How much time do you estimate each day that you spend scrolling through Instagram or Facebook watching training videos of other people? Over an hour? Two hours? Human’s thirst for the knowledge of what their demigod is doing can understandably result in 10, 15 or 20 minutes glazed over staring at your phone at a time.
Crossfit more than any other sport has dominated this trend for documenting and comparing lifts, techniques, bench mark WODs and general commitment to training. A case example is the frenzy that was built up in 2015 with the launch of ‘What’s Rich Doing?’. Eagerly anticipated was the knowledge of the exact work outs that 4 x CrossFit games champion Rich Froning was doing. This has amassed 154 thousand followers on Instagram alone!
Comparison against others will tend to focus on either somebody at the top of their field, who is achieving near super human feats, or a fierce rival. This certainly is not a new phenomenon either and can ultimately make goal achieving a pretty depressing experience. Sport can uncover poor psychological habits quicker than most disciplines as everything is quantifiable and comparable.
Festinger’s social comparison theory
Head of Psychology at Athlete Focused Stephen Leckey (MSc., BSc.) sheds some light on the underlying mechanisms to this….
"As Finlay mentioned, the ability to access other CrossFit athlete’s information is so easy, and as a result it is very hard to not weigh up where we stand in comparison. Looking to social psychology for the mechanism of this comparison, we find Festinger’s social comparison theory (stay with me). His first hypothesis states that within us all there is a drive to evaluate our abilities.
To make these evaluations we rely on objective information and we often look to others athletes WOD times to these make evaluations, about our own performance. Essentially we are trying to find out more about ourselves, through these quick comparisons with others.
In Festinger’s eyes this is a classic example of an inaccurate appraisal of your own ability, and this can be punishing for both motivation and confidence."
Switching your motivation to compare your performance against yourself is certainly an optimal place to be mentally but what other simple practices could we do to improve our performance? Would it not be better to look at something closer to home that is tangible, affectable and impactable?
This should only take a minute to complete, if you are to take a step back and note down your personal best lifts in all key, derivative and a couple of supplementary lifts. A quick list would be:
- Back Squat,
- Front Squat,
- Power Clean,
- Power Snatch,
- Max (good quality) pistols completed on left and right leg.
You may not have a 1RM, which is not a problem but if you have anything below an 8RM you should be able to get an estimate with an online calculator pretty easily (http://www.exrx.net/Calculators/OneRepMax.html). The next step is to use your back squat as the reference lift to compare everything else against it in percentage form.
We now have in front of us a massive amount of information regarding our strengths, weaknesses, technical deficiencies or efficiencies. This is valuable information that can now be used to make meaningful changes to your programme to address weaknesses that may have developed naturally and are holding you back from progress.
The term structural balance was coined by Charles Poliquin nearly three decades ago now as he made sense of eastern European Olympic weightlifting ratios. Typically, coaches would use the percentage of difference between key lifts to determine the direction of further programming. Understanding the ideal ratio between lifts then unlocks information provides direction of areas to work on.
Play to your strengths
In business, investor and Vlogger Gary Vaynerchuk regularly preaches that we should ignore our weaknesses and play to our strengths as this is time wasted worrying about imperfections. However, in CrossFit, a sport testing the capacity to complete work, your weaknesses will be uncovered sharply due to the variety and you will likely be crushed in competition.
So, where should we start? The first question that needs to be asked is the % difference between back squat and deadlift. By deadlift I do not mean a back-snapping power lifting effort but a clean-grip deadlift where your back remains strong and neutral throughout.
Ideally this ratio would be 1:1 and your back squat would be the same as deadlift showing a healthy relationship between anterior and posterior muscle structures.
If our example athlete has a max back squat of 150kgs (100%) and a deadlift of 180kgs (120%) then we can start to make a few potential assumptions about our athlete.
1. They have a much more developed lower back,
2. Weaker leg strength or specifically quadricep strength,
3. Anterior trunk weakness.
I am sure the list could go on but from this we have three areas to question and compare when analysing the relationship between further lifts. Post this I would recommend we look at the difference between back squat and front squat. Our example athlete has a personal best of 115kgs, which is merely 77% of their back squat. From this we say with a bit more conviction that our athlete probably has a quadricep weakness and that their trunk may not be strong enough to maintain an ideal position through the movement.
The picture can become clearer and more detailed with further comparisons but from this alone we have something actionable when constructing the next meso cycle of programming. A clear focus should be made on developing leg extension strength through a concentrated block of squatting movements along with trunk strength.
CrossFit can prove a complex discipline with a huge variety and although there are benchmark WODs developed to track progress, they provide little or no understanding of the physiological mechanisms that are enabling or preventing progress. Without this you can be left a little bemused to the exact course of action that should then be taken.
This is just the tip of the ice berg with information that can be gathered from simple profiling of yourself. Taking the time to analyse yourself or invest in profiling can add immeasurable value to an individual’s progress.
Pulling yourself away from Instagram right now and spending some time comparing your own lifts could pay dividends in the future and even people looking at your profile with envy.
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