Several months ago, an athlete reminded me of my not-so-secret mission in life: for women to embrace their inner and outer beauty and strength, in any form they see fit. She reminded me of this mission because she was quitting CrossFit on me, but in a positive way.
At the time, this athlete was several months into CrossFit, having completed our Foundations course for beginners, and she was trying to find her stride and come more often to the box.
I will never forget what she said to me one day before class, as she timidly waited at the counter for the last workout to finish.
We had been talking about incorporating CrossFit into her daily routine, and how sometimes getting through the door is the hardest part.
“Let us take care of the hard stuff,” I said, referring to worrying about what the workouts would be each day. “Don’t be intimidated by the movements. There is always a movement for you. Just show up and be ready to move.”
“Well, it’s just that I feel like I don’t belong here,” she said.
I was shocked.
“Of course you belong. Everyone belongs,” I assured her.
I could see that she knew what I meant but didn’t truly believe it, at least not in the context of the workouts and her ability to complete basic functional movements.
That moment was profound for me as a coach and an athlete.
Reflecting now, I understand her apprehension and emotions, and I realize they must be present in many other athletes who have walked through our doors only a few times, never to return.
As much as I believe you can do anything you set your mind to, and that anyone can do CrossFit, the CrossFit prescription is not for everyone.
This is something I’ve said since I began CrossFitting more than four years ago, and I still believe in it. Lately, I’ve been thinking about why.
There are a few reasons.
CrossFit is not revolutionary in its methods, but it did revolutionize the fitness industry in creating a wonderful community of like-minded people who generally hold themselves accountable for their actions, both inside and outside the gym.
How are they held accountable? We expect them to show up to the same place several times each week. We expect them to respect other athletes, our equipment, our facility and our coaches. We expect them to perform movements with proper technique, virtuosity and, eventually, some intensity. We expect them to record data and have some pride in their accomplishments.
(This is actually a tall order.)
At first, most people reject this culture of accountability. It’s completely new and foreign to them (and generally most people are selfish and lack follow-through in life; more on this some day).
Many will embrace it, especially where it involves their fitness and nutrition.
Some will vocalize their disdain for being held accountable but secretly embrace this culture, little by little. They’ll never admit it to your face, of course.
Others ignore the accountability altogether and simply show up to exercise, if they continue to show up at all.
We teach several foundational, functional movements, and we assume most people will be able to complete these movements at a beginner level after a few weeks at our box. Expectations are naturally higher if an athlete has previous athletic or CrossFit experience.
After all, the human body is made to function, not sit at a desk or on a couch all day. Sadly, so many people walk through our doors with their bodies already crippled, thanks to the 21st Century and their poor health habits.
When people can’t complete these movements, I – as a coach – have a responsibility to help athletes learn how to move their bodies into better, proper (and sound) positions.
Suddenly their world has been turned upside down.
“What do you mean I have to squat all the way down? My other trainer said this way is fine. My doctor says squatting that low is bad for your knees.”
Now I’ve burst their bubble.
People live in very small, short-sighted and narrow-minded bubbles. They’re usually not open-minded.
They wake up, go to work, get big-name coffee, eat at big-name restaurant and work out at big-name gym (unless there’s an after-hours work event, which there probably is).
Not only are we now telling them they should prioritize their fitness and health, but we’re telling them their bodies don’t move the way they’re meant to move.
We’re telling them, kindly and in so many ways, that what they’ve known and believed in for X number of years is, in fact, incorrect.
No one likes being told they’re wrong or they’re not good at something, especially when they’ve only ever been told how “great” they are at it, and to “just keep going” because “you’re doing GREAT.” (Think every other group fitness class you’ve ever been to.)
An athlete will either embrace new and improved movement, or they will not stick with CrossFit. The retention is often dependent on an athlete’s attitude.
This reason for quitting CrossFit is actually two-fold, which is good for the athlete who could possibly conquer two fears with one stone, and bad for us as coaches, because we have to fight against two fears in order to move forward.
The first fear is the fear of being “wrong,” and the second is the fear of injury. Many athletes whose first concern is getting injured often don’t move well and are not aware of how their bodies move in the first place.
When an athlete is willing to learn how to move properly, he or she often surrenders any fear of injury because s/he is growing confident in new movement under watchful eyes.
None of this is easy, and we understand that.
So yeah, CrossFit is hard. Life is hard.
If you can stick it out at least two months, get through the basics and get into the good stuff – the Workouts of the Day – you will unlock the potential to truly change your life, in more ways than you ever could have imagined when you signed up thinking you were simply going to drop a few pounds or put on some sexy muscle.
CrossFit is even more challenging if you’re walking through the door with any kind of training already under your belt – whether it’s conventional (think trainer or globo gym setting), collegiate sports, natural athleticism or military experience, you will think you’re in shape and that CrossFit “won’t be so hard.”
It will be even harder for those athletes, and it’s incredibly humbling. Again, an athlete will either embrace this challenge (and love it), or they will not stick with CrossFit.
I’ve come to learn that an athlete’s decision to continue with CrossFit or not speaks a lot to his or her character. This is not a bad thing, and I’m in no way judging anyone for his or her decision.
At the end of the day, just one of the three aforementioned reasons is substantial enough to serve as an excuse not to continue to do CrossFit.
People don’t like being held accountable.
People don’t like being told they’re wrong.
And people are not easily humbled.
We have to battle against these excuses every day and not only convince athletes of their potential, but we have to make sure they’re making progress and – very importantly – having fun. This, and the community, is the magic of CrossFit.
Now, returning back to the woman I mentioned earlier and my statement that CrossFit isn’t for everyone: she is an example.
She was able to move well (in fact, she was one of the better movers we had at the gym). She gave her utmost intensity to each workout (and remember, intensity is relative). She asked questions. She cheered on fellow athletes. She had a smile on her face after every workout.
She belonged, whether she accepted it or not.
In the end, I think the act of CrossFit and, in her mind, the possibility of injury constantly turned her away. She would only come maybe once a week, a handful of times each month, if that. She cancelled her membership with no hard feelings. I miss her at the gym. She says she is doing Pilates now.
Greg Glassman would probably say I’ve failed her as a coach, that somehow I should have made her a believer and bettered her life. Or maybe he would agree with me, and tell her to come back when she’s ready to discover her “genetic potential.”
At the end of the day, I’m not so sure. I can only be an example to my athletes. I can only give them all the knowledge I have (which is always growing). I can only talk the talk and walk the walk so much.
At the end of the day, they have to walk through the door and do the work for themselves, and experience the magic within.
It’s the act of CrossFitting that makes one a CrossFitter or not, and there is no in between with our kind of fitness.