Levels, motivation, targets…and dirty laundry in public!

02 Oct

One of the unique features of Crossfit London is our tendency to wash our laundry in public:  Our injury record is not hidden, it’s out there. Our WODs are published on line (if not, it’s due to trainers being overworked), our comments section are open to all but spammers.

This builds honesty, efficacy and levers in the expertise of our members.

The issue of client targets and motivation, so it struck me, is  an issue that should involve our whole community. When a recent CrossFit London trainer email exchange began to develop, I thought it belonged on line so you could get involved in the discussion.

The debate begins with Steven…


The more I think about it the more I am convinced that we need to implement some sort of achievement/level/progression monitoring into our main classes. The strength of the beginners programme is that is gives people a target to attain (complete seven sessions); my experience of this is that new clients have gone after this target like RottweilersAfter Beginners there is nothing, and I wonder if we lose the people who don’t come with the natural single-mindedness to stick with something.

There are two main models we can follow, each with its strengths and weaknesses:

1. A levels testing day i.e. set/standardised WODs with benchmark scores that lead to a pass/fail


  • Allows people to opt-in (or out) of the process
  • Creates another party/community opportunity with cheering and so forth i.e. makes people feel loved
  • Easy to administer


  • Won’t target everyone, unless we have a continual dialogue with each client about their next level
  • A couple of WODs won’t necessarily be representative of overall fitness level
  • Allows people to opt-out of the process

2. Ongoing assessment of a list of discrete capabilities that cumulatively lead to achievement of a certain level e.g. 2x bodyweight dead lift and 15 strict pull-ups and sub 60 secs 400m, etc.


  • Easily integrated into general programming e.g. assess deadlift at next 1RM deadlift session
  • Stealth approach to progression monitoring in that as long as people are recording (assumption, I know) we can determine their level
  • Can pick as many skills/techniques as we feel are necessary to determine levels
  • Makes determining entry into the competitive team much more straightforward i.e. you need to be level X.
  • It will also provide a certain level of check and balance on our programming to ensure that we are covering all skills.


  • Harder to administer; relies on coaches and clients monitoring skills and recording them
  • Loses the opportunity to publicly celebrate achievements i.e. no single event where people can be cheered on


I’m not sure about option 1…it’s good occasionally for events such as the 100 burpee challenge or the pull up contest at the BBQ, but having a “pass/fail” sounds quite extreme.

I much prefer the second option personally. I think the goals should be much more individual and this encourages that and can focus more on weaknesses and bringing them up.With regard to the negative of no public recognition, we could:

Encourage coaches to recognise clients more in their write ups, e.g. Phil-style award

Encourage coaches sending client emails after sessions to recognise hard work and achievements (This is obviously not public, but will still help build client’s confidence and happiness

Utilise a “Member of the month” feature…recognise one member each month and highlight their achievements via a post on the website along with possibly a mini-interview (can give other people a chance to get to know members better, the member of the month can offer tips on how they train/eat etc.

Something in the gym perhaps on the wall that highlights this month’s PRs (notes their name, movement/WOD and the weight/time) This would be a fairly randomised thing as I don’t really like the idea of “Leaderboards” that much as you will find the same people will be at the top of most of the leaderboards with the Glee kids not getting a see in.

With regard to being harder to administer, relying on coaches and clients monitoring skills and recording them, we could

Produce some small CFLUK notebooks that get given out say after a member has completed their first 20 sessions (7 Beginners + 13 sessions (one lot of 3x a week)) This will obviously incur some fees to create, but it can be almost seen as a reward/priviledge when the real reason is that we are wanting them to record their fitness and take accountability.

