If you’ve committed your time and money to CrossFit, you clearly have some goals of improving your fitness. We all have that in common here, and it’s truly fun to be around a group of people like that several times per week. Others have little interest in competing and are perfectly happy feeling it become easier to pick up babies. Both people are totally amazing, and both types could benefit from noticing the differences between training and competing.

Training is what we do almost every day in class. This is where we’re trying to break down our muscles so they can grow and become stronger. This is where we’re practicing challenging skills and improving our technique. This is where the hard work gets put in and what drives our results. You don’t win at training by having the fastest time; you win at training by getting better each day.

Competing clearly happens when you enter an official competition, but also a few days in class. This is where we’re re-testing our lifting numbers or doing a classic benchmark workout. In either case, these test days are for measuring tangible progress in your fitness.

You’re either competing against yourself and your previous score, or competing against a group of other fit people. The important distinction here is that if you train without competing, you will get better. If you compete without training, you will not get better.

Mentally, I’ve found it helpful to approach these two things differently. When training, my conscious brain is working pretty hard. Whether doing some heavy back squats or practicing handstand skills, I’m reflecting on each rep and constantly trying to improve my technique. I’m being thoughtful and deliberate, or at least trying my best to be.

Competition means it’s go time! I try to dial back my conscious brain and let let my subconscious take over. Of course, this is assuming I’ve put in enough training to make the proper movements ingrained in my brain.

Once it’s competition time, I need to be optimistic and trusting of my skills. The analyzing and critiquing I do in training easily leads to pessimism and poor performance in these higher pressure, competition situations. Better performances usually come when I’m relaxed and let my body move naturally.

If you’re a classic over-thinker like me, it’s not always easy to do this. I’ll share my favorite recent tip from Dr. Bob Rotella, a sports psychologist who has worked with the top athletes in the world (i.e. LeBron James). His advice is simple. Smile a little bit right before each event.

Smiling is usually a sign that you’re relaxed, optimistic, and your conscious mind is disengaged. Frowning is a sign of deeper conscious thought and often pessimism. Even forcing a smile can prime your brain for becoming calm and help limit the over thinking.

Obviously, this isn’t a magic pill to remedy a lack of training. It’s just a tip that will hopefully allow the results of your training to be on full display. In the words of Dr. Bob, “While the correlation between optimism and success is imperfect, there is an almost perfect correlation between negative thinking and failure.” Stay positive and have some fun!

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