3 Lessons We Can All Learn From the CrossFit Games

I enjoy reading articles by the Breaking Muscle coaches about their perspective on the Games. From them, three common themes emerge.

I am guilty of seeing everything in life as a learning experience. The CrossFit Games is no exception. When I watch the men and women compete at the Games, I am observing, soaking it in, enjoying the incredible spectacle – and learning.

Sometimes the learning doesn’t strike me straight away. I enjoy reading articles by the Breaking Muscle coaches about their perspective on the Games and all that surrounds it. From these articles three lessons emerge. We can apply these lessons right back to our lives and training.

Lesson #1: Build a Better Version of Yourself

This lesson is about self-improvement. Stand still, and you will quickly be surpassed by someone working harder and building themselves to be better. To remain at the top year after year means you need to continually get better. Sometimes, getting better at something is simply about getting it done. Swimming coach Hannah Caldas, in Swimming and the CrossFit Games: Why Is It Everyone’s Weak Link?, gave advice in this regard:

So the real advice here is DO IT. Get in the pool, the lake, the ocean, or the bathtub. (Yes, you can actually practice breathing drills in the bathtub.) Whatever you do, just do it. Learn to be comfortable in water so you can advance to other skills that may make your water experience less daunting.

But corrective exercise expert Jeff Kuhland believes this idea of continuous betterment is about more than getting it done. He believes improvement needs to pursued by means of a more scientific method, rather than simply a desire to get better. In his article What All Athletes Can Learn From the 2013 CrossFit Games, he stated:

This idea of continuous improvement is becoming more accessible to athletes everywhere as we have a greater ability to record our workouts and progress. Computer programs allow us to track distance, heart rate, total weight lifted, percentage changes, and much more. Continuous improvement is well established in the business and engineering world for a good reason, it is the only way to stay on top and relevant. Essentially you constantly evaluate your process (training), look for way to improve it, and then measure your results. Too many people want to compete simply show up to workouts and do what everyone else does.

When testing yourself at the CrossFit Games, its easy to put yourself in the mindset that today is the only thing that matters. Ben Stoneberg, a formidable CrossFit Games athlete, has a wider pespective. CrossFit Coach Michelle Baumann, in her article Ben Stoneberg: Headed for the CrossFit Games and Having Funquoted Ben:

It makes me happy to know that I gave it my best effort, and even if I don’t make a lift or I don’t feel the best that day, I know that there’s always tomorrow. I think that if I can do this good on this day, then I’m sure I can get better the next time I do it.

Lesson #2: Relax

This lesson is about learning to be in the moment and have fun. Ben Stoneberg explained to Michelle Baumann how important it is to relax and enjoy the process, not just for now but for health and sanity in the long term:

You can’t compare yourself to people like Rich Froning because you’ll just get frustrated,” he says. “You have to focus on yourself and what your weaknesses are. It’s all about dedication, staying healthy, and having fun. Having fun is the biggest part, if I didn’t have fun, I wouldn’t be doing this.

Here at Breaking Muscle, my Managing Editor has one main rule, and it spills over into all aspects of life – “no stress.” In Third Time’s the Charm: Going to the CrossFit Games, games masters veteran Patrick McCarty confirmed that less stress is the key to a relaxed and productive approach:

In 2013, my approach was 100% focus and dedication to making it to Carson, which resulted in 100% stress. I made it, but found that I was had less fun than I actually had hoped at the Games. This year, my goal was to get as strong and as fit as I possibly could, and if I made it to the Games, great. If not, great.

When you manage to relax into the moment, it can make for a magical experience. Many of you will recognize this as being “in the zone.” This mindset leads to the incredible feats of human strength and fitness we see in the CrossFit Games. Jeff Kuhland expanded on this in his article What All Athletes Can Learn From the 2013 CrossFit Games:

CrossFit and competition in your sport requires mental focus that puts you in the zone. It is one of the few times in life where everything else can fade away. You become so enthralled in the event that the noise quiets and no one else is there. There is a special place that exists for athletes when you are truly in the moment – it all fades away, you get tunnel vision, and your performance skyrockets. This is what most athletes are in search of and it only comes as a reward of consistent hard work over a long time, allowing you the conditioning to dig deep.

Lesson #3: Put It All in Perspective

This lesson is about not only being in the moment, but being able to see the bigger picture. This is about being reflective, not just after the event, but also leading into and during it.

Key to the ability to relaxing into the process is the ability to put it all in perspective. In his Athlete Journal: Pat McCarty, Entry 20 – 7/17/2013 Patrick McCarty discussed the importance of putting your hard work into perspective:

I have done everything I can do, that is within my control, to go to the Games and achieve my goal – that is, to make it to the final day of competition. No brainer, right?


Why? Because first of all, everything I have just listed above is likely being done in mirror-image fashion by the nineteen other competitors in my bracket. And the one thing I cannot control is them. I may be able to state my goal of making the finals, but this goal involves many factors outside of my control – the other competitors, the workouts, the judging, even the weather.

For many, perspective will happen after the event. For Patrick, having this clarity before the CrossFit Games is essential. What does this all actually mean? Is it worth risking everything for? His article Some Pre-CrossFit Games Reflections From Carson explained the reality well:

Now, don’t take this as a lack of gratitude or appreciation for being here. I am having the time of my life this week and I worked really hard to get here. But the fact remains, when putting the CrossFit Games Masters Division in laser-focus perspective there is nothing at stake here for the great majority of us. A few sponsorships, a little press, but on Monday most of us will go back to our day jobs as lawyers, web developers, coaches, and parents. We’ll go back to getting college tuitions scraped together, mowing the grass, and living life.

The Take-Away

Jeff Kuhland provided us with a few words that summarize all of this perfectly, in his piece What All Athletes Can Learn From the 2013 CrossFit Games. It’s the kind of thing I can imagine written on the wall of a CrossFit box, for athletes to see, read, and consider on a daily basis:

So what now? Take a view of where you are and where you want to be. Set a plan, perform at all times, live in the moment, compete on the stage, and recover hard. Become who you want to be today there will never be a better time.

Photos courtesy of CrossFit, Inc.