Personal Training

3 Reasons to Stop Cherry Picking Your Workouts

Nigel O’Connor, owner of CrossFit Basingstoke ( ) in the UK, tried an experiment a little while ago. He didn’t post his gym’s workouts on their blog for one week.

All hell broke loose!

“It was like I told them Christmas was cancelled,” O’Connor said. “As much as I try to educate my members that they need to work on all areas of fitness—strength, mobility, endurance, I still get members on working on their weaknesses, not turning up to strength sessions as they feel they aren’t getting a sweat on, or other spectrum people hitting weights all the time but miss the met cons because they’re hard.”

Workout cherry pickers exist at almost every gym in the world, and as coaches we get a little sad when they cross our paths. Why? Because we have your best interest in mind.

The three main reasons people choose to cherry pick their workouts seem to be:

  1. “The workout looks ‘too light’ or‘too easy.’”

  2. “The workout looks too hard or intimidating, and I’m not good at any of those movements.”

  3. “Isn’t what we do just random anyway? Who cares if I cherry pick?”

Let’s address all of the above:

1. Too light:A workout may not be what it seems

Have you ever looked at a workout and thought to yourself, ‘That won’t be very hard.’ And then when you do it, it proceeds to kick your ass?

Yesterday we did 60 seconds of plank plate passes and 60 seconds of Defranco as a "cool down". On paper, it looked pretty easy. In fact, people were asking what the point of this simple task was.

But after 6 minutes, shoulders burned, lats ached, and mental wills were tested.

In reality, the seemingly light 6-minute interval workout was programmed to gain muscular endurance. As lactic acid starts building in the arms after a few intervals, shoulders, forearms, abs, traps, and back start to burn. Often when this happens, athletes stop and take a break before they reach muscle failure. But in this case, the task wasn’t so difficult that anyone was ever going to fail a rep, so instead they were required to continue to push through the pain, ultimately training their bodies to flush lactic acid out of their arms and into other areas of their body. This improved efficiency at buffering lactic acid, and increased muscular endurance, will translate into movements like high-rep handstand push-ups. 

The point is only to say you can get unexpected value out of drills and workouts you’d least expect. So instead of wishing there were harder movements programmed every day, like high-rep handstand push-ups, take comfort in the fact that your handstand push-ups can get better in many ways.

So the next time you’re debating skipping the day because it doesn't seem hard enough for you, think again. It might hit you in a productive way you won’t see coming.

2. Its too hard and Im not good at it:Put aside your worries and fears

On the other side of the fence are athletes who skip workouts because they look too hard. Talk to any gym owner and ask them what happens when they program a 5-km run? The gym becomes a ghost town because everyone knows how awful a hard 5-km run feels.

I challenge you to find a way to put your fears and ego aside and just walk through the door. Once you’re at the gym, the energy from the coaches and other athletes will carry you through the workout. One way to do this is to verbally commit to a friend that you’re meeting him/her at the 5 p.m. class after work.

Often, people get scared of workouts and skip daunting sessions when benchmark workouts like Fran or Helen show up. If you have been training for a while, you've probably done those workouts a few times and know how hard can be. And how painful it will be if you try to PR. 

Here’s my advice:

Get that word PR out of your mind. Look yourself in the mirror and say, “Who the F cares if I PR today? It’s not a reflection of my self-worth! All it means is I happened to exercise faster than the last time I did that workout.”

And then remind yourself that you’ll feel more guilty and shame bailing from the workout than you ever will from showing up and failing to go a little faster than last time. 

3. Workouts are random, right?: A bigger plan in place

Because we do so many types of movements and workouts each week, it might seem to you that workouts are random and varied, but we can assure you there’s more thought and planning to it than that. 

Much planning has gone into creating a plan for the week, the month, the quarter, and even the year—to help you get as fit as possible. Choosing to skip certain days or certain types of workouts just means you won't be getting the most out of the programming we put a lot of time and effort into creating.

When you skip workouts and cherry pick, you’re actually turning the program into a more random one. It’s not that you won’t still improve from chaotic programming, but your improvements will be better if you follow a balanced program with more consistency to your weeks.

