Every year as we progress through the CrossFit Games Open, I find myself asking the same question.
“Am I really fitter than I was a year ago?”
It’s this very question that gives me a chance to reflect on all the hard work that I have put in over the past year, and celebrate all the accomplishments I have had. It also helps me to feel grateful for how healthy I am, with no major injuries to speak of, and for the physical ability to compete and push my body to and past its limits every day.
As a coach and owner of CrossFit Palm Beach, I ask this same question for each and every one of our athletes, and encourage them to do the same for themselves. It’s one of the things I love most about the Open. There is no better time as a CrossFitter to reflect on how your fitness has grown and improved over the last year, and the Open has a great way of showing us those areas where we still need some (or a lot) of work.
For the past 4 weeks of the Open, we have witnessed some incredibllishments from our athletes. Accomplishments that leave no doubt in your mind that these athletes are fitter than they were last year.
In 15.2, we saw Joe Panczak go from 137 reps to 233 reps in the only repeat workout from 2014, almost a 100 rep increase from a year ago! Along with Joe, we had several others crush their scores from 14.2, which I included in the chart below.
The following week in 15.3, we had some amazing female athletes step up to the plate and prove that their fitness is still progressing. Claudia, Marcy, Sammi, and Amy, went from not accomplishing a single muscle up last year, to knocking out more than 10 a piece in this year’s Open WOD. A serious improvement. (Also have to give a shout out to Nicole for her first 2 muscle ups!)
Part of the reason I tell you about these athletes is to give them the credit they deserve. All of them have put in a ton of work over the last year, and the accomplishments you see over the past 2 weeks are really a culmination of weeks, months, and years of hard work.
The other reason I bring this up is to encourage you to take the time to celebrate your own success from the past year. It’s so easy to see the success that others are having, like a 100 rep increase, and downplay our own success. We focus so much on the things that we are struggling with, that we forget to celebrate all the things we have achieved.
Take muscle ups as an example. For all the athletes we had last week that finally conquered their muscle ups, we have even more that are still struggling to get their first one. The same could be said for double unders, pull ups, toes-to-bar, or any of the other movements we have seen come up so far in the Open.
It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day struggles. It’s easy to do muscle up attempt after attempt and to start to believe it’s never going to happen. Sometimes the struggles get so bad that not only do you feel like you aren’t getting closer to your goal, but you feel like you are actually going backwards. Like all the work you are putting in is making you worse.
This is why it’s so important to take a step back and ask yourself the question, “Am I really fitter than I was last year?”
The day to day struggles will lie to you and make you feel like you are getting worse, but rest assured this is not the case. Many times, days and weeks are not enough to measure true progress, and you may need months or years to see the fruits of the work you have put in. I guarantee that if you have been working hard all year that you can think of at least 10 things that you can do better than you did a year ago. You have to build on those.
One of the things that has helped me personally to deal with these struggles is to understand the concept of mastery and what it takes to succeed in any area of your life. The path to mastery is illustrated in the chart below, but I will give you a quick summary of my understanding.
When you start a new activity, skill, job, business, workout regimen, etc., there will be a period of time after the first couple weeks where you will see noticeable results for the work you put in. In CrossFit, this typically means lots of PRs, fat loss, and some increased staring from members of the opposite sex for your first 6 months to 2 years. Eventually though, whether it be a few months in or a few years in, you will hit a point where that progress will peak, drop off slightly, and then flatten out for a period of time. This is what most people refer to as a plateau.
The good news is, as long as you keep working hard on the right things, you will eventually break through that plateau and begin to enjoy another period of PRs, additional abs popping out, and even more stares from the opposite sex. This cycle of peaks and plateaus can repeat indefinitely, as you become closer and closer to mastering the subject matter at hand.
Without an awareness of what the path to mastery looks like, you can easily mistake the plateaus as failures. Since you will typically peak before dropping off slightly and plateauing, it’s easy to believe that you are actually going backwards. When you look back at the past, you typically remember your best day, the day that you hit your last PR, and constantly compare and measure yourself against that. You may be able to clean and jerk 100 lbs every single day without an issue, but it has been weeks or months since you hit your last PR of 110 lbs. You could care less that a year ago you were only able to clean and jerk 75 lbs, because right now you feel like you are only getting worse. Couple this with the day to day struggles of say, not achieving your first muscle up, and it’s easy to gang up on yourself and tell yourself that you aren’t good enough or possibly use it as an excuse to quit trying altogether.
But you have to keep working at it. You have to keep showing up and giving your full effort to getting better each and every day. Because even though all the glory happens in that moment when you PR your clean and jerk, or get your first muscle up, deep down you know that is simply the moment that others get to see the culmination of all the hard work you put in. All the real magic happens during that plateau. The real reward is showing up every day and enjoying the process of trying to make yourself better.
A year will pass regardless of whether you choose to put in the work or not. You will be 365 days older and you will most likely sign up for the CrossFit Open again. Once again you will hear Dave Castro announce the same movements like muscle ups, double unders, toes t0 bar, and pull ups.
So instead of dwelling on your struggles, be proud of all the work that you do put in everyday, and ask yourself this question instead.
“Will the work I put in today make me fitter one year from now?”
Before I let you go, I wanted to give you one more example that illustrates this concept. Here is a video of a novice ping pong player that practiced every single day for a year, and combined a short clip from each day to track his progress. When you watch the video, the clips are short enough that it leads you to believe that he is constantly progressing from Day 1 all the way to Day 365. But if you start to slow it down in your mind, and start to imagine the days and weeks passing by in real time, then you quickly realize that the changes between any 10 or 20 day period are almost unnoticeable. But those small changes, added up over a longer period of time like an entire year, turn into a BIG change. It’s time to stop beating yourself up and get back to putting in the work everyday. Enjoy the process of showing up and celebrate your improvements, no matter how big or small they may be.