One aspect of Crossfit that very much appeals to me is fitness tracking. Crossfit was one of the first programs to clearly define “fitness” in a meaningful and measurable way – the degree to which a person can exhibit an “increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains,” (source). But what does that mean, and how can I make sure that I’m accurately measuring, assessing, and improving my own personal fitness?
The definition of “work capacity” summons flashbacks to high school physics class *shudder**hashtag**ohpleasemakeitstop*. To practice getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, let’s examine the concept of work as it applies to Crossfit.
In the physics world, physical work (W) equals force (F) times distance (D). Power (P), then, is the amount of work done divided by the time (t) it takes to do that work.
P = (F x D) ÷ t
Your average Power illustrates your work capacity, and your fitness is your ability to demonstrate increased work capacity in as many domains as possible. What is a domain? For the purposes of Crossfit, domains are just a large variety of activities. Vigilante Crossfit describes domains as “sprinting, running a marathon, maximum weight squat, maximum number of body weight squats in 5 minutes, throwing a ball, shoveling dirt, riding a bike, swimming….” You get the idea. Domains are activities you encounter in your day-to-day life, be it through sports or everyday actions.
This is all to say that the most fit person is someone that can capably perform a wide range of activities, over short or long periods of time, at a variety of intensities. It’s the notion that you are ready and able to take on whatever life happens to throw at you.
Sounds great, right? But let’s be honest. I’m sure as heck not going to sit around after every workout tinkering with equations to figure out if my power is increasing. Luckily, there are apps to take care of that kind of number crunching, if you’re interested. Or, for the mere mortals amongst us, a basic workout log may be plenty to demonstrate improvement and facilitate goal setting and achievement tracking.
I enjoy tracking stats. I use a Garmin Forerunner GPS watch when I run to track my distance, pace, cadence, and heart rate. I use a Garmin Swim watch in the pool to track my strokes, laps, and times. I wear a FitBit to count my daily steps. I keep spreadsheets full of running race data and personal records. I track what I eat, and track what I weigh. I track body composition and measurements. I like having numbers to illustrate my progress. While no single number means everything, good sets of data can tell you a lot about yourself.
Unfortunately for my love of numbers and gadgets, there’s no magic device to track my Crossfit progress. I can’t just clip on a bit or slap on a watch. So, where will I get my numbers? How will I know I’m on the right track?
My first instinct was to find an app that I could use to track my WODs (workouts of the day) and personal records (max weights, reps, etc). There are quite a few iPhone and Android apps out there for logging WODs. I found this article on the top 10 Crossfit apps, and tried a few. I found the process of inputting WODs to be cumbersome at best, partly because my gym does not post their WODs in an RSS format that these apps can automatically import. Hand-typing WOD details while still shaky and sweaty from an intense workout resulted in a lot of wasted time yelling at Siri and her awful autocorrects.
I started researching WOD log books – the old pen-and-paper kind. Stone age, right? I searched Amazon and read a bunch of forum posts and wasn’t really thrilled by the results. One name did pop up over and over – the Sport Journals WODBook. It sounded pretty great, so I ordered the Beginner version and received a confirmation email that it would ship out via priority mail next-business day. The communication was fairly awful and non-specific, and it took over a week for my WODBook to arrive, but I was still very much looking forward to receiving it. The front of the book is -packed with instruction on the most common Crossfit movements and workouts. It’s got some great reference materials for beginners. The back portion of the book is the daily workout log, and… womp womp. It’s essentially just blank space to write stuff. There are sleep and nutrition prompts, but nothing to simplify the logging of actual workouts.
Bummer, indeed! I was disappointed. I expected the log portion of the book to be specifically geared toward WODs. It is, after all, called a “WODBook.” Alas, this was not to be the log book of my dreams.
Next, I started searching for spreadsheets and printable logs. There are quite a few out there, many of which look really good. Crossfit KOP in King of Prussia, PA has a nice Crossfit progress log (link to PDF). There are quite a few people out there sharing their own spreadsheet creations, like Jason’s Crossfit PR log and Al’s Crossfit WOD log. WOD@Home has a nice log as well, but none were exactly what I was looking for. Close, but not quite.
So, I made my own. It is bare-bones, but has the inputs laid out the way I want them. I added a %-of-max chart and list of named WODs in the back, and sent it off to Staples to be printed in a spiral bound notebook. It’s bigger than I’d like (8 1/2 x 11″ letter sized… I would prefer a smaller 5×8 book, but that wasn’t something I could easily order from Staples online), but at $9 (52 log pages, plus 5 pages of %-max and WOD charts, plus vinyl front and back covers), I think it will do. I’ll post an update when I get the actual book in my hands to report how it’s working.
There’s a big downside to pen-and-paper logging, though: the difficulties in searching through the data. For example, when a throwback workout shows up on the whiteboard, searching through a log book to find the last time I completed that workout will be a pain. One of the benefits of logging is that data becomes comparable, and you can look back at past workouts and compare them to present to note improvements. Paper log books are just not good for quick data recall.
To account for that, I would need some sort of digital input. I prefer apps that are attached to a web site, so that I can enter data from my desktop or from my mobile device. In that arena, there aren’t too many Crossfit apps to choose from. The biggest name out there appears to be Beyond the Whiteboard. It has a nice data input interface and also does some great data analysis (including calculations of Power and comparisons of your fitness scores to the thousands of users of the site). The downside: it is not free. It costs $5/month or $50/year to subscribe to Beyond the Whiteboard. On the upside, it does offer a free 30 day trial. You have to input payment information to register, but if you cancel before the month is up (and the registration page tells you exactly what day that will be), you won’t be charged.
I decided to try Beyond the Whiteboard. I will use my pen-and-paper WOD log book at the gym to scribble down my workouts, and once a week or so when it’s convenient, I will enter them into Beyond the Whiteboard via the app or the web site. I’ve entered my first few workouts via the web site, and I do like the interface. I’ve got the 30-day deadline on my calendar, in case I decide to cancel the subscription when the free trial runs out, but so far, I like it. I just wish my gym posted WODs in a way that worked with these apps. (They do post each WOD the night before, but it’s in a standard blog post, so the RSS feed contains the full text of the post and not just the WOD).
And so goes my experiences in figuring out the best way for me to log my Crossfit workouts and PRs. What’s your approach to logging workouts? Favorite apps or log books? Please share!
Photo credit, workout log notebook: Angela