The Crucible

By Justin Keane

In Coaching

December 03, 2010

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A workout is a great time for learning about yourself and your movements. Justin Keane outlines one way to make the most of your time under the microscope.

As CrossFitters, we make daily distinction between our “pass patterns” and our “game routes.” The former is “skill work”; the latter is “the WOD.” Or perhaps we call one “strength work” and the other “conditioning.” Whatever our nomenclature, there is most often a palpable sense that our entry to the real proving ground—such as it is—sounds a hell of a lot like our coach yelling, “3, 2, 1… Go!”

And to a degree, this is a very useful dichotomy. How we respond under the klieg light of a WOD will reveal much: our wind, our guts and, yes, our heart. We go so hard at our practices in order that we might fail at the margins of our experience rather than in the thick of the thing. Running on muscle memory four minutes into Fran, we realize it is a beautiful thing indeed to be confronted with the essential question, “Who am I and how bad do I want it?” instead of its mundane second cousin twice removed, “Wait—do I drive out of the bottom of a thruster with my elbows or my shoulders?”

It’s one of life’s most resonant tropes, the athletic realm as crucible. It is a pretty seductive notion: we go in one end and, under fire, emerge through the other somehow bigger and deeper. Better. It’s such a seductive notion, in fact, that I’d argue we almost always shortchange the time spent within the crucible in favor of its sexier end result. Sure, it’s approximately 50 times more fun to say “I shaved 10 seconds off my Fran time” than it is to limn out the dirty dirties like “I didn’t give up on the set of 15 like I did last time,” but it’s ultimately that caliber of unbending and clinical focus on our smaller triumphs and failings that will make us better CrossFitters. Or: Show me a better journal; I’ll show you a better CrossFitter.

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8 Comments on “The Crucible ”


wrote …

i have a quick question for the more seasoned crossfitters that will read this article, as i read this i started thinking of my idea for my journal as having two, one for my strength training and one for Met having pages marked in each journal. in the strength one having pages set aside for bench, back squat, front squat, ets and for the Met Con one having pages set aside for the individual workouts like cindy, fran, murph, etc and some blank pages in the back to write in the workouts that are made up on the fly to make notes about how i performed and what not. does anyone use this kind of journaling format? or have any tips for journaling that could be insightful for me? thanks ladies and gents...i look forward to reading your responses


Chris Hall wrote …

I keep my individual strength and skill workouts I keep in a separate composition book; and then I transfer them to BTWB when I get in front of a computer.
Same for MetCons and Benchmarks, I log them on BTWB as well, but I also have a copy of "The Benchmarks: The Other Little Red Book" that you can find here. (WFS)

It's a pretty handy little book where you can keep track of your progress on all The Girls, The Standard Heros, 1RM, Mono structural workouts, Max Efforts, etc. It's just a nice, pre-made journal that allows you to keep track of the "basics". A bit pricey at $20 bucks, but it's good quality, very well-detailed and provides a good deal of space for tracking PR's and what-not.
It took me a few months to get a habitual standard for my journaling; as mentioned in this article, it's especially difficult given something as dynamic as CrossFit.
Just make an effort to actually journal, and eventually you'll find something that sticks.


wrote …

thanks a lot chris, i like that book and i have been debating on BTWB for a few weeks and actually just signed up for it...yea journaling is a new concept to me so i am trying to get insight on what works best for something like crossfit


wrote …

Thanks for the tips, I log all my wod's but never thought to put "how I did, felt ect" in there, just stats. I know what it will say tho "got gassed before half way point" every day :)


wrote …

This is a great resource. I have kept a journal for a long time. I think it provides me with some amount of feedback, but that being said the way you have set up the "sticking point journal" seems like the next step. Knowing how somethng felt at a point in a workout is an amazing resource for overcoming that next obstacle. A good indication of progress is seeing just how you got over that hump, and not just the hump itself. Thanks for the great resource!


Dustin Kreidler wrote …

I started tracking my workouts in one of the fancy excel spreadsheets available in the forums, but found it difficult to take good notes of each workout, and each part of the workout as Justin shows. I ended up copying a friend and starting up a blog through ( One of the things I have come to LOVE is the ability to tag a post... so my most recent workout (heavy tabatas) was tagged:
CrossFit, workout, WoD, tabata, pull-ups, squats, dips, deadlifts

The upshot is that I can then search the entire blog for every time deadlifts got mentioned, and easily see my comments and observations from any number of variations, be it tabata speed work, or 1RMS, or whatever. this was a benefit I wasn't even aware of, and its become one of the best tools I have.

The other thing I love about blogging workouts is that it forces me to rethink and revisit workouts. I've had a few experiences where, an hour later, hydrated and fed, its suddenly occurred to me what I could have done better during that workout, and if I hadn't revisited it and braindumped onto the blog, there's no way I would have that insight for future use.

Thanks for the further ideas and applicability, Justin!


wrote …

I journal everything else in my, moods, hospital visits...but have never once thought to journal my actual workouts.

I tried it yesterday and today...i can currently only do very light exercise so am doing a mix of tai chi, yoga and pilates. wrote comments about each section of the workout i was doing yesterday. re-read it this morning, did the same routine today...felt stronger and i definitely had more focus throughout my workout.
Can't wait to see what happens when i return to CrossFit...


Yikes...helps to know your own website:

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