Practice vs Training vs Competition

Monday January 1, 2018
Ben Bergeron & Christine Bald

Rowing is the most brutalized movement in CrossFit. When it comes to rowing, most people are either training or competing, but never get around to actually practicing.

Most don’t know the difference between the three.

A lot of people think that they’re training, but they’re actually competing. Here’s how to tell: During your workout, are you trying to beat your PR? After a training session, are you concerned with the scores of other athletes? If you answered yes to either one, you’re competing.

It takes time and patience to improve technique on the erg. Many athletes try, but find they can’t row as fast, or can’t get as much power. So they go back to doing what they always do. But here’s the deal: legitimate practice requires that you detach yourself from the results. It requires that you focus on actually getting better, without worrying about the outcome.

Yes, this means that you have take a step back from your training. Of course you can do what you’re currently capable of; if you want to get better, you have to take a step backwards, slow things down, and hammer the fundamentals.

It’s the same approach Katrin Davidsdottir used to improve her muscle-ups after she won the 2015 CrossFit Games. Instead of continually pushing her limits through threshold or volume training, both of which are exciting, she went back to the basics. She spent the first three months rebuilding her kip, which she would practice by doing kip swings in sets of 10. No pulling, no getting up on the rings, no dip out—just swinging with her arms straight, over and over. After three months of that, she added in the next piece of the movement: pulling up onto the rings. She did that for another month. She continued like that, in monthly increments, doing just one perfect muscle-up a day for 30 days. Then she increased it to two, then three. She took big breaks in between sets, and never did muscle-ups in a workout. When she did eventually add muscle-ups back into workouts, she limited herself to one at a time—no cycling reps. Each one had to be perfect. If they weren’t what she wanted them to look like, she stopped the workouts and got them back to where she wanted them to be.

This is what true practice looks like. If it sounds foreign, it’s because it is an uncommon sight in a CrossFit gym, and is rarer still at the elite level. And yet, it is the bedrock of every other professional sport—in the NFL, NBA, MLB, MLS, and NHL, practice and drills are non-negotiable parts of preparation.

Practice deserves a bigger place in competitive CrossFit, and there are big payoffs waiting for athletes who are willing to find one for it.