December 9, 2014
CrossFit is a Game of Averages: To Be Good, First Be Average
By William Imbo
December 11, 2014
CrossFit, perhaps more than any other sport or fitness methodology, rewards consistency across multiple domains. What I mean by that is the best ‘CrossFitters’ are the ones that have a high and balanced skill set in multiple areas. They may not excel as much as other athletes do in certain tests, but they do not have any glaring holes in their fitness either. They are consistent across the board, thus their average score is high. Take an incredibly strong athlete with poor gymnastic skills and an athlete with ‘average’ strength and ‘average’ gymnasitic skills. Given a challenge like Open workout 14.2 which consisted of equal parts overhead squats and chest-to-bar pull-ups, it’s likely the individual with average skills in both movements will best the one with great skills in one movement and poor skill in the other.
CrossFit’s main goal is to improve an athlete’s General Physical Preparedness (GPP). To measure an athlete’s GPP, CrossFit uses their “First Fitness Standard”: The 10 General Physical Skills. They are cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. As Greg Glassman (CEO and founder of CrossFit) writes in the famous “What is Fitness?” article in the 2002 issue of the CrossFit Journal, you are as fit as you are competent in each of these ten skills. CrossFit’s second fitness standard suggests that fitness is about performing well at any and every task imaginable: “Picture a hopper loaded with an infinite number of physical challenges [in our case, muscle-ups, cleans, toes-to-bar, deadlifts, etc.] where no selective mechanism is operative, and being asked to perform fetes randomly drawn from the hopper. This model suggests that your fitness can be measured by your capacity to perform well at these tasks in relation to other individuals.”
So, what is the message that we are trying to deliver to you, the CrossFiter? All too often athletes think that they “suck” in CrossFit (or, conversely, that they “rock”) because they are weak (or strong) in one or two areas. That’s not necessarily the case! Just because you don’t have double-unders doesn’t mean that you’re any better or any worse than the athlete next to you who can string them together with ease. All it means is that that person is better at double-unders than you are. But if you were to look at your level of proficiency in multiple skills in CrossFit, you may realize that you are actually quite good at the sport. That’s the message: try to have a good level of proficiency across the board.
Rich Froning has demonstrated over the last four years that he has the highest average level of proficiency across the ten skills of fitness—more than any other competitor at the Games. He may be weak in one or two areas (such as swimming and running, as previous years have demonstrated), but his ability to perform multiple tasks at a high level in numerous events and tests of fitness is unmatched. That’s why he is the four-time CrossFit Games champion.
That’s how you should view your standing in CrossFit—by your development and proficiency as an overall athlete. Start by looking at the areas in which you are strong. These could be individual tasks and/or movements, or, if you feel confident in your abilities, it could be one of the ten fitness skills themselves—such as stamina, for example. Next, you need to do an honest analysis of where you struggle the most. Once you have this list, you can now plainly see what is holding you back from becoming a solid all-around athlete in CrossFit. Of course the truth is that we could all be better at something, and that’s the beauty of this sport. As soon as you accomplish one milestone, a new one automatically appears on the horizon. Hitting heavier weights in your strength work—or achieving those weights with better technique—progressing from a handstand hold to handstand push-ups. From bar muscle-ups to ring muscle-ups, and so on and so forth. The trick is trying to keep yourself as balanced as you can across all of these movements, which is easier said than done considering how vast the catalogue of skills in CrossFit is.
But that’s the fun of it, right?
You can look back at where you once started and realize how far you’ve progressed in every area of the sport, and where you need to be to achieve a higher average score across the board.
So for those of you who may dominate in gymnastic work, think twice before declaring yourself a great CrossFitter. And for those of you who struggle with running and endurance work, don’t get discouraged by thinking you’re a terrible one either. Identify your strengths and weaknesses, but try to look at the big picture rather than a small sample size. Work hard to try and make your weaknesses comparable to your strengths and witness your capabilities as a true CrossFit athlete begin to rise. With the Open coming up in a little over two months, now is the time to consider your average ‘score’. Where is it now, and where would you like it to be by the start of the Open? Regardless of your answers, the Open will expose the areas in which you still need work—and that’s ok.
Just remember that CrossFit is a game of averages, and the game never ends.
Picture from the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games