The CrossFit Contradiction

On any given Monday at my box, I sit at the front desk and greet people who come in for our CrossFit 101 class or people who just decided to come by and see what “this CrossFit thing is all about”. Among the list of things that I tell them about CrossFit is that we are class based, meaning, there are scheduled classes throughout the day with a programmed workout, led by a coach. Everyone in the class warms up together, goes over movement standards together and then we do the workout together. For some people, that is a relief because they are used to traditional gyms where you have to come up with a workout on your own and there are no coaches to make sure you are moving properly.  I finish up the description of the classes by saying, “everything is scalable. So even though there are guidelines for weights, each person works out at weight that is appropriate to their strength or skill level. We value form (virtuous movement) over load and intensity. So we work on good form before adding weights to the bar”.  After going over the introductory items, I show them our “whiteboard”, which is a computer station with monitors that show the workout of the day, a sign in screen and the scores of the people who have already done the workout.  Usually this is the time when the person says something like, “I’m not that good… I can’t see myself doing what they’re doing”. I try to be reassuring, “you’ll be fine. We care about safety here. So the coach will help you find the best way for you to do the workout in a way that works for you.”

When I tell people that each person does the workout at their own ability, I feel like I’m revealing the CrossFit contradiction. Even though we are class based and everyone is supporting one another, it is a little like you are working out your own. Sounds weird, right? Let me explain.

The beauty of CrossFit is the fact that it is scalable. I know I said that earlier, but let’s break that down for a minute. Scalable in this sense equates to doing the workout at your personal level. Yes, we’re going to do all the same movements within the same (relative) time domain, each person is doing the workout at his/her own pace or intensity. Now if you are a highly competitive person, this might cause some internal conflict. You might feel like you have to keep up with the person next to you. In some cases, if the person next to you is around the same ability level, pacing against another person can motivate you to keep moving when you want to give up.  But in other cases, trying to keep up with the person next to you might cause you to swerve outside of your lane. How so?

What if the workout includes deadlifts? Going outside your lane might force you to try to lift a weight that is too heavy for you, with harmful form and possibly hurt yourself. The opposite also applies. What if you pay so much attention to everyone else’s form and intensity that you can’t really enjoy your own success? After a workout, you say to a friend,  “that woman isn’t hitting below parallel on her squats. How can she count that rep as a good rep?” The answer is simple; it doesn’t matter. Stay in your lane.

CrossFit is about becoming the best version of yourself. It is about holding off the nursing home in favor of a life of independence for as long as possible. So that means that you have to work on you, not anyone else. So what’s the take-away? Compete with yourself. Work on virtuous movement patterns, even if that means going lighter than you really want to go. Get off the whiteboard. Comparing yourself to others isn’t really doing you much good if personal health and wellness is your goal.  Lastly, have fun. Take yourself seriously, but not too seriously.

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