The Open is here! This is the most exciting time to own a CrossFit gym. If you came to CrossFit Webster on Friday, I’m sure you probably understand what I’m saying. The energy in the gym was electric. We also got a classic CrossFit style workout – Ground to Overhead, and Burpees! It was off the charts! I can’t wait to see what the next 4 weeks are going to bring.
I’d like to take some time to discuss something that has been eating at my brain for a while now, both in my own training and in conversations that I’ve had with others about their performance in particular workout. This is a good time to bring it up because we’re all pitted in a weekly competition for the next four weeks. Setting aside The Open, there are many times I have finished a workout and thought to myself ‘I could’ve done better on that,’ or ‘If only I could’ve hit that last Snatch, I could’ve had a much better score.’ I’ve definitely been guilty of comparing my score to others, many of whom I consider myself to be on the same level as, athletically. Despite the competitive nature of CrossFit, this is a trap that can leave us feeling poorly about ourselves without the proper context.
To start, comparing yourself to other athletes can be healthy – for example, it can push you to get a couple extra reps in a workout, especially when that person is working out right next to you. It can motivate you to get to the gym on days when you don’t feel like going. Comparison gets to be a problem when it starts impacting your mental health and your mood outside of the gym. If you didn’t perform to your expectations on 20.1, did you bring it home? Did you let it ruin your weekend? Did you spend time on Instagram reading about how other people did, and secretly bitch about how you should’ve done better? This isn’t healthy. There is only one question to be concerned with: did you give it your best effort? We cannot control how other people perform on a workout. Why let it bother you?
So, we can’t control the workouts or how others do. We can’t control the weather, or who shows up to workout with us. There is only one thing we can truly control: effort. In a specific workout, effort is easily identified. To use 20.1 as our example, did you stop to catch your breath often, or did you keep moving on the burpees (for the record, I caught myself standing around several times)? Overall effort is a little more difficult to pin down. The way I see it, there are five factors in which we can truly control our effort and improve our overall fitness and performance:
Training: We can control how often we go to the gym, the training program we follow, and the effort we give while we’re there. Ask yourself – am I training to compete, or am I training for longevity? I covered this in a previous post, but there is a big difference between training and competing. ‘Training’ is what the New England Patriots do Monday – Saturday. They practice. They study game film. They have walk throughs. They work on technique. Despite not being in a game situation, I can assure you that Bill Belicheck and Tom Brady wouldn’t accept any less than full effort in practice. How do we translate this to the gym? Let’s take the example of ‘learning how to do kipping pull-ups.’ These are a relatively skilled movement. They require strength, coordination, and timing. They require training! How many times have you stayed 10-15 minutes after class and practiced your kip swing (and ONLY your kip swing)? Learning a new skill takes practice. Mastering a skill takes even more practice. To use another sports analogy: How much time do you think Tiger Woods has spent practicing and perfecting his golf swing? How many countless hours has he spent with a swing coach? How much time has he put in at the Driving Range? When it’s time for The Masters, He’s ready because he put in time practicing a movement that he knew he was going to need. When Chest-to-Bar pull-ups show up in an Open workout (and they will), can you say you’ve spent enough time practicing and mastering the movement? If not, how can we be frustrated when we don’t perform as well as we had hoped for that week?
Nutrition: This is a big one, and the topic of nutrition could go in several ways. “Abs are made in the kitchen,” after all. I’ll say this: where you’re at with Nutrition will have a dramatic impact on performance. Ask yourself what your goals are. If your goal is body composition, you may not be eating for optimal performance. You could be eating to lose weight, build muscle, or find intolerances to different foods (ie: Gluten Free, or Dairy free, etc). Ask yourself if performance is the main goal of the way you’ve been eating, and then compare your diet (and macronutrient goals) to someone who is solely focused on competing – Patrick Vellner or Katrin Davidsdottir, for example. If you’re not eating to perform, I’m going to guess their diet looks much different than yours.
For athletes who are just getting started, the increase in activity overall will have an impact on body composition. For a newer athlete, we should first focus on drinking enough water, and the quality of our food intake. The rest will come together as you progress in your fitness journey.
Sleep: This is one I have always struggled with. You control when you go to bed, and you control when you wake up. How much effort do you make to get sleep? We all know that life gets in the way (you can’t control when your kids get sick). What can we do to improve the quantity and quality of our sleep? Raising kids, working two jobs, and partying on the weekends will all have a dramatic impact on the quality of your sleep, which will impact performance in the gym. I know I feel and perform much better when I’m rested!
Recovery: Recovery goes hand in hand with sleep, and there is so much more. We do not spend enough time recovering from our workouts. This could be as simple as stretching for 10-15 minutes after class. It goes a long way. When was the last time you took an intentional rest/recovery day? Mine are Thursday and Sunday. On these days, I may stretch or do some *light* aerobic work, but they’re intended to give my body the chance to heal. Good sleep is required for recovery – stretching, mobility, nutrient timing, and eating enough are all very important factors as well.
Mindset: Is your attitude a net negative or a net positive toward your training? Are you the type of person who wakes up and says “It’s so cold out, I don’t want to go outside.” We can’t control that – unless you move somewhere warm. If there are family obligations, or reasons you can’t move, then we need to accept the situation as it is. We all know the weather in Rochester. Why are we letting something that is outside of our control bother us? That is energy that would be better spent on any of the other factors above. The same can be said about other athlete’s scores on these workouts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard ‘so-and-so finished the workout in X, that is B.S. they cheated.’ Maybe they did (we all know that person). How do we know? Maybe they’ve got different goals and put in effort in a different way. Either way, it does not diminish the work you did, or the effort you’ve put in on Nutrition and Training.
Again, you cannot control how other people performed on a workout! Don’t let it impact your life or your sense of self-worth. Be proud of yourself and the work you’ve put in, and I promise you’ll feel better and perform better over the long term!