Many years ago when my son was in grade seven I had a revelation. He told me that he had a geography test coming up on Canadian provinces, territories and their capitals. I asked him if he was ready and he answered that he hoped so. Hoped so? The test criteria was both finite and well defined, you either know the names or you don’t. This type of test is easy to study for, a perfect score should be the only acceptable outcome with an information set so small and predictable.
A few days later, someone at the gym asked me if I was ready for the Crossfit Open competition and in an echo of my son I replied: “I hope so.” And then I paused and thought about it. The CrossFit Open is just like that test on Canadian geography, there is no excuse to be unprepared. The CrossFit Open certainly throws us a few surprises every year but the test set is really quite finite. If you develop a core competency in the thruster, snatch, clean & jerk, burpee, wall balls, row, DU, C2B, HSPU, MU & T2B you are 80% of the way there. There may be variations and unique combinations of those elements plus one or two unexpected movements but proficiency in those core skills will get you most of the way there.
Over the next several years my training changed to reflect this new understanding emphasizing the pursuit of greater competency in those testable skills in order to maximize my competition results. And this proved generally successful for competition. It certainly made me confident competing. I knew the test and I’d studied the material. I stopped wondering “if” I could do something, I knew exactly how many consecutive T2B I could do in a set and how long a break I’d need between. I knew my rowing pace and I knew how to break up my wall balls sets to maximize performance. I went from nervous to confident. And I firmly believe that when possible, you should prepare diligently for any test you plan to take on so that you can approach it with confidence knowing that you have done the work necessary to ensure your success. You have no control over the performance of others but you do control your performance. You do know your capacity and how to work within it. And on the day of competition this is all that is within your control.
But I’m getting off track. Agency is a subject I’ll address in an upcoming blog. Today we’re discussing fitness and what I described above is test taking, not fitness. Knowing the names of Canadian provinces and capitals does not make you good at geography. It makes you good at taking a particular test. Do you know where Moose Jaw is? Have you visited St. Catherines? Do you know the way to Sudbury? Knowledge of our country goes so far beyond labelling a few names on a map. You could ace that grade seven test and still have no clue how to get to Kapuskasing.
Just as the capitals do not describe the whole map of Canada, the movements tested in the Crossfit Open do not describe the whole geography of fitness. You may not need competency in the back squat, TGU, GHD sit up, skin-the-cat, airbike or 400m run to succeed in the Crossfit Open, but that does not mean that these are not important elements for developing your fitness. Fitness is not, in fact, a finite test. It is the ability to meet and overcome any challenge that life can throw your way whether you’re skiing the slopes, swimming against a riptide, hiking a trail, fighting off a mugger or escaping a burning building. Fitness is not neatly encapsulated in a finite set of testable skills, it is broad, general and unpredictable in its demands.
2020 gave all of us reason to ponder our lives and our fitness journey. With the absence of competitions to prepare for it gave me the opportunity to renew my appreciation for general physical fitness outside the context of sport competition – and even outside the gym. My body has never felt healthier. The greater variety and the decreased emphasis on specific skills has seen me get stronger without the usual in-season overuse injuries and wear and tear that a competitor’s body usually sustains. I’m certainly not so well prepared for the tests of this year’s Crossfit Open, but on the other hand, I really don’t mind because as much as I love competing, I’ve also been enjoying my fitness journey.
I was reminded to ask myself whether I want to train for the test or for life. For the specific and predictable or for the broad, general unknown and unknowable. My answer this time last year would have been quite different than my answer today and my current training reflects that. I do not believe there is a right or wrong answer here, your answer should be driven by your priorities. And your priorities, like mine, may change over time and according to circumstance. It is still important to know the names of those capitals and where they are located but you may find yourself enriched if you do not limit your learning to that. It’s okay to wander off the trail from time to time to explore some out of the way locations. I haven’t stopped training my core competition skills, I’m just not spending as much training time focussed on them as in previous years. Instead I’ve been visiting some lovely new locales that I find I quite enjoy even though I know their names will never appear on a test.
Where on the map of your fitness journey are you? Where would you like to be? Make sure your training is taking you in that direction. If it’s not, change direction. Are you on a journey to crush a test or to take on life? Your desired destination should dictate your training. And whichever route you choose, enjoy the journey!
Don’t have a good pull up alternative? No problem. Substitute a push up ladder instead. It will be just as hard but require less equipment. If you finish the first ladder early we’ll throw in a sit up ladder as a bonus, no extra charge. It should be a fun day!
10 Lat Pull Ups
10 Ring Rows
Pull Up Ladder
Sit Up Ladder
Banded Shoulder Pass Throughs