One of the defining characteristics of CrossFit training is the use of a stopwatch or clock to time workouts. This practice is often regarded as being integral to the effectiveness of the training by turning each workout into a competition and making training “measurable”. I’ve used this approach in the past; prior to my introduction to CrossFit, I never used it with myself or my clients; and as of about a year ago, we no longer time workouts at Catalyst Athletics—even ones that taste a bit like CrossFit.
The stopwatch on workouts has bothered me for quite some time, but I ignored it for a couple years, working around the related problems in every possible way except the most obvious and sensible—removing the stopwatch.
We now give our clients the option to time their own workouts, but our trainers don’t do it. Interestingly enough, very few of our clients time their workouts even with this option available. When we do an actual CrossFit workout (About once monthly, we use one of the good old diagnostic workouts: Cindy, Diane, Fran, Helen and Jackie), we time it—in that case, a time is actually useful for clients to compare previous performances.
My problems with the stopwatch:
1) The only competition clients have while exercising is themselves, both metaphysically and practically. We can pretend that our clients are competing against each other in some kind of sport, but their times are meaningless unless all of your clients are duplications of the same person with the same abilities using the same weights.
2) I don’t care how much you emphasize proper exercise execution—once someone is racing a clock, they will sacrifice movement for speed. If you buy into the CrossFit notion that work capacity / power output
trumps all, this doesn’t matter. If you disagree with the philosophy, it’s a serious problem. I believe that movement and the manner in which it’s performed is extremely important.
3) Not having an actual clock on your workout doesn’t prevent you from pushing the pace. However, not having a clock does help you focus on what’s most important.
4) Times from workouts seem to dominate in terms of importance in clients’ minds when instead they should be paying attention to the loads they’re using, the accuracy of their movements, the type and magnitude of exertion and just about anything else other than time.
5) If your training is set up to be constantly varied
and you never repeat a workout, what utility is a time? There’s nothing to compare it to.
Can you train well while timing everything you do? I’m sure it’s possible; it’s just tough to do, and even tougher to ensure others are doing. My first stage in getting rid of the clock at Catalyst Athletics was removing it from our introductory class series—new clients never had a workout timed until they finished this series and entered the open classes. By that time, we had instilled in them a sense of priorities. If you decide to keep the clock running, I would strongly encourage keeping new clients off the clock during their initial period of training.