The Value of Competition

On Saturday, for the weekend reading, I posted a link to a great video that has something rather astounding at the end. I'll post it here now so you can watch it and understand what I'm talking about for the rest of this post. Besides, it's worth watching just for the adorably excitable Coach Burgener alone.

Now, many of you are new enough to CrossFit that every day winds up being a PR, and occasionally gigantic ones if we're doing a 1RM day. As you get more fit, more accustomed to the movements, more trained, you'll find that PRs come in small, modest amounts. Twenty pound PRs turn into 10 pound PRs become 2 pound PRs. Before too long, you're getting excited about fractional pound PRs that just get you over the hump.

If that applies to us normal folk, getting smaller and smaller PRs the better we get, it applies even moreso to the elite firebreather types who do this for a living. They have their training so dialed in that their current PRs are carved into their hearts. They push themselves hard when they work out and leave everything they can on the floor. That's what makes this video truly incredible.

First, you have Dan Bailey, sixth in this year's CrossFit Games, third overall in all of the Regionals scores and fourth overall in the Open. A high level athlete who, when faced with some competition for a max lift, was within inches of twenty pound PRs on both his snatch and his clean & jerk. Granted, his attempts at those were unsuccessful, but he was so much closer to a twenty pound PR than someone at his level should be.

Then, at the end, we have Rich Froning, two-time winner of the CrossFit Games with the best scores in both the Regionals and the Open this year. Clearly someone who knows what his body is capable of and how to eke out every little joule of performance. He goes head-to-head with some folks in a crowd and gets a forty pound PR on his clean & jerk.

People were amazed by Graham Holmberg at the 2010 Games when he got a thirty pound PR in the shoulder to overhead event, and that was due to changing his split jerk style from front rack to back rack – quite a difference in technique. Rich is doing pretty much what he does every day – no big technique changes. Sure, having an Olympic Lifting coach like Mike Burgener standing right next to you helps, but he's no doubt trained with Coach B before. The difference? Competition.

Greg Glassman once said men will die for numbers, and it's true. Granted, it's not true all of the time, otherwise we'd have a rapidly dwindling membership. But in the heat of competition, when you've got someone right across from you who you're trying to beat, that little nagging voice of doubt (“I've never lifted this much weight before – this is X pounds over my PR”) gets drowned out by the shout of competition (I HAVE to nail this lift, no matter what the weight is”).

The point of all this prattling on is this: day to day in the gym, we push ourselves to do better. We think we're pushing as hard as we can and doing as much as possible. If we stay in our own little workout bubble, we'll keep getting close to the same results, because we don't really know how hard we can be pushed. But get out of that bubble, out of the comfort zone, and you'll start to see what your body's capable of. Whether that's trying to beat someone on the whiteboard or actually competing in a CrossFit event, that little extra spice of competition is what can get you over the next hurdle.

Or over the next forty.

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