Why We Compete, But Not To “Win.”

Kyrsten, totally in the zone on some serious Kettlebell swings.

I am the least competitive person on the planet. If you tell me you want me to go head-to-head with someone, I will say “no.” Then, I will likely editorialize something that vacillates between the martyrdom of “let them have it” to the egalitarian hooey of “it’s not about winning.”   So it may seem odd that as a coach, I am constantly pushing our athletes to compete.

I think that competition is one of the best ways to push yourself, for yourself. Competitions are one of the best training tools that we have, and they are wickedly fun.

CrossFit has spawned a “Throwdown Culture” that is thriving, and I think it is wildly misunderstood by most people outside of the CrossFit community. Oh, who are we kidding? I think it’s wildly misunderstood by people within the CrossFit community as well.

(I need to point out, so as not to inspire the ire of the CrossFit team of legal Orks, that these are NOT sanctioned CrossFit events. Rather, they are fun events put on by individual gyms who happen to be CrossFit affiliates, doing things that look an awful lot like CrossFit, but it’s not CrossFit. Make sense?)

It’s not about “winning.” Seriously. If you think that out squatting the guy or gal next door actually makes you a better person than them, you’re doing it wrong. And by “it,” I mean life in general. Unless you are actually making a career out of athletic competition, then winning any given throwdown means absolutely nothing. (I could list the obvious reasons, starting with the fact that anyone can register, so who you are competing against has no real subjective standard….. I mean….)

But if you are someone for whom your fitness is important, and looking for a way to up the ante a little, there is no better way than a friendly throwdown. None.

Yesterday, Rocket had 10 athletes competing in the annual Christmas Throwdown – a fundraiser for Toys For Tots that happens at CrossFit gyms across the country. We had people competing in both the scaled and the RX divisions. Athletes who were new to CrossFit, as well as experienced athletes and people who are trainers.

What did they all have in common? Every single one of them set a new Personal Record. Why does that matter? Because the only person you are ever competing against, really, is yourself. You are competing against boredom and stagnation and inertia and fear and doubt and…..

And they kicked ass. Smiling and laughing the whole time.

So yes, I firmly believe that if you want to keep your fitness progress moving forward, competitions are one of the best ways to do it. Here’s why:

Mike, at the end of the third WOD of the day, still nailing it.

1. Sets A Tangible Goal

Most of us work better when we’re working towards something. Regardless of whether or not you achieve an extrinsic goal, working towards it can create intrinsic structure that moves you forward. People who are great at something generally get there through lots of practice. Whether or not they are ever the “best” at something is always a matter of debate, but what is not up for debate is that they are BETTER than before they started practicing.

Having a tangible goal will help dictate a training pattern that will improve your skills massively. It will also help push you outside of the “oh, whatever, at least I showed up” rut that every single one of us gets stuck in. You will, simply, push yourself a little bit harder.

Our awesome Rocket CrossFit team, when it was all over.

2. Creates Team Bonding

This is where the beauty of individual sports done as a team becomes really clear. (And is my favorite thing about CrossFit.) I’ve watched it happen for years now, people sign up to all compete at the same thing, and the next thing you know they’re talking about goals together, coming for extra workouts together, discussing their fears together…

You know, bonding.

Then the day of the event comes, and they’re cheering each other on. Crying (maybe that’s just me,) when someone else “nails it,” on their knees pushing each other when the going gets tough, and then high-fiving and hugging when it’s over.

You know, making friends, creating community, the stuff that actually matters.

Aylin, facing fears and staying zen as she surprised herself.

3. Shakes Up Your Routine

When you shake up your routine, you challenge your brain in a new way. As little as it seems, that shit sends neurons firing and multiplying. You learn more, you learn better. It may seem small, but this is a great way to fight of the inertia of your every day life. Patterns become habits become ruts. Avoid them.

Brady, getting a 15# PR on his clean.


Remember how I said that everyone on our Christmas Throwdown team set a new Personal Record? PRs are INCREDIBLY COMMON in competition. Why? Adrenaline? That is pretty much the best performance enhancing drug on the planet. And you never see it coming.

Our mob of merry athletes had practiced all of the WODs beforehand. And every single time, those who practiced did about 50% better in terms of rounds and reps, and PRd lifts by 10 – 15 pounds. Why? Adrenaline.

There are MANY coaches who train world-class lifters who never even do one-reps in training. They set high goals, work percentages backwards, and leave the PRs for competition. That’s how powerful adrenaline is, we actually factor it in to how we train you.

On a daily / weekly / monthly basis, we work your form and overall strength. We know that you’ll get into competition and do more than you thought you could, and that you’ll have the strength and form to do it safely.

Becky Jo, a trainer at CrossFit RE, in her first comp. Yes, she was nervous. Even trainers get nervous.

5. Expands your Horizons

Then, once you blow away everything you thought you knew about yourself as an athlete, I guarantee you that your workouts will be different when you get back into the box. You will go just a little bit heavier than you used to. You will go just a little bit faster than you used to. You might not even be aware that you are, but you are.

And do you know what happens when you do that? You get stronger. You can do more things. When the area of your athletic capacity used to be X, and know it’s X + 2, that’s a lot more area in which you can do things. Things that you didn’t know were available to you until that magic potion of training plus adrenaline plus community worked their magic on you.

Chris focuses on getting through his first competition, and it won’t be his last.

 6. Sense of Accomplishment

And YOU did that. YOU. Sure, we helped, sure, we supported you. But YOU did it. And when you successfully complete something that challenges you, you start to redefine yourself as someone who CAN. Someone who is successful. Someone who is willing to try hard things. Who is comfortable in struggle and uncertainty.

You can see how that would be a positive influence on your whole life, right? Not just the gym.

Friendly competitions are a great way to practice struggle and fear and adversity, and how to stay focused and come through. With no stakes.

Mary, after finishing her first WOD. That look says it all. Create opportunities for yourself to smile like that!

7. New Perspective

And then there’s the reality that there is always someone who is better, faster, stronger than you. (Unless you’re Rich Froning.) Or who was just having a better day. Or whose hands didn’t tear in that last rep, or…..

Which is the great reminder that in this sport – and in life – you are really up against yourself. That the great success is the one that puts a huge smile on your face and makes you feel powerful. That comparing yourself to other people is pretty self-defeating, most of the time.

We always remind our athletes, going into competition, that they only have ONE job: HAVE FUN. If you do that, then you win. Of course, you may have room for the other jobs: face your fears, try your hardest, be true to yourself.

When it’s over, focus on what you learned. Sure, you may have learned some technique stuff that will make your athletic performance better next time. Use that. But you will also learn important life stuff…. That will always be more important.

All of which is why we are constantly pushing our athletes to compete. And why, even though we tell them we don’t care if they win, we know they win just by showing up.


And no, if you are someone who is competing professionally, this is NOT ABOUT YOU. Go on with your bad self, and support the power of the “Average Joe” who is pushing themselves.

#challengeyourself #competition #CrossFit #throwdown

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