Fear, doubt, and anxiety. That's what I felt when the owner of my gym asked me, “Hey, have you ever considered competing?”
Before I go on, I want to be super clear. He was not asking me because I’m some prodigy he saw potential in. He was asking me because a local competition offered our gym a free entry, and he didn’t want to see it go to waste. With sweaty palms and shaking knees, I agreed to compete in one of New Jersey’s biggest CrossFit competitions.
When it was all said and done, I placed 28th out of 30 in the Men’s Scaled division. I wanted to throw up after the first WOD. I almost went home after the second WOD. By the third (and final WOD for me), I fell to my knees well before the clock hit 0:00. It was a complete disaster.
My competing story doesn’t end there. Believe it or not, I’ve participated in a handful of CrossFit Competitions since that first one. Mostly because I learned two things that day: 1) Competing was hard, but fun. 2) The results of Comp Day track back to one thing: how I train when I’m not competing.
Preparing for CrossFit® Competitions
How well you train is ultimately the key to your competition day success. The fact is, you cannot control who you compete against, or how good they are. You cannot control your judges subjective take on what standards look like. You cannot control the scoring system. You cannot control the programming of WODs.
The only thing you can control is how prepared you will be on the day of competition. If you exercise control over that one thing, regardless of the result on Comp Day, you will feel like a winner. Because even if you come in last place, you’ll be able to say, “I prepared for this to the best of my ability. I performed to the best of my ability. There is nothing else I could have done.”We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training. - Archilochos
Why Should You Compete?
CrossFit competitions are like most things outside our comfort zones. It’s no different than public speaking, bungee jumping, or getting on an airplane for the very first time. The idea seems more daunting than it actually is. And the worst part is the build-up to the event.
When considering whether to compete, people tend to take part in negative self-talk. “I’m not good enough”, “I’d never win”, “Everyone else is much stronger / bigger / faster than me”. After exhausting the self-loathing avenue, the next step is dismissing the idea altogether. “I’m not that competitive, anyway.”, “I just do this for fun.”, “I’m too busy to compete.”
All those are very valid concerns, and for some people, they might be true. But for most….
It’s nothing but excuses. It’s the fear talking. It’s B.S.
No need to feel shame. This fear affects everyone in some facet of life or another. I'd bet the people that muster up the courage to sign up for competitions are still a little afraid. They were just able to suppress that fear long enough to whip out their credit cards and click the sign-up button.
The key to overcoming fear, in general, is to acknowledge it and take action anyway. Because the fact is, fear is a healthy human emotion. So long as it doesn't cripple other emotions to get in the way of opportunity.
At the end of the day, competing locally is not much different than competing in the CrossFit Open. You’re testing your fitness against another data set of athletes. That potential slice of humble pie can be the trigger you need to see how you can take your training to the next level.
I’m sure we’ve all seen someone outperform their expectations in the Open. Personally, I’ve seen several athletes miraculously learn double unders and muscle ups in a span of one week. This same phenomenon happens all the time in local competition - so you might as well take advantage of the extra motivation. You’ll be amazed how your inner athlete rises to the occasion.
How Do I Know If I’m Ready To Compete?
If you’re healthy, training without pain, and loving your daily CrossFit workouts….
You’re ready 🙂
In all seriousness, local CrossFit competitions tend to cast a wide net. Some smaller events may not have as many advanced movements like muscle ups, handstand push ups, or pistols. On others, you’ll see a mix of divisions that cater to all ability levels. If you do your homework, you can find something well within your abilities. Local competitions also tend to scale down generously for masters and scaled divisions. For many scaled events you might see substitutions like this:
- Toes To Bar become Knee Ups
- Box Jumps become Step Ups
- Pull-ups become Jumping Pull-ups
- Double Unders become Single Unders
Expect to see a lot of movements that are easy to do, in painful rep schemes. From what I’ve experienced, the scaled division tends to program “burner” workouts with light weights and simple movements. Perfect for beginners to get their feet wet.
For the Rx crowd, often times you’ll see heavier weights and more complex movements, especially if you’re lucky enough to make the finals! That’s when the programmer tends to whip out all sorts of exciting movements.
Finding The Right Local CrossFit Competitions For You
The easiest way to find a good competition is to ask your gymmates. Someone will know which competitions run smoothly, fit your skill level, and are fun. More importantly, they will know which competitions you should avoid in the area. A poorly executed CrossFit Competition will leave a bad taste in your mouth.
(Know of a great competition in your area? Leave a comment below this article to spread the word!)
If the people you associate with most in your gym are not the competition type, ask the coaches or owner. Affiliate Owners all know each other, so they also know what each other are up to. If there’s a competition on the horizon, the owner of your box should be able to point you in the right direction.
