteriorate into a detailed anatomy lesson, or a self-serving pulpit to display your vast knowledge of the human body. The problem with that is that no one gives a shit (besides other trainers, gym rats and fitness fanboys).

When I was in college I ran a humor magazine, and one of the most important lessons comedy has taught me is that you have to know your audience. Certain jokes/subject matter are not going to work with certain audiences. The majority of our athletes have simple needs. They want a great workout. They want to move better. If something on their body hurts, they want to know how to fix it.

I can’t name every single muscle, bone, ligament and tendon in the body, and I don’t need to. My athletes can’t name them all either, and I would never expect them to. What’s easier to understand: Bring your scapula into retraction, or, squeeze your shoulder blades together? Speaking in plain language gets your message across 100 times better than if you try to impress everyone with your technical knowledge. Keep it simple. Show them what they need to do to correct the movement and tell them which parts of their body they need to engage to keep them moving correctly.

Let’s take the split jerk for example. This is a technical movement with a lot of moving parts. Your feet have to go to a certain spot, you have to get the barbell overhead while simultaneously dropping down and catching it locked out and absorbing the weight with two big shock absorbers (your legs). You have to be fast and explosive. There’s a lot to not think about. Now, I don’t want to bog down the athlete with too many cues (especially the newer athletes), I just want them to do the movement and make it look pretty. So, if I tell the athlete to give me their best Mary Katherine Gallagher, most people get it right away. Sticking your hands in your armpits and smelling them afterward is optional.

For me, pop culture references make the movements more relatable (as long as they get my references, and apparently, not a lot of people have seen Commando – for shame members of CrossFit Delaware Valley, for shame). But finding that common ground with your athletes makes the lesson sink in that much more. Whether your example is relating the movement to something you would see in another sport, or everyday life, or in a galaxy far, far away, whatever it is, you have to know your audience and find a way to engage with them in a manner that they can fully understand and connect.

The point is plain language explanation works far better than technical jargon. You don’t have to talk to your athletes like they’re children (unless they are children), but you can’t talk to them like they’re all medical professionals either. Find your common ground in explaining the uncommon.


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