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Understanding Risk:Reward Profiles for Training

coach crossfit mindset rehab rts training Jan 24, 2022

Even if you don’t realize it, you’re constantly calculating risk:reward for almost every task you do. Understanding that risk calculation is literally an automatic safety feature in your brain can unlock a more intentional version of this to practice with your clients. 

So first, let’s look at some non-training examples:

  1. Crossing the street… You understand the risks if you miscalculate, that’s why we have checks and balances before we do so. AKA look both ways. If a car is speeding and you MIGHT make it across, you’re probably going to wait, as the stakes would be high should your rough estimate be wrong! But if the street is clear and nobody is coming, risk is almost fully mitigated. 
  2. Cliff jumping in a lake. Wow, we are putting a lot of faith into the person before us. How deep did they go? Did they touch the bottom? Is it a popular/frequent spot? 

All risk calculations.

Now, as I love to do… let’s start making parallels of risk:reward profiles from life to the gym.

What are some variables that can decrease risk in the gym?

  • Moving with control 
  • Training experience
  • Strength to perform certain tasks
  • Range of motion to perform certain tasks

On the contrary, what are some variables that increase risk in the gym:

  • Speed or intensity (often causing fatigue)
  • Difficulty of the task being executed (say a comparison of a muscle up vs a pull-up)
  • Decreased stability/support (like a ring on high straps vs a box for stable dips)
  • A new task
  • A max attempt  

But this is the fun part! If we stay on either end of the spectrum (too much risk vs not enough), we rob ourselves or our clients from pushing the limits of belief in the gym. How will you know if they can never get a muscle up if they don’t try? Want to push the limits on strength? You might need a 1 rep max (definitely more risk attempting that than 1 rep at 80%!) 

So, how do we find the balance between the two and how do we understand what is acceptable and what isn’t? Honestly, trial and error… You have to be OK with being wrong occasionally... It's how we learn! There’s really no magic dose of risk, simply acceptable risk profiles. Your job as a coach or rehab professional is to help calculate as close to that elusive magic dose take feedback and make the next decision! Do we progress to more difficulty/risk or less? Did we find the floor? Or continue searching for it?

When we talk about return to sport or activity, especially after an injury or maybe even a surgery, we can actually start to calculate this a little better and with more accuracy. So let’s break down a recent example. If you follow football at all, especially fantasy football, you might remember that Cam Akers, the running back for the LA Rams tore his achilles about 6 months ago at the beginning of training camp (typically a 1 year rehab process). Well, he made an unprecedented return on Monday night as the Rams made their playoff and hopeful Super Bowl run. You bet they are having risk conversations that include: Cam (the player), the training staff, the doctors, the coaches, and management to understand and weigh the risks. If it pays off, and he goes unscathed, they will have a reward that was worth the risk as he is a game changer. If he gets reinjured, well that’s a risk they are willing to take given the potential reward. 

Now back to earth to discuss real world applications! In the gym, every day isn’t the Super Bowl. We need to be guides helping make decisions so that training over the lifespan can take place!

So maybe the squat clean becomes a power clean until more squat capacity and workload is acquired. Maybe that push press becomes a strict press until we acclimate the shoulder to speed. Maybe running sticks to rowing until we’ve worked some plyometrics in… 

Ultimately, we need to calculate if the juice is worth the squeeze and if not, live to train another day . Let’s start thinking critically about workload preparation and risk reward profiles in the gym. Your clients will thank you!

If you found this article helpful, the best compliment you can give is to share this with your colleagues. It’s greatly appreciated. 

Interested in learning how to apply this to your clients?

Click here to find out how!