Let’s be honest: working out is not a sport. Working out is a way to help you get better at sports.
Your mom doesn’t care that you can clean 300 pounds if your knees crack every time you walk. Your high school volleyball coach doesn’t care that you followed Wendler 5, 3, 1 if you can’t keep your serve in bounds. People only cared about Trent Richardson squatting 700 pounds because he was one of the best running backs in Alabama history. If he was a special teams player on a Division III team, nobody would care.
Being in the CrossFit bubble as we are, it is easy to forget the purpose of working out. I’ve been there. My best six months of crossfit.com was in 2009 at age 19 (6:48 “Helen,” 420# deadlift, 16:51 “Kelly,” 250# split jerk), also known as my worst six months of basketball. I prioritized practicing handstands over practicing dribbling; I allowed my form to slip in order to PR; and somehow I completely forgot that my scholarship depended on me breaking a press and hitting mid-range jumpers – not doing Murph until my hands got cheese-grated and I couldn’t shoot a basketball for four days.
Just because something is competitive doesn’t mean it’s a sport. Mario Power Tennis for the Nintendo Wii, for example, has been known to be fiercely competitive around these parts, yielding some of the most creative cheating methods seen in the free world. But even though it does contain some sporting elements, nobody confuses it as a sport. To treat something as a sport means that the overall outcome is the point of emphasis and is primarily measured by a win or a loss. But the element of competition provides many “non-sporting activities” with a thick shade of grey. This includes CrossFit.
If you are getting paid or sponsored (or have a reasonable opportunity to get paid or sponsored), then you have legitimate grounds to consider CrossFit a sport. But otherwise, it’s just working out. However, adding competition to the workouts is great and a big part of what makes CrossFit so effective. It adds a sense of focus rarely seen in workout programs and replicates a sporting environment for athletes whose careers are over. In addition, competition provides an incentive for otherwise unmotivated people to work out. Competition is healthy, and if you lose the ability to compete then you may become a pussy.
If you are in a race, throwdown, battle, sponsored event, lift off, or any other synonym for a CrossFit competition, then compete away! When the Filthy 50 comes up, by all means go for it! Compete with the person next to you – or even better, compete with yourself. But for the majority of your training, your attention should be shifted away from your time, rounds, or weight. Instead of competing to win the workout, compete to have the best form, technique, and mechanics with every movement you do.
When Helen comes up, I think it is safe to assume most everyone wants to PR on the workout. But why? Do you want to PR on Helen for the sake of PR’ing on Helen? Because who cares? Your classmates don’t care. Your coaches don’t care. Your co-workers don’t care. The only people that don’t think “doing Helen in record time” doesn’t refer to some taboo sex act are people in the world of CrossFit. This is cool in a way because it’s good to know there are other people in the world that share this weird obsession with working hard. But sometimes it helps to look at something from an outside perspective. The people on your track team don’t care what your “Helen” time is unless you are fast. So why not make sure “Helen” is performed in a way that can translate to your running?
Nobody is going to do 21 kettlebell swings and 12 pull-ups immediately before they run 400 meters at a track meet. So why do we practice this? Same reason why basketball players will take 500-1000 jumpers in a practice session. It’s because everything we do in practice is an exaggeration of reality. Unless you are Russell Westbrook trying to spite Kevin Durant, no player is going to take 500 shots in a basketball game. But shooting jumper-after-jumper in practice encourages a perfect movement pattern so that when the game comes, we are more likely to replicate that (or something close to it).
And this all comes down to the purpose of the movements and the attention paid to detail. If done correctly, “Helen” can be a great test to see if 21 kettlebell swings and 21 pull-ups will make our running form break down. Or if running and pull-ups will make our jumping mechanics break down (which is the same movement pattern as a kettlebell swing). Or if running and kettlebell swings will make our throwing mechanics break down (which is the same as a kipping pull-up).
If we can see that connection, then suddenly our training has a new purpose. Now back to the basketball analogy. What would happen if of those 500 jump shots you practiced, 100 were with your opposite hand, 100 were with your eyes closed, and the rest were done while you were talking to your girlfriend? How well would that translate to your game? When we are in a practice environment, it is essential for every rep to be done correctly and in a way that can translate to your sport. If the quality of movement is not there, then it is time to change the way you practice.
CrossFit main site. The Outlaw Way. CrossFit Football. OPT’s program. They all work! People can argue for days about which program works and which ones don’t. Issues like volume, variance, and scaling often come up. But if you chase quality movement, then the workouts scale themselves. I have yet to come across a CrossFit program that flat-out does not help you get better. Why? Because everyone is using the same movement. Some think you should squat every day. Some think you should squat on Monday/Wednesday/Friday. Some think your squatting should be varied. It really does not matter; what does matter is why you squat. If you have an answer to that, the programming becomes more clear. But if you don’t understand the purpose, then you are missing a critical element to your training.
Do the movements correctly, kids. If you concentrate on the virtuosity of your movement, any program will work.