What Makes a Great CrossFit Member?

At Crossfit King of Prussia, the coaches select an “Athlete of the Month” and feature that person on our workout blog. I believe a good amount of CrossFit gyms do something similar and even the CrossFit Games has a special award called the “Spirit of the Games” to recognize a particular athlete. I’d like to take some time and go over some of the major characteristics that I believe embody an Athlete of the Month, Spirit of the Games awardee, or simply a great CrossFit member.

First, let’s go over what this is NOT. This is not “What Makes a Great CrossFit Athlete?” It is not necessarily a recognition of the “best” athlete as it pertains to performance, or the most outgoing, or the most technically proficient. This recognition actually has nothing to do with absolute performance and everything to do with who the person is in the context of a CrossFit environment.

CF Mid-Atlantic Regionals high res-7142

Emily Pale of CrossFit Explode smiling during back squats at the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Regionals

A good CrossFit member is positive. Not necessarily in an always-smiling-cheerleader way, but certainly not a negative Nancy. They realize that fitness should be fun and enjoyable, and they spread that fun to people around them. No one likes to be around a grouch, so let those endorphins do their work!

Very simply, a great member doesn’t cheat. People who shave reps (I’ve seen particular individuals cut as much as HALF of their reps off) are insecure and typically feel like they need to appear better than they are. A great member is secure in himself or herself and realizes that although we are measuring fitness in a group setting, at the end of the day only their personal performance matters. They also know that cheaters are found out very quickly by coaches and other members and no one likes a cheater.

A solid member doesn’t brag about their results or numbers. I want to make clear that being excited about hitting PRs or progressing to a new level is ABSOLUTELY worthy of telling people and I do not consider that bragging. However, we all know those people who can’t stop talking about themselves, whether it’s how good they are at metcons or worse, telling others that they got bumped down the PR board. In other words, it’s not about what you’re saying as much as how you say it (or act). One of the most fun things to see is someone excited about their new PR. I just don’t need to hear about it every day. And if you are in fact “elite,” then your numbers will speak for themselves.

This goes along with being humble and from my perspective as a coach, this is one of the biggest factors when thinking about Athlete of the Month. I can have a “firebreather” walk in the gym, but if they bring their ego in with them and are closed off to correcting their technique, no bueno. If Olympians have a coach and are constantly looking to improve, then we all should be. In CrossFit, we do so many different movements that everyone has a “goat,” or a weakness to work on. I realize some people might take criticism worse than others, but you must absorb it and decide if it’s advice worth taking instead of immediately disregarding it.

2012-05-05 CrossFit Mid-Atlantic Regionals WOD 4-95

Brian Quinlan and Steve Pinkerton congratulating each other after a brutal workout at 2012 Mid-Atlantic Regionals

CrossFit is about community. There are very few other venues where you are expected to cheer on your “competitors” anywhere from Saturday morning WODs at your local box to high levels of competition such as the CrossFit Games. Supporting fellow athletes in class can mean helping a new member learn the 400m route, introducing yourself to out-of-towners, encouraging someone to pick up the bar in the middle of the workout, or going over and cheering them on as they finish a workout. It also means helping them celebrate their successes as much as you would your own.

Hard work. It’s something that everyone at all levels of fitness can accomplish. Giving it your all in a workout, working on technique every day or week, doing “extra” work such as pull ups or push ups after a workout: these are all examples of hard work. If you take a look at any top performer in any field, they have put in thousands of hours of work. I even wrote about the 10,000 hour rule in my post “What Malcolm Gladwell Has to Do with Olympic Lifting.” I’m not saying you have to be a master at CrossFit, but the journey of improvement is more important than the destination. I like this quote as it describes exactly what I’m thinking: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

2012-05-05 CrossFit Mid-Atlantic Regionals WOD 4-98

Women exhausted after a long workout at 2012 CrossFit Mid-Atlantic Regionals

Angela Lee Duckworth is a psychologist who left a high paying consulting job to teach 7th grade math. She has since become a professor at University of Pennsylvania and is the leading expert on “grit” and self-control as it pertains to youth. Instead of focusing on standardized test scores or grades, Duckworth takes a look at a more subjective characteristic in people: grit. She defines grit as “perseverance and passion for long term goals.” (2007) A great CrossFit member is gritty. They ignore the short game of “winning” today’s WOD. Instead, they focus on the long game of improving their technique, strength, and metabolic conditioning. They don’t let a bad day ruin their attitude toward fitness. They don’t let obstacles get in their way of at least trying. A great member does not give up easily because they know a big piece of CrossFit is mental fortitude.

These are just a few of the main characteristics I consistently see in our Athletes of the Month. Typically these characteristics have been ingrained in our stellar members even before they joined CrossFit. However, I think the context of the CrossFit environment allows for these characteristics to really shine. I also think that that they are malleable. In other words, if you think you can work on being more humble, or practice technique more, then do it! There’s no time like the present to start being a great CrossFit member.



9 thoughts on “What Makes a Great CrossFit Member?

  1. I read that article by Duckworth, about grit. It was eye opening that I wish all people read!

  2. Thanks for sharing Plentus, I enjoyed reading this! We all need a little reminder sometimes to help us stay focused on what really matters. Your essay focuses on CrossFit, but the applicability of this to life outside of CrossFit is just as important!

  3. Oh, and in response to your question “what would you add?” – I would add “Passion” and “Be Proud of your Success.” I think “passion” is fairly self explanatory, but I’ll elaborate on the pride topic. Too often our athletes hit new PRs, or attain a new skill they’ve been working on, and instead of jumping for joy and sharing their accomplishment, they downplay it or worse yet, focus on all the things they still can’t do. It’s important to celebrate your successes and let others celebrate with you! Example: a member gets their first bar muscle up. My reaction as a coach – WOO HOOOOOO! Their reaction: that’s cool, but I still can’t do ring muscle ups. My reaction: hit head on wall. It’s tough to coach someone who doesn’t get excited about success.

  4. Nikki, definitely agree! There are people who are just hard on themselves which of course is part of why they work so hard, but yes, they should take time to celebrate. I think that’s part of wanting everything NOW when they should really be playing the long game

  5. Leave the attitudes at the door, we are all equal as members, no matter what your performance levels are. If your doing a partner Wod, be willing to scale to help your partner, but still push each other!! Be Courteous and Respectful!! Have some Fun!!

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