One of the more iconic images of an “old school” CrossFit Gym is the large, rather dirty, whiteboard. This image conjures up the early days before television monitors and late night WOD announcements. The nostalgia found in the smell of dry erase markers is combined with the community of learning everyone’s names before each class has been compromised for the convenience of early check-ins and legible handwriting. There was also nothing like scanning the board for scores from the early classes or yesterday’s WOD to see how you stacked up! While the whiteboard has this positive affect on community and competition, there is a dark secret that lurks just below the surface for some. For this reason, I often view the four stages of the “whiteboard” mentality and its affect on athletes and their performance.
Stage 1: Shock and Awe
When an athlete is new to CrossFit the whiteboard is a bit overwhelming. The handwriting is typically poor, the words are often foreign, and all the numbers or times seem to jumble together into a tornado of information. At this stage, an athlete has no frame of reference or comparison. There scores are only valid or important to them and they brag about how poorly they do to their friends and other veteran athletes. This may be the most enjoyable time in anyone’s CrossFit journey. Athletes typically see the largest improvement during this stage and establish their passion for working hard and just getting whatever score or time they earned! If you are here… relish these days! They don’t last long enough, and you can never go back.
Stage 2: Where do I Stack-Up
As athletes improve and begin to remember which lift is a clean and which is a snatch, they start to notice the trends on the board. Athletes will make gains at different points, but the whiteboard is now a useful tool to show you and your coaches which modalities of fitness you prefer, and more importantly, need to improve. During this stage athletes have noticed who in the gym seems to be just above or below them daily and now will fight for that last rep or those few seconds just to “win” the day. These athletes are typically coachable and begin to complete the workouts “as prescribed” or “Rx” more often than not. The Whiteboard become a mirror and shows us a true reflection of how hard we are working. We are hopefully here for a long time! This is where athletes are dedicated to themselves and those around them and truly use the competition to add value.
Stage 3: The Big (Not So Well Kept) Secret
Well you have finally made it near the top of the box. Your scores are in the top 20% each day and you can Rx almost every day. Congrats! You even tell everyone else how you don’t care about your score, even though you now care WAY too much! Now there is an issue that creeps up on us and there is very little anyone else can do to help you. The Whiteboard has lost its ability to show you your true reflection because having the top score or making sure you get that Rx is more important then anything ese. The usefulness, credibility is gone, and the whiteboard has become a distraction to training. In this stage I watch athletes completing movements at weights that are out of their ability or skill level. Instead of lowering the weight to complete reps correctly or scaling to get the desired stimulus, athletes insist that they get that Rx even if it is unsafe! I also watch some athletes cut range of motion, fail to hold themselves to the standard and repeat no reps, and even cut reps, just to ensure that they beat someone else! This view isn’t just hurting the athlete that is “cheating” but it is bringing down the integrity of the entire community. This athlete is throwing off the metric and causing others to question their own progress. Oh… and one more thing… you are not fooling anyone!
Stage 4: We Still Keep Score?
Eventually, athletes reach a point in their journey where the board is just a place to see who didn’t show up yesterday. You tell people that you don’t care, and you mean it. This can mean one of two things. Hopefully it means you are confident and comfortable where you are consistently identifying new weakness and working on them. The whiteboard is still fun for you to laugh when you win or lose a day but is always just a reflection of your daily performance. Unfortunately, it can also mean that you level of interest has dipped, and you are discouraged. If you find yourself not caring about a score because of lack of interest or motivation, it may be time to look in that mirror and find a new way to ignite that fire. Find a new workout partner! Start messaging a coach about how to improve a skill. Come to Open gym or challenge yourself to get a new movement.
In the end, the whiteboard is only a performance tool. Every week the board is erased, and its results are just color smudges on the eraser towel. We are all guilty of forgetting that today’s performance reflects everyday up to now and how hard you worked to this point. If you want to get better, work harder. Let your score be an accurate reflection of your ability and then work to improve. If you find yourself considering “cheating,” remember that the only way to get better for tomorrow is to work harder today.