The Baseline, Spaced Practice, and Reward Structure

If you talk to anyone who attends Crossfit for more than a few minutes, they will likely try to convince you to join. Despite the incessant need for its members to recruit everyone they know, Crossfit is not a pyramid scheme or a cult. Yes, I happen to be one of those annoying people, and I have a theory as to why so many of us are evangelists of our sport. Crossfit has a structure that sets athletes up to see fast progress where a baseline is quickly established, every day is set up with a different practice session, and progress is rewarded both internally and externally.

The Crossfit Structure

Crossfit uses a training structure that demonstrates and rewards results quickly that I call the Baseline, Spaced Practice, Reward structure. Let’s take a deeper look at this structure, why it works, and how it can apply to other types of training programs.

Establish a Baseline

The first time you walk into Crossfit there is a boat-load of equipment that is intimidating or downright unfamiliar. The learning curve is daunting for first-timers, especially if Olympic lifting and gymnastics are new to them. It would be dangerous to turn someone loose without reviewing their abilities and giving them preliminary information. To address this, new athletes must take a series of “On-Ramp” courses where they learn how to perform the essential movements safely and to their ability. Many of these movements take years to master, every person has strengths and weaknesses, and all of them have an alternative that can be used. The On-Ramp classes are baseline sessions for the athlete and coach to establish what they know, what they want to improve and to set realistic goals.

In training, baseline activities can be used similarly to On-Ramp your participants. Self-Evaluation Rubrics or a baseline quiz can capture a start point for your participants.

Spaced Practice

The benefits of spaced practice are not new. In his paper Spacing Learning Over Time, Dr. Thalheimer discusses the on-the-job benefits of spaced learning. In Crossfit, once a baseline is established, regular distributed practice is performed to increase athletic ability. Every day is different, and movements are distributed through various workouts which familiarizes athletes with the movements and increases their confidence. Basically, every day at Crossfit is a procedural learning session that encourages you to hit a different milestone. With 30 + essential movements that vary in weight, speed, balance, etc.. athletes have ample opportunity to get incrementally better. Skills and strength are developed quickly because of a program that deliberately spaces practice for physical recovery and cognitive rest time.

Spaced practice in the learning and development can also be used to quickly see improvement in our participants. Daily or weekly activities that build skills over a period of time are shown not only to effectively train, they also lead to change that sticks around.

Rewards and Personal Records

Just as in the professional development setting, with continued space practice, all Crossfit athletes move beyond their baselines and hit personal records or PRs. PRs are a big deal in Crossfit and are rewarded with high fives, your name on a whiteboard, and sometimes getting to ring a PR bell. Granted, high fives may not seem like a big deal on paper, but when you do your first unassisted pull-up and ten people run up to high five you, endorphins kick in and you want to get back on that bar as soon as you can to do it again. Because Crossfit is constantly re-establishing your baseline, you hit records often and the satisfaction of seeing that line move is exciting and motivating.

Rewards in training don’t need to be expensive or opulent to be meaningful to participants. The acknowledgment of steady and gradual improvement motivates participants to stay the course and believe in the program. This is the genius behind Crossfit and can be the genius behind your training program.

Applying the Crossfit Structure

We can learn a lot about incremental progress from Crossfit. By taking spaced learning a step further and incorporating solid baseline activity and small yet significant rewards for progress is a structure that can lead to substantial change.

Have you used Spaced Learning? I would love to hear your thoughts. Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

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