You Can’t Escape The Work

US Ski Team Members Tommy and Resi, grinding away.

By Rob Shaul

I once read an Instagram post from a former athlete who left MTI programming to work with a personal trainer.

It’s “not always just about working and grinding,” the athlete wrote, “but also about recovering and resting.”

This reminded me of Greg Glassman’s (CrossFit Founder) Essay from 2005 where he expressed doubts and disagreement with the growing “recovery” industry – all of which he discounts as “pampering.”

“I’m waiting for a group, or even a single elite individual performer, to lay the fruit of his training on superior recovery techniques,” Glassman writes. “Stress control, massage, sleep, contrast hydrotherapy, hydration, recreation, stretching, and chiropractic treatment top the list of promising recuperative techniques. While none of these are foreign to us, or even new to sports training, we’ve no evidence that they make measurable differences in accelerating the development of elite performance. I can appreciate the potential these modalities offer to comfort, but I’m not seeing the increased performance.”

My experience with recovery techniques matches Glassman’s. Frequently an athlete comes into training singing the praises of an individual masseuse, new recovery technique (kinesio taping, cupping, dry needling, etc … ), chiropractor or yoga instructor.

They’ll often ask my opinion, to which I’ve learned to respond, “if it works for you, keep doing it.”

Then, 3-4 weeks later I’ll circle back and ask how it’s going with the new masseuse or yoga class. “Oh, I’ve stopped going,” inevitably is the answer. Why? Either the stuff stopped working, or became too expensive.

Glassman is harsher than I. “Those most inclined, for instance, to yoga, meditation, and chiropractic treatment are not our fire-breathers,” he writes. “I don’t think that yoga, meditation, and chiropractic treatment are injurious to performance; I think that self-pampering and longing for comfort are, however, correlative with low drive and success.”

I’ve had elite athletes both work hard and grind in the gym daily and pamper themselves with a massage and dry needling as well. These athletes (ski racers, world cup) are the most professional mountain athletes I’ve worked with about their fitness, and understand they can’t escape the hard work in the gym, but will tinker with recovery techniques for the slightest edge. Recovery and rest are secondary to the gym-based hard work and grind for these athletes, however – they don’t replace it.

Long ago I stopped doing any personal training, and now am super hesitant to even program for individuals. First, I found I didn’t enjoy working with individuals who feel they need individualized attention to prepare for mountain or tactical missions, seasons or events.

Second, and more importantly, the fitness demands of the areas I work with are clear, defined, and universal. There is no “special” summit of the Grand Teton for an overweight middle-aged male office worker. There is no “special” special forces selection for a petite female soldier. The fitness demands of both events are the same for everyone who attempts the event. We program to the fitness demands, not the individual, so the programming is the same regardless of the athlete.

The mountain doesn’t care. You’re not special. You can’t escape “The Work” and be consistently successful.

I will admit that working hard and grinding are certainly not as enjoyable as recovery and rest.

But, along with the physical suffering of “the grind” comes also the mental discipline it takes to commit to the work, and train hard every day. The mind is trained alongside the body and the mental fitness developed greatly influences mission performance. Overall, there is a “hardening” effect, many of my athletes have relied upon during difficult mountain and tactical missions.

The book “Relentless” by Tim Glover is one I’ve recommended to many mountain athletes aspiring to elite status. Glover worked with pro basketball players including Michael Jordan, Dwayne Wade, and Kobe Bryant. He relates one incident with Jordan directly after the Bulls won yet another NBA championship. Jordan always trained early in the morning, and after the game, Glover came up to congratulate Jordan on the win and championship.

Jordan’s response, “See you at 7 am.”


Below is some of the hard work put in by a couple of my lab rats this week – heavy Barbell Complexes ….



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