Soif you know whats good for you, show up on the days your mind is feeling dread, fear, disappointment, confusion or skepticism. Those days might just be where the gains will be made. 

Why Group Classes Might Not be Enough for your Fitness

Bootcamps and group classes are good for a few things. They are:

  1. social,
  2. fun,
  3. and they motivate you to work harder than you otherwise might.

But they have their limits. They do not:

  1. take into consideration your specific physical weaknesses, limitations or goals,
  2. nor are they all that effective in prescribing specific intensities to ensure you’re getting the most effective stimulus to promote physical adaptations.
  3. Also, it’s next to impossible for group class programming to be a complete training program, as people come and go as they please, often missing important sessions each week. Essentially, you’re at the mercy of a generic fitness program for the general population, which isn’t a bad thing; it just doesn’t maximize the use of your time.
  4. And they certainly do not promote a one-on-one relationship with a mentor coach to help you with a long-term fitness plan.

Because of this, many people whose fitness revolves entirely around bootcamps or group classes dont stick with it for long. Some sign up for a bootcamp as a New Years resolution attempt to kick their butt into gear. Others hit group classes regularly for a while, but eventually they grow bored and lose interest, often after growing frustrated when fitness gains stop coming as fast as they used to. 

What we have discovered over the past decade is that a hybrid model of fitness works bestone that includes group classes (to give you your social and competitive kick), as well as personal training, and a personalized individual program that caters to your strengths and weaknesses and goals. 

Along these same lines, this is what world-renowned fitness expert James FitzGeraldthe winner of the first ever CrossFit Games in 2007 and the current owner of Opex Fitness in Arizonahad to say about group classes: They work for a bit, but eventually the honeymoon period ends and then people need more individualized attention!

When people stop adapting to generic programming, it means they need a coach to give them a more specific plan. So if youre not adapting quickly anymore, get some individual instruction,he said. 

In fact, FitzGerald believes there will be a general shift away from group classes in the near future as its not whats best for fitness. 

I have already seen it. More and more coaches are offering individual programming. People recognize people need more than group classes," he said.

Heres how a combination of personal training, group classes and individual program design is best for your long-term health, wellness and fitness

3. Group Classes:

  • Doing group classes two to three times a week is useful for providing a social, competitive environment that helps you feel connected to a greater community.
  • Its a time to work hard together, share a laugh or two, and make lifelong friends in the process (much better than the anti-social Globo gym where nobody knows your name). 
  • It also helps you stay accountable; if youre meeting a friend to hit the 4 p.m. class, youre not going to bail no matter how tired you are after work. 

2. Personal training: 

  • For new athletes, personal allows you to learn complex movements at a pace that is right for you. One-on-one attention is proven to be the best way to learn. After 10-20 initial personal training sessions, you’ll have a better understanding of the movements you were taught—as well as your own fitness level—than you would if you went through a group introductory program. 
  • For veteran athletes, it allows you to get additional one-on-one coaching for specific skills—often the more technical ones—you want extra help with.
  • And if you’re ever injured, personal training can become a rehab session, so you don’t need to abandon your gym routine during this time (we have found that an injured athlete in group classes tends to work around his or her injury, where as personal training is better to help you actually heal from your injury).
  • One-on-one time also allows your coach to cater to your physical and emotional limitations and goals, not only to help keep you safe, but also to keep you motivated, and to provide specific movements and intensities that are going to help maximize your development.
  • It allows you to develop a relationship with your coach—a health and wellness mentor in your corner—to keep you accountable to your goals for years to come. 
  • It gives you the chance to get one-on-one help in other aspects of life, such as nutrition—another concept that differs from individual to individual, and is therefore best tackled in a one-on-one setting. 

1. Individual programming:

  • Individual programming allows you to get the most bang for your buck with a training plan, essentially providing you with ‘homework,’ so to speak, that will help you maximize your time at the gym each day, ensuring you’re working on specific things that will help you continue to improve your health and fitness. For example, do you need more stability or more mobility? More speed and power, or more endurance training? Individual programs allow you to spend more time on what you need more of. 

So if your training consists of group classes and nothing else, think about contacting your coach to find out how you can best maximize your time at the gym, and ultimately your progress.