The Mastery of Functional Fitness

October 26, 2016

**If you want to watch the latest WODprep tutorial videos, simply skip to the end of this email for the links.**


However, if you have 10-12 minutes, I’d like to talk about something that's been on my mind for the last few days. It directly relates to the “Pursuit of Elite Fitness” that we share. If you care deeply about progress, hitting a new PR, or making improvements in your overall training, stick around…


I hope you enjoy reading as much as I did writing!


One week ago I cracked open the book Mastery by George Leonard. It’s been sitting on my bookshelf for a while now, and for some reason I was drawn to it (probably because it looks like a short, quick read). The entire premise of the book is about finding joy and fulfillment in the continual learning of a certain craft or skill. The author practices "Aikido", which is a modern form of Japanese martial arts.


After only 10 pages I said to myself: “everyone who does CrossFit needs to read this”. Sure enough, as the pages kept turning and my highlighter kept highlighting, I realized that this book should be standard reading for every aspiring athlete. It has already profoundly impacted my thoughts about coaching, progress, and plateaus.


In today’s modern, addictive “quick hit” society, the thought of long-term pursuit of a goal seems relatively foreign. Everyone seems to assume that goals should happen fast with as little effort as possible. They wrongly feel that plateaus are the enemy and should never happen.


Six Minute Six Pack Abs

7-Day Slimdown

One Minute Workout Wonders


While as silly as these sound, do you think a book would sell with a title like: “2 Years To See Your Abs” or say thing like “Drop your body fat by 2% in the next 6 months!”? Probably not, at least not to this generation.


George Leonard presents an interesting take on the pursuit of a goal, craft, or skill. He outlines four archetypes for achievement. I’m going to make some insights about what they might mean for us as fitness athletes, coaches, and most of all- students.


The Dabbler

(Photo Courtesy of madlab using diagrams from Mastery by George Leonard)


The Dabbler is everywhere in our sport. How many people do you know are completely all-in after their first few WODs? They feel amazing, they see HUGE gains in strength, skill, and performance. Fat literally melts off their frame like a snowman in July.


But then something happens...


“It’s 1-rep max Back Squat day!” Heading into the gym The Dabbler knows that they’ll hit a new PR, just like the last five times they tried. After hitting a rep at 85%, something weird happens. “Man, that feels heavy.” They make the jump to 95% and say “This ought to be easy, I think I’ll at least PR by 10 pounds today.”


They don’t even get close. In fact, 95% doesn’t make it out of the hole. They get stuck. They bail. They punch the ground and wonder what’s wrong.


The next week, it happens again, only this time it’s with their Double Unders. “I had these so easy last week! What the heck is happening, now I can hardly string together five in a row?”


“I think this programming is messed up” they say walking out the door (never to come back again).


The next week, they’re “really into bodybuilding”.


The Obsessive


 (Photo Courtesy of madlab using diagrams from Mastery by George Leonard)


The Obsessive is everywhere, too. I imagine many people reading this might fall into this mode of thinking if they are not careful. Here is a quote from the book:


“The Obsessive starts out by making robust progress. His first spurt is just what he expected. But when he inevitably regresses and finds himself on a plateau, he simply won’t accept it. He redoubles his effort. He pushes himself mercilessly. He refuses to accept his bosses’ and colleagues’ [and coaches’] counsel of moderation … When the fall occurs, The Obsessive is likely to get hurt …”


The Obsessive is the athlete who won’t accept a plateau. Instead of enjoying the “pursuit of elite fitness”, they want elite right now. They don’t want to wait. They stay at the gym for 4+ hours per day and say “That’s what (enter games athlete) does, so that’s what I need to do.”


They constantly compare themselves to other athletes, jockeying for position on the leaderboard. Any step forward is worth the effort, even if it costs them time with their loved ones, broken relationships, and general unhappiness.


Look at the end of The Obsessive graph- the drop. That’s the part where it all comes crashing down. This might happen in 8 months, or it might happen in 8 years. Regardless, sooner or later The Obsessive will get hurt, have a breakdown and fall away, never wanting to return.


When it comes to living a long, happy, and healthy life, do you think burning out with fitness like this is a good idea in the long run? They might end up even less healthy compared to the beginning of their fitness journey, with a few injuries thrown in the mix.


The Hacker

(Photo Courtesy of madlab using diagrams from Mastery by George Leonard)


The Hacker is probably the lesser of these three evils. However, The Hacker will never understand mastery. They have holes in their game, and they’re perfectly fine with it.


The Hacker is someone who can “RX” everything except for muscle ups. Rowing? No problem. Fran? Sub 5 minutes. Heavy deadlifts? All day long. But when it comes to the muscle up, they simply act like it doesn’t even exist. They skip the gym when it shows up in the programming, they avoid anything that might expose their weakness. They are afraid to face their weaknesses and attack them head-on.


Do they ever actually work on their muscle ups? No way, because they’re okay with being a hacker. Here’s what the author has to say:


“After sort of getting the hang of a thing, he or she is willing to stay on the plateau indefinitely. He doesn’t mind skipping stages essential to the development of mastery if he can just go out and hack around with fellow hackers.”


The Master


(Photo Courtesy of using diagrams from Mastery by George Leonard)


The Master isn’t worried about what others think. The Master doesn’t beat themselves up about a bad performance, missed lift, or failed attempt. They just keep practicing. They keep prodding along, always looking for coaches, mentors, and colleagues that can help them improve- even if only incrementally.


What about plateaus? They are perfectly normal. As long as they stay dedicated to their practice, a plateau is simply one step before their next growth spurt. It excites them.


The authors words are profound:


“There’s really no way around it. Learning any new skill involves relatively brief spurts of progress, each of which is followed by a slight decline to a plateau somewhat higher in most cases than that which preceded it. The curve above is necessarily idealized. In the actual learning experience, progress is less regular; the upward spurts vary; the plateaus have their own dips and rises along the way. But the general progression is almost always the same. To take the master’s journey, you have to practice diligently, striving to hone your skills, to attain new levels of competence. But while doing so- and this is the inexorable fact of the journey- you also have to be willing to spend most of your time on a plateau, to keep practicing even when you seem to be getting nowhere.”



Pretty heavy stuff, right?


Moving forward this week, I urge you to enjoy the process. Enjoy your practice. Enjoy the blessing of being able to work out for fun, fulfillment, and sport.

Also, take some time this week to ask yourself:


Am I a Dabbler, Obsessive, or Hacker? Am I willing to accept the Master’s Journey (practice, practice, and more practice)?


As always, I really hope that you enjoyed this article. Please feel free to forward this to anyone in your life that might identify with some of the insights.


Most importantly, do yourself a favor and buy a copy or two of Mastery by George Leonard. It will change the way your approach fitness, training, and so many other aspects of your life!


This is a guest post from Ben Dziwulski, the founder of WODprep. He is a former affiliate owner that specializes in teaching athletes in a simple, easy-to-understand way. Right now, he is traveling around the world with his wife and does 100% of his coaching online! For more instructional videos, tutorials, and free WODprep coaching check out and subscribe to his YouTube Channel, InstagramFacebook. Also, feel free to shoot him a personal email:

The Mastery of Functional Fitness #crossfit