CrossFit - My thoughts on the 'Sport of Fitness'.

I’m a huge fan of CrossFit.  To be more specific, I’m a huge fan of CrossFit done well.  I’ll happily recommend the sport to anyone who is interested, and I think everyone should try it at least once. I’m not a Crossfitter, although I have done CrossFit and plenty of it.  I still train in a box and my coach is a CrossFit coach, so I do know what I’m talking about, I just don’t do it anymore. 

So why do I love it so much?

There were two things that originally attracted me to the “sport of fitness”.  Firstly, it was reading the way CrossFit founder Greg Glassman described his take on fitness:

“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc., hard and fast. Five or six days per week, mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports.”

I don’t care who you are or how you train, that just sounds awesome!  It pretty much sums up what I want my approach to physical health to be.  He nailed it in 100 words.

From there I started down a YouTube rabbit hole and once I saw how the athletes looked and saw them doing cool stuff like muscle ups and handstands, then I just had to try it!  I love all that American over the top stuff in sport and it just looked cool and lots of fun.

I personally had no idea what I was capable of until I started CrossFit.  I was happily training 3 or 4 times a week and running regularly in between, I considered myself to be pretty fit.  I had no idea that there were people out there, normal people like me, who were doing my workouts for warm ups!  One thing the sport really taught me was intensity.  I’ve always been happy to conservatively pace myself but when you have to squeeze in a certain amount of reps in to a limited time then all that goes out the window.  You can still pace yourself, it’s just that the pace has to be faster!  You might think that you know how to push yourself but until you’re in a box with a big group, all getting after it and the music’s blearing and there’s no way to back out or take a short cut, you have no idea how much that will push you.  There really is something about the atmosphere in a busy box, it’s like a momentum that drives you forward.

The other big lesson for me was volume.  Once again, I had no idea what my body could do if I just asked a bit more of it and the mental benefits of upping my game in this respect were huge!  The first time I checked the whiteboard and saw a 100-burpee finisher I nearly snuck back out the gym!  I thought there was absolutely no way on earth I could do that.  I resigned myself to a shitty performance and just wanted to get it over with.  It’s weird what happens when you just start by putting one foot in front of the other and just get started.  Before I knew it, I was halfway, more burpees than I ever done before, and I stared to think I might be able to do this!  I kept chipping away and chipping away and once I got over 70 there was not a chance in hell that I wasn’t going to get 100 done. 

This sort of thing is common in CrossFit and for me it’s the most important aspect.  Once you take that mentality out of the gym and start to apply it to everyday life it has the potential to be an absolute game changer!  Imagine seeing something intimidating, something that makes you want to not do it and rather than skipping it you treat it like those burpees and start chipping away!  There is so much to be said for first pushing yourself and then surprising yourself and you can do that in so many areas of your life, it’s an amazing way to approach the world.  The more you do it in the box, the more you do it out of the box and you start to see a direct line between how you train and how you live.

There are loads of other cool things about CrossFit.  I learned a lot about technique and although my numbers were never very high, I’m still confident under a barbell.  There is no way I would have learned how to Olympic lift without joining a box, the idea of snatching or cleaning were alien to me and to get to have a go in a safe environment is a great experience.  Mixing things up is also good if, like me, you find training a bit repetitive and have a tendency to hop programmes before they have a chance to work.  From a movement perspective I love the idea that Joe Bloggs, who probably hasn’t used his body to it’s potential since childhood, can learn to do stuff like climb a rope or walk on his hands.  The community aspect is huge and anyone who tries CrossFit will meet some great people, it’s also good to be able to legitimately dish out a few high fives without feeling like a douchebag.

So, if I think everyone should try it and I can list the benefits all day long, why did I stop?

For me it was a combination of things.  When I was training regularly, I was the fittest and strongest I have ever been.  I was also the unhealthiest.  My body just did not need to be that fit and it started to break down.  It doesn’t matter what I do, I never know when to stop and I was scared of skipping a class in case I missed some awesome new trick that was going to unlock my ability to muscle up or PB a deadlift.  I spent too much time focusing on what I couldn’t do and forgot to enjoy all the things I could.  I was training so much I couldn’t keep up with the food, it really is a ball ache trying to eat enough to train that hard and my recovery really suffered.  It affected my sleep and then I started getting injured a lot.  Really, I was doing all the things that I tell my clients not to.  Authenticity is important to me and once I realised that I wasn’t living authentically, then CrossFit had to go.  CrossFit gets a a bad reputation for stuff like this and I can understand it.  There’s a lot of talk about whether some people need this level of fitness and whether they should be doing the more explosive moments and that makes sense, it’s why I say I like CrossFit ‘done well’ because the coaching makes all the difference.  I would say that if you’re struggling with muscle tension, particularly relating from long term stress, then hard and fast may not be for you.  Ultimately, only the athlete has full responsibility for how they train and what they do to balance that training.  I just struggled with that balance.  It was a valuable lesson to learn and I’m glad I learned it.

Now a days I just train to be healthy, just the minimum amount my body needs to be a little bit better at doing its job.  I still try to practice that intensity and push myself with volume, I’m just not afraid to take a rest day.  I still love the idea of handstands and muscle ups and I still train to be able to do them.  Olympic lifting, double unders, butterfly pull ups, it all still looks like a lot of fun.  I enjoy the atmosphere from training in a box and seeing everyone get after it, it’s just not for me anymore. 

If you’re curious and you want to take your training to a different level, learn a shit load about what your body is capable of and meet loads of great people, then give it a go.  Don’t get caught up in it, don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with and don’t forget to have fun!  Train for the mental gains as well as the physical ones and eat waaaaaay more carbs than you do now! 

Recently I’ve been training at CrossFit Sempiternal and if you’re local to the Wirral I seriously recommend that you check them out!  The standard of coaching is some of the highest I’ve experienced; the box is awesome and has all the equipment you could ever need.  The coaches and members are all really friendly and welcoming and it’s just an awesome atmosphere to train in.  It’s definitely CrossFit done well so check them out if you’re interested!