An Open Letter on Rep Shaving

Ever since my CrossFir box reopened this month, something has been on my mind.  We’ve all had a long opportunity to workout individually and compete only with ourselves.  But as we return to the box, I think we have an opportunity to be more mindful about rep shaving.  Yes, it is a thing that happens at every box.  And no, it doesn’t directly impact you if you don’t do it.  But in my personal opinion, I think rep shaving can have an impact on the atmosphere of the box as a whole.

I’m also not talking about losing count on the 3rd round of 50 double unders and calling it good. I’m talking about the overt, intentional shortening of a workout, and trying to be sneaky about it. Because honestly, CrossFit workouts are designed to be scaled. So if you can’t do 5 pull-ups consistently, but can do 3, it’s worth it to ask your coach the intention of the workout. Would it be better to scale the movement or the reps?

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Photo cred: Brittney Welch:

That’s an honest decision.  I’m talking about being fully capable of completing a working out and giving up on yourself and trying to pass things off as though you did them.    So here is what I want every person who has ever, or has been tempted to, shave reps to read and hear.

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Dear Rep Shaver,

Look, I get it. CrossFit workouts can be deceptively hard. When you originally picked up those 35lb dumbbells, they probably didn’t feel like much. But after 5 rounds, they might feel closer to 70lbs. And honestly, most people don’t like being last. I know I don’t. Especially in CrossFit.

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Not because I’m worried about looking weak or slow, but because I HATE the fact that in the CrossFit community we “cheer the loudest” for the final finisher.  For a lot of people, this is probably motivating.  For introverts like me, it’s freaking mortifying.  But whatever.

Maybe you don’t like finishing behind someone who looks like they couldn’t lift an empty barbell off the ground, but just spanked you in pull-ups and wallballs. Maybe you thought the workout wasn’t going to be as rough as it ended up being. I’ve certainly made that mistake. I made it this week, actually. Maybe you just see all the Thor-looking dudes cruising into their final round and you’ve barely made it out of your first.

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There’s a lot of competition in CrossFit, and it can be a super humbling place.  I’ve had senior citizens lift heavier and finish faster than me.  I’ve also finished workouts before competitors who have gone to Regionals.  CrossFit is a weird sport, and it has the potential to be a real mind f*ck sometimes.

But here’s the thing. Well, the things. When you shave reps you cheat yourself out of a workout. You probably defeat the purpose and intention of the workout itself, because despite what most people believe the elements of the workout are not in fact random. And you also negatively impact the box as a whole.

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Why? Well, because what you are doing perpetuates an unhealthy sense of competition. Even if you think you’re getting away with it. The beauty of CrossFit diversity is that people come in at every level of fitness, and this should be celebrated. And just because you are an amazing lifter doesn’t mean you’re going to be an efficient mover. THAT’S WHAT CROSSFIT IS BUILT ON.

So when you blaze in at an artificially inflated pace, other people, especially newer CrossFitters, notice. They look around and say, “Well, shit, literally everyone got through that in 2 min and I’m on minute 7, I’m not good at this CrossFit crap.” But it’s not reality. New CrossFitters need to see the struggle. They need to see a strong athlete die by burpee.

Because we learn not by what we’re told, but what we see around us.  And while we’re on the topic, if you’re having to shave reps to finish in a reasonable time that’s probably a good indication that you chose the wrong weight.  Or rep scheme.  You didn’t scale appropriately.  And once again it sends a message.

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A message that trying to move weights you don’t have business moving is what CrossFit is about.  And while you may think you don’t owe others in the box anything, we are a community.  What you do matters.  When you don’t scale something that you should, it quietly signals to others that they should do the same.

Hopefully they don’t listen to your quiet nonsense. Hopefully there is a strong coach who is smart to say, “hey, that looks ridiculous and unsafe, go lighter.” Hopefully they have better manners than I do and say it nicer. But maybe your box doesn’t have a coach that feels comfortably guiding people. So you, you need to set the example.

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Because you’ve been doing this long enough to know when you should scale.  And you know what?  If you screw up, and realize it halfway through, take some damn plates off the bar.  There is no shame in being responsible and taking care of your body.

CrossFit workouts are meant to be scaled and adjusted.  They are meant to be hard, but safe and realistic.  So don’t be a jerk and perpetuate unrealistic expectations.  No one cares about your time on the whiteboard.  I promise.  We’re all too busy trying to figure out how to break up 55 deadlifts.

And while we may not care about the times or the weights, we do see you. We see you turning 15 pull-ups into 12. We see you keeping pace with someone else. And if the whole point of rep shaving is to save your ego, just know that you look don’t stronger or faster. You look dishonest and caught up in other people’s opinions.

Which is not what CrossFit is about.  So scale your weights, your movements, and your reps when you need.  Adjust that workout so it barely resembles what is actually written on the board if you need to.  Take 10 min to run/walk 800m.  Come in dead last 9 minutes behind everyone else, even if they cheer for you like lunatics.  Because we see that too.

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And we don’t judge or begrudge you a bit for any of that.  But we also have a hard time respecting dishonesty.

You are the only one judging yourself when you grab lighter weights; we don’t care.  But no one likes a cheater.

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