What is the hardest thing about CrossFit?
I’ve been training people for over 12 years and specifically coaching CrossFit for 4 years of that time. I have seen a lot of athletes come and go for various reasons, some better than others but one, in particular, occurs more frequently than them all. The problem is that no one ever admits to this being an issue or their reason for giving up CrossFit. Sometimes I’m not sure they can even put their finger on it so they leave will a bad taste in their mouth but unsure of why they feel that way.
It’s not to do with a difficult movement that they can’t achieve. Handstand walking is very tricky and being proficient at the olympic lifts requires years of practice. But there are enough different movements in an average week of classes that you may not have to face your “goat” (weakness) for weeks apart. I’ve seen people take years to pick up a new skill like double unders and the hard work that goes into achieving it makes it so much more rewarding. And at the end of the day, it’s you vs. the skill – a static target that once you hit you know you’ve reached your goal.
It’s not the workouts either. Whether that’s long, grinding workouts that leave you a blubbering mess for hours afterwards or short, fast metcons that burn like hell and, when done right, leave you on your back staring at the roof for longer than the workout actually lasted. We all know by now that exercise releases endorphins and we get a euphoric high from any kind of intense physical activity. So much so that it actually becomes addictive.
It’s not the injuries. Injuries happen, everywhere. As the saying goes… “A ship in the harbour is a safe ship, but that’s not what ships are built for”. We are made to move and as rewarding as it can be there are also risks involved. Plenty of people get injured doing CrossFit or playing sport but the same goes for tripping down a flight of stairs or picking something up from the ground at home. A good CrossFit coach should and will teach proper mechanics, help scale to your fitness level, and work with you through an injury. When done right, they will actually help protect you from injuries while also improving so many other facets of your health and fitness.
So what is it, you ask. Why do so many people not make it past the first 3-6 months? What is this underlying cause of so much anxiety that leads to people walking away from something so beneficial to their quality of life?
Our own egos get in the way of a lot of things and nothing hurts more than walking into a place full of people in better shape than you are. Or even worse, you think you are just as fit as the next person but you get your ass handed to you on a daily basis at a variety of different workouts. Or how about when the girl who started 3 months after you gets double unders on her first day while you have nothing but whip marks up both arms to show for it. Or when a guy half your size Snatches the same weight you just deadlifted yesterday. All of these scenarios can and have scared people off if they lack self-esteem and confidence.
It’s what eventually leads to people scurrying back to the safety of commercial gyms, functional fitness studios like F45, or back to the couch. In commercial gyms no one really cares how fit or strong you are as long as you’re wearing nice Lululemon tights or gigantic Beats by Dre headphones, it’s not like you’re actually going to talk to people there right!?. At F45 you won’t get compared to anyone else, you just workout for an hour and get a good sweat on, but how do you know you’re improving? Are you learning any new skills? Do they even know what progressive overload is? And the couch… we don’t really need to go over why that’s a poor choice.
CrossFit prides itself on being measurable and repeatable. This allows us to retest workouts objectively and accurately measure improvements in work capacity and, therefore, fitness. The problem is that we abuse this system. We use it to compare ourselves to other people and set ourselves up for disappointment. It can be a slow and painful decline into the deep recesses of despair. You’ll never win the WOD, it might take another 12 months to get double unders, and you may never lift that weight. But does any of that really matter?
Next time you find yourself feeling the familiar sting of a bruised ego ask yourself these questions:
- Is it actually important to me to win or have this skill?
- Have I worked long and hard enough to deserve it?
- Can I honestly say that I did my best to achieve my goal?
- Am I just at a different point in my journey? (good things take time)
And perhaps the most important question… What am I going to do about it?
If the answer is nothing then great, move on and be content. If you aren’t willing to do anything about it then you can’t be upset with the outcome and remember that no amount of excuses will improve your fitness. If the answer is that you’re going to work harder and smarter to become better and achieve your goal, learn the skill, or win the WOD, then that’s cool too. Now you can pour your energy into something productive. Leave your ego out of it and focus more on simply being 1% better than yesterday. If you can figure that out then CrossFit is easy.