Competitive exercise – is it for you?
(By Tim Lawrence)
The idea of ‘competitive exercise’ or the ‘sport of fitness’ is a controversial subject, for some, even an anathema. For many, the purpose of CrossFit is to be fit for life, or for other pursuits. And, certainly, to reach the top in the CrossFit Games, or anywhere near to it for that matter, requires a specialisation and periodization that is outside of CrossFit’s ‘our specialisation is not specialising’ philosophy. Others who are interested in the sport of fitness, face a harsh reality: their physical performance is simply not good enough to allow them to feature near the top of the leaderboard in competition. Others, still, may be curious about the whole idea but unsure whether and how to make a start. So, the question is, if you fall into one of these groups, if you’re not a firebreathing clone of Rich Froning Jr or Iceland Annie, is competition for you?
My own first taste of competition was in last year’s CrossFit Open, just a few months after I’d started CrossFit. Frankly, I had no idea what it was all about, but a number of people were talking about it, so I thought ‘why not’? I followed my experience of the online Open by participating in a ‘real’ event – Raising the Bar event, a CrossFit competition for masters (aka over 40’s!!) in April. This was a real eye-opener, in terms of the high standards by the top competitors, and great fun at the same time.
Based on my own experience, I’d say that there are a number of benefits to be had for we ‘ordinary CrossFitters’ from entering a competition, whether it’s an online event such as the Open, or a ‘live’ event, even for those who are not really interested in being a competitive CrossFitter.
Movement standards. Excellent though the coaches at CFL are, it’s impossible for them to monitor every movement by every athlete during a WOD in a class of, maybe, 10 people. We’re probably all guilty, when under intensity and fatigued, of letting our standards slip and don’t always hit the full range of motion on every single rep. In competition, with a judge for each competitor, standards are strictly enforced, so every squat must be to full depth, every kettlebell swing must be perfectly vertical overhead and so on. This is a valuable lesson!
A focus for your training. One of the huge attractions of CrossFit for many of us is its constant variety. I find, though, that doing classes week after week, month after month becomes a little bit, well…humdrum. Entering Raising the Bar and facing the prospect of competition and, especially, ‘performing’ in public, definitely gave my training an added bite. I pushed myself harder, more often and ate better in the run up to the event.
You’ll learn about your strengths and weaknesses. Comparing your performance against your peers is likely to highlight your strengths and weaknesses and, in the process, you’ll learn some valuable lessons. For instance, I’d believed that my relative strength lay in lighter, faster-paced WODs…turned out that this was the area that I preformed relatively poorly (making me realise that I needed to work on this area) and I scored relatively well in the strength/Oly lifting test (which gave me confidence to push the weight in training).
Competition can produce superior performance…and you may surprise yourself. Greg Glassman, CrossFit’s founder, has observed that “We’ve learned that harnessing the natural camaraderie, competition, and fun of sport or game yields an intensity that cannot be matched by other means. The late Col. Jeff Cooper observed that “the fear of sporting failure is worse than the fear of death.” It is our observation that men will die for points.” Which may be stretching the point somewhat, but it’s amazing what can be achieved when out on the floor, in the final heat, with an enthusiastic crowd cheering you on! It helped me to a 10kg PB test to establish a 1RM clean.
It’s a lot of fun. Best of all, I think, it’s something a bit different, it’s fun. You’ll have others cheering you, you’ll cheer others, you’ll find yourself inspired by the astonishing performance of the top athletes and you’ll take satisfaction from your own victories, however you measure them.
If you want to dip your toe into the water, the Open is an ideal place to start. This involves a workout each week for five weeks, starting on 6 March, all preformed under judged conditions. Details of how this will work at CFL will be announced shortly. If you’re feeling more ambitious, look out for one of the increasing number of competitions which take place around the country.