As I mentioned on the blog, I recently participated in my second CrossFit competition! This comp was actually the same one I did last year, which is hosted by my home gym. Since I live in a small town, basically all other comps require travel, so this one is nicely convenient. (Yes, I realize this post is a little overdue, but it took a while to collect my thoughts and put them into words.)
Typically for competitions, I look for an individual scaled division, but much to my surprise, this year I actually ended up doing the RX division. The competition organizers sent out some guidelines for choosing RX’d or scaled, and because there was only one thing I couldn’t do out of the five listed, I decided to take a chance and go for RX’d. Generally speaking, I am NOT an RX’d athlete at all, but since the movements worked out, I decided to go for it!
I ended up tying for last place out of 11 women in my division. Technically, the row from WOD 3 (see below) was supposed to serve as the tiebreak, so using that, I was actually just plain last, haha. Tying for last (ish) was sliiightly better than my expectation of being just plain last, but I had a tiny flicker of hope that I would get closer to the middle of the pack.
P.S. Apologies for the crazy-blurry pictures. They’re action shots, what’re you gonna do…
7 min AMRAP
30 cleans, 65#
30 cleans, 95#
30 cleans, 125#
Max 165# cleans with remaining time
I knew this WOD wasn’t going to be winning me any points, so I went at a moderate pace. I did the first set of cleans in a few sets to keep from blowing out my shoulder muscles. When I got to 95#, it was just a matter of being patient and resting long enough between reps not to miss a rep. I ended up getting six cleans at 95#. Considering my 1RM is 103#, I was pleased with my score, especially because some of my last couple of reps were actually my best.
20 min AMRAP
1000M row buy-in, then:
20 handstand push-ups
20 wall balls, 14# to 9′
This WOD was the closest thing to a real competition I was going to have. Rowing is not really my jam, but the bodyweight movements in the subsequent portion were more my speed. I hoped my bodyweight skills would be enough to get me a decent score in this one.
Since I’m a slow rower, I went in planning for a pace of about 2:40 (per 500M) on the rower. I often come out too hard on the row and end up feeling like absolute crap for the rest of the workout, but I’ve been getting much better at strictly staying on pace and preserving my energy. I came off the rower way behind the other women in my heat (we’re talking like 30 seconds behind), but after a few breaths to recover, I pounded out my first 20 pull-ups in 3 sets. Despite their head start, I actually passed a couple of women in that first set of pull-ups, which gave me a huge boost of excitement.
My pistols had been pretty shaky leading up to the competition (and indeed, I think I fell on my butt immediately after the pic above was snapped), but since I knew they were coming I was able to get a couple practice sessions in. Considering how rough they had been, my pistols went surprisingly well and I was able to work through them faster than I expected with minimal missed reps. I hit the skids again on the wall balls (heavy for me) and lost quite a bit of ground there, but again, managed to chip away. In the end, I managed to make it most of the way through the second round of pistols before time was called.
I placed 9th of 11 in this WOD, which was a little bit disappointing since I knew this was going to be my strongest event (and indeed, it was my best placing of the day). I wish there hadn’t been a row buy-in, since that would’ve left me extra time to work through my strengths and rank better, but you can’t have it all!
Max height vertical jump
1 RM snatch
WOD 3 was a floater WOD consisting of two quick portions done at separate times. The vertical jump was an interesting metric to throw in the mix. There was really no strategy or gaming here, just jump high! To my surprise, I actually ended up beating a couple people in this event!
For the snatch, we only had 3 minutes to put up the biggest number we could, so there was definitely some strategy required. It was also measured in kilos, which added an unexpected mental aspect. My snatch PR is 75#, so that number was the best case scenario I had in my head. Often in competition when you’re already fatigued, you can’t put up numbers as big as in training. To be cautious, I started off with an easy 25 kg, which is only about 55#. With only 3 minutes, I just wanted to make sure I put up something. I jumped to 30 kg (66#) and made my first attempt, though it definitely felt a lot heavier. For my last weight, I almost put on 34 kg, but decided to go all in and try for 35 (77#). I attempted twice and could float the bar about to my face level, but couldn’t get under it. I do wish I’d gone with my first instinct to load 34 instead of 35, but I would’ve still placed last in this WOD regardless, so whether I got that last lift didn’t really matter in terms of the competition.
(And yes, I split snatch when it gets heavy, so that’s what that pic is.)
5 rounds for time (12 min cap):
20 GHD situps
5 shoulders-to-overhead, 135#
This last WOD was a huge struggle for me. I had a couple of hours between my third WOD and this last one, which was enough time for the fatigue to start setting in and my energy to flag. Before the event even started, my body was resisting and pretty much just ready for a nap.
The idea of putting 135# above my head was truly laughable–it’s so far above my 1RM that it would’ve been foolish to even attempt, so I spoke to my judge and had the weight adjusted down to 75#, a heavy but doable weight for me. By scaling the weight, only the first 20 reps counted, but it meant I could still continue with the spirit of the competition and work through the WOD instead of standing there until the cap.
