the spaz of fitness has arrived

There’s No Crying in the Squat Rack

In General, Training on March 17, 2013 at 8:19 pm

I signed up for the CrossFit Open on the very last day you could submit scores for 13.1. I’ve vacillated all year about whether or not I would participate this year– knowing that I’m not at the level that I’d hoped to be, knowing that this is a hellish time of semester when all my deadlines compound and I should be working on seminar papers as well as preparing my students for their final assignments. But in the end, after seeing so many members of our box participate, knowing how I always want to be an active member of this community, I really couldn’t refrain.

Last year and this year, still, I have conflicted feelings about the Open. The pros and cons seem rather evenly weighed.

Negative: The competitiveness.

I understand that for many sport is about competition, and that this is a positive, driving factor. I also understand that competition does stupid things to otherwise smart people. I, myself, handle athletic competition poorly. The pressure often makes what was once a fun activity more of an anxiety-laden stress-fest. So when I decided to sign up for the Open, I told myself my personal goal for this event would not be numbers or lifts or Rx’d– it would be to participate and enjoy the events, and not give a damn what numbers I or anyone else put up.

My own demons aside, though, I also dislike the way competition brings out the ugliness in people. Has everyone seen the stratospheric score of 420 that Danielle Sidell posted for 13.2? Yes, that’s a high score. Yes, that’s many reps above former champion Iceland Annie. But I’m actually surprised by how readily the CrossFit community attacked Sidell for posting her score. I want to look at this with perspective: Sidell is a seasoned CrossFit athlete. She’s had a solid history in the sport, and has regularly held her own against icons like Gretchen Kittleberger and Christy Phillips. I very much so doubt that she and her gym would make up a score and slap it on the CrossFit page– and even if they were to make up a score, they probably wouldn’t divine one so high that it would beget immediate speculation. I’d admit that… when moving that quickly, she possibly had questionable reps. But look at the demo video with Annie Thorisdottir and Lindsay Valenzuela. I’d say that a number of Annie’s deadlifts don’t look fully extended. If HQ is willing to publicly condone those lifts, then we’ve already admitted this is an imperfect judging system, that some movements will slide. Moreover, at Sidell’s level–barring something catastrophic– she’s going to regionals. Whether she got 420 reps, or 400, or 350, she’s going to land in the top 60 in the region and compete again. So… honestly the shitstorm that people are stirring up is pointless.

But even moving beyond the elite athletes, the way everyday individuals get caught up and overburdened by the competitiveness saddens me. I’ve read about a startling amount of injuries this year– wrist, elbow, and shoulder tweak/pulls from the burpees and snatches in 13.1, and a number of torn achilles from the box jumps in 13.2. Also reports of injuries from beginning athletes that should not have been attempting the shoulder-to-overhead weight. People attempting movements they aren’t prepared to do… in the name of competition– one they oftentimes never had a chance of winning.


Positive: The community

But while some people get caught up in the numbers and scores, there are others that remember that CrossFit thrives by camaraderie– that this was once something built upon inclusiveness. There are boxes like CrossFit Costa Mesa who take this as an opportunity to emphasize participation rather than achievement (see article here)– whose “competition team” is made up of any individual willing to put in the effort rather than only those capable of putting up the numbers. I was also profoundly moved watching Derick Carver’s 13.2 video— not only by his will and determination, just to participate, but by the spirit of enjoyment and enthusiasm I see in his cohort. Don’t get me wrong, I’m blown away by Sam Briggs’s 383-rep video. I so admire and respect the effort that she and other top-tier athletes put into their training. But… I also love that the Games can be about more than just the top performers. It can be about the indominitable spirit of all CrossFitters– what we all share is that ridiculous will to perform burpees and snatches on a Saturday morning. And love it.


