Through the Eyes of a Judge: 6 Tips and Tricks for Making Your Next CrossFit Competition Gratifying

 

I had a blast this weekend judging at the BattleGround CrossFit competition in San Pedro (despite the dreadful farmer’s tan I am now sporting).  As a judge (and even a spectator), I got to see the good, the bad and the ugly. I witnessed inspiring moments as well as cringe worthy ones. For those who have competed before or intend to compete for the first time, I want to share them with you. (As a side note, competing is something all of you should consider at some point for the sheer experience of it.  It is like nothing else you will do). When you do compete, I want you to have the best experience doing it. It is not always about winning and for most of you, it is going to be about getting out of your comfort zone to really shock and amaze yourselves.

  1. Have a game plan. This seems obvious, yet not everyone goes into a competition prepared. For most competitions, the movements and workouts are announced before the big day. Prior to the competition, ideally you have time to do a test run or at a minimum, practice the movements. Have a plan for how you want to execute. You may consider planning how you want to break up reps or which movements you want to move faster through to compensate for another movement that you anticipate being harder to push through. For teams you want to know who is doing what to make it as flawless as possible. Athletes tend to feel more prepared and confident going in when they know what their part is.

    I had the honor of judging one of the RX teams as well as a few scaled teams, one in particular which is most memorable.  I was equally impressed by both despite that the RX  team had competed before while the scaled team was competing for the first time.  Both teams stayed in step with their mates, and nobody dominated or took over. They went in assured (even considering they were nervous!) and walked away feeling triumphant. It was beautiful to see.

    On the contrary, I judged a team who was well, to put it bluntly, a hot mess. They had no game plan and their communication was atrocious. They barely knew what the workout was (which is also indicative of a lack of preparation or simply not listening to the organizers go over in detail the workouts prior to the first heat). I have yet to see a team ever (in my times judging as well as competing) where “winging it” worked out well. Granted, competitions are whatever you make of it and for some, they may not care how they get it done as long as they do get it done. I would say though you will enjoy competing more if you feel prepared and have a plan.

 

  1. Communicate with your teammates! I cannot stress this point enough. Of all the teams I judged, the ones that inspired me the most were the ones who communicated well with each other. They had a plan going in and performed like a true team. They knew who was doing what and they did not stumble. They also encouraged each other before and during. They were respectful towards each other and communicated calmly. It really made a difference in how they executed. It also built team camaraderie because they could trust one another.

    Something else that you may not consider until game day is that competitions are quite noisy with music, spectators, announcers, etc. When verbal communication is not an option, you will need to rely on body signals or head nods to communicate to your team. Equally important though is that you need to establish in advance what physical cues to look for. The Hot Mess Team, for example, had none of that. They barely looked at each other which made their transitions sloppy. They lost a bit of time and got many no reps.  They also got to the end of the workout where it was a team relay of a 200 meter run followed by 5 burpees (each person had to do this before the next went). When it came time to do this, they all were standing around not knowing what to do or who was going.  I had to shout, “GO!” before someone finally made a move.

    Lack of communication leads to a higher level of stress and poor output, which is the opposite of what you want when competing. Pay attention to your teammates both verbally and visually. Know when someone needs help or when someone needs a word of encouragement to keep going. Know when to go.

 

  1. Communicate with your judge! Before each heat, I prefer having a moment to talk with the athletes. I like to tell them my counting scheme. For example, trying to count someone else’s double- unders is one of the hardest things to do when judging. There is also no way to count each one out loud and keep up with what rep they are on. I would count out loud by10’s. I would tell the athletes this before they started so that they did not lose focus or worry that I was daydreaming and not counting.  They appreciated this and thanked me for it.

    Some of the teams and individual competitors even told me ahead what their game plan was which makes it easier to judge. For example, the RX team told me that the male was doing all the bar muscle ups and then the female would start on the snatches. This made it more efficient for them (and me) as I knew who to look at for reps (and it did not cost them time waiting on me).

