Why do you do CrossFit?” I get asked this question a lot. Sometimes when I tell people about my fitness habit they want to know if it’s as intense as it’s made out to be. Some people roll their eyes and say, “Oh. You’re one of them.” Almost everybody follows up by asking me why.
Why I Do CrossFit: The Short Answer
1. I want to be strong. Scratch that — I want to be strong as hell. I want the mind of a warrior and the body of an athlete. I want to be able to lift weights, run for miles, do pullups with a weighted vest on. I want to be a toned and agile beast.
2. I want to be capable. The CrossFit mentality is beautiful; it teaches you to say, yeah, I can do that. You don’t fall before a challenge. You rise up to meet it. The CrossFit WODs get you into physical shape to take the world on.
3. I want the clarity intense workouts bring me. A serious workout — when I go all-in — clears my head and gets me focused. When I don’t work out, I feel scattered, stagnant, restless, but when I start working out — especially intensely — my blood starts flowing, my breath goes all the way down to the bottom of my lungs, everything gets cleared out, and I recenter. For the duration of the workout, my focus is narrow and all-consuming, and when I come back out of it I’m ready to take on the world again. It brings me back to my core, and it makes me feel amazing.
4. I want the intense CrossFit culture of self-betterment and competition to translate over to the rest of my life. The way you do one thing in your life becomes the way you do everything. CrossFit WODs are all-in — the clock’s set for fifteen (or ten, or twenty) minutes, the buzzer goes off, and you give it everything you’ve got, sweat dripping onto the floor, until the buzzer goes off again. You give the fight your entire soul. This is the paradigm I want to see bleed over into the rest of my life. I go to the gym and I work out as intensely as I can, and that sets the stage and the focus for everything else I do.
Why I Do CrossFit: The Long Answer
The first time I walked into a CrossFit gym, I was terrified. I wouldn’t have admitted it then, but I can tell you now: I was scared I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I was scared of pushing my body past the limits I’d always stopped at before. I was scared of the pain.
My coach that day was wonderful. She recognized — and clearly acknowledged — that everybody has to fail before they can get good at something. Nobody’s expecting anyone to come in and blow up the gym rankings on their first shot. On the small scale, that first day in the gym, I became comfortable fast. On the larger scale, though, I was scared of CrossFit for months. It’s hard to push your body past its former limits. You’re constantly treading in new waters, and even though you understand in theory what you’re doing, there’s a visceral part of your mind that’s never sure how much more you can take. I don’t like things that make me feel like I’m going to crack.
I remember my first WOD (CrossFit lingo for workout) vividly — kettlebell swings and situps, on a 2-4-6-8 rep scheme (2 reps of kettlebell swings, 2 situps, 4 reps of kettlebell swings, 4 situps, etc.). Kettlebell swings are a killer on the muscles on the insides of your thighs — although I didn’t realize that ’til later.
I survived the whole workout. The buzzer went off, calling it quits, and I felt a quick moment of triumph — the rising, fleeting moment in which I first fell in love with CrossFit. I’d done it. And then my legs cramped up, and started shaking, and I wasn’t sure if I was even going to be able to stay standing. I couldn’t walk right for three days after. I’d never felt anything like it — I hadn’t known I was capable of hurting that much. The fact that it caused this much pain was reason enough for me to do CrossFit — if it made me hurt that badly, I clearly had work to do.
In the weeks and months that followed, the pain that had scared me became something I fell in love with, almost as deeply as I’d fallen in love with CrossFit itself. I came to love the physical punishment.
I go to the gym and I beat my body to the ground, and then I stand back and feel the pain and watch it rise up again, a little higher than before, a little more muscle mass, a little stronger, the numbers on my weightlifting charts going a little bit higher.
The resilience of the human body — the potential for strength — is absolutely amazing. The practice of CrossFit is an ode to that potential.
It feels good to experience pain when you walk. To feel the ache in muscles that you didn’t know you had when you stretch out your arms, sit up, bend over. One week it’s one group of muscles that kills you. As soon as those start to heal up, you go and work something else. Every time you think you’re getting stronger some new workout scheme comes out of the dark to blindside you and wreck you again. Nothing hurts like those first two weeks, though. You wear the memory of those like a badge of honor. When somebody new walks in the gym with their head held high and then gasps on their hands and knees after their first taste of a WOD, sometimes you slip up and say, hey, the first two weeks are the worst. You get through those and you’ll be able to conquer anything.
When the muscles of your thighs are shaking after a workout so you can’t walk right, and your throat is burning and your chest is heaving but you still can’t get enough air, and your skin is dripping with sweat so that it glistens . . . you relish in the pain, because the work feels good, and because you know you’re getting stronger.
The hurting forces you to feel muscles you wouldn’t normally pay attention to. It reminds you every time you move of the hard work you’ve done (and conquered), and of the potential your body has, with continued work, to get stronger. You worked like hell for that pain, and you wear it underneath your skin like a badge.
I love CrossFit’s warrior mentality. The flags hanging up in the rafters vary from gym to gym — marines, MIA/POW, Don’t Tread On Me, the American flag (or the flag of the gym’s home country — because there are gyms all over the world). The Hero WODs, named after soldiers who were killed in action — whatever you believe about war and the military, it forces you to be stronger, to think about people who’ve done things you’re scared to do, who were braver than you are. To think about the limits they were able to transcend, and their physical prowess. Being a warrior requires extreme physical and mental fitness, and CrossFitters come together in recognition, admiration, and celebration of that.
This is the culture I want to emulate.
Does CrossFit make me a better person? Hell yeah. Does CrossFit make me stronger? Like hell it does — stronger than any other fitness program I’ve ever tried. This stuff works. The results — aesthetic and practical — are tangible.
Thinking about trying CrossFit? Go do it. Don’t let it scare you off. You can make it whatever you want it to be — competitive or non-competitive, and you can scale it to your level. It’ll be one of the best lifestyle decisions you’ve ever made.