Do you do your research?
Regardless of where you are in your CrossFit journey, a smart athlete recognizes there is always room for improvement and learning. True, much of your overall development falls on the work you put in at the box, but the opportunity for learning techniques and practices that can make you a better athlete exceeds the walls of your gym. While your coaches have plenty of experience and are great sources of information, recognize that you have easy access to a wealth of knowledge through subject matter experts thanks to the internet. A quick google search on the topics of mobility, nutrition, Olympic Weightlifting, powerlifting, gymnastics and more will bring up thousands of articles and videos that you can scroll through and pick up amazing tips from (including those found in the CrossFit Journal, and of course BoxLife Magazine). Of course, you can be far more specific in your searches to find the answers unique to your situation. Do you need advice on improving your running or rowing technique? Do you find that you’re always coming on to your toes during a squat? Do you need more progressions to learn the muscle-up? Don’t assume that your knowledge of CrossFit and fitness is limited to what you learn in the box. You’ll see far quicker progress if you take the time to do some additional research, and then apply that knowledge into your daily regimen. Speaking of which…
Do you put that research into practice?
What’s the point of having a vast catalogue of useful information in your head if you don’t put it into practice? To the point above, you need to experiment with the tips and advice you read up on to see if it’s useful for you as an athlete and fits your lifestyle. In fact, if other athletes see you utilizing a new method to minimize transition time between work stations, row more efficiently, or string burpees together quicker (to name just three examples), they’ll likely ask you for advice on how to incorporate those techniques. And just like that, you’ll help the people around you become smarter athletes too. It’s all about paying it forward, ya dig?
Do you learn from what works well and what doesn’t?
“Every experience, good or bad, is a priceless collector’s item”
A smart athlete recognizes when a technique they picked up (that they thought would be useful) is hindering their progress rather than advancing it. Not all athletes respond well to the same cues and methods, so it would be redundant for you to keep throwing shit at a wall to see if it sticks in the attempt to become fitter. Trial and error is important, but learning from those trials is crucial. For example, if you discover that your split jerk is far more effective with a wide grip, it would behoove you to utilize a wide grip for the foreseeable future. Similarly, if you find that you struggle with a certain squat stance, why would you continue to employ it during squat work? You’re intentionally hamstringing yourself. A smart athlete grows from each workout and each experience, and is always willing to try a new method in the pursuit of fitness.
Do you seek advice from others?
The reason why it’s so important to pay it forward is because you never know when you might need to seek counsel from those athletes and coaches that are doing something right, and from whom you want to learn. Smart athletes are also humble, and never too proud to admit when someone else is clearly a step ahead of them in certain aspects of CrossFit or the wider world of fitness and nutrition. Think about Rich Froning’s obvious shortcomings on the rope climbs at the 2010 Games. Do you not think that he enlisted the help of some rope climb ninjas to show him how to scale the rope properly? Sure, with a lot of practice, Froning may have become slightly more efficient in his technique, but without asking for tips from athletes more skilled in the movement, there’s no way he returns in 2011 and moves up and down the rope that quickly. As CrossFitters, we must all take the opportunity to share and learn from one another to advance our fitness. Even coaches, who train people for a living, should seek out additional training seminars to gain expertise in specific areas (weightlifting, gymnastics, etc.) so that when their athletes ask them for advice, they’re better equipped to make their athletes fitter. So swallow your pride, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Do you have a plan?
Smart athletes not only have a plan for how they’re going to attack a workout, but they also have one to address their weaknesses and achieve their broader goals (which no doubt are s.m.a.r.t. as well: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound). Now, many athletes often go into a WOD with an “on-the-fly” approach, dealing with rep schemes and rest strategies based on how they feel in the moment. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that smart athletes also tend to do really well in workouts. When you look at the workout and give yourself some time to strategize before ‘3,2,1, go!’, you’ll be able to remain calm and move with a purpose as you chip away at the work. And heck, if things don’t go according to plan, you can always throw said plan out the window and operate on the fly. But wouldn’t you rather have a plan to build off in the first place? The same strategy goes for addressing your weaknesses. Smart athletes are aware that they have them (weaknesses) in the first place, which is the first step in turning them into strengths. They can then develop a strategy to work on those issues throughout the weeks and months, to avoid hitting a plateau and stalling in their development. Finally, smart athletes set themselves goals to achieve, and come up with a way to accomplish them. Sure, you can go to a class with the intention of working out for an hour (nothing wrong with that), but how far will you advance in your fitness without an incentive to achieve something more? You’re simply going through the motions. Coming up with a goal—and a corresponding plan to get it—is the hallmark of a smart and dedicated athlete.