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Lessons from the 2017 CrossFit Open

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I want to warn everyone up front. This blog post may be a little long and may be a little stream of consciousness. I never claimed to be a good writer, but I felt that I needed to write a blog about what I learned from the open this year.

For me, this past Saturday was a ton of fun. It was last open workout and it ended with half the gym standing around me screaming to go faster. The energy was palpable and left me feeling both supported and accomplished. After it was all said and done, I started to reflect on the past five weeks. I had so much fun participating in the open, more so than any other year. Why was that the case? I actually finished in a lower spot on the regional leaderboard than the previous year and was ok with that. In years past, I would have looked at that as a failed season. What was different? I then started to think about our members and how well everyone did. But, as with any athletic competition, there are people that are happy with their performance and people who are less than pleased with their performance. What was the driving emotion behind each of these? After some thought, I narrowed it down and will use some of my own experiences to explain why each of these lessons are not only so important for training and competition, but for life outside of the gym.

The first lesson that was hammered home to me was to worry about what you can control and let go of the things that you can’t. Many people get caught in outside disturbances and start sweating the small stuff. When asked what they could have done in that moment to change the situation, the answer is usually nothing. This becomes needless worry and anxiety that leads to decreased performance, and for what? This is things like a no rep you don’t agree with, not having your lucky socks or underwear, the clock not starting correctly, disagreeing with your judge on the number of reps, etc. An example I have in my own journey was from my first open in 2014. It was a workout that had overhead squats and chest to bar pull-ups. Every 2 rounds the reps would go up. So I was in the 3rd round, where I had to complete 12 reps of overhead squats. At rep 10, my judge said, “DONE!” So I dropped the bar and walked over to the pull-up bar. As I get set to do pull-ups, I realized I actually had 2 reps left and had to go back and do 2 more reps before starting my pull-ups. This definitely ate away at some time, but you know what ate away at even more time and energy, the fact that I was annoyed and kept replaying that instance in my mind during the entire workout. I kept saying that if that hadn’t have happened my score would have been better and it probably would have. But I know that my score would have also been better if I could have simply shrugged it off and plowed through as if nothing happened. It was a mistake, mistakes happen, and there was nothing I could have done about it so there is no reason I needed to worry about it. Conversely during this open, every no rep I simply said in my head, “Ok, I have one more rep to do.” That was it and it lead to a much more satisfying performance in each workout.

The second lesson was that mindset is everything. This concept has 2 parts. The first has to do with your thought process going into the workout. I tried to never say, “Man, this workout is going to suck!” For me, that mindset leads to dread and anxiety, rather than a much more positive emotion of excitement. I signed up for CrossFit, I’d rather not dread the actual act of performing CrossFit. So I tried to go into each workout with a positive thought of what could be fun about this workout. Is it a chance for me to PR? Is it a chance to measure up on a new movement? Is it a workout in my wheelhouse and a chance for me to put on a show? Or maybe it’s a workout that probably won’t go well for me, but it is a chance for to glorify the God I live for through the effort that I put forth in the workout. These thoughts illicit much more positive emotions and people tend to perform better under positive emotions. The second part has to do with your mindset on what success means to you. The best athletes in the world are focused on their effort in every play, every workout, every second. As soon as an athlete starts focusing on what other people are doing, they not only limit their focus on their own performance, but the create an attitude of discontent. They could have done the best that they physically could have, but because they didn’t do better than so-and-so, they aren’t happy with their performance. This was me during most of my wrestling career. In high school and college I spent so much mental energy being upset that I wasn’t performing as well as someone else who maybe wasn’t working as hard, but was more naturally gifted, that I stunted my own performance. All of that mental time and energy could have been put in to bettering my own skills, but instead it was wasted worrying about what other people were doing. I have to fight this thought process on almost a daily basis, but I find when I solely worried about what I have to do and not about what others are doing, I both perform better and I am happier coming out of a workout.

The last lesson was to focus internally and not externally. This one allowed me to experience something that I have experienced only a handful of times in my athletic career and that is a state of flow or being in “the zone.” This is where an athlete’s brain is shut off and they feel like their body is simply moving. It is a weird experience, but it is an awesome one when you look back at it. Heading into the last open workout this year, I practiced a couple of rounds of thrusters and double unders on Thursday and Friday. On both days I found that my heart rate and breathing would sky rocket on the double unders and make getting back to the bar very difficult. After discussing this with my coach, he advised to simply focus on my breathing and trying to stay calm. So during the workout I did exactly that. I found that focusing on counting my reps made me aware of my reps and unaware of my breathing, thus jacking up my heart rate. So once I brought my focus internal and started focus on simply my breath instead of the external concept of my reps it allowed me to stay much calmer and move much more quickly. I didn’t count 1 double under rep or any of the thruster reps in my head. I had a judge for that, why waste my thought energy doing it myself, especially since it doesn’t matter how many reps I think I have completed, but only how many reps the judge said I completed! So this focus on my breath allowed me to move at a pace that was simply unaware of. At one point during 17.5, I became aware of which round I was on. This lead me to look at the clock, realize how tired I was, and count some of my thruster reps. This loss of focus on my part was why I didn’t get sub 10 minutes, but the POSITIVE out of that is that it allowed me see the contrast of internal versus external focus in one workout. What a great lesson for me to learn!

So you may be saying, “This is great Chris, but how does this apply after the open and how does this apply to me?” Well, these lessons that I learned apply past the open to my training. Instead of focusing on things I can’t control or how tired I am and that because I am tired I will definitely have a bad training day (poor mindset) I can take a more positive approach. They could also apply to business where instead of looking at what every other CrossFit gym is doing (external), I can look at what we are doing and how to improve ourselves to constantly offer a better product to each one of our members (internal). They could also apply to being a parent where I could lose my mind about Riley being sick, which is often something I can’t control, instead of focusing on being present with him every chance I get which is something I am in total control of. None of this comes easy for me, just ask my wife. But as these lessons were presented to me again, it is something I have to actively strive to do. How does this apply to each of you? Well, in very much the same way. We are all have fitness goals, we all have jobs, and we all have someone in our life that we love spending time with whether that be a child, spouse, or friend. If we could have these lessons in our mind every time we set out into our day we will not only show up better in each of those aspects, but we will be able to enjoy everything life has for us on a much deeper level. And in the end, what could be better than that.