More Cross Than Fit: My Struggles With CrossFit

When I moved to the East Bay, doing a little research revealed that the cheapest gym in my area was CrossFit. I had heard rumors about the brutal WODs ("Workout of the Day"), intense coaches, and fanatical quality of CrossFit adherents. So it was with a cautious spirit that I attended a Saturday morning introductory class in July.

We put sandbags on our shoulders and ran 400m. We jumped on boxes. We did wall-balls (throwing a medicine ball above a designated line and catching it in a squat). We sweated profusely.

I could barely sit for days. We used so many muscle groups I had rarely engaged that moving from sitting to standing reduced me to moaning like an elderly person with serious injuries.

But it was fun. I had tried running for six months without seeing noticeable physical changes, so I thought I would give weight lifting a shot. I signed up for an "on-ramp" training course and began an accelerated intro to weight lifting and the various movements that are commonly incorporated into CrossFit workouts.

My on-ramp coach was a freaking beast. At 5'2", she probably weighed 125 lbs. But she was a world-champion lifter and a phenomenal teacher. She was patient with me when I couldn't master the squats ("Sit back on your heels!"), and despite only having four days of on-ramp, she covered most of the movements we would use in workouts.

So I started attending the WODs at least three days per week, with a couple weeks off for travel here and there. It was slow going, and I had no idea what I was doing most of the time, but I was learning.

And my body reflected the effort: I went from 155 lbs to 175 lbs, most of which was muscle. I had crazy thigh muscles, crazy back muscles, and crazy sore knees from all of the jumping and squatting.

But I started noticing a disturbing trend.

I would go to CrossFit feeling excited about working out after a stressful day. But after weeks and months of coming in last at every workout (they tally everyone's times and amount of weight lifted on the board), I started feeling really dejected after every workout.

Intellectually, I knew what was happening:

1. The fact that I was disappointed meant I had subconscious expectations that weren't being met. I didn't think I had expectations, but I guess I thought I would be doing better after a couple of months.

2. I was comparing myself, and comparison is the root of dissatisfaction. I looked at the board after every workout and saw that I was the slowest person in the gym and lifting the least amount of weight.

3. I started to see myself as "bad" at CrossFit, so I claimed ownership over that identity. I intentionally did the minimum amount necessary for each workout. And I justified it by telling myself I was just trying to avoid getting hurt.

Here's the crazy part: I knew all of this was happening and that it was completely normal. But sometimes our emotional response to situations conflicts with our intellectual understanding.

Intellectually, I knew I was doing CrossFit for me, and it didn't matter how much progress I made relative to everyone else. But emotionally, I felt crushed.

So how did I resolve this conflict? I made a commitment. I signed up to do one year of CrossFit, and I gave myself permission to quit if I still felt the same way after one year.

The time to quit is not when you feel most hopeless. It's when you've proven that you can fulfill a promise to yourself.

People lose money in the stock market because they pull out when the market tanks. Alcoholics stay addicted because they take a drink when the withdrawal is at its worst. Weight lifters make gains when they push through failure.

I don't know if I'll stay with CrossFit in nine months when my year is up. But I do know that I will have given it my best shot, and I won't quit until it's done.

What situations in your life do you struggle with emotionally even though you intellectually understand them? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Posted on February 19, 2015 .