Finally, the last place we recommend looking is online. There are a few databases that list upcoming CrossFit Competitions:
Unfortunately, as they stand today, these databases are not easy to navigate and very underrepresented. We encourage you to get a word of mouth referral.
Finally, if you’re having a hard time finding a recommendation from your existing network, try using the free WODprep Athlete Insiders Facebook Group. A simple post about who you are, where you’re from, and what you’re looking for will hopefully start an encouraging conversation to help find the best option for you to compete.
There are several potential divisions that local CrossFit competitions might have:
- Women’s RX
- Men’s RX
- Women’s Scaled
- Men’s Scaled.
- Teams (several varieties)
Competitions that can draw large crowds might add a Master’s component. Master’s movements and weights tend to be somewhere between Rx and Scaled. To qualify for the Master’s division, athletes must be a certain age (usually 40+ for local comps). Some events also have “Elite” or “RX+” levels, which tend to draw the best of the best.
CrossFit competitions range from single competitor, to partner and teams. It’s not a bad idea to consider partnering up with someone who has competed before so they can hold your hand through the process. Or partner up with someone who is as green as you so you have someone to share your worry with. Team competitions are an excellent choice for the first-time competitor, and they are SO MUCH fun if you have the right crew.
When you’re deciding between the Scaled and Rx divisions, it comes down to your comfort zone. If it’s your first CrossFit competition, I almost always recommend going scaled. If you’re right on the edge of being an Rx-Level athlete, wavering because it’s your first competition, do scaled. There will be another opportunity down the line to go Rx.
For me personally, I have the skills of an Rx athlete, but my strength limits me to Scaled. Meaning, I can do every Rx movement, but I won't deadlift 225 lbs for reps because I’d probably hurt my back. I can’t clean 185 lbs. I can’t even imagine doing 135 lb thrusters for reps. So whenever I compete, I click the scaled box regardless.
Some might argue that I’m “sandbagging”. In return, I argue that I’m doing CrossFit® for health. I want to have fun while I compete, not stand there and stare at a bar I can’t lift for 10 minutes. Also, I don’t want to get hurt, which could easily happen when the weights are outside of my potential. I mostly want to have fun with my friends. Sometimes that means spending a Saturday doing 3 WODs then going out for pizza.
If you’re someone who is always Rx-ing your daily WODs, I’d start by checking the minimum work requirements for the competition. In almost every case, the organization running the event will release a rough guideline of the movements and loads to expect. For instance, here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite competitions, The Beach Brawl in Pensacola, FL:
- WallBalls, 30/20
- CTB Pull-ups
- Ring/Bar Muscle Ups (can break up reps between teammates)
- Toes to Bar
- Power Cleans, 155/105
- Thrusters, 115/75
- Double Unders
- Shoulder to Overhead, 155/105
- Snatch, 115/75
- Overhead Squats, 135/95
As you can see above, if I wasn’t comfortable with a few of those weights, didn’t have consistent muscle ups, and can only OHS 145 lbs, then I’d probably be smart to default to the Scaled division. Ultimately, it’s your call, but if you’re well within the movement standards, don’t be afraid to go RX’d! Here’s what Coach Ben had to say about this:
“When it comes to choosing the right competition division, I have a few general rules. Rule #1 - Don’t get hurt. If you find out that the working weights are close to or exceed your 1-rep-max, then it’s time to scale down. Don’t mess with overload injuries. Rule #2 - Challenge yourself. If the only reason you’re avoiding the Rx division is because you aren’t going to podium - swallow that ego! I’d much rather see one of my capable athletes take a chance at the Rx division, placing near the bottom of the pack, than see someone try to be a hero in the Scaled division. If you can do the movements, hit the weights, and not risk injury… then go Rx’d. Rule #3 - When in doubt, go team. I absolutely love team competitions. They tend to be the perfect blend of challenge and fun. If you have a glaring weakness, chances are one of your team members can fill the void. Going team helps take the direct pressure off of you, there tends to be less overall volume, and last but not least - you get to come up with a creative team name, so that’s cool.”
(Like team competitions? What’s the best team name you’ve ever seen? Comment below, we want to hear it!)
Training For The Competition (Why “Practice” Wins)
The most important part of training for CrossFit competitions is how you actually train when you’re not competing. Before we get started… I just want to let you know that this section is for people who really want to compete. If you don’t want to compete, and just like to practice old school CrossFit, then feel free to skip this section, as it might get you fired up.
Still here? Let’s dig in...
