From Gym-Goer to Competitor: Making the Transition

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September 28, 2022

Every individual that participates in CrossFit—whether as a member of an affiliate or someone who works out in their home gym and follows the programming on CrossFit.com—can be classified as an ‘athlete’. This of course is a very broad term, and there exists one major division between all CrossFit athletes—those who do it ‘casually’ for everyday fitness, and those that actively compete. Now, ‘competing’ in CrossFit can mean different things: The Open, which is the first qualifying stage of the CrossFit Games and serves as a competition for all athletes in the CrossFit community around the world. Anyone who signs up and participates is, by definition, a competitor. Then there are those CrossFit-style competitions that are held seemingly every weekend at one box or another across the country (and, to a larger extent, the world). There are athletes who seek to supplement their regular CrossFit training at the box by competing in such events. At this point, you likely know which group you fall into. This article is for those athletes that are considering taking the next step in their CrossFit career by transitioning from a ‘casual’ athlete to a competitor.

Step 1—Decide you want to compete

The first step in moving from being a casual athlete to a competitor is deciding that you want to compete in the first place. Some athletes get enough of a thrill from the natural battles that arise from the daily workouts—and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, as many people will have discovered during the Open this year, there’s nothing quite like competing in this sport. With the knowledge that you’re not simply taking part in a regular WOD—combined with the roars of support from your fellow athletes and your own personal judge counting your reps—you’re pushed to levels of performance that you simply can’t achieve in a regular class. And once you get a taste for competing, you’ll want more. But it’s up to you to make that conscious decision to move from a regular gym-goer to an athlete that regularly competes. Once you make that objective clear in your mind, the other steps will naturally fall into place.

Step 2—Get to the box more often

While there are plenty of fitness competitions out there that cater to athletes of all ages and abilities, you need to prepare yourself appropriately for every and any movement that may arise in a competition (hmmm, sounds a whole lot like the ‘constantly varied’ ethos of CrossFit does it not?). As with most skills in life, repetition is the key to mastery. Sure, you might be getting marginally better by coming to the box two times a week—but such a limited schedule will tell come competition time. And while a competition should be fun, no-one wants to finish dead last in every event. To avoid that, make sure that you are getting frequent, QUALITY practice time at the box. In addition to upping the amount of classes you attend each week, you have to put in the time during Open gym to work on your weaknesses. Since we all have multiple weaknesses in our ‘games’, it can be a daunting proposition to know where to start. It helps if you know what the movements for the competition will be ahead of time, otherwise it’s best to tackle the area of greatest need. But it’s not enough to simply know what your weaknesses are, and then say to yourself, “That’s what I need to work on.” That’s merely scratching the surface—you need to find the root of the problem. Take the overhead squat for example. This is a notoriously difficult movement to execute, requiring stability, flexibility, balance and strength—all in multiple areas, no less. Let’s say that you have excellent strength, but you lack proper mobility—and you are well aware of it. That’s good, but you need to go deeper in your analysis. Is your shoulder mobility the problem, or is it your hips? Perhaps it’s neither, and the real limiting factor is the strength and mobility you have in your ankles. You need to take the time to go beyond that initial assessment of, “Yep, I have bad mobility in the squat” to realize that that’s the case. Otherwise, you’ll be spending countless hours of mobility work trying to tackle multiple areas when there is one pressing area that needs your attention. Fixing a weakness in one area will invariably lead to success in another. Remember, perfect practice makes perfect.

In addition, not only should you adjust the frequency of your training sessions accordingly, but you should up the intensity, too. Train as if you were competing there and then! Push yourself beyond your threshold as often as you can, and get comfortable with seeking out the pain. This will serve you well when it comes to participating in the actual competition, as you’ll be better prepared to tackle the increased intensity and workloads that you’ll no doubt experience.

Step 3—Increase your focus on the intangibles (diet, mobility, rest)

Equally important as training like a competitor is eating, mobilizing and sleeping like one too. These intangibles are what separate the good from the great, and they are vital for supporting your physical adaptations as you increase the frequency and intensity of your training. Granted, putting a premium on eating clean, mobilizing frequently and optimal recovery should be at the forefront of every athlete’s mind, but it takes on greater importance when you want to step your game up and become a competitor. You can’t control the movements or rep scheme that will come up in competition, but you have complete dominance over what fuel you put in your body, how you recover, and how much emphasis you place on your mobility. These are the things that will make you better. Consider the people who finished at the top of the class in the Open at your box. They may be gifted athletes, but I guarantee you that were you to ask them what the keys to their success are, mobility, diet and recovery would be at the top of their list. If you want to compete—and compete to the best of your ability—the intangibles must be made a priority.

Step 4—Register to compete!

Training hard and eating properly is always important, regardless of whether you’re competing or not. However, when you finally register for your first competition (be it the Open, Team Series, or another fitness-related event), those elements grow in stature. But before you sign up, you have to decide whether you want to compete as an individual or as part of a team. A lot of people prefer to compete with a group of friends as it makes the experience more fulfilling, and takes them back to their younger days of competing on high school and college squads. For others, the individual competition is exciting enough, and why wouldn’t it be? Your success in the competition falls directly on your shoulders—only you are responsible for your final placing.

Once you make that decision, gather your crew (or yourself) and pick a competition to sign up for. Research it and read the reviews from past competitors. Check the standards and specifics for competition day. If everything is in line with what you’re looking for, take the plunge and sign up! The Open is arguably the easiest competition to sign up for, but since you’ll have to wait another year for 16.1 you might as well check to see what throwdowns are going on in your area. Maybe your box is hosting one—a perfect reason to sign up and compete!

Step 5—Prepare for the competition

Finally, you can take all the previous steps and combine it into one goal—preparing for the competition itself. Tell your coach that you are going to compete in X weeks and need help refining your Olympic lifts for the competition, for example. Eat well and mobilize often. Make practice runs through the competition workouts (if they’re released) with your team or by yourself. Let your friends and family know that you plan to compete and make sure that they’ll be there to support you.

Being a CrossFit ‘competitor’ doesn’t mean that you have to take part in a fitness competition every weekend, but it does imply that you have raised your standards of fitness to another level—and the standards you set for yourself—to a level where you feel confident enough to compete on a regular basis. This is a big step in your CrossFit life, and it can add huge value to your enjoyment of the sport.

About Damect Dominguez

Co-founder of BoxLife Magazine. Author: Training Day: 400+ Workouts to Incorporate in Your Training.

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