Character Matters

It is not often that I find a subject that I want to sit down and write about. When I do, it is something I want to share or something that has been bothering me. In this case, it is the latter.

I am blessed in many ways. I often tell people I have two jobs but I never work a day in my life. I love being a firefighter and I love being a CrossFit coach. Both jobs are rewarding and come easy to me. Firefighting is known for its Brotherhood and strong bond among those who are on the job. You can say the same about the CrossFit Community.

Firefighters that I haven’t worked with for a while, often ask me if I ever think CrossFit will fade away. My answer is something they don’t expect: NO. Why? Because of the CrossFit Community. This community is as strong as the Firefighting Brotherhood. They don’t believe me, but that’s okay. You have to be a part of it to understand it.

As much as I love the CrossFit Community, there is a subject in CrossFit that confuses me and troubles me deeply, a subject that few talk about in public. It has become more prevalent in my gym and it is time for me to stop ignoring it. If I don’t address it, then I’d start to lose the confidence of my coaches and clients, especially of those who have brought up this subject to me. So what exactly am I referring to? REP CUTTING. There it is, for everyone to see.

Cutting reps is nothing new to me. The first time I dealt with a client who was cutting reps, I pulled them aside and talked to them one-on-one. The client denied it and shortly there after left the gym. The second time, I actually stood beside them counting their reps, and if they called “time” or moved on to the next movement, I’d tell them how many reps they still had to go. That client also left the gym. So as time went on, I became less likely to engage someone that was rep cutting. Were they doing all the work? No, but at least they were still doing CrossFit and working out. That is how I justified it in my mind. What was going on didn’t affect me. When I train, I try to improve myself. Those cutting reps didn’t change my fitness. But what about their fitness? How do they even know if what they are doing is actually working? How do they know to make nutritional, sleep or lifestyle changes too improve, if they are not doing all the work? They DON’T!

What bothers me the most is the impact it has on my gym and clients that are doing the work and are not cutting reps. They bust their butts to improve their lifestyles and listen to my advice on how to recover, what to eat to fuel their workouts and improve their health and fitness. Yet, they look at the gym whiteboard or SugarWOD leaderboard and become perplexed. Several of them refuse to post their scores because some of the scores/results posted there are downright unbelievable. And these are some really good athletes that don’t post because of this “cheating”. This really bothers me! SugarWOD is one of the best community building tools that I have used in my 14+ years as an owner/athlete/coach; and it is also how I keep up with my clients’ training when I am on duly at the firehouse. So when clients decide not to post their scores, it affects my ability to have an effective line of communication with them.

I am a CrossFit coach and far from a sports psychologist. I have read several articles on not having a whiteboard, or a prescribed workout, or a leaderboard (I will share my feelings on that in the future); but I am not changing any of that just because of rep cutters. Instead, I would rather talk about the issue and either resolve it or minimize its affect on my gym.

People notice when someone “cheats”. Several of my coaches and even clients will be out of sight just counting the reps of the offenders; and they are not confused or perplexed. Their bullshit meter works really well and they are not afraid to use it. They often come to me saying “how did rep cutter “X” beat you in that workout when halve the time they were staring at the floor or the barbell?” or something like “WOW, the guy who gets 4 hours of sleep a night, works out Monday through Friday, and eats McDonalds, just beat an 8 time CrossFit Games athlete….” I acknowledge the comments with a smile and say something like “yeah, I know what you are saying.”  I have tried to my best to remain positive and professional to all those who have brought it to my attention; but now I am calling it out. I want it to stop like everyone else.

The Firefighting world and CrossFit are full of acronyms. I have probably forgotten more acronyms than most people will ever learn, but there is one that is used in both my professions: MCI. In firefighting it refers to a Mass Casualty Incident; in CrossFit it stands for Mechanics, Consistency, Intensity. So I am going to come up with a third use for MCI directed to rep cutters: Morality, Character, Integrity.

Morality is defined as the principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. Rep Cutters know they are doing wrong and they are okay with it! I admit sometimes counting and working hard can be difficult, especially in workouts where you are moving from exercise to exercise quickly; but the cheaters never lose count and do more work than they are supposed to – it is always less. Doesn’t it make you think, if they cheat at a simple daily workout, then there is nothing in life they will not cheat at?

Character has many uses or definitions. In this case, I’m referring to an individual’s reputation. When I graduated from the Fire Academy, the Professional Standards Officer of the department gave all of us a magnet to put on our lockers when we got to our assigned firehouses; it read “Character Matters 24/7”. When I reported to work my first day, I quickly realized I wasn’t the only one with this magnet. They were on the outside or inside of everyone’s locker; they were on bathroom stalls, refrigerators, whiteboards and even in the apparatus. They were a simple and effective reminder to do the right thing no matter how difficult, because there is always someone counting on you or observing you. Over time, many of those magnets disappeared after that officer retired. If I find a couple extras laying around, I’m going to bring them into the gym. They are simple and effective – just like many well programmed CrossFit WODs.

Integrity is defined as being honest and having strong moral principles. This is a word that is used quite often in the CrossFit circles, mostly due to the Sport of CrossFit. Integrity has been used to shame all those accused of PEDs, video editing, and judges/coaches allowing substandard movement in order to get a better score in the qualifying phase of the CrossFit Games. Integrity in the gym during a daily workout is doing the amount of work written to be done and meeting the movement standards that are discussed before 3,2,1 GO. It is really that simple! Do the right thing.

I tell my probies and young firefighters I teach all the time to “do the hard right, not the easy wrong.” That goes for rep cutters as well, do the hard right, not the easy wrong! You are not fooling anyone, but yourselves. I am tired of seeing rep cutters get to pull up bars or barbells after the athlete in front of or beside them, cycling slower, taking longer and more breaks, and getting done before that person. I don’t have to count, it is that obvious. Enough is enough.

Jeff T.

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