On Competition

We live in a hyper caffeinated, ultra competitive world- always measuring our successes and failures against those around us. This competition is uniquely capable of simultaneously bringing out the best and worst in people.

The competitive spirit can manifest itself as the compelling voice that urges you forward, desperate to finish the task at hand as swiftly as possible.

But it can also play the more sinister, depraving role, insisting that you couldn’t possibly finish; that cheating is necessary to keep pace.

We play a dangerous game in CrossFit of using competition as a tool to fuel the fire of intensity. When properly executed, there is absolutely no substitute for the drive that friendly competition provides during a workout. I’ve seen athletes flat out sprint the final 200 meters of a WOD to try to run a friend down. Watching one of your buddies drop the barbell to break up the last set of overhead squats can motivate you to power through your last set unbroken, in an effort to catch him, like nothing else.

But the devious side of competition can serve as a means to a far less rewarding end. That quiet, villainous voice can also compel you to cut corners- to shave reps, or cut movements short of the full range of motion. I’ve also seen athletes become a slave to the clock- to be so blinded by the time they’re gunning for that they literally run fellow athletes over, and become enraged that the slower athlete dared impede their attempt to beat the clock.

Over the last several years, the culture of CrossFit has become consumed by the fires of competition. Somewhere along the way we have replaced “FITNESS” as the center of our universe with “COMPETE.” Instead of programming to improve work capacity of our athletes, our training calendars started revolving around the artificial seasons known as The Open and The Games. Boxes have become obsessed and prideful of their regional athletes, not their coaching staff.

This is not a condemnation of competition- regional and yearly events are outstanding methods to keep motivation and moral up for athletes. This is a questioning of motivations… why are you competing? Do you have something to prove? Does entering a competition in some way legitimize you as an athlete? Are you shaving reps during your daily WOD to keep up with other athletes? Did you short that squat just so you can post the best time of the day? Is “WIN” more important to you than “IMPROVE”?

I’m not suggesting that we should stop competing… I’m suggesting that each of us should take a step back and re-examine why we got into CrossFit. For a vast majority, the ultimate reason for becoming a part of the community was to “improve work capacity across broad time and modal domains.” In other words, we’re here to get better– to target our weaknesses and improve our overall fitness.

There are some phenomenal athletes in our community that NEED to focus on competition- they’re both on that level physically and mentally, but also can make a living competing. The percentage of these athletes, however, is extremely small, and getting smaller as CrossFit grows. There needs to be a realistic inner dialogue about what it means to compete, to advance, and to “win.” The balance between intensity and technique needs to be emphasized- impeccable form needs to be valued equally with finishing place. We need to stop obsessing about competing and get back to our roots of obsessing about our fitness.

Let the clock push you, but don’t be a slave to it. Don’t sacrifice form for speed- it’s okay to slow down to make sure you lock out that press. Understand that the only thing that suffers from shaving reps in a WOD is your performance. “Do the common things uncommonly well”, and brag about the quality of your coaches, not your regional athletes. Take pride in competing in that local competition, but don’t let it divert your focus from the goal- improving your health and fitness.

CrossFit was developed to increase work capacity. Everything else is a footnote.