What Complaining About Rep Cutting Says About Your Character (OPINION)

Sep 27, 2019 by

I read the op-ed “What Rep Cutting Says About Your Character,” I saw the re-posts, the internet applauding, and all I could think was, “Nononononono..”

Not because I disagree that rep cutting is bad. 

But because, as a mindset coach with Mindset Rx’d, this op-ed misses the point. It misses why people cut their reps, it misses how character is developed and personal growth achieved. It also misses the opportunity that this issue presents to reflect on and build our own character.

Why do people cut reps?

Ultimately, the question really is, why do people cheat? We love to answer judgmentally — they cheat because they have a bad character, because they like taking shortcuts, because they’re unwilling to work hard enough to earn the spot. 

But this is not the real reason. This is the reason we give ourselves so that we can soothe our egos and feel superior.

The reason people cheat is because they don’t believe that the effort they put in is good enough. They believe that they have to stack up in a certain place in order to be worthy. And because a desire for belonging and worthiness is critical to our sense of social safety, they are willing to cheat to get there. This applies to the CrossFit athlete at your local box, and it applies to the professional athlete in any sport. 

The reason people cheat is because they don’t believe that the effort they put in is good enough. They believe that they have to stack up in a certain place in order to be worthy.

This is a classic case of fixed mindset, a key component of social psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck’s work. In a fixed mindset, an athlete believes that their abilities are innate: they have a built-in ceiling on their potential that they cannot change. They may cheat, or they may not try hard in the first place. People with a fixed mindset believe that failure is a sentence on their worth, and they will avoid it at any cost. 

In athletes with a growth mindset, failure is an opportunity. They believe that they can develop their abilities and they find self-worth and security in the effort they put forth to improve. 

For our rep cutting athletes, training is not an opportunity to improve their fitness — it is a test that they are deeply afraid of failing. Their sense of belonging is constantly threatened, so fear and shame rule their behavior. 

Is the right way to address this with shaming them more about their character? Or is showing them compassion and how to develop their character going to be more effective?

How do we change rep cutting athletes?

First, we have to look at ourselves, because taking ownership is a critical piece of building great character. 

It is understandable to get frustrated with our peers when they cheat and get frustrated with athletes who don’t follow directions. Every athlete and every coach deals with this at some point in their career, and how we learn to handle it has a lot to do with our own mindset. 

When an athlete at our box cheats, it’s because they’re afraid that they’re not good enough to belong.

We’re dealing with shame and fear a lot in our boxes, whether we recognize it or not. People who are out of their comfort zones behave in all kinds of self-sabotaging ways, including cutting their reps. Our own fears come into play when athletes don’t listen to us or when we see someone cheating. Our sense of belonging and worthiness is threatened when our status is not recognized. When we’ve placed our worth on how we’re stacking up on the leaderboard, when we need external validation to show ourselves and everyone else that we are worthy, then we’re going to find cheating a personal affront, rather than someone else’s weakness to address. 

When an athlete at our box cheats, it’s because they’re afraid that they’re not good enough to belong. 

As a peer, how can you better ensure that they feel welcome and secure when they’re around you? How can you create an environment that values their effort over their results? How do you respond to and own up to your own failures and shortcomings? What are you teaching others about your values? 

As a coach or affiliate owner, what are you doing to create a sense of inclusion at your box and in your classes, where every person is valued and appreciated for who they are versus what they can do? How do you own your mistakes to your community? How are you developing a growth mindset in your gym? What can you be doing differently or better? 

When we’ve placed our worth on how we’re stacking up on the leaderboard, when we need external validation to show ourselves and everyone else that we are worthy, then we’re going to find cheating a personal affront, rather than someone else’s weakness to address. 

Because if you’re experiencing this, there is something you can be doing better, whether it’s taking action or letting go. 

This is just the first part of the equation, though an important one. An athlete who’s cheating needs more support from us than an improving environment. They need someone in their corner, a compassionate and steady ear who’s willing to go to the dark place with them. 

They need a vulnerable conversation. 

Research shows that vulnerability is the only path to self-worth and to courage, which is exactly what a rep cutting athlete needs. Vulnerability is the antidote to shame, and it’s going to be up to us to lead the way. 

An honest conversation not only about what the athlete is doing but about how it impacts us as a coach or athlete is not an easy task. Keeping accusations and judgement out of our language and tone is a tall order, as is the patience to allow this to be a developing process. No one overcomes shame and self-sabotaging habits easily or quickly. 

I have had this conversation before. It wasn’t about rep cutting, it was about Rxing inappropriate weights, but the shame is the same. 

“Hey, Nick, I asked you to take down your weight, but then I saw that you added the weight back on before the workout. What happened there?” 

“Well, I thought I could do the weight.” 

“Ok. This has happened before, though. When you add weight back to your bar, I feel like you don’t trust my knowledge and judgment. I care about you and I care about my job, so when this happens, it really hurts me.” 

This is the vulnerability part of the equation. Our athletes and peers don’t realize how their behavior impacts us. Their focus is solely on avoiding shame, and shame only responds to vulnerability. We can use this same formula for talking with a peer who’s cheating: when you miscount reps, I feel _____, and it hurts me. By far and away, this method gets better results than accusations or isolation.

We can see that by taking ownership of the environment we’re creating and seeking methods to connect with people who need us, we have an incredible opportunity to improve our own characters while improving a situation that has frustrated us. 

The title of this op-ed is “What Complaining About Rep Cutting Says About Your Character,” and I owe you a definitive answer: it says that we all have work to do. So get to work. 


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