I started Crossfit just before I turned 40. And I went into it not even concerned with the idea of recording results – I wanted a structured and effective workout, nothing more. Recording results seemed a bit overly competitive for me – which is saying something, since I’m pretty competitive by nature. But I’m not a young athlete either, and I thought it would just wind up being a game of chasing an outcome rather than enjoying the journey. I haven’t thrown that thinking out, but I have certainly modified it since I got started.
Over my first 9 months of Crossfit, my thinking has certainly evolved on results tracking. Here are my top 5 reasons for recording your results, even if your thinking is the same as where I started, along with 2 bonus reasons for good measure.
Benefit #1: Repeatability
Let’s say you want to go to your favourite mall. I’d bet you have a favourite route to get there. How’d you come up with it? You probably tried a couple of routes and settled on the one that either got you there quickly, or perhaps it was the route that was most enjoyable. But it probably took a little trial and error for you to figure that out. I’m sure you didn’t take rigorous notes, but then again, the routes you tried probably weren’t radically different from one another, just variations on a theme. And you do it all the time, so you could keep track of those variations in your head and come to a decision on which route you would take from now on. And you can be flexible enough to vary that route in the event you run into traffic, construction, etc.
Now imagine that you experience memory loss so that all of the trial and error you learned from is wiped clean from your memory every time you return home. So now you have to do that learning all over again each time. You have to re-establish the best way to get to your favourite mall. And re-establish which routes DON’T work.
Now apply that to your workouts.
So we’re not talking about tiny incremental differences that could allow you to compete on an international level. We’re talking about fundamental information you need to be able to repeat something – and conversely avoid repeating. In Crossfit, there are many different variations on each movement – the mechanics of the movement can change, your tempo, the weight, the style, etc. So recording gives you a foundation for repetition – even if the specific outcome comparison is not something you intend to give too much thought. And importantly, if you record nothing, you can mistakenly forget a lesson you learned earlier about the wrong way to do something, and wind up repeating it. You simply can’t commit that many variations on every movement to memory – you’re not THAT young any more. I know I’m not.
So repeatability (and avoiding repetition) is a positive outcome from recording. If I know I have rowed 1000m in 1:55 on a resistance setting of 10, I can, when asked to do a 1000m row a few weeks later, look back on my results and know roughly where I should finish, assuming I’ve kept my fitness level on an even keel. And if I manage it faster or slower this time, that’s ok. I may even note what felt different about this time. Were my shoulders more tired than usual? Were my legs? Did I have any trouble catching my breath? I’m not looking at it from a performance enhancement point of view, but I’d like to have a basic understanding of what’s different from time to time I repeat a movement.
It doesn’t matter what system you use – a simple pad and paper (although… come on!) or one of the many electronic systems commonly used in Crossfit gyms, like Wodify, ZenPlanner, Beyond The Whiteboard, and others, having some basic recording at your disposal is absolutely useful in being able to repeat a movement in a positive manner, or ensure you don’t repeat something you don’t want to repeat.
Benefit #2: Coachability
Your Crossfit coach benefits as much – or really even more – from your recording than you do. They spend considerable time learning the ins and outs of coaching. They work with many athletes with different fitness levels and abilities. So if you can’t commit all that information to memory for yourself, you can’t expect your coach to be able to log all that info to memory with every athlete they train. So recording benefits then tremendously and in benefiting them, it benefits you even more, particularly those electronic recording systems that are used by athletes and coaches in a Crossfit gym. If the coach can view your stats, the coach can also adjust the programming either for the class as a whole, or specifically for you, to work on things that will benefit your overall fitness. After all, Crossfit is not a specialized movement sport, but a generalized functional fitness sport. You wind up developing skill and fitness in a variety of different areas. And we all have strengths and weaknesses in different areas – so the coach can adjust your programming to suit your needs – but only if they can see your recorded results.
Benefit #3: Baselines for Workouts
Many Crossfit workouts, particularly barbell movements, are set up to a relative level of fitness/strength, meaning the WOD movements vary directly with the person doing them. They are often expressed in terms of percentage of max schemes. So when you are told so 5 reps of 50% of your 1 rep max, if you have not recorded what you’re one rep max is, you have nothing upon which to base what the 50% weight would be. That doesn’t sound like the end of the word, but the WOD can’t wait for you to figure it out. And as mentioned before, guessing will either give you a crappy workout or an injury. So when you have an opportunity to record something like a max on a movement, there are two basic rules:
- be very careful and set a manageable baseline for yourself, not a world record.
- record it because this is what you will use as your baseline for future %-based workouts
And you may go quite a while before re-testing your one rep maximum of anything – and that’s a good thing. It shouldn’t change THAT often anyway.
Benefit #4: Injury Prevention
Whether you’re working out with a partner or on your own, recorded workouts give you some great insight into what your tolerances are for specific movements or combinations of movement. Recorded results allow you to gauge what you can do safely. And if you do have trouble with a movement or suffer an injury, you record that and therefore have that information to look back on as well.
Benefit #5: Partnerability
Your fellow athletes benefit too. Let’s say you are tasked with a partner WOD – or perhaps it’s just an ordinary WOD in a class that is well attended and you don’t have enough of a particular piece of equipment for everyone to work out at once unless you pair up on a piece of equipment – a barbell for example. If you have recorded your workouts, then you can quickly and easily compare notes with the people in your class and pair up with someone on the barbell because they should lift the same weight. Without the benefit of your recorded workouts, you’d be guessing. Guess too light, and you don’t get much of a workout. Guess too heavy and you risk injury. So your WOD partner benefits tremendously from you having some recording workouts at your fingertips.
Bonus Benefit #1: It can be fun!
Look, it’s human nature to compare stuff. Apples to apples, apples to oranges – whatever. We like to compare stuff. And so recording your workouts can actually be kind of fun, on top of all the other benefits. Whether you decide to repeat a workout you did six months ago just for a comparative measure of how your fitness has improved since that time (and we all want to know whether we are getting better at something, even if we don’t care by how much) or whether there’s someone in the class with whom you have a little bit of friendly rivalry – recording your workouts lends itself to that as well. It does’t need to be the end all, be all – but it CAN be a fun part of being part of the Crossfit community.
Bonus Benefit #2: Competition!
I leave this last for a reason – a precious few of we, the over forty athletes – are going to take competition too seriously. Don;t get me wrong, there are some amazing masters athletes. But as a raw percentage, anecdotally from my experience, competition is not driving our workouts. But if you are among the lucky people for whom competition remains a driving force behind your workout, undoubtedly recording your workouts is nothing new to you. This is a foundational practice for the competition Crossfitter. But for anyone on the fence about competition – if you’re going to compete and you’re not already recording your results, it’s a lot harder to imagine getting into the world of Crossfit competition without first ensuring you have a lot of workout data at your disposal.