    On the contrary, the Hot Mess Team, as they showed up at the last minute before starting the workout, missed the opportunity to know my game plan in terms of counting. This lead to them asking me a million questions as I was judging which as a judge is absolutely annoying and distracting.  I am pretty sure this cost them extra reps because it took my attention away from counting. Had they communicated with me ahead of time, we also would have been more in sync and they would have a more fluid time competing. (This team was my least favorite to judge… can you tell?)

    Bottom line on this point, just like you should communicate with your teammates, you will want to communicate with your judges.

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  1. ALWAYS set properly before executing. In competitions, nerves (and often inexperience) results in athletes going for a movement, particularly barbell lifts, before even setting properly. And quite often, that leads to failed movements (aka the dreaded NO REP!). If they do manage to hit it, it’s ugggggggly (and cringe worthy as that is typically when injuries happen). One of the workouts in the BattleGrounds was a clean ladder where the teams had 4 minutes to get as many lifts as possible, with each athlete being able to attempt 2 before tagging in the next athlete. I saw athletes running from platform to platform going right into lifts and those were the ones that often failed. Setting up is so key! When I watched the more seasoned athletes, they all took those few extra seconds to set up and they executed beautifully. (Haste makes waste guys!) And I get it, everyone feels the pressure of the clock and every second matters. It is better though to take that extra 3 seconds to set and get that rep than not and fail (which means less points).

 

  1. Stay calm and composed. Similar to setting properly, it is so important to not let your nerves take over. Quite a few of the no reps I had to make were because athletes lost focus, like on double -unders. Those are just a tricky movement to begin with and they are one of the easiest to flub on. One you get out of rhythm it causes frustration (and continual fails). Athletes got in their own heads and instead of taking that extra second to regain composure (much like setting properly on barbell lifts), they would trip themselves up.

    Losing composure also happened when athletes were so determined to go fast, they ended up inadvertently cheating movements (and getting no reps). I even saw athletes start scanning their neighboring competitors to see how far ahead or far behind they are.  This resulted in them losing focus and slowing down.

    It is so important to stay composed and stay focused on what YOU are doing.

 

  1. Give yourselves time to prepare. When the announcer says “athletes in Heat 4, please go to the field”, GO! As awesome and tirelessly as the volunteers work to get everything set up, there will always be unexpected snafus. Sometimes the bars may not have the right weight on them (as sometimes people’s lanes get reassigned at the last minute). There was a team (ok fine, it was the Hot Mess Team) who showed up late and almost did not have the chance to get the right weight for the women’s bar. They were close to having to contemplate snatching 95 pounds instead of 75. Showing up promptly gives athletes a chance to check their equipment, do a few warm ups even, and get themselves situated on the right bar on the rig. For us shorter athletes, we want to ensure we can reach the bar to do pull-ups. Similarly, for the taller athletes, there were cases where they were assigned to a lower bar and had the chance to move to a higher bar for muscle-ups.

    We all are used to working out at our respective boxes which means we are familiar with the equipment and set ups. At competitions, even though you are doing the same movements you have done before, there will be an element of unfamiliarity and discomfort initially. Give yourself time to get to comfortable before you hear that buzzer to start.

 

These are all really easy and practical guidelines to follow when competing. Follow them and you will have a much better experience competing. So go get after it (and let me know how it goes!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hide Your Daughters, Hide Your Wives: The CrossFit Open is Coming!

The CrossFit Open is coming! For many of you, this will be your first one. For others, you are veterans so you know what to expect. Either way, let’s discuss some important things to know about the CrossFit Open. There are two roles in the open you will have: athlete and judge. Many of the points overlap so please keep that in mind as you read through. Ok, let’s first talk about the athlete.

  1. The CrossFit Open IS a competition. I know, that just freaked a lot of you out. Good. It should. Take that anxiety and use it fuel the Open workouts. You will have moments where you pleasantly surprise yourself,  and you will have other moments where your weaknesses are exposed. THIS IS A POSITIVE THING! CrossFit is about a constant progression and journey. You can only get better when you know where you come from.