Build in a small window prior to setting up for the movement/WOD, perhaps at the beginning of the class where you can start maybe a 5 minute dialogue and get clients to state their goals for this sessions. This could then be noted on the board (e.g. Betty will be trying to hit a new 5RM deadlift today at 60kgs or Bob is going for a sub 5 minute Fran today)

Alternatively to the notebook, could use a GoogleDoc spreadsheet? Either a downloadable version for each seperate member or an online version used by everyone…this could get messy though and should everyone have views of other people’s goals? Some people may want theirs to remain private…

I read CF New England’s programming and site everyday, and the majority of their members post their times/results as comments to the posts. This leads to a lot of recognition from other members congratulating them and recognising their achievements. I feel this is something that we do quite badly at CFL (speaking from an athlete view) and perhaps the coaches need to start writing “Post results to comments” at the bottom to encourage it more and maybe we need to start a domino effect by encouraging the members who come more often and we know better to start doing it and then maybe more will follow.Just some random ideas


Strongly agree re: Simon’s comments on “post time to comments”. I used to do that but then nobody else seemed to bother, so I stopped. I like to know what everyone did in WODs. Dont know what should be done but maybe take a snapshot of the whiteboard that day? e.g.http://cflawhiteboardphotos.wordpress.com/

I guess my vote is for parsimony. Crossfit is about skill transfer so if you can do helen quickly it probably means you can run a quick 400 metre and deadlift a lot for your bodyweight too. I think a set of WOD’s can be picked that give a good range of the 10 aspects of fitness, and cover a good range of time domains.

The opposite of parsimony would be http://www.crossfitseattle.com/Skill%20Levels%201-IV%20spreadsheet.pdf but then you wont have time to externally judge that ( 20-30 skils/items x 30 athletes). I guess the seattle standards work as a self assessed model

Re: whether it’s beginner suitable, it doesnt have to be the 10 minute club, it can be the 15 minute club. Or you can pick a set of less challenging WODs. Entirely tweakable

27 thoughts on “Levels, motivation, targets…and dirty laundry in public!

  1. this is good 🙂 some of my thoughts from an athlete’s point of view

    – i like keeping records, but somehow still find it hard to gauge ‘where I am’ in terms of overall ‘elite fitness’
    – i like the idea of having a list of skills/techniques and the numbers to aim for (2x b/w deadlift, 400m run time etc)
    – i like the idea of having occasional challenge events to ‘test myself’ and ‘compete’
    – while i like the idea of being recognized for my achievements, i am not too keen on the ‘leaderboards’ (i am a glee kid, even though i don’t sing well)

  2. I want to give big big props to coaches sending encouraging emails when they have time/if its warranted – I know a friend of mine who struggled in her first session post beginner’s would have quit had steven not sent her an email later that day commending how well she did even when really challenged. But I think in reality this can only be done in exceptional circumstances.

    I like being recognised – and I think in celebrating any achievement its about what that means for the person being recognised. I don’t care if I ever deadlift 2x my bodyweight (1x is fine by me!) but I do care if I jump on the blue box. I think its important to remember that what an ‘achievement’ is in crossfit can be a bit of a crazy high standard sometimes (ie: 100 press ups, no big deal!)

    I think setting individual goals at the beginning of a session is good -and will help the coach gauge where the athlete is on that particular day. For example, I might not care if I squat clean 30kg during the WOD or 25kg, but I might like to not put my knees down during any of my press ups. The coach can hold me to this, or can challenge me to be more ambitious, but it does mean that athlete doesn’t end up feeling inappropriately pressured during a WOD as the goal for each person has been agreed…. but again, this shouldn’t take long I guess!

    Finally, I think some ‘leaderboards’ are ok – and helpful for those who like friendly competition. At the PT studio I used to attend they had client leaderboards for men/women for: 400m/1000m rows, benchpress, back squat – but they also had a ‘wall of awesome’ – filled with before and after photos, or pictures of their athletes being fierce.

    hope my thoughts are helpful!

  3. As a newcomer to Crossfit and having recently gone through the beginners and foundations and started main classes, I would slightly take issue with Steven’s view that after the beginners’ programme, there is a lack of motivation. I think that there is a big motivation, having progressed from beginners to foundations, in “am ready for the main class”. Talking to others who have been in beginners/foundations with me, I think that “am I ready” is a widely held motivator. Once in the main class, I have found motivation from “can I complete the WOD” and “can I do the WOD Rx’d”. I have found that the coaches have recognised and envouraged my efforts. I can see, though, that when able regularly to complete WODS Rx’d, some new motivation might be necessary.

