Fitness Level: You Are Not One Workout

A lot of words describe Julie Foucher. Among them are smart (she’s going to be a doctor), fit (she’s one of the fittest in the world), determined, consistent, and hard working (be sure to read How Julie Foucher Became Julie Foucher to understand why). After what transpired at the Central Regional a few weeks ago now, we can also include inspirational. Julie tore her right achilles tendon, and, rather than end her weekend feeling sorry for herself, she finished the remaining three events in impressive fashion…in a boot.

This isn’t the first time Julie’s been inspirational. After completion of the 15.2 CrossFit Games Open workout, the following was posted on Julie Foucher’s instagram account.

My 15.2 score was 8 reps less than last year's score in 14.2. Does this mean I'm not fitter than I was last year? Absolutely not. 15.2 is one workout of many and overall my metrics tell me I'm the fittest I've ever been. I approached 15.2 ready to break a score of 400 and my hands tore much earlier in the workout than last year. Even though my score was lower, a "mental win" came from the way I approached the workout and pushed through adversity. Your score on one single workout doesn't define your overall fitness, and you grow in some way from every workout regardless of the score. Thank you @bricknewyork for being the best hosts to me last weekend and cheering me through 15.2. Onward to 15.3 in Chicago! @crossfitgames @roguefitness @reebok #15point2

A post shared by Julie Foucher (@juliefoucher) on

In addition to being incredibly motivating and empowering, Julie’s post addresses an important issue every CrossFitter, at one point or another, has to deal with. That is, feeling unfit as a result of a singular workout performance.

“My 15.2 score was 8 reps less than last year’s score in 14.2. Does this mean I’m not fitter than I was last year? Absolutely not. 15.2 is one workout of many, and overall my metrics tell me I’ve the fittest I’ve ever been”

To add some credence to her statement we decided to look at some of Julie’s workout results between the 2014 Open and the 2015 Open. Improvements in workouts from various categories of her Fitness Level will imply that she, indeed, is more fit than last year, despite the non-PR on 15.2.  Here’s what we found:

Benchmark Workouts: 2014-2015

Category Workout PR Date
Girls Angie 12:47 5/24/2014
Diane 2:16 6/29/2014
Elizabeth 3:26 4/25/2014
Fran 2:13 6/7/2014
Grace 1:25 4/23/2014
Isabel 1:39 12/20/2014
Nancy 10:56 6/28/2014
Eva 34:04 6/20/2014
Amanda 3:22 4/20/2014
Nasty Girls 6:45 12/26/2014
Gymnastics 30 Muscle-ups 4:00 1/13/2015
Max Weighted Pull-up 75 lbs 12/27/2014
Max Muscle-ups 11 12/27/2014
Max Ring Dips 17 9/26/2014
Heroes Murph 40:07 5/26/2014
Josh 4:18 10/25/2014
DT 4:29 7/20/2014
Coe 9:44 7/19/2014
Holleyman 17:24 12/6/2014
Lifts Overhead Squat 231 lbs 7/24/2014
Thruster 165 lbs 12/30/2014
Shoulder Press (3RM) 110 lbs 1/21/2015
Split Jerk 235 lbs 3/4/2015
Snatch 172.5 lbs 5/24/2014
Clean 212 lbs 12/16/2014

The above chart represents workouts and benchmarks Julie has set life-time PRs for within the last year. They come from a wide range of Fitness Level categories, and they represent the broad spectrum of Julie’s programming. It’s impossible to look at this chart and believe Julie to be less fit than last year.

CrossFit Games Open History

What about her competition history? Julie had her best finish in both the Central East region and in the world in the Open since 2012. Surely she’s more fit.

Year Central East Placing World Wide Placing
2011 1st 5th
2012 1st 2nd
2013 14th 167th
2014 3rd 14th
2015 1st 11th

The Fitness Level Connection

It’s easy to understand that Julie is more fit than she was in previous years because of her constant competing. But what if you don’t compete on a regular basis? What if you never participate in a comprehensive, weekend long competition that tests all aspects of your fitness? How could anyone ever know? Fitness isn’t about your performance on one workout at your box on a random Tuesday. Fitness is about your performances on several different workouts across a broad range of time domains and movement combinations (ie. the Open). Enter BTWB’s Fitness Level feature.