    It’s a competition in the sense that you literally are ranked against other people. You see how you land within your own box as well as where you land in your age group, region, country and the world. It’s pretty amazing. More importantly though, it is a competition between you, you and only you. It’s about pushing yourself and treating it like an opportunity to really see how far you can go.

  1. The Open lasts 5 weeks (February 23th  through March 27th) so typically for most boxes, Friday programming will be the Open workouts during that time. Train accordingly and trust your box’s programming to prep you without burning you out come Friday. Also, if you do any kind of workouts or training outside of the box, be smart about it. Since the workouts are not announced until Wednesday you will want to make sure you do not empty your tank and have nothing left to give come Friday.

    You can technically do the workout as many times as you want between when it is announced and when scores have to be officially submitted (but why would you want to?) If you do want to retry it to get a better score, keep in mind allowing your body time for recovery and plan accordingly.

  1. Make sure you stretch and mobilize! While there is a warm up and stretching before any workout, for many of you, you may need to supplement that. If, for example, an Open workout has overhead squats in it and you know you have bad hip mobility, allow time to get some extra hip mobility and stretching in before you jump into the workout.
  1. Get ready for PR’s! It is very common for athletes to get PR’s during the Open. So stay positive and welcome them with open arms.
  1. Every rep needs to be a good, honest rep. You will have a judge who will tell you if it’s a good rep or no rep. To keep the integrity of The Open and CrossFit as a whole, you need to be honest with your reps (that’s why there are judges). So suck up your egos and do not short or cheat movements.

    If you do get no repped, most likely it was warranted and not your judge being a jerk. If your judge can, he/she will tell you why it is a no rep so you can correct the remaining reps. Also, your judge will be counting your reps and reminding you what movement to go to next which is awesome! It alleviates the mental game you have of tracking reps as you work out. (Judges work hard fyi so be kind and thank your judge after you complete the workout).

Ok so speaking of judging, let’s talk more about that, because if you are participating in the Open, you most likely will also be acting as a judge. This is not to scare you (ok maybe it is a little..), but you do need to know that judging can be really difficult. There will be a lot going on during the Open workouts: the energy will be high, people will be cheering, and as a judge, you still need to focus on the athlete to ensure you are judging honestly. Just like we do not want athletes to cheat movements, as a judge, you do not want to miscount someone else’s reps.  Here are some tips and guidelines around judging.

  1. Stay focused! Think of it like playing Frogger where you need to get from one end to the other while all these distractors are going to come your way. It is YOUR JOB to accurately count reps. To help with that, see below for more specific tips.
  2. You will have a print out of the workout which will help you write down reps as the athlete moves through it. It also will be a great way to make sure the athlete is on the right movement in the right order. Depending on the rep scheme, you may want to consider tracking things by five. (It can be difficult to write every rep down and it also will be more likely you will be too busy writing that you will miss reps the athlete does).
  3. If a rep is questionable, use your discretion. Consider giving the athlete the rep but tell him/her what to fix. If the next rep is also questionable, do not count it. If he/she does correct it, then he/she is golden.
  4. You do not necessarily to need count every rep out loud, but give the athlete some indication of where they are. So, say for example, there are 5 cleans in the workout, you may count each one out loud versus if there are 50 double unders, you may just count out loud every 10.
  5. Every competition typically has judges and head judges. So in the Open, while any member can be a judge, most likely there will be a coach or two overseeing it and letting the judges and athletes know as well when they catch a bad rep.
  6. Know the movement standards. Every time CrossFit headquarters releases an Open workout, they also give very in depth detail (both written and video) of the standards. Read and watch them before you judge (and participate).
  7. We’ve talked about the importance of counting correctly and only counting good reps. You will be judging your fellow boxmates and friends, and it understandably might be awkward to no rep someone.  Suck it up buttercup. It is part of the job description. If the athlete is getting no repped, as mentioned above, it is really on them (and so you cannot let it bother you to be the messenger of bad news).

