It’s a 20 minute long workout. You’ve already completed 8 rounds of Cindy and you’re close to finishing the 9th. You’re up to the air squats. There’s only 10 seconds and you need another 15 reps. Faster and faster you go to get the reps done in time, because that’s what you’re supposed to do right? I mean maybe you didn’t go as deep as you “normally” would and maybe it’s a bit hard to tell if you stood all the way up before going into the next rep, but you only had 10 seconds and you worked really hard so it’s okay right?
It’s a new 1RM clean you’re attempting. It’s a good 5kg heavier than you’ve ever hit. But you’ve been working on technique and even had a few PTs to improve your movement. You feel confident and the bar glides off the ground just like you planned. You feel the connection against your thighs explode the bar vertically and after reaching extension you dive under, surprisingly feeling strong as the weight crashes onto your shoulders. You drive out of the hole and the recent squat cycle has strengthened them into responding aggressively. As you pass parallel, the bar slips on the sweat of your chest, your left elbow droops and right before your hips open up and knees lock out, the barbell slides down your chest and you are spat out backwards, landing on your backside and cursing.
So what is so different between these scenarios? I point this out because I know there are people who would see the shortened range of motion of the air squats as an acceptable sacrifice to get a new PR for the benchmark. Ironically not a single one would dare to claim the failed clean as a new PR. So what makes it such a clear difference and why do some people accept scenario one as up to standard but nobody accepts scenario two?
As we move into the first weeks of the 2019 CrossFit Open, these standards become even more important. Knowing there are over 200,000 other athletes worldwide performing the same workouts to the same standard means something. I believe it means we are accountable, as athletes, and as judges and as coaches, to ensure we all meet the same standard – that which is set by CrossFit HQ. I believe this for one big reason. Integrity.
It seems an odd word to use in the gym scenario, I know, however I think it intimates at something deeper than just the result of a workout. One obvious part of this is the fairness in relation to preserving the integrity of the CrossFit Open. If half the world-wide participants cheat the standards, then it all disintegrates. It becomes meaningless. I know as a CrossFit Box owner, I’ve had more conversations than I can count about the reps of certain “Regionals Level” athletes being questionable simply based on the gym they train at, the coaches there and the lax standard of movement quality. I’m not proud of the gossiping, but CrossFit coaches together tend to chatter more than a hairdressing salon, and it has always been a source of pride for me when at competitions (local or big-time) people would comment about the admirable technique of the athletes I coached and trained next to, and how based on the expected standards we held, the competitor’s “earned right” to be on the competition floor was never questioned.
There is a sub-current of fear among the CrossFit community, I believe, that if enough of the standards are allowed to slip, CrossFit really will become all the horrible things that the less-informed members of the fitness community believe we are. I know after every significant drama in the CrossFit world, I see many gym owners across social media forums enquire, discuss and then action de-affiliation from CrossFit for fear of the brand association becoming more detrimental than beneficial.
In this light, it’s undoubtedly in the best interests of each and every affiliate owner, coach and athlete to uphold the standards of their movement and to be accountable to themselves and everyone around them, lest the very fabric of our community begin to erode.
Secondly, and more personally, I think the issue of integrity in workouts is essential to your very soul! That’s right, I went there. Real deep like. Workouts in general are an amazing insight into the character of a person. We take ourselves into a state of deep physical and mental discomfort and force ourselves to stay there and continue to get work done. Having 5 week process which we hold as the annual test of this standard is essentially a test of character.
How well have you spent your year preparing for this battle? Physically? Mentally? How high in your priorities has you training, nutrition and recovery been? Below family and work? Above Playstation? Below nightclubbing, but only because it was my cousin’s sister’s auntie’s favourite dog’s birthday?
Tough workouts, and particularly the tough test of the Open, is a time when we sacrifice all the little excuses that would normally be a cop-out. “I’m about to tear my hand, so I’ll scale down to ring rows” must become “Layer on the tape thick so when my blood blisters pop the blood won’t affect my grip”. “I’m a bit sore from yesterday’s squats so I’ll just cruise today’s WOD” must become “Even though I did this workout yesterday, I know I can do better so I’m going to repeat tomorrow.” Now I’m not advocating that you have to destroy your hands or that if you don’t have bloody callous’ that you aren’t trying hard enough. I simply mean that throughout the year we often let that little voice in our heads hold us back. The one that says things like “If you do another rep, you’ll be sore tomorrow so just take it easy” and “There’s only 10 seconds left, these reps don’t matter so just drop the kettlebell now anyways”. The Open is special in that it’s a time when we actively encourage an athlete dominating that little voice and taking control in order to find out what they are physically and mentally capable.
In training we must listen to our bodies. In competition, our bodies must listen to us.
The Open is terrifying in that it leaves no place to hide. Your lack of work ethic will be exposed. Your lack of training consistency will be evident to all. And most clearly, the repeated calls of “no rep” will show you where you aren’t meeting the objective standard. But The Open is also the opportunity for us to see exactly what we are made of. It’s the time of the year to use a workout to see just how close to exhaustion you can force yourself to go. Who is in control? Your body who screams to stop, or your will and mind that tells it to keep going?
But I digress. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “integrity” as “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : incorruptibility”. If you can’t maintain firm adherence to the standards of a simple movement when you get a bit uncomfortable, how do you expect to manage the discomforts and tragedy of life? This is where I feel it becomes so radically important. We must learn to hold impeccable standards in the gym, because it reflects so deeply how our psyche manages when we are under duress. When we are in pain. When we want more than anything for what is currently happening to just stop. Where else in your life can you learn to maintain your moral code, your honour your integrity when put under pressure, when in complete agony? Furthermore imagine how strong your character could be if you went there more often?
I believe our CrossFit Boxes are an under-utilised resource for developing the character. And I believe it lies in the standards we accept of those around us, but more importantly, of ourselves.
Standards in the gym mean nothing. Unless maybe, just maybe, they mean everything.