    Being something of a compulsive box-ticking type, I rather like the idea of somthing akin to the Crossfit Seattle spreadsheet referred to by Efe. I wonder, though, whether this could lead to a ‘training-for-the-training’ mentality, where we all started adjusting our training to try and meet the ‘tests’?

    In terms of goal setting, would it be possible for there to be some sort of ‘surgery session’, maybe quarterly, where we could attend, discuss goals with a coach and get feedback on whether those are sensible goals, whether there are more appropriate goals and some pointers on how to approach attainment of the goals etc? These goals could then be appraised at a subsequent surgery.

  4. I like Simons idea of notebooks and posting our results on the online class reviews, that way we can opt in or out as we wish.
    Personally I record every WOD already in a notepad and keep a running table of 1RM lifts and ‘named’ WODs, that way when I see a workout on the board I can look up my notes, see when I did something similar in the past and where I would like to improve it that day – either same weight but quicker or with a heavier weight.
    Also every couple of months I sit down and look through where I am at and exchange a few emails with Steven about what we want to work on for the next few months – this works for me because I only really do the morning classes, hence it is always with the same trainer and we both already know what I am currently working on improving.
    I’m not sure if the idea of a leaderboard is so good, unless it is to note improvements and progress, for example if we have an initial time and then a retest time a month later. We have such a range of people here and there is a great community spirit that listing us out in order of athletic results might not be the best/nicest idea …

  5. One of the things I really liked was that Phil (remember him) would always post his times/rounds of the wods before we did a workout, that worked as a target so I really like Si’s idea on this one. IF we are gonna post times though I think we need to be more strict on no reps for people who are posting (a la burpee form).

    How to balance the achievements of a newbie and an experienced crossfitter in posts will be interesting, in fairness this was something Phil did with his arbitary awards but that was as much writing style as anything as well as his quirky humour.

  6. As some of you might not have a subscription to crossfit journal I’ll explain what they did over at Crossfit Chicago.

    The coaches set up an 8 week challenge for each individual athlete. Goals were divided up among several categories such as body composition (fat loss/muscle gain), strength, reduce WOD times/increase WOD reps/increase WOD weights, and other athlete specific goals such as do 10 unassisted dead hang pull ups, do pushups without dropping to your knees, use the rxd weight for all WODs etc etc.

    After an assessment with the coaches, each athlete would need to come in at least 3x a week to be eligible to compete to create a level playing field. At the end of the 8 weeks, the coaches would decide who has shown the most gains relative to their goals and be proclaimed the winner. They gave a free month memebership to the winner in Chicago but obviously that would be to the descretion of the London coaches!! Other Phil style arbitrary awards could also be cool.

    I think this would provide a great atmosphere in the gym. Newbies would be “competing” with the elite guys and vice versa. The common goal would be self improvement and it wouldn’t matter where you’re starting out from.

  7. I like Nick’s idea of an 8 week improvement plan with goals etc set out to achieve

  8. I like the Seattle thing EFE posted. Sunday morning classes could be used by people to work on these checklists – and there could be testing days too. There are such a wide range of exercises and tests so everyone should feel included. All will have weaknesses and strengths, and it caters for every level.

    I have often found it strange that Crossfit London UK have such a disinclination to advertising performances. One of the primary benefits of Crossfit is that it is scientific. At Crossfit London it seems that we shy away from being scientific in order to be inclusive and to reduce unattractive competition. On the other hand, we are all adults and we should be able to manage these tendencies whilst benefitting from making performance more visible. It seems to me that an overly cautious approach is taken to the detriment of the gym.

  9. Agreed with Phil. I would love to have my stats up on a whiteboard. Not only would I find it interesting to see where I am relative to everyone else but every time I beat one of those scores I’d find a lot of satisfaction going up to it and erasing the old one and putting my new time/reps/weight etc.

    I think this would be inclusive for everyone. It will keep the Simons and Pats of this world on their toes but also give a marker to new members on how much they may or may not need to improve in certain areas. It will definitely provide a more goal oriented environment and foster healthy competition.

    All of this fits in perfectly with the new class on Sundays to work on strength, skills and our individual weaknesses.

