7 Unconventional Changes To Improve Training

“Nothing endures but change.”-Heraclitus (540 BCE - 480 BCE)

Ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, was onto something big.  Although the quote has been translated in a number of ways, the theme remains the same and encompasses one of the major aspects of the human condition. Ultimately we cannot prevent change, therefore, we are driven by not only the necessity to endure it but also to attack it head on. The same is true in training. We do it because we welcome and embrace the evolution that occurs as a result of our hard work.

Regardless of whether or not your goals are performance, aesthetics, behavioral therapy, or social inclusion, you start at one point and transition to another. That act of changing in an athlete is essential for successful development and is not dictated solely by the physical demands imposed. Other outstanding variables exist in a training environment that are responsible for continued growth.


I like to think of Heraclitus as a thoughtful beardsman complete with flannel tunic.

Now, here's my mantra:

"Those that change, endure."-Cali (AD 1984 - Currently alive and typing this.)

I love change, almost to a fault. I can appreciate those that enjoy the day-to-day routine that allows for a degree of certainty and predictability, but in the grand scheme of things, change is good. Without question, our bodies physiologically respond to the changes imposed upon them in a training setting. We have the recipe for promoting continuous physical adaptation through tools like micro, meso and macro cycling, undulating periodization, various program emphasis (conjugate, accessory, speed/strength). But, there are many other variables in the gym that affect performance in a far less traditional way.

I’d like to examine some of the other components that are key in stimulating significant progress in a training environment. These unconventional approaches are effective in getting your athletes to stay engaged in a way that does not require any change to their actual programming.

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A strength and conditioning coach since 2009, Cali has worked with numerous athletes spanning from rugby players to cross country skiers.Almost immediately after finding CrossFit in 2010, she was introduced to a program that better suited her athletic goals.With her existing background in powerlifting and football, she became a natural devotee to CFFB/PowerAthlete and testament to it's effectiveness.In 2012, she left D.C. and headed for the state named after her to be a part of the CrossFit Football Seminar Staff and a Jedi of Power Athlete HQ. Cali currently resides in Seattle where she works full time in law enforcement.

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23 Responses to 7 Unconventional Changes To Improve Training

  1. I actually thought about using “Decoy Words” during the sprint drills at the Cert a few weeks back, but decided against it, for fear of people thinking I was screwing around too much. Whoodathunk this is an actual concept?

    Some fantastic ideas in here. Some will be a challenge to implement for us friendless lone wolves, but I’ll see what I can devise.

  2. Great read Cali!
    I’m in the process of opening my own gym.. I’ll definitely take these on board.

  3. @ingob: Cali used decoy words during the cert in October, and it destroyed us. She’s brilliant!

    • It’s true. I took an online test. I also found out which Sex and the City girl I’m most like. Turns out, I’m a ‘Carrie’. So there’s that.

  4. @cali you forgot humidity! god damnit! you forgot humidity!!!
    seriously, great article – change is so good. Even though some think it’s unfortunate that I am forced to train in my garage a few days a week, I find that the change can be dramatic: some days I crush shit in the garage to the sounds of children playing in the streets; other days I long for the gym. Change is to be embraced – there is good data suggesting that those that find change challenging, and that adapt poorly to change are more likely to develop dementia. And if we view dementia as a degradation, degeneration of the brain we can use that parallel in training – those resistant to change are doomed to experience degradation and/or degeneration of the maximal and or optimal training, or desired training effect.

    Good stuff as always!

  5. Great article, I’ll be looking out for decoy words at the cert this weekend!

  6. Love the Music is Booze comparison. But you are right, the second you turn off the music people get upset quick. I like training without music sometimes because it allows you to avoid distractions and really focus on the movements. There have actually been a few interesting studies that I found a little while back about this. Specifically when you look at the rate of force production/power output.

    • So, So, SOOO true. Music is background noise, and by nature, background noise is distracting to varying degrees. That’s why they play it in elevators, in waiting rooms, and on the phone when I call my bank. That kind of distraction is great for grindy metcons, prowler pushes and iso holds. However, I agree with you. I think it can hinder concentration during RM’s. This does NOT mean I don’t listen to music when trying to PR but I do have a routine that gives me the best of both worlds. I’m sure I’m not alone on this one…

      1. Sit or lay on the floor. Headphones in.
      2. Pick the appropriate music – this is key. If I miss a lift bc of technique, I pick music with a lot of treble and a steady, faster beat. If I miss because of pure lack of arousal, I go hard on the bass and the angrier the better.
      3. Close my eyes and visual my lift twice to the music. First seeing the lift in slow-mo then in the fastest speed possible.
      4. Hop-to. Headphones OUT. Lift in silence. PR.

      *Maybe having a routine means that it’s time I make some changes myself… 🙂

  7. I actually lift better with music, specifically to anything from this guy:


    I detest detest DETEST the TV. The asshole mid-life crisisers love to watch their ESPN or CNN while doing half reps on the Nautilus leg press or strolling on the recline bike. The incessant repetition and unnecessary yelling about nothing from the talking heads drives me nuts, which is why I usually get in 30-45 min earlier (they have a routine…) and plug the Ipod in. /end rant. Sorry.

  8. Great read Cali. I like your suggestion in using different cues and changing up the EMOM. I shall use this next time during our dead bug iso work, which everyone “loves”.

  9. Sick article Cali! I’ve actually been thinking about incorporating Kim’s games before a lifting session. Get some random objects, take a minute to obeserve, cover them back up and train. Then, describe each object in detail on paper, and see how much detail about each object I can recall. We used to use it to improve operational awareness and observational skills. Its fun to see who usually bitches about change only to come back and thank you for it later. Keep up the great articles and ideas!

  10. Don’t ANTICIPATE…

  11. FYI, I tried the “decoy words” technique (specifically, “3-2-1…keep going) during the Symposium a few weeks ago. Everyone loved it.

    And by “loved it”, I mean they all wanted to kill me.

  12. JZ

    People freak when they see tabata @ 22 w/8 sec rest, they ask “why 22? i thought tabata was 20/10” I always tell them they thought wrong it is whatever we want to make it.
    I also like the inverse tabata when getting people to lift a little heavier than “tabata” style weight (i.e. deadlifts/back squats/front squats). They learn to appreciate how long a 20 second rest is when you make them go balls out.

  13. JZ

    1:15 with heavier weight, narrow it to 4 movements

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