by Erik Castiglione
On Thursday we performed “Burpees for Pancreatic Cancer,” which consisted of 10 minutes of burpees. It wasn’t a fun workout, it wasn’t complicated, and it wasn’t sexy; it was tough and it hurt. But, it left most of us with a sense of accomplishment. For a small few, however, it led to the following conversations:
Coach: “Nice work!”
Athlete: “Yeah, but I didn’t break 100 reps.”
Coach: “Great job!”
Athlete: “Yeah, but I only broke 100 because I scaled.”
Sound familiar? I’ve had similar conversations with members after numerous workouts – “I was only fast because I scaled.” Or worse, “Yeah, but I cheated.” There is an important distinction to be made here – doing fewer reps because you and your coach determined that that was an appropriate scaling option for you IS NOT CHEATING. Scaling is how we custom tailor the WOD to you; as long as you note your scalings, your effort is honest. Now, if you claim to do the workout as prescribed, but you only did 7 push-ups every round when the prescription was 10, THAT is cheating. Intent (and transparency if you make your score public) matter.
And, the larger issue here is that EFFORT MATTERS. If you come in and do the work you’re meant to do, celebrate that! There is no need to dismiss it or even qualify it. Focus on your own journey, stop comparing yourself to others, and take pride in your work.
Then, take this mindset and apply it to your judgement of other people. Too frequently we only celebrate first place. We have a common saying in this country: “2nd place is the first loser.”
And, we judge professional athletes by this standard, particularly individual athletes (as opposed to teams). I won’t name the publication because they don’t deserve the press, but there was a really shitty article that came out in 2016 about current CF Games Champion TIa-Clair Toomey. In 2016, she took 2nd place at the CrossFit Games. Less than a month later, she competed IN THE OLYMPICS as a weightlifter, and finished 14th. The article suggested that she should stick to CrossFit, because she didn’t win the gold medal.
The vast majority of us mere mortals will never make it to the CrossFit Games OR the Olympics, let alone both. It takes some serious nerve to try to critique an athlete of that caliber. But, in this day and age, we see it all the time. Polish powerlifter Krzysztof Wierzbicki just deadlifted 456 kg (1005 lbs) at a bodyweight of 93 kg (205 lbs). The internet exploded because he pulled using a sumo stance and lifting straps, so “it’s a bullshit lift.”
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Carlton Williams set the Guinness World Record for most push-ups in 1 hour, with 2682 reps. Based on CrossFit standards, which stipulate that an athlete’s chest MUST touch the ground, Carlton did 0 push-ups. BUT, that wasn’t the Guinness standard. Their standard is simply a 90 degree bend in the arms. Still, because we hold different standards, it’s easy to judge and dismiss Carlton’s performance.
How do we solve this bias issue? How do we stop judging ourselves and others so negatively? I propose a simple solution: remove “Yeah, but” and everything that follows it from our lexicon.
Coach: “Nice job!”
Athlete: “Yeah, but I scaled.”
Fan: “Krzysztof Wierzbicki just pulled 4.9x his bodyweight!”
Hater: “Yeah, but he pulled sumo and used straps.”
Fitness enthusiast: “Carlton Williams did 2682 push-ups in 1 hour at age 52!”
Critic: “Yeah, but he never hit full range of motion.”
Bill: “Lasha just muscle snatched more than anyone in our gym can snatch.”
Marcus: “Yeah, but what’s his ‘Fran’ time?”
This effectively rewrites our conversations. For the middle two exchanges above (the last one was a joke in our private FB group), I’ll go even further for the haters and critics: shut up AND put up. Go perform the same feats to the same standards, and then you’ve earned the right to criticize. Otherwise, go back to hiding behind your keyboard in mama’s basement and hating yourself because the feats of better people make you feel inadequate and worse about yourself. </rant>
The bottom line: effort matters, and should be appreciated. Most educators understand this. There is a reason that participation trophies exist for young kids, and are appropriate in this setting. (For the record, growing up in West Hartford, all youth sports gave participation trophies until I was in 3rd grade.) While indulging in this practice for too long can lead to a sense of entitlement, there is a happy medium. And, if we forget that, we focus too much on outcome, and not enough on process and effort. Show up, do the work, put effort into your nutrition and recovery, and celebrate your milestones. Fitness is a journey, not a destination, and we coaches are here to guide you on yours. See you in the gym.