A world-record mile. A half court shot to win a million bucks. A hit single that rules the airwaves for a month or two. Society has become more and more obsessed with the rare and extraordinary, celebrating and venerating the “once-in-a-lifetime” moment over the slow and steady grind of dogged hard work and incremental progress. Seen through this lens, greatness becomes a montage of single-frame snapshots instead of long form cinema verite.
CrossFitters are not immune to this type of thinking. We celebrate PR’ed lifts and WODs, then cling to the numbers as though they are immutable testaments to our continued performance. This partially attributable to CrossFit’s complicated balance between training and sport. Singular numbers matter during competition, as they may be the difference between a win and a loss. They matter psychologically, as the tangible and obvious payoff from long hours of toil and sacrifice. However, confusing PRs with overall fitness, or becoming too reliant or attached to them, is folly. Consider this statement:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Aristotle was the philosopher’s equivalent of a CrossFit athlete, writing authoritatively on physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theater, music, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, and government. His generalist approach is echoed in that statement: true excellence is the sum total of constantly and consistently repeated action, not a one-time outlier.
Let this inform your training and factor it into how you plan lifts and cycles and approach workouts. While a big snatch PR is certainly cause for celebration (doubly so and especially during competition), it is not the most important or descriptive indicator of your lifting prowess or overall fitness. What can you snatch reliably, every time? What can you snatch when you’re tired, sore, or haven’t eaten enough? What can you snatch after a 400 meter run, or before jumping on the bar for a set of pull-ups? What number would you guarantee you can snatch with your life savings on the line?
This thinking applies to Benchmark WODs as well. I know I’m personally guilty of clinging to certain WOD PRs that I haven’t retested in over a year, even bragging (or worse… humblebragging) about them a bit.
While this behavior is somewhat natural and human, it also kind of sucks. What good is my “Fran” time from a year ago, under perfect conditions, with a friend supplying motivation and helping me stick to a strategy? Shouldn’t I be as proud of a “Fran” done 30 seconds slower, alone, with no music?
I submit that we should focus less on our PRs and more on numbers we “own.” To operationally define “own,” I mean a weight, time, or score that we can hit 9 times out of 10. I know a CFSBK member who has recorded the exact same “Annie” time three times in a row (and it’s a good one!). He can confidently say that he owns his “Annie” time. Likewise, if you’ve squatted your PR multiple times over a fairly broad time spectrum, you own that weight. Let’s focus on what we consistently own, not what we grasp for a fleeting moment. This is especially important when we use 1RM numbers as the basis for planning a cycle of lifts—don’t use your squat 1RM from when you were a college linebacker if you’re currently a 45-year-old computer programmer.
This type of thinking is psychologically helpful in two ways. First, it is directly relatable to the way we should be training— valuing steady, long-term, and (relatively) permanent progress over quickly achieved and discarded goals. Second, it allows us to simultaneously take it easy on ourselves (for not always PRing) AND understand that consistency in training is the goal.
Recently I did a training cycle on my own that had one day each week labeled “SNATCH/CLEAN AND JERK 1RM.” While initially exciting, I quickly began to dread 1RM day, feeling that any day I didn’t PR was a disappointment and indicative that my training wasn’t working. I was explaining this feeling to a veteran Olympic lifter, who told me to take it easy on myself. “As long as you can consistently hit 90% of your 1RM, you’re fine,” he said. I did the math, and realized my 90% number was eminently achievable. In fact, I owned it. I’d hit it a million times. The rest of the cycle went smoothly—I didn’t PR, and didn’t care, because I got better overall.
Logging consistently on BTWB does a good job of keeping you from this fallacious thinking. While the system will track your progress over time, notify you of PRs, etc., results need to be current to impact your Fitness Level, which can be thought of as a snapshot of your fitness right now vs. “once upon a time.” I’ve found that short term lens to be very helpful in regards to staying current and realistic about where I am as an athlete.
In sum, try and recommit to enjoying not only the successes and bright moments during your training career, but the training itself. Savor the small sacrifices, the little breakthroughs, and the slow build towards mastery and consistency. PRs are the zenith of a pyramid, built on the wide and strong base of training data that is consistent (and trending upward) over an extended time period.
Go forth, my friends, and own it.