The worst thing about the WOD, and probably the whole days, was those GHDs. Coming off the GHD, you have to give yourself a moment before you can lift because the sit-ups make you so dizzy. Whipping around so much also gave me a mean headache for a couple hours afterward. On top of that, I’m not used to such a high volume of GHDs, so this WOD absolutely trashed my abs. A couple days after the competition, my abs were so sore that it hurt to stand up straight. I don’t know if any of you have ever been that sore in your abs, but it’s a special kind of miserable. Kiiiinda made me wish I’d went with the standing there option. :)
My shoulders were pretty smoked from the previous WODs, but I pushed myself to do all 5 reps of each set without dropping the bar because I didn’t want to have to clean the weight up again. It was pretty much torture and I was just so ready to be done. I ended up getting capped 15 GHDs into my last round.
First: I’m glad I chose the RX division. I think I had more fun by being able to do the WODs with more challenging movements. Competing scaled would’ve meant placing better, but I’m generally of the mindset that if there’s any way I can do the more challenging version of something, that’s what I’m going to choose. So I’m happy with my choice there, even though it meant ranking poorly.
Also on the positive side, one thing I did well in this competition was keeping my eyes on my own game, i.e., not worrying about what others were up to. This skill is pretty useful, but one I’ve developed out of necessity in the >2 years I’ve been doing CrossFit. At my gym, there are zero athletes who I can benchmark myself against. Most athletes know of a couple people at their gym who have a similar skill level to them that they “compete” with and compare scores with in day-to-day WODs. I don’t at all. Sure, there are individual WODs where someone might track closely with me, but there are no athletes who overall have comparable strength and skill to me. This means I’ve had to get to know my pace and my limitations very well, and that definitely has its advantages.
Overall, I had a perfectly fine time. It wasn’t some kind of “omg so amazingggg” day, but it wasn’t bad either. My results didn’t make me feel crappy, because I was expecting them. Though on the flipside, I’m sure I would’ve been thrilled if I’d done better than anticipated.
In the wake of the competition, I’ve found myself reflecting and questioning the idea of competing in CrossFit for me personally. What am I actually getting out of competing? Am I learning anything? Am I getting better in some way? If the answer is no, why am I doing it, and is it really worth my time, money, and energy?
The thing is, I’ve always loved the idea of competing, so I like that being a CrossFit athlete gives you that option. The extra pressure and energy of competitions tends to make me push myself, and I also like to see how I stack up against others. Ideally, competition provides context for your hard work and reveals your strengths versus what you might need to work on.
But here’s a big problem with competitive CrossFit: workout programming generally assumes a certain average body type. Yes, they try to balance the scales for bigger versus smaller athletes by mixing up bodyweight movements with heavy, load-bearing movements, but there’s still limitations on the sizes of athletes that can reasonably work through the movements. Below a certain point, CrossFit is not kind to small athletes, men and women alike.
And yes, this works on a day-to-day basis at the gym. I can and do scale according to my abilities to give myself an appropriate challenge on my strengths and a more reasonable load on my weaknesses. But CrossFit competitions are necessarily a way to compare yourself to others. In a sport like running, you do the same amount of work in each race and can therefore compare those results to your previous results. You get something out of it because you find out if you’re getting stronger and if your training is working. But in CrossFit competitions, WODs are all over the map, and therefore don’t usually give you any useful metric to compare your current competition self with your past competition self. Almost the entire point is that you’re comparing your fitness capacity with other people’s fitness capacity. (Mind you, I don’t think that’s automatically bad, it’s just an observation.)
To be more concrete, on a good day, I weigh in at about 100 lbs. This is far below the more average range of 130-150 lbs (ish) for female CrossFitters. So while my 115 lb front squat might be a great number for my weight, that number is child’s play to most athletes and all but useless on the competition floor. Because I am an outlier in terms of size, I end up being an outlier in terms of fitness abilities, and competition feels like a sort of apples-to-oranges comparison. Pretty frequently, it leaves makes me feeling more than a little bit sad that, while I enjoy CrossFit, I just can’t seem to fit in as a “real” CrossFitter.
For me personally, and probably for many others, any kind of exercise isn’t very much fun when you feel like you suck at it. While I don’t remotely feel the need to be the greatest in the world, there’s huge reinforcing value to feeling like you’re at least decent. For me, and maybe for you too, there’s also the social aspect of wanting to be respected as a dedicated and skilled athlete by your fitness peers. In CrossFit, I have struggled and continue to struggle with all of this. While I don’t feel like I suck at CrossFit, per se, I also don’t feel like I’m great at CrossFit. That middle ground can be a hard place to be, since I like it well enough to want to keep doing it, but I am lacking in skill enough to be a little frustrated at times.
So overall, I think these are pretty normal feelings to have–desiring achievement and social acceptance/respect–but they still leave me with questions about whether I’m on the right path. While I’m not really considering quitting CrossFit as a whole, I’m not sure competing in it is the right choice for me. And if I don’t compete in CrossFit, how can I tweak my perspective and/or my training to feel more positively about my fitness? Is competing still important to me in general? If yes, should I pursue other types of competitive sports? These are all questions I hope I can find better answers for.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading about my competition experience and my feeeeeelings. :) If you have thoughts about competing, CrossFit, the emotions of fitness, etc., feel free to share them below!