Firas Zahabi (a world class MMA fighter with years of training experience) was on the Joe Rogan podcast talking about his training philosophy. I couldn’t agree more with his point of view. We embedded the video below, but I’ll also outline the main points here for you. He touches on CrossFit athletes towards the end of the video. He describes us perfectly when he says we are “fatigue seeking” athletes looking to go “100%” every WOD. This is not how you should train if you’re truly seeking to maximize your potential as an athlete. If Lebron James played like it was Game 7 every single time he stepped on the court, his career would have been over a long time ago. When it comes to any sport, even CrossFit, there needs to be a clear difference between practice and games.
Read the outline below, or watch the video, and ask yourself if you agree with his approach. I’ve personally shifted my own training to this approach in the summer of 2016 and haven’t looked back since.
Sidenote: I won my first (& only) CrossFit competition in January 2018.
Don’t seek soreness: You should wake up feeling good the day after a workout.
- The question you should be asking yourself is: How much training can I pack into a single week? How much volume can I achieve? Without getting sore.
- Remember, this is if you’re treating CrossFit like a SPORT, which is very different than doing it for FUN. You can’t just AMRAP and “For Time” your way into becoming a good athlete.
Exercise can produce energy. If we put energy on a scale of 1-10 and 7 is “feeling good”, the right amount of exercise should have you feeling like an 8.
- Far too often, athletes push themselves too hard during training. They end up feeling worse after their workout than they did before they went in.
- Exercise should provide a tonic effect, like coffee. It makes you feel good. Once you achieve that high, end your session. Don’t continue to push yourself until the point of exhaustion every single time you’re in the gym - only occasionally.
- Save this redlining behavior for “training camp only” (ie. the couple months leading up to your main event). The benefits are marginal in the short term, but detrimental in the long term. By the time you actually get good, you’ll be broken.
Consistency > Intensity.
- Intensity is important and should be done once in a while.
- Intensity can ONLY be done once in a while. If you’re “going hard everyday”, you’re not really “going hard everyday.” It’s impossible to reach your true 100% daily.
- The word intensity, by nature, entails you need to take a break. Because if you don’t need to take a break, you didn’t really go to your maximum intensity.
Volume is more important than Intensity
- “Fighting is for fight night, Practice is for practice” - Angelo Dundee (World Famous Boxing Trainer)
- If you’re always sore, you’ve overdone it.
- Make your workouts a 5-7/10 and do them every day.
CrossFit tends to be a fatigue-seeking style of workout. Athletes feel a sense of accomplishment when they push themselves to the edge every workout. This is fun, and can make you feel good, but it’s not going to help you podium.
- If CrossFit® athletes followed the 50-70% effort rule and periodically tested their true max, they’d be better off than going 100% every single training session.
Don’t believe Zahabi, or me? Check out what Mr. Chasing Excellence himself, Ben Bergeron has to say on the topic of “practice”.
Competition Training Takeaways
Focus on consistency over intensity. Missing a workout due to soreness is silly. Pushing yourself to the point in which you dread going to your next workout is ill-advised and opens you to the risk of injury. Increase your volume over the long term and get better at your craft slow and steady. Once you have a solid engine, training for a competition is the only time you should spike your intensity. The super intense workouts should be targeted and limited to the last few months leading up to the big day. I know this isn’t a popular stance, and it’s certainly not the way that most gyms are programming, but it’s definitely the best way to increase your performance in our sport.
Dr. CJ DePalma, WODprep Private Coach and owner of The Movement Dr. says it best: “Don’t just WOD your face off. You need to practice.”
What if I already know the WODs?!
Sometimes, the organization holding the competition will publish the WOD in advance. If that’s the case, we recommend practicing each WOD twice. Once at half speed, reduced reps, or both to familiarize yourself with transitions, breaks, and movement patterns. As Coach Ben mentions in his Open prep videos, transitions are hugely important and often overlooked. Waste no time switching between equipment; this skill requires practice like anything else.
After practicing at half speed, try again at full speed to set a standard to beat during competition. If you really would like to maximize your performance, video record each attempt so you can watch it and find room for improvements.
Get there on time. Don’t be the person that scrambles in after everyone else signs-in and the event staff is announcing the first heat. If it’s a gym you’ve never been to, leave yourself some extra time and make sure you can find parking, which is often a disaster on competition day.
Make sure you get enough rest. I’d say 8-10 hours would be ideal. If you budget 8-10, but can’t sleep more than 6 or 7 out of habit, that’s fine. Obviously there might be some jitters the night before. Try reading a book to put your mind at ease, this is much better than scrolling through Instagram or Facebook asking “Why can’t I fall asleep?!”.
