Measuring Success in a CrossFit WOD

How many times have you walked out of the gym feeling elated?  You crushed the workout, it’s obvious how much you have improved in the last few months, and life is awesome.  And how many times have you walked out of the gym feeling like shit?  Your workout sucked, you suck, and you feel terrible.

Many people walk into a workout thinking they will either do well or poorly at it.  If the workout is in your wheelhouse, you will do well.  If it’s not, you won’t.  (Or, as I like to call it, it will be a “great opportunity for improvement”!)  Regardless, we usually have an idea of whether a workout will be “good” or “bad” for us before it even starts.  But have you ever stopped to think about how you define success?

Two common ways to measure success are speed and strength.  “What’s your Fran time?”  “What’s your back squat?”  These are both clearly-definable metrics.  “Did you do the workout RX?” may measure strength.  But CrossFit defines ten domains of fitness, not just two.  Virtuosity is also a factor.  So is the comparison of you against yourself.

Conveniently enough, most of the potential metrics for success in a CrossFit WOD seem to fit into four categories enumerated by a popular Daft Punk song.  Many of you have heard it at some point while working out:

“Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”

Work it harder

Make it better

Do it faster

Makes us stronger

So put it on repeat and follow along….

Work it Harder

Let’s talk about effort.  

The first barrier is simply getting in the gym.  If part of you wanted to be lazy and stay on the couch, or if you were really stressed and thought of staying at work, but you rallied and came to the gym anyway — you have already won.  Any day in the gym is better than a day when you don’t make it in.  One of the awesome things about CrossFit is you don’t have to be super motivated when you walk through the door.  All you have to do is show up.  Your coaches will tell you what to do, you do it, and you will get more fit!  it’s almost like magic.

Is exercise new to you?  Is CrossFit the one hour in your crazy day when you get to focus on yourself?  Congratulations!  You are already doing better than you used to.  Of course, this is just the baseline and there is a lot of room for improvement after that.  But don’t ignore the basics.  Sometimes the biggest win is simply making it into the gym.    

Now, if you’re already motivated and want to take things to the next level, we can get into a little more detail.  How did you approach your workout?  Did you go into it wanting to try hard and knowing where to push?  What were you focused on?  Note that “working harder” does not mean you have to be completely crushed after the workout.  It means you have to focus on and work hard at whatever it is YOU need to work on.  Maybe that will result in you being completely crushed, but the primary goal is for you to implement the purpose of the workout.

Make it Better

Okay, so you showed up.  Now, what did your technique look like?  Were all your squats to depth?  Did you finish all your shoulder to overheads?  Did your chin clear the bar on all your pull ups?  Notes can be really important here.   Most of us have days where we don’t move as well as we know we should.  That doesn’t mean the entire day was a waste — just record it in your notes.  Things like “FS x 3 @ 105 but my 3rd rep was questionable”…or “I missed a few T2B in my last set.”  I always say we strive for perfection.  At the same time, sometimes the best you can do is less than perfect.  Not every rep is going to be a perfect rep, and that’s ok as long as you recognize where you fall short.  You are going to get better by acknowledging where you can improve.  Take notes and do better next time!

Another way of thinking about “better” is to ask whether your workout made you better as an athlete.  “Better as an athlete” could have to do with technique, pacing, or effort, and can be a nebulous concept.  But usually if you take a step back and look objectively at your workout, you will be able to figure it out.  If you completed a workout RX for the first time but your technique sucked and your shoulder hurts like crazy for two weeks afterward…then chances are that workout did not make you a better athlete in the long run.

Do it Faster

This one is self-explanatory.  Were you faster than you used to be, using the same weights, movements, and movement quality?

Makes Us Stronger

Another easy one.  Are you able to lift more weight than you could before?  Have your push ups and pull ups improved?  

Reality Check

The reality of working out is that not every day will be a good day.  Sometimes, you will have a great training day and everything will go perfectly.  Some days will be pretty good.  Others will be terrible.  But even bad days can be used for good.  Examine them in light of the harder/better/faster/stronger paradigm and see if you can find some redeeming aspect of the workout, even if that is as simple as making it into the gym when you did not feel like going.  There might well be days when there is absolutely nothing redeeming about your workout.  Your mental attitude was terrible, you half-assed everything because you were in a bad mood, and you should have stayed home anyway because you are over-trained and feel an injury coming on.  Pick yourself up, wipe the chalk dust off your ass, and use it as a learning experience for what not to do next time.


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