I don’t know about you, but certain workouts give my stomach a queasy feeling. Approaching the bar before Fran, hearing the clock countdown before an Open workout, and approaching a 1RM deadlift would all qualify as examples.
That uneasy feeling typically pops up when I’m trying to hit a certain time or weight or when I’m racing against someone else. AKA when I’m competing.
Competition, against yourself and/or others, can be a helpful motivating factor. Reviewing your past performances or watching someone smash an Open workout can provide just the spark you need to go a little harder or lift a little heavier.
But, we shouldn’t always have the competition mindset when we walk in the gym.
For one, it can easily lead to burn out. Putting that much pressure on yourself every single workout is a quick way to suck out all the fun. It’s also not sustainable for your body to push 100% every single day.
On one of our podcast episodes, Zach and I broke down the difference between the practice, training, and competing mindsets, but the distinction is worth making again because it’s critical if you want to be doing CrossFit for many many years to come!
The Practice Mindset
The goal of practice is movement perfection.
The focus isn’t on weight or speed. It’s on the mechanics. We’re nowhere near maximal capacity, and you’re probably not breathing hard. For weightlifting, this involves less than 60% of your one-rep max. For bodyweight movements, we’re using small sets so technique can be maintained.
When you’re in the practice mindset, you shouldn’t be eying the leaderboard or asking your friend what they hit in class. You should be focused on building a skill.
We had an example of a perfect practice session a few weeks back:
EMOM for 9 Minutes:
- 5 Strict Hanging Tuck Up
- 5 Kipping Knee Raise
- 5 Kipping Toes 2 Bar
The goal was to focus on technique first. If you got through all 15 reps each minute with sloppy form, you didn’t exactly nail the purpose of the session.
The Training Mindset
Whereas the practice mindset is geared towards movement perfection, the training mindset is meant to improve your fitness.
Weights get heavier. Intensity goes up. Heart rate is elevated. At the same time, technique is preserved. We’re not throwing lifting mechanics out the window just to put more weight on the bar.
You’ll spend the majority of your time in the training mindset. This is the sustainable area where you’re pushing yourself and nudging your limits. At the same time, you’re scaling the workout where necessary to hit the desired stimulus and walking away feeling like you got in a great workout and will be ready to hit tomorrow.
Let’s look at this workout for example:
18 min AMRAP:
- 18/14 Calorie Row
- 9 Push Jerks (135/95)
- 12 PVC Sit-ups
The training mindset takes the 135# push jerks in the context of the workout. They should be performed in 1, maybe 2 sets. If your max push jerk is 145#, this isn’t the day to work through singles or doubles to get stronger. You’ll miss the desired stimulus.
Embracing the training mindset means finding the appropriate workout level to push your fitness level without compromising technique or intensity.
The Competition Mindset
In the context of the three, we all probably know what the competition mindset looks like, right?
It’s where you truly “send it” in a workout. You focus on a goal or time and go after it headfirst. Technique might not be perfect. You’re pushing your body as hard as it can go. Who cares about being able to drive home; you will PR Fran. Legs be damned!
The competition mindset has its place. Benchmark workouts and 1RM tests (when programmed) are both great times to really see what you’re capable of. However, it’s not the mindset you should carry with you every day in the gym.
When you chase competition every single day in the gym, it can quickly lead to burnout and injury. It’s mentally and physically exhausting to push your upper limit every single day.
What Mindset When?
So, which mindset should you bring to the gym on a given day? Let’s work backwards.
- Bring the competition mindset 3-5x per month focused primarily on benchmarks (lifting and metcon).
- Most of your workouts will be spent in the training mindset. Focus on consistent gains over the long haul. Scale appropriately. Don’t stress about the “Rx” weight and instead, choose the right loading for you to hit the desired stimulus.
- Embrace the practice mindset every single day. Instead of rushing through warm-ups just to say you’re done, deliberately focus on crisp, clean movements. When we go through a PVC complex, take it seriously and see how perfect you can make each rep. When we program skill work, spend time to really work through the progressions. This lower intensity, higher quality work pays large dividends in the end!
If you ever have questions on how you should approach a workout, ask a coach! We also try to share the intent behind every workout in the Athlete Notes section in Triib so read up before you head in.