    Not to mention, that if you feel “bad” or let bad reps go, someone else you are not judging WILL notice and they WILL let you know. And trust me, It WILL NOT be pretty, so do not get into that situation. People are working really hard for their scores, and by someone else getting credit for reps where it is not due is justifiably bothersome, infuriating and undermines the hard work of other athletes.  So, please, be an honest judge. End of story.

Ok so having gotten all that nitty gritty out of the way, remember one important thing about the Open. HAVE FUN! While yes, it is a competition, and yes it will be difficult both mentally and physically, enjoy the experience of it. Also, just as important, CHEER ON YOUR BOXMATES! Everyone needs encouragement at some point, and in the Open, that’s true even more. If you get done with your workout, stick around when you can.  You can help someone else get through what they think is impossible. Good luck everyone and see you at The Open.

Top 4 Reasons Why CrossFit Sucks -Debunked!

I recently conducted some very official research (I polled my friends on Facebook) to find out why people either do CrossFit or why they chose not to. I realized from the responses I got from those who do not find CrossFit appealing, that well, CrossFit is terribly misunderstood. I can’t deny though that they touched on many of the stereotypes, that to be fair, anyone who does CrossFit would admit to there being some truth to them. From the outside, CrossFit seems like a craze created by the devil.  CrossFit athletes (yes we are athletes) appear to be weight lifting-arrogant-hyped up-injury prone bros and swolemates who grunt, sweat and over indulge in bragging about snatches, PR’s and squats. I want to, acknowledge that yes, these things do exist, but more importantly, I want to debunk these stereotypes (maybe once and for all?!)

  1. CrossFit is dangerous and you will get injured. Yes, injury happens at CrossFit. A lot. I ask though, does it happen any more frequently than any other form of exercise or sport? Many running injuries, for example (much like those obtained through CrossFit) come from the lack of stretching and mobilizing; over training; lack of rest days; improper technique; and plain stupid luck. When someone running experiences an injury, we do not tend to denounce running as a sport. Yet, when it comes to g­­etting injured at CrossFit, there is an immediate reaction and assumption that CrossFit caused it.

The onus of injury should be on the individual athlete more so than the sport itself. We are all adults. We have the ability to choose for ourselves how much or how hard we train. We know when something in our body does not feel right. If we are injured because we feel peer pressure or that competitive feeling sets in, again, that is within our control. CrossFit is designed to have varied workouts and to always challenge us. Yes, it is a demanding and high impact sport, but it is completely possible to train at that level safely. Many CrossFits start athletes out in their fundamentals class so that newbies can focus on technique and continuously build on that.

Not every CrossFit box is the same. Some are better than others depending on their coaching, members and programming. A good box has coaches who are paying attention to their members and all the details that go into movements. A good box has members that are encouraging and supportive. A good box has programming that is methodical, calculated and designed for gains. If you find yourself in a box that does not have these 3 things, then there is more likelihood for injury. Again, we are all adults. We have the ability to recognize a good environment from a bad one. Be proactive enough to research and find a box that encourages and promotes a safe fitness environment, and injury is less likely to happen.

 

  1. CrossFit is too competitive. CrossFit is perceived to be highly competitive, which some people find alluring and some people find unappealing. Quite a few of my friends stated this as a reason as to why they have no interest in CrossFit. I can respect anyone who does not want to bring that to their fitness. However, just to be devil’s advocate, I will say this. I think of the competitive aspect as it is what you make of it. While some athletes’ egos thrive off of that competitiveness, there are plenty of athletes that use it for their own personal gain and gratification. Some are happy they beat someone else in a PR, but for most, they are happy they beat their own PR.