Fitness Level is a number derived from 8 different, specific categories. The levels from each are averaged together to determine an athlete’s overall Fitness Level. The most well rounded individuals (users with high ratings for each of the categories) will have the highest overall Fitness Levels. It isn’t at all how well you perform on, for example, Fran (a workout that belongs to our Short category), but rather how you perform on a host of workouts from the Short category that determines your level for that category. While a low score on Fran, say 50, will pull your category score down, 80s and 90s on other workouts from the same category will help to pull it back up. The same is true for the other 7 categories that make up Fitness Level. In the chart below, the average of the 6 Light category workouts (some in the 70s, some in the 90s) are giving this athlete a Light category score of 87.

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The same idea applies to an athlete’s overall Fitness Level. A poor rating in one category will pull a category rating down, but it only counts as 1/8 of an overall Fitness Level score. Most of us have either personally experienced, or know someone who’s experienced, the phenomenon of becoming more fit by giving up certain strengths in order to improve upon weaknesses. Perhaps the best example of this is the incredibly strong athlete losing size, and, as a result, strength numbers, but simultaneously improving MetCon capacity. The ratings for this hypothetical athlete’s Power Lifting and Olympic Lifting categories may drop, but the increases in the other 6 categories may be enough to ultimately improve his/her overall Fitness Level. The chart below shows an athlete lacking in the Power Lifts and Speed categories, but because the ratings for the other 6 categories are fairly high, this athlete still has a very respectable Fitness Level of 72. This athlete is not a 28, though he/she might feel like it sometimes when suffering through some of the short distance running and rowing Speed workouts.

screen-shot-2015-06-10-at-9.30.54-am

In the end, your Fitness Level history, and how it’s trending, is all you need to know about your fitness.
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Additional Factors To Consider

Let’s not forget about the other factors that go into each and every individual performance. For example, did Julie get enough sleep the night before 15.2? Was the environment as motivating as it was the prior year? While repeating workouts does wonders for tracking progress, it is often difficult to duplicate the exact environment, mindset, and motivation each time. That’s especially the case if your last performance was one for the ages. In Julie’s case, from what we can tell, her hands ripped early on during 15.2. At that point, 15.2 went from a predictable repeat workout, to an entirely different experience altogether.

Below are a list of additional factors that come into play when repeating a workout. Each can play a part in causing an athlete, who is more fit, to not PR. However, the design of our Fitness Level feature will help to negate these when/if they happen.

Mindset

The stuff going on between the ears is the most powerful tool of all. Are you confident in your abilities? Do you trust that you’re more fit than last time? Or was your performance so awesome last time that you don’t know if you can duplicate that form? Personal records are often determined before the clock even starts.

Atmosphere

Where are you performing the workout? Is it as motivating as the last time? Are you competing against others that push you? Are you by yourself? Athletes often perform up, or down, with their environment. Never underestimate the power of a buzzing atmosphere.

Training Biases

Have you been focusing on a certain aspect of your fitness to the detriment of others? Sometimes that’s by design. If a repeat workout happens to present itself during a stretch of biased training, a poor performance won’t tell you much about your fitness. Remember, you’re sacrificing now so that somewhere down the line you are more fit than ever.

Sleep/Water/Food

We often take these items for granted. Maybe you didn’t drink enough water the day before the workout. Or, perhaps, your eating wasn’t as on-point as it could have been in the couple of days leading up to your workout. Even something as simple as getting one less hour of sleep than last time can be enough to keep you from achieving the same perfect storm of internal factors as last time.

The Unknowable

Sometimes setting a PR has to do with everything going just right. As mentioned previously, Julie’s hands ripped early on in 15.2. There was no way for her to know that would happen, especially if it didn’t during 14.2. Another example could be getting “no repped” unexpectedly on an Open workout. How do you handle the workout now that your focus and plan have been tampered with? Do you crack under the pressure, or do you overcome the unforeseen obstacles? Sometimes the unknowable is a bit too much to overcome. For Julie, performing that many C2B pull-ups on ripped hands was always going to be a challenge. To her credit, she still only missed her PR by 8 reps!

Fighting Human Nature

It’s easy to get frustrated with a singular workout. It’s human nature. We want it all now. If every repeat performance isn’t a personal record, sometimes it feels like it’s the end of the world. You’ll likely encounter many of these “bumps” in the road on your fitness journey. The key is maintaining a long-term perspective. Fitness Level can be that perspective for you.