Sucks as it does, you need that guy. Why? Because he makes you better.
1. A Rival makes you better.
There are lots of elements to training with Crossfit that differ from your traditional workout. The aims of fitness are broader and the training reflects that. Crossfitters often speak of having so much to learn – different skills, lifts, movements. Add to the mix how we learn to eat, care for our callously hands and be part of the community. We also learn psychological skills how to manage our minds – fears, insecurities and the voice that screams, “Stop!” – and these become some of the defining features of successful Crossfit athletes of all levels.
But the thing that makes the biggest difference to our physical abilities is probably something that happens in Crossfit without you even trying. It’s the competition. In the old globo gym days, I’d never been involved in a race against the woman on the treadmill next to me. I’ve never seen the ladies in aqua aerobics battling it out for the most reps of foam dumbbell lifts. Although there is an element of competition there, it is covert. Like when the person on the treadmill next to you seemed to always reach for the acceleration button when you did or that guy refused to be using smaller dumbbells than you. Annoying, but not really competition. More like clashing egos.
2. A Rival helps you work harder.
In Crossfit the element of competition is explicit and embraced. We actively compete against ourselves and each other, and it is expected that everyone who steps through the door does that same. We can all make an educated guess to the fact that going head to head against someone makes you work harder. But recently it’s been shown that knowing how well others performed on the same challenge helps you work harder.
Researchers had two groups hold a plank for as long as they could, followed by a rest, followed by a second ME plank hold. During the rest, one group was told that 80% of people similar to them held the second plank longer. After the second plank hold, there were significant differences between the groups in how long their planks lasted. The group that was told that others could hold the second plank longer did just that . While it’s difficult to say what internal processes might have allowed that group to go the extra mile, something about having information about how others perform spurred them on to aim for similar performance.
‘Perhaps it’s difficult to accurately know when we’ve worked as hard as we can without having a standard to compare to, or that even when we feel we are at maximum effort there’s still a little more we can do.’
3. So we need that Rival.
That woman or guy, the one that we feel competitive with, even if they seem far out of reach like your Games athletes or local heroes. Knowing what they’ve done will get you to do more. More than that, we benefit from the open competition in the box. Whiteboard times, knowing how well we do compared to others helps us all to work harder. And that’s the bottom line – we want to be fit and healthy, even if we’ll never tip Rich Froning off that podium.
4. Avoiding the competition element of Crossfit?
Even if you can’t Rx yet, it’s essential that you get involved in the everyday mini-competition at your box. It’s a big transition from only being accountable to yourself to having your WOD time glaring back at you alongside other badasses of the box. Especially if you feel it’s not enough. In Crossfit we get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and your goal is the same psychologically. What are the worries about being compared, counted and recorded? Answers like, “I’m not good enough/fit enough” or “I can’t do _______” need to confronted for what they are – barriers to your fitness – rather than indisputable facts.
So get out there, get competitive, do your benchmarks and if there’s someone you’re not sure you can live up to, thank them.
 Priebe, CS and Spink, KS, (2014). Blood, sweat, and the influence of others: The effect of descriptive norms on muscular endurance and task self-efficacy. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, Volume 15, Issue 5, Pages 491–497.