  10. Its often easy to lose sight of our goals if we’re not actively recording our performances. And if we’re not doing it (& no one else is for that matter) then its easy just to plod along, potentially falling into a rut and not really being overly satisfied (worse case scenario). We all do crossfit for different reasons however the only real way to scientifically gauge how we’re doing vs our own goals (apart from “I’m just feeling really good these days”), unless you’ve got a really, really good memory, is to constantly record your progress.

    I like the idea of a Personal Record Board displayed alongside personal goals. For me, it will keep my goals at the forefront of my mind each session & hopefully others can use it to motivate you along the way.

    I also like the idea of having the Benchmark Workouts Board with each person’s results & whether or not it was rx’d or scaled (& how). This doesn’t have to be mandatory so if you’re rather fly below the radar then so be it.

  11. Nice discussion going!

    maybe this is more of an additional thing to the other goal setting tools/ mechanisms that have been mentioned by Brie Nick etc…

    The Sub-10 club I was referring to can bee seen here:
    http://www.crossfitsydney.com.au/sub10club.html. OR

    The idea is that there is a regualr time slot in which those who want a challenge can go and perform one of a list of pre-determined WODs with judging and/or video recording( kind of how we do fight gone bad, just a bit stricter… )

    . The goal is to complete all (or one,depending on how you set it up) under 10 minutes , then you get a tshirt or a sticker or a badge or something 🙂

    The benefit is that there are regular opportunuties for “challenges” as Allan says, without it being an every class thing. You can pick your weekend/day when you want to see if you can perform Jackie under 10 minutes…

    ALso if there are volunteers/coaches there it gives them a chance to learn how to judge and score WODs, which will add to the expereicen/knowledge base at the box and generally be a cool thing!

    So that was what I was advocating, please do let us know what you think!

  12. Good afternoon 🙂

    You can have a bit of everything here and everyone would feel included

    1. Phil style awards in write ups that recognise good performance/efforts/bandanas/funny comments
    2. Individual emails occasionally
    3. Individual goal plans that need not be made public
    4. Whiteboard/online record of times and scores but not heavily advertised or really with any focus put on it. Mindful of the fact this could be a bit intimidating for newer members and I’m not really sure it adds alot. We all talk before/after/during class so know how we all are doing anyway! I like Si’s posting times to comments idea best actually

  13. Pat, obviously this is all voluntary and private if wanted. If someone wants to come in a couple times a week just for the fun/fitness/pain or whatever then that’s their prerogative. I agree this should never change.

    We’re all results driven. As a gym, I’m sure the owners would love to see how much fat we’re losing, strength we’re gaining and so forth. If we’re not achieving these goals, why not and what can be done to achieve them? As Phil mentioned, it makes it scientific and measurable. This is what makes Crossfit different from Globogyms. I actually feel like the coaches and fellow crossfitters care that I improve and I’m equally happy when I see someone pb or get their first pull-up or whatever. We’re all in this together.

  14. Personally, I’d like to have a Crossfit benchmark workout board in the gym. I think this would be a good addition.

    Once you’ve been at the gym for a couple of months you can get your name up there and post you scores on Fran etc in order to track your progress long term.

    This is as much about my inability to keep a track of my own scores. I genuinely have no clue what I’m currently scoring on these WODs and also to know (when I felt really good during a workout) how far away I am from some of the big doggs of the gym (you know who you are)…

    I don’t see this as being used to change the dynamic of the gym. The culture already exists of a friendly, inclusive place, which is a testament to what Andrew and Steven have built- it would take far more than a score board to change this.

  15. I think we should all be forced to measure our guns at the start of training, then the guy with the biggest guns is allowed to train bare chested and shout during the wod, we all have to look suitably impressed…….. and the women have to say he looks good too and if he were tarzan they d be jane.

    Otherwise I thinks Pat’s and Cians’s ideas are good.

