A Case for Calmer 1RMs

The more time you spend around the strength and conditioning world and/or the world of nutrition, the greater chance that you’ve heard that the mind cannot differentiate between physical and emotional stress. Strength coaches know this because athletes that bring stresses from life into the gym are less physically capable than those without such mental stress. Nutritionists know this because men and women dealing with physical and/or mental stress experience the same  rushes of cortisol that holds on to body fat, especially around the waist.

Research continues to show the power, both positive and negative, of psychological stress on physical performance. On one hand, getting psyched up and riding a wave of adrenalin into a max deadlift can yield bigger numbers. On the other hand, such efforts are more costly to the body and its ability to recover from more than just the weight on the bar.

Original CrossFit legend, Josh Everret, once touched on this, whether he knew why this was true or not, when he said, “You only have a couple real max effort days a year.” What he was referring to was the psychologically enhanced state of competition or competition-like mindsets and how costly they were to recovery.

Considering that “in the untrained person, involuntary or hypnotic conditions can increase strength output by up to 35%, but by less than 10% in the trained athlete,” mental stimulus is a massive factor here (Verkhoshansky). Just a ten percent strength improvement based on mindset is staggering. Thirty-five percent is ludicrous. Yet, a strong case is made for athletes to save these “bullets” for key instances (i.e. competition), because they are both finite and incredible stressors to the nervous system.

These stressors are so potent that there’s a strong case for training efforts to be made without any emotional enhancement. As a coach, I’ve got to only imagine that this is much more important for non-professional athletes who arguably have more mental stress because they have a career outside of performance, as well.

Unless you’re deciding that this lift is your “show time” lift of the year, there’s a good argument that 1RMs in training should just be exactly that. There’s no need to hit the smelling salts and tear your shirt off before a training lift, especially considering how much it may affect your recovery.


Logan Gelbrich


3/13/15 WOD

Complete the following for time:
200′ Farmers Carry (185/125)
150 Double Unders
100 Squats
50 Alternating KB Swings (70/53)
25 Box Jumps (24/20)