Training CrossFit vs CrossFit as a Sport

Taken from Team Speal

The more seminars I teach, emails I receive, and people I cross paths with the more I think there is a need for a “heart to heart” with the community. One of my main focuses at a Level 1 aside from presenting the best info possible in ways that everyone can clearly understand and relate to; is to emphasis how important it is for us as a community (especially those that run boxes or train at them) to identify the distinction between training CrossFit and CrossFit as a sport. The time has come that there is a clear difference.

One of the things I love about CrossFit that is communicated in our programming lecture and some of the other reading material that we see is that “Our needs don’t vary by kind, only by degree.” I whole heartedly agree with this statement. Essentially we are saying that everyone from the most deconditioned participant to the most elite athlete have the same needs. All of us will be required to squat, press, deadlift, push, pull, run, jump, etc. in different forms or fashions. The KEY that we need to recognize is that this vary’s tremendously by DEGREE. Particularly between those training CrossFit for what it’s truly designed for, and those that have chosen to seriously pursue CrossFit as their sport at an ELITE level. The difference between these two pursuits is going to be dictated by your goals. When you set goals you should be realistic but confident and depending on what they are it will require more or less sacrifice from yourself and even those around you. I think we can all fall into 3 basic categories.

Training CrossFit:

-This is who the vast majority of my clientele are and I absolutely love it. These are people that use CrossFit for what it is truly designed for and in many ways it’s a means to an end. They don’t just want to be good in the gym but outside those walls as well. They want to be better cyclists, skiers, hikers, parents, grandparents, athletes… you name it. They use CrossFit to increase their base level of GPP (general physical preparedness) and this correlates to better performance in their specific sport or life.

It doesn’t mean they are any less of an “athlete” than any one of us out there, but they have different goals. In my opinion people can train CrossFit like this for a lifetime. We can come in the gym once a day, follow a 3 on 1 off cycle, or a 3 on 1 off 2 on 1 off cycle of training and see results for years to come. With good varied programming we will get strong, increase our endurance, see improved times, etc. Our work capacity across broad times and modal domains will increase which is the goal regardless. Over time we may need to target some of our weaknesses to help “level out” our work capacity but realistically it could take years and years to get there if at all. For some of us that day may never come depending on what our previous athletic/training background may be.

The sacrifice here is minimal. In most cases these people may just be switching training programs and their time commitments and priorities won’t change. Likely we would see these athletes making sacrifices for other goals they may have if any (qualifying for the Boston Marathon, winning a local mtn bike series, working to become a pro surfer). Either way CrossFit is there to develop their base and if any sacrifices are made they would be due to other avenues.

2. CrossFit as a Recreational Sport:

-This is the person that has been introduced to CrossFit and enjoys the competition aspect of it. Maybe they enter a local competition and find themselves more attracted to this side of CrossFit. Team competitions, local throw downs possibly offering “scaled” divisions as well as “rx’d”, and CrossFit is starting to become more of a sport to them. These athletes may pay closer attention to targeting some of their weaknesses in order to “fast track” their fitness. This is a legitimate goal and one that I think a lot of people fall into.

Having specific and realistic goals here are going to be important to helping us define where we are along the line of the competition realm. A good association here is the difference between any recreational and professional sport. You may like to play tennis, golf, compete in a local soccer or softball club, go to swim meets, etc. but it’s a different demand and commitment than those that play those sports professionally.

Sacrifices may start to be required of those that are treating CrossFit more as a sport. Generally it’s going to be more time spent in the gym with either consistency or additional work. It may include some more specific programming outside of the regular class. We may need to pay closer attention to our diets and learn how to treat competitions and train for them as well as how to manage them. Overall it should still be FUN for us though. We can take it seriously but we also haven’t invested “all” of ourselves into an event so we SHOULD be having fun with the journey as well as the competitions along the way.

3. CrossFit as a Sport (Elite Level):

-Some may think it’s a stretch to call it professional but I disagree. Those that are at the top of the field these days generally make it a living to train. The sacrifices here are heavy and things are not always fun. It’s work, hard work and these athletes are willing to put it in regardless of the outcome and they risk the time invested. I know a number of Games athletes and almost ALL of them either train at a gym, own a gym, or simply compete and do nothing else. Their lifestyle allows them to focus primarily on training and this is what it takes to be at an ELITE level. Most of them have lengthy previous experience in athletics or some kind of strength and conditioning program. Having a base level of fitness and having good exposure to strength training is a plus and although not mandatory it is rare to see people competing at a high level without this. It just takes a whole lot of hard work, and that takes time.

