Staying Current & Grounded with Fitness Level

📷:CrossFit Games

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 is 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 400m 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.

Fitness Level and Staying Honest

CrossFit btwb’s proprietary metric “Fitness Level” was created for just this reason- to make sure that we have an easily understandable snapshot of our fitness that is both comprehensive but also current. Fitness Level takes your best numbers in Benchmark WODs, lifts, endurance pieces, and more, across 8 categories, and compares them against the hundreds of thousands of results in the system, assigning you a percentile score for your efforts. Only your best efforts are taken into account (to control for purposefully sub-maximal efforts during training cycles) but most importantly there is a 6-month expiration date on any one data point being used. That way, you can be certain that the Fitness Level the app is displaying is an accurate portrayal of your fitness right now, not that one gloriously lucky time you somehow loaded the bar wrong and PRe’d your snatch by 40 pounds.

Remember, our fitness is rented, not owned. Much like your apartment or car (or even your phone in this strange new world) it requires that you keep making consistent payments. I challenge you not to see that as a negative, but instead as the very reason we do what we do in the gym (and in life more broadly). Train hard, stay humble & current, and let CrossFit btwb do some of the heavy lifting (pun intended) to help you along the way!

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