When it comes to food, DO NOT CHANGE YOUR ROUTINE! Don’t eat a special diet on comp day. Don’t buy special supplements. Eat foods that are agreeable with your stomach, things that you’re used to. For me personally, I start comp day with a full protein shake and a banana or apple. I’ll eat berries and / or bananas between workouts and sip on gatorade throughout the day along with more liquid protein.
Coach Ben claims that his go-to snack is Clif Builder's bars because they are delicious, calorie dense, and sit on his stomach well. Other than that, I’m usually waiting til the competition’s over to eat an actual heavy meal. This is because I usually workout at 5:30am and hate the feeling of food in my stomach while hitting a WOD. If you’re the opposite and need to eat before working out, make sure you do so. Don’t force yourself to eat or take something that’s not natural to you.
On that note - make sure you consume something - especially liquids. Due to the nervous energy, it’s easy to feel like you’re not hungry or to feel like you don’t need to drink anything throughout the day. This is not smart. It’s a natural body response to anxiety and one that you should ignore. You are thirsty, I promise. Keep sipping on those protein shakes and munching on some carbs that sit well on your stomach.
The hidden factor: Judges.
When you’re on the floor doing final preparation for the WOD, be sure to show your judge your movement standards as you understand them for every single movement. Ask them if you’re not doing enough. More importantly, ask them if you’re doing too much. You don’t have to be a hero. Save your energy, be efficient, and avoid no reps.
If you’re not planning to pause for a second at the top of each overhead squat, make sure they tell you it’s okay and watch you demo a few reps. It’s better to find out their personal standards before the event, not during. Just because the standard is “hops locked out” doesn’t mean that each judge will have the same level of scrutiny. If you get no-repped, accept it and adjust. From my experience, the more open and friendly your communication is with your judge before the event, the better.
(As a side note, refrain from throwing physical objects, and/or foul language at your judge. Remember, they are not existing to make your life miserable. Chances are, they volunteered out of the kindness of their heart to help judge your sweaty ass all day. Be kind. Smile. Have fun. Everyone will be better for it.)
Equipment: What To Bring On Competition Day
First, bring extra clothes. I usually change my socks, t-shirt, and compressions shorts between each workout. The competition day funk is a very real thing. Be sure to have some comfy casual clothes on hand if you’re going out to eat with friends to celebrate. This is a comfort thing. When you’re comfortable, you’ll perform better.
Pack your equipment. Jump rope, wrist wraps, knee sleeves, tape, etc. This is not an excuse to go into a WOD with a utility belt. This is just so you don’t have to scramble around asking people to borrow stuff at the last minute. Here’s a quick checklist of things that Coach Ben brings to every competition:
Most importantly, have fun! Don’t be a wallflower. Meet new people, shake some hands, put yourself out there. Everyone else is just as nervous as you are. The judges aren’t scary. They volunteered their entire Saturday to watch you crawl to the finish line. Make their time worth it by being your best self!
The Day and Week After Competition:
This is similar to the advice I gave above for between workouts. Keep moving! Don’t stay in bed or sit on the couch all day. You might feel like you got hit by a truck. But loafing around and calling it “rest and recovery” will do more harm than good. Go for a walk. Jump in a pool. Do some light activity to keep your blood flowing throughout your body.
Don’t get a deep tissue massage! Don’t torture yourself over a foam roller. These last two things often make you feel more sore, and they’re “passive” when you need to be active (another blog post about this coming soon).
When you find yourself back in the gym a day or two later, keep the intensity low. I’d play in the 50-60% effort sandbox for about a week. Talk to your coaches about how you’re feeling and let them know you’ll be taking it easy for the next couple days. Ask them for advice on post competition habits and routines. If they say “Uhhh … just do ROMWOD?” then ignore them and got for a hike. We’re always looking for active movement, not passive hold-for-10-minutes stretching (again, more on that coming in another blog post).
Every CrossFit athlete has thought about competing at one time or another. Few people run full speed ahead and jump in head first. Most stand at the edge of the shore, testing to see how cold the water really is. Be the person that decides to inch forward no matter what. Take a new approach to your training. Prioritize volume and consistency over intensity. Ask your boxmates and coaches for recommendations on competitions geared towards beginners.
Then, when you finally decide on an event, represent yourself and your home box with pride. Focus on the process behind competing, not the results.
In the comments section below:
Let us know how you felt before (and after) your first ever competition. Tell us about the experience so that others can learn. If you haven’t competed yet, let us know what’s holding you back!
WODprep is not affiliated with CrossFit, Inc nor is it endorsed by CrossFit, Inc or any of its subsidiaries. CrossFit is a registered trademark of CrossFit, Inc.
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