A No Rep Isn't Personal So Don't Take It That Way

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By: Coach Kris

With the CrossFit Open just around the corner, it seems appropriate to discuss a short phrase you might hear in the coming weeks: “no rep.” (For those who are new to CrossFit, “no rep” is short for “not a good repetition.”) It means that the repetition just performed was not satisfactory for some reason (it didn’t meet either expected requirements or standards in the judge’s or coach’s view), and that the repetition must be repeated if it’s to count towards an athlete’s score. You might give ‘em. You might get ‘em. Of course, there isn’t an athlete out there who wants to hear those words -- in a WOD, during a lift -- because a lot of athletes presume that the utterance of those words is a pronouncement of shortcomings in their physical abilities. But, that’s wrong. A no-rep doesn’t stem from an assessment of an athlete’s ability at all. Rather, it stems from an assessment of an athlete’s execution of a movement which is normally within the athlete’s ability to perform or achieve. This is an important distinction. It’s notice of a moment in performance when a rep was, uh... “shitty” (to use the French term) and doesn’t get counted; it doesn’t follow, however, that a no-rep makes the athlete a shitty athlete. It’s never personal, so don’t take it that way.

Most us are a little bit competitive. You can admit it. Around the dark corners of our minds and in the dim recesses of our hearts, we want to achieve highly and compare favourably to our peers. This doesn’t mean that we don’t our friends and fellow athletes to succeed -- far from it! I think we all agree that we are all glad of the fitness successes of other members at Crux. But I think most of us are pretty okay with doing very well ourselves, too.

Sometimes a no-rep happens innocently enough. Maybe you never realized that you weren’t making a two-foot takeoff when jumping during a burpee over the bar, or maybe you didn’t realise you weren’t fully extending your knees and hips at the top of a box jump. Having a set of coach’s or a competition judge’s eyes watch can give you the kind of immediate feedback that you help you improve.

But, I’m not in a competition, you might say. I’m just working out. Whether you’re in a competition or not is immaterial. When you allow shitty reps to creep into your training, you’re interfering with your potential. Every no-rep you permit (i.e., every “bro rep”) denies you one opportunity to get stronger, better, faster, reinforcing good technique and full range of motion. Part of getting better is building muscle memory and good movement habits. Don’t build muscle memory that reinforces poor movement patterns. Be diligent and do it right. Challenge yourself to be mentally/emotionally tough enough to push past an a momentary deficiency in your performance: do the rep over, move on; get stronger knowing that you’re reinforcing the kinds of movement patterns that will continue to support your fitness goals. If you practise holding yourself to a high standard of execution, then you will train your body to perform to that standard out of habit -- complete with the benefits of good form and full range of motion.

But sometimes even when athletes are giving everything they’ve got, they can’t complete the movement standard. Perhaps they’re too fatigued, or the movement is beyond their current ability. They may be giving all they’ve got, yes -- and it can be heart-wrenching to watch them struggle in vain -- but they shouldn’t get a courtesy rep or “pity rep.” This can be frustrating for the athlete, who’s giving it his or her all, but it’s a learning moment about the importance of scaling. If feasible, the athlete should scale the remaining reps if that’s an option. If it’s not an option, there is little sense in continuing to struggle with incomplete reps, given that such efforts might lead to injury. In this instance it would be best to accept -- for today -- the limits of their current ability. It’s here when athletes who take the time to reflect learn something about themselves that they will use to motivate themselves to train weaknesses and achieve new heights next time -- because they’ve earned it.

But then there are the times when the drive to want to achieve highly or do well might erode our sense of integrity of movement. Sometimes that competitive voice crawls out from the dark place and nudges you to cut corners. “Chasing numbers” (see Coach Allen’s sage advice here ) and the self-validation that comes with a high score might motivate a no-rep, but that’s dangerous. During a lift, for example, and failing to achieve in an attempt to push beyond one’s ability, might lead to injury. At other times, we’re silently competing with and comparing ourselves to others in the gym. She’s faster, stronger, but I don’t want my leaderboard score to look like she really beat me by a lot, you’ll say to yourself. If I shave off a second or two, or if I count a few of those no-reps -- they were real close, right? -- I’ll be that much higher on the SugarWOD leaderboard. If you’ve contemplated something like this (I certainly have, at times), this is a lapse in competitive spirit and good sportsmanship. If the placement of your score takes precedence over the integrity of your performance, then your ego is getting in the way of your training. At Crux, we aim leave ego outside of the gym. Most times, athletes familiar with the movement know whether they have executed the movement correctly. If the wall ball didn’t clearly hit the 9-foot or 10-foot target, you know it. If your chin didn’t get above the pull-up bar, you know it. If your chest didn’t touch the ground, or you didn’t get knees, hips and shoulders in vertical alignment during the jump of a burpee, you know it.  If you pressed out that 1RM snatch attempt, you know it. In your day-to-day training, don’t give yourself a rep you didn’t deserve. No rep yourself! Adhering to this principle makes the leaderboard results fair for everyone. Remember, putting your score on the board for all other to see is tantamount to saying to everyone that you did that. You earned that.

From a coach, a no-rep is not a pronouncement of failure on the part of the athlete being judged. Try to think of it as a quick cue to get you back to performing at the standard we know you can do. And if you’re serving as a judge in the Open, remember that athletes are your friends and peers... but don’t let your friends do bad reps. Friends wouldn’t do that. Athletes don’t want pity reps. Be objective and impartial; your friends want real benchmarks against which to measure future fitness.