 

I also know it is entirely possible to take classes alongside other people and not give a hoot about what anyone else is doing. There are plenty of people who love CrossFit and pay no attention to the competitive side of it. For many of us, we are most competitive with ourselves. We strive to be better today than we were yesterday. For me, there are times I do benchmark myself off of others and it pushes me to get those tough reps in during a metcon or to push through that last 200m run. I get stronger from people around me, not necessarily because it is competitive. Rather, it is inspiring. To see someone do something you want to do can be quite motivating.

 

Also for every ounce of competition, there is twice that showing support and encouragement to boxmates.  Many people CrossFit because of the camaraderie and not the competition. Sandra Dickson of CrossFit SouthBay reinforces this well, “I’ve stayed for the past 4 years because of the camaraderie of the classes and the friendships I’ve made.”

 

  1. CrossFit is too intimidating.

One of my friends said she feels intimidated to go to CrossFit and would want to be fitter and stronger before going. (Which for the record, I have heard other people say this about not just CrossFit but global gyms, boot camps and other group classes). People who CrossFit come in all shapes and sizes and all skill levels (not everyone is a Rich Froning or Katrin Davidsdottir). We are all at different levels and that is what is so amazing about it. CrossFit is so scalable that you could have 5 people doing the same workout with totally different variations. For example, not everyone can do a Handstand Push-up (HSPU) so when a workout has them at Rx, it is common to see some people doing them (with varying degrees of difficulty even: some with 1 ab mat, some with 2, some with none) while other athletes may be doing hand release push- ups and others may be doing inverted push- ups. No matter the scale, everyone is experiencing the same feelings of suck and elation. What is challenging for one person to the next is all relative.  If you are scaling appropriately, the person cleaning 130 pounds versus the one cleaning 65 pounds is not having any easier of a time.

Personally, I prefer working out with people fitter and stronger than me. It is so gratifying to be successful at something that you previously had only been able to envy. I also like being able to be the one motivating others. It is what keeps it exciting and somewhat altruistic.  Some days you are the ones getting encouragement and some days you get to give it.  As Feo Diaz of CrossFit PT6 in Krakow says so well, “I do it because it’s much more fun and engaging than going to the gym by yourself. It doesn’t matter if you finish first or are still going after the time cap. The people in the CrossFit community always support and push you to do better.” I think this is far more prevalent in CrossFit than the intimidation factor.

  1. CrosFit is expensive. Along with CrossFit comes the finances. My friend, Jackie, who is a tennis fanatic asks, “Isn’t Crossfit expensive? Tennis is $8 for 2 hours.” Touché, Jackie, touché. Yes, CrossFit is expensive (it can be anywhere from $99 a month upwards of $300). I will argue though that if CrossFit is something you love, when it comes to finances it is how you prioritize this expense. Coming from someone who has worked for a cable company, there are plenty of people on budgets who manage to spend $120 a month to binge watch television. Whether or not that is practical, it goes back to the point that it is how you chose to spend your money. If fitness and health are a priority for you, it should be less excruciating to dole out the cash for it.

I fully acknowledge the cons to CrossFit.  I fully recognize CrossFit is not for everyone. If it is any consolation, I have desperately wanted to get on the yoga train without much success. So I totally get it. The world is full of choices on how to be fit and healthy. I simply would hate for stereotypes to be a deterrent for even trying Crossfit.  I also believe CrossFit to be a great phenomena that should be recognized for everything it has to to offer. Poojita Puligundla of CrossFit Fremont had one of the most encouraging testimonials about CrossFit that I hope puts some of the negative perceptions to rest.

“Pre CrossFit, I did work out but I was very limited in the sense that I would just stick to the treadmill or the elliptical. After I got exposed to CrossFit I do so much more because I’ve been trained by wonderful coaches about the importance of having the right form, exercising different muscle groups etc.  Apart from that, it gave me a whole new perspective on my ability to challenge myself. I am the kinda person who can get comfortable too easy and with CrossFit I’ve never felt like I stopped at my comfort zone. I’ve learnt to push myself and started enjoying tiny victories. For ex: Before CrossFit I couldn’t do a single push up and now is a different story. This experience is beyond exercise for me, it’s changed my mindset.”