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Performance Paradox: Is it Killing Your Workout?


Working a corporate job for a living, I can attest to the fact that there is a constant push on performance: employee performance, sales performance, team performance, performance performance…Okay so maybe not that last one…

There’s a theorem in the corporate world called The Performance Paradox, which in a nutshell basically says: “The less you know about your performance, the better you perform.” And while I’m not going to debate the merits of it in the corporate environment, it does pose an interesting aspect to your workout environment.

In a sense it’s the not knowing what you don’t know when it comes to working out. The gym I coach at has a pretty decent stream of new athletes that just out of our foundations class or only out by a few weeks. These athletes look at the WOD for the day and GO HARD, probably too hard, but they push and push and they will struggle through.

The mid to upper level athletes still push too, don’t get me wrong but you see some of them start to scheme and plot and “game the workout”. Or they start to understand the movements and the goals of the workouts (ie: They know that MetCons suck hard while you’re doing them).

It’s here where I begin to wonder: Are they already starting to psych themselves out mentally before the workout even begins? Does this mental process that they go through actually lead to a performance loss?

Take a workout I did last week:
50 Barbell Complex @ 135# – Power Clean, Right Lunge, Left Lunge, Push Press/Jerk (1 rep is all 4 movements)
20 Minute Timecap, score is time completed or reps in 20 minutes

Here’s the thing with this workout, based upon what I know. It’s going to be similar to Grace from a muscle fatigue perspective + the addition of the lunges. It’s going to get your heart rate up, possibly into the anaerobic area if you’re moving to finish. I “gamed” this workout at trying to treat it like an EMOM, and hit 3 per minute, rest the remainder, etc..etc… My score totaled out at 31 reps in 20 minutes. Why? I had strategized it wrong. Those 3 reps were taking 30-45 seconds in the first 3 minutes or so, and then kept getting longer as the workout went on. I also had a physical limitation with those lunges, they got tough for me around minute 7 (and the next 13 were just brutal). Rep 31 I had to do 3 times, because I couldn’t get up from the left lunge and had to dump it 2x.

I keep going back to that workout and thinking, “I KNOW I’m strong enough to do that workout!” so I keep wondering, did I come into it with the “Look at me I know what I’m doing strategy” and effectively kill my performance? Maybe…

I do know that I saw some folks who scaled that workout down to 95/115 pounds who finished the workout. Assuming that those weights generated the same relative intensity for them, they all finished and I know that I typically beat those individuals, which again makes me kick myself.

I wish I could tell you I had an answer to this, right now it’s more of a theory for me as I haven’t really figured out a way to empirically study it with the athletes at the gym.

What thoughts do you have around performance loss based upon a larger knowledge of the workout at hand? Something that’s actually true? Am I overthinking the situation? Has anyone experienced a situation like mine? Let me know in the comments or on our Facebook Page