This athlete is someone that can basically do every workout on as rx’d, no scaling necessary and posts competitive times/scores with top Regional (top 5 or so) athletes and Games competitors past and present. They may go to some of the more well known competitions and place well. Qualify for Regionals without specific training for the Open and are legitimate contenders for the Games (Top 5-7 in a Region). Truthfully it’s a small percentage of the population of our community. One that makes sacrifices just as any other athlete trying to reach the peak of their sport would. We may find them working through aches and pains, potential injuries, and having to pay close attention on their training programs as well as maintenance outside of the gym as well. Specific programming is often required in the area of the athletes weaknesses and they have to be ever evolving as the demands of these competitors continually increase. Volume will typically increase depending on the age of the athlete and most of them will either have a coach or a group of likeminded individuals at a similar level to train with.

The sacrifices that are made in the present for these athletes may or may not effect their overall well being in the future. Some of those aches and pains may turn into something more and the risk is worth the potential reward for these athletes. The goals they set in the near future can come at a high price.

So where do you fall? First thing is first. Have a real conversation with yourself on what your specific goals are and what you can achieve in a reasonable timeframe. A couple things to keep in mind when you are setting goals:

-Have short, medium, and long term goals. For me this typically falls into 3 month, 6 month, and 1 year blocks.
-Try to choose 3 goals for each time period.
-List 3 reasons WHY you have this goal.
-List 3 WAYS you will help reach this goal.
-Make your goals REALISTIC. This doesn’t mean we don’t push ourselves or challenge our traditional thought of what we think we can do. It does mean that we present ourselves with actions that we can take that will lead us to success. If we don’t reach the exact goal we should be remarkably close. Setting ourselves with goals that are too far out of reach is setting ourselves up for failure. It some cases you may not need to change the end state goal, just the timeline that you place it in.

Once you know what your goals are you can have a simple way to approach your training. Maybe you CrossFit to improve in another sport. I love it. Show up to the box consistently and make sure you have good varied programming throughout the weeks, months, years, etc. Chances are you won’t need to target anything specifically but rather find different cycles of how often you are in the gym during the week depending on your priorities and activity level outside the gym.
If you CrossFit and find yourself enjoying local competitions, want to improve a place in the Open, etc. you may find yourself doing a bit of targeting. Just working to improve your overall fitness, dialing in your diet more, all the things we mentioned above. Remember, be realistic and HAVE FUN!!! This isn’t your job and shouldn’t be treated that way.
You may see the potential that you have to be one of the elite. This may take years to achieve but you are committed. Either way you will have to ramp things up slowly.
Consistency, additional training methods, volume, etc. are all things that we can’t increase overnight. This is a long, slow trajectory to a distant horizon. It takes sacrifices that may or may not pay off in the long run. It’s a very, very small percentage of the CrossFit community and that is only getting smaller.

The goal of this is not to discourage anyone for shooting for their goals. If someone told me I “couldn’t do it” I would shrug them off and keep going. I also set realistic goals for myself and have chosen for the time being to compete in CrossFit. Even this is now a day to day decision for me. At my age and some of the things I have going with recovery and some of the nagging pains I have to take it a day at a time. If I’m feeling good come Regionals I will show up. If I’m broken and can’t compete at the level I want to then I won’t. I’m training, day by day as if I’m going to the Games, it is my sport. This is a very different place than training CrossFit. A part of me envies those that do it. It looks fun, balanced, MUCH less stressful and is something that could be done for a lifetime. I love our community for the support and heart that is poured out on a daily basis from people in boxes every day. Set your goals, make them realistic, and have some FUN throwing down.

I think my friend Pat Sherwood says it perfectly. “The goal is just to get fit, make it the best hour of your day, stay safe, turn up the music, high five some people, and blow off some steam. So remember that. RELAX. HAVE FUN. WORKOUT.

If you’ve chosen to seriously choose CrossFit as a sport at an elite level, buckle up. It’s quite the ride.

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