For me, personally, I’m happy to say that I’ve stayed out of my own head thus far for the Open. 13.2 was an interesting one for me. My score is not anywhere near competitive. I’m sure most girls can hit that number in their sleep. But the shoulder-to-overhead weight is 75 percent of my mass, and it’s my strict press 1rm. I didn’t realize until after I finished the WOD that… last year, I sat out of a similar workout (12.4, possibly?) because the push presses were 75lbs and I couldn’t clean that weight to my shoulders. So… the fact that I was still holding a bar at the end of those 10 minutes– I’ll take that as a win for this year. Perhaps by this time next year, I’ll worry about the rounds that go with that weight.

But that leads me to another misgiving I’ve had about this year’s Open: the programming. I understand that the weight can only go so low because already Annie and Lindsay were throwing around those 75lbs as if it were a PVC pipe. Fine. But it makes no sense to start the WOD with the shoulder-to-overhead then. They’ve scaled box jump standards this year to allow step-ups. This makes sense for two reasons: 1) torn Achilles happen way too often from top-to-top jumps, and 2) this means that less conditioned athletes can at least complete the movement for a score. However, if they can’t Rx the shoulder-to-overhead weight, they can’t get to the box jumps, to even put up a score. There are discussions on the forums right now by numerous affiliate owners who have women who tried fruitlessly, for ten minutes, to clean 75lbs and wound up with no score. If you can’t post a score for one workout, you drop off the leaderboard and can’t post scores for any of the remaining workouts (at least by last year’s rules). You also cannot post a score of 0. This makes no sense to me. I mean… I, for one, would have been content to do the WODs on the side– to not bother paying HQ $10– and compare my scores on my own. But assuming that people do get a sort of participatory joy of seeing themselves on the leaderboards, why not let them continue playing? Rearrange the workout so that it’s box-jumps, shoulder-to-overhead, deadlifts, so that the poor athletes can at least put up a score of 15 and get their money’s worth and finish out the Open.

I think then at least affiliate owners would feel better encouraging athletes to scale that weight when they need to. Right now, you can’t scale 13.2 without dropping out of the Open. But there are athletes who haven’t cleaned that weight before, who have no business trying to put it overhead… and then we get back to that competitive spirit that drives people to unwise decisions.

So… I guess I’m torn. I’m enjoying the Open. I love the way it brings people together– I love seeing our Box come together and support one another to push through the suck. I love seeing athletes strive beyond their limits– when they are prepared to do so. I just would have also liked to see more consideration from those in charge of the whole thing… if we programmed just a little differently, we might be able to foster more community, more inclusivity. In the end, the true competitors, the firebreathers, will go on to Regionals and the Games and they’ll triumph and we’ll enjoy pigging out in front of our TVs betting on who’s going to break another CrossFit record this year. But until then, why not live these five weeks in the spirit of Derick Carver? For many of us, the podium is not the endgame…

I forget which CrossFit athlete said it, but someone has an excellent quote along the lines of: “I’m not a superstar. I’m just good at exercising. I get paid to be good at exercising.” Those of us that aren’t there? We’re just exercising– and we’re paying to do it. And it’s supposed to be fun and it’s supposed to be stress-relieving, and it’s supposed to be about wellness. So don’t get down about those last five reps that could have been. Sometimes we have bad days. But, if a bad workout is the worst part of your day, you’re already ahead of so many people. I know I’m a drama-queen about my own training all the freaking time. In fact, very shamefully, I have to admit that Scotchy witnessed a terrible moment of mine two weeks ago… when I failed to squat my old 10-rep-max. I’m pretty sure I cried when that bar hit the safety rails. CRIED. In a fucking squat rack. And later that day I just felt freaking silly. I failed to move a certain amount of pounds up and down. Yeah… for me, it means I want to reassess my training and perhaps figure out where I go from there. But… it shouldn’t ruin my day or even my morning. I was uninjured when I walked back out of that squat rack, and I could come back the next day and continue trying to get better. That should be all I need. It’s just exercise 😉

  1. […] a recent post, I discussed my mixed feelings about participating in the CrossFit Open. I still do not at all […]

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