  16. suggest a monthly benchmark WOD day where we do 2 shorter benchmark WODS and/or ’10 minute club’ as Efe suggested, or a longer WOD such as Murph, Filthy Fifty, Badger etc
    this would be followed, naturally, by a meat fest on the barbeque.

    goals booklet: yes
    online version as well: yes
    benchmark whiteboard: yes

    form: PBs don’t mean much if your form isn’t strict. We don’t want to become a bunch of short repping, short counting, kipping squat numptys.
    Using Fran as an example, the end goal isn’t a better Fran time, it is to become stronger & more capable. If your Fran time improves (which it probably will), great!
    eg: this Fran vid, where the standard appears to be non lockout thrusters and “scalp to bar” pull ups.
    Fran done properly in 25 minutes is worth far more than a sub 5 minute cheatathon IMO.

  17. I love the idea of some more formalised bench-marking…..I used to train at Puresports Medicine and my coach would retest me every 8 weeks (broad jumps, max height jumps, Cooper test – run as far in 12 mins as you can, bodyfat, heart rate). The retesting not only gave me some goals but help prove/disproved the training methods used, and could be fed back into my next training plan. Its important to me as to whether or not I am getting faster and stronger for the other sports that I play….it may not be as essential to others – so whatever we do the ability to opt out, dip in should be available. I try to keep my records in a handy iPhone app that I downloaded, but I would welcome a shift towards more measurement at any practical level.

  18. LOL – brilliant

    I think people should keep their own records though ……. A bit unfair to get Andrew et al to keep all records at the gym.

  19. Its an interesting debate – in my work life I spend a great deal time pondering how to get people to start and the be retained in sport.

    I think as Stephen outlines, you may have part of the answer in the way that the beginners program works. I personally found it very difficult to complete the 7 session program because of the number of people wanting to do it and the restricted supply of the various sessions. Whilst frustrating it also raised my commitment and keenness to complete – so when a session came up that was available I made sure that I made the session. By structuring the workouts on a specific meso cycle that needs to be followed to reach a particular level of competence it would create a similar adherence to the classes. I also think having sessions that you can only complete once a specific group of session has been completed may act as an incentive.

    Create scarcity, set the entry bar high and people will want it more and work harder to obtain it. Humans are weird!


  20. Colm- my view is you should hit the guns pre class instead of the mobility work you do on the foam roller. Do you think Arnold ever used a form roller? Weekly gun show

  21. Colm- I definitely don’t have the biggest guns in the gym. In your world would I have to stop taking my shirt off and shouting during a WOD?

    That could be an issue for me. The bare-chested shouting is what gets me through.

  22. I am still new(ish) to Crossfit, but in the three months I have been coming down (average 4 times a week), it occurred to me that I have not seen a single benchmark WOD such as Fran. Not complaining – its all been varied interesting stuff – but perhaps on a monthly basis as Alex suggests, one or two could be thrown in to the programming?

    ….and then a gun show. So long as the guys don’t wear budgie smugglers.

  23. Alex M: The main reason you haven’t seen many benchmark WODs such as Fran is partly because of the fairly high volume of pull ups in some of them, and due to our current ban on kipping, this somewhat eliminates them coming up (especially benchmarks like Angie which has 100 pull ups)

    They could obviously still be done, but the times will be much slower and the main reason these benchmarks are used is for comparison, whether it be between your previous times, others in the gym or even externally.

    Regarding benchmarks, this month there have been a few Helen’s, a few Jackie’s, Fight Gone Bads and Charlotte amongst others.

    Andrew’s programming has also been quite clever, in that he’s introduced a number of workouts which are variations on different rep schemes of Fran and Fight Gone Bad, mixing up the components to produce a better result next time you hit that benchmark.

    Perhaps when the kipping ban is over you will see more benchmark WODs or we will try and fit some time in for some specific benchmark sessions (e.g. during Sunday Strength catch ups)

    As a side note: Loving all these comments and suggestions, it really helps the gym and community as a whole. If only we had this number of comments and discussion on the daily WOD posts!

  24. Baseline Workout: Hey all what do we think about having regular retests of the crossfit baseline workout?

    Baseline: 500m row, 40 squats, 30 situps, 20 pressups, 10 pull ups (20 jumping pull ups for beginners/ intermediate, not band…)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UNwjykyloI (wfs)

    On the surface it seems like the sort of WOD that can be performed by people fresh out of beginner classes as well as the more seasoned athletes, and subsequent retestings will give a clear idea of progress.


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