We live in a world of comparisons. Our consumer culture has trained us to compare our cars, clothes, houses– everything, to our neighbors. Magazines train us to compare our looks and our bodies to others. Most of this is total bs–negative and unhealthy mindsets designed to get us to buy stuff we don’t need. Are there positive ways to harness this natural human tendency? Definitely. This is why we use the whiteboard at the gym. It can be helpful to see where you stack up against other members of the box.
The question is, how do you handle this info mentally? Do you have a healthy relationship with the whiteboard? Do you see others as a source of healthy competition, as inspiration to dig deep? Or do you beat yourself up for not being “the best,” or where you *think* you should be. The reality of where you are may not always align with your ideas.
Do you find yourself thinking, “I’ll never be able to do that” about a certain move? “That’s for OTHER people, not me…”
I realized early on that in order to do my best at CrossFit, I would need to have the right relationship with my comparitive nature. It all started with my first workout.
It was a beautiful sunny Saturday morning partner WOD, and my partner was none other than Susan Brown. If you’ve worked out with her, you know she has a great personality, is freaking hilarious, and works as hard as anyone in the gym. We hit it off immediately and have been great friends ever since.
A few minutes in, the workout was killing me. I remember running, bear crawls, and kettlebell swings. There were other moves that I must have blocked out. I was having a tough time keeping up with Susan. “Who IS this lady?!” I asked myself as she breezed through kettlebell swings while I was out of breath, my head spinning.
When the workout was over, I was a sweaty pile on the floor. Through sweat-filled, stinging eyes I caught a blurry glimpse of Susan reaching out to give me a high five. I decided two things right then. First, I had to come back. Without a doubt I had found my exercise tribe. Second, comparisons would have to go out the window.
I knew that in order to keep going without getting discouraged, or injured, I would have to tread my own path and make slow and steady progress over a LONG time. Susan completely crushed any ego and any preconceived notions I may have had that I could just waltz into a CrossFit box and excel. No way. I had a lot of work to do.
As I came to class after punishing class, I had to scale everything. I used bands for pullups and pushups. I practiced the olympic moves with pvc pipes and the 15lb bar. I had to walk back to the box during runs. Everything was a learning process from the ground up.
Week after week, month after month, I stayed at the bottom of the whiteboard. I finished workouts last. I lifted less than my peers. I completely disassociated from all the comparisons, because I could see progress. I could feel myself getting stronger. My body was changing. My mind was getting tougher. I had what I was looking for, I was in love with fitness!
Eventually, I got to a point where I could be a bit competitive.
I managed to match one of the coaches at the deadlift. I was floored. I had a lot of respect for this coach, some of you may remember Coach Paul, the original owner and founder of CFS. “I tied you!” I said, thinking he would be proud and congratulate me. I had no ill will toward him at all, but he took my statement
in a way that I completely did not expect. “I am 15 years older than you, about 50lbs lighter and 6 inches shorter. I’d hardly call that a tie.”
Whoa. It hit me like a brick in the face. I pondered this. He had a point. What I took away from this is that we are all on our own fitness journey.
We may find people in our gym that we admire, and aspire to achieve what they have. We work extra hard to “catch up” to them. Meanwhile, they are in their own world.
Maybe they are having a bad day. Maybe they are injured. Maybe it’s just plain weird for them that YOU are comparing yourself to them and competing with them. It might even seem downright creepy to them.
My advice? Be mindful of how you approach competition. If you are chasing someone in the gym, and that little head game works to motivate you, that’s great. Get motivated, get moving, chase someone, that’s fine;
as long as it is positive and healthy. But, as someone who has also been on the receiving end of this, I can tell you, it IS weird to have someone tell you they are “out to beat you.” Can it also be a fun, healthy game with a fellow athlete? Absolutely! We have plenty of athletes that get into friendly competitions. There is a friendly way to do this. There may even be a little trash talk.
But it has to be mutual. I think competing with someone and then telling them later can be really awkward. If there is a conversation up front, and a friendship built beforehand, this is key. It has to be fun for both parties, otherwise it can get weird.
It’s a tough issue to navigate, but always ask yourself these fundamental questions: Is this helpful? Is this serving my goals? Is this friendly?
If you can establish a healthy and friendly relationship with the whiteboard, and with the other athletes in our gym, you
will have a much more rewarding and positive experience, and be MUCH less likely to get injured, I guarantee it.
Let me clear one more thing up here: your place on the whiteboard has NOTHING to do with your value as a person. In our gym, everyone is respected equally, whether you can squat 400lbs has nothing to do with it. CFS is a family and we support each other 100%. There is no “pecking order” or “totem pole” here. If you show up, work hard, and add to the community, you are welcome with open arms, it’s that simple.
With this in mind, I encourage EVERYONE to sign up for a competition, we have one coming up Dec 15. If you think of yourself as “too new” or “not good enough” to compete, let that go, and come have some fun with us.
It is just like any other WOD, except you might have more people cheering you on than usual. Come be a part of the community and have a blast with your tribe!
See you at the box.