You’ve heard the stories. Lying on the floor, can’t breathe, legs writhing in a bath of lactic acid, sweat dripping from places you didn’t know could sweat. This scene describes the “normal” carnage following an intense CrossFit W.O.D. (workout of the day).
Most people have one of two reactions to this scenario. The first reaction is like Pavlov’s dogs reacting to the sound of the bell. At the sound of “Go!” your body begins to express a primal genetic code that you only experience in the CrossFit box. Your eyes dilate, your heart rate flutters, and the sympathetic nervous system takes you to a place of “fight” for your life. The second reaction is largely one of apathy and denial of the benefits this type of training can achieve.
Regardless of the reaction that you have to the stories of post-WOD carnage, there are a few things that everyone should know about CrossFit.
1. CrossFit is Primarily a Fitness Model, Not a Sport
CrossFit is known for the titans that we all see on ESPN. What we (normal athletes) have to keep in mind is that we are not these titans. In fact, an ever-expanding gulf exists between the Games-level athletes and the average Joe CrossFitter. With sponsorships, prize money, and prestige, the sport of CrossFit is becoming a professional enterprise… literally. That means that for 99.9% of ALL CrossFitters, this “sport” is amateur at best.
Does this gulf between box athletes and professional CrossFitters make us “less-than-CrossFitters”? Absolutely not! However, this gulf should make the average CrossFitter appreciate the value and reliability of the CrossFit methodology without the pressure to look like, or perform like, the professional CrossFitter on ESPN.
The difference between the sport-level CrossFitter and the normal box CrossFitter is becoming more and more like the difference between a professional football player and the college athlete. Is the college athlete a stud? Probably. Is he good enough for the NFL? Only if he is in the top 0.1% of all NCAA athletes. The difference between a weekend game of football and the NFL is enormous. But that difference doesn’t make the weekend quarterback stop playing ball. Likewise, even though we are not Games-level CrossFitters, we are participants in a revolutionary fitness model that asks us to give our all while being rewarded with physical and neurological adaptations to sustain our fitness over a lifetime.
2. CrossFit Is More Structured than It Looks
If you walk in on a typical CrossFit WOD, you hear the beat of the music driving the tempo for the athletes to grind through more reps. Some are on round four, while others have just begun round 3. Some are on the pull up rig, others are knocking out burpees, while still others may be snatching a barbell. It seems like Newton’s 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (everything tends toward randomness) hooked up with the Incredible Hulk and had a baby.
With this picture in mind, it is important to know that the seemingly random movements and cycles are actually supported by a strategic and reliable methodology that achieves the broadest fitness capacity genetically attainable. You will have to attend a CrossFit Level 1 Seminar to get the full details of this programming methodology, but suffice it to say, there is more method behind the madness than most nano-physicists desire to explain.
So what does this mean for us? It means that you trust your coach and you trust your programming. If you have a solid coach and programmer, who knows the CrossFit methodology well, then you can rest assured that your genetic potential will flourish under his/her tutelage. You will be tested across “broad time and modal domains,” and after several months, you’ll find that your “work capacity” has increased across those time and modal domains. Your lifts increase. Your benchmark times decrease. Your world of apparently random workouts begins to morph into an “observable, measurable, and repeatable” structure. That’s right, the randomness has an undeniable structure. And you don’t necessarily need to know that structure… just trust your coach and trust your programming.
3. Functional Movements Make You More Motivated
In Learning to Breathe Fire, author J. C. Hertz spends several paragraphs explaining that the same part of the brain that controls coordinated, functional movement also controls motivation and drive. The deduction is that if you spend time “exercising” that part of the brain with functional movement, then it will become more active and in turn, the other functions of that part of the brain will be enhanced too. Hence, training functional movements likely will improve your motivation and drive. Some have defined CrossFit as “constantly varied, high intensity, functional movements.”
I unknowingly discovered this first-hand while finishing my dissertation. Nearly every day, a mental MMA match escalated about whether I would begin working on another paragraph of academic jargon. On days that I didn’t CrossFit, I found that it was more difficult to sit at the computer and crank out pages. However, to get up and hit a WOD, I found that I could not only sit and begin writing, but my writing required fewer edits because I flat enjoyed what I was doing at that point. My motivation returned simply by doing functional movements within the CrossFit methodology.
4. Competition Breeds Excellence
One of the distinctive features of CrossFit boxes is the group environment. The community of CrossFit reaches far beyond the daily WOD at the box, but it is not less than this. A key to improvement within this community is that you will NOT let “Bill” beat you again this week. He has spanked your hind end every time “Helen” rolls around, but you’ve been putting in extra hours on the ring rows to build scapular strength, and this time, your kipping pull ups look like Mary Lou Retton in her prime. Your overhead KB swing has improved because of your extra focus on the Russian swing to develop hip explosion without compromising the shoulder capsule. All-in-all, you’ve gotten better, indeed, you’ve become excellent at these movements all because somewhere deep down inside, you are competing with “Bill.”
Anyone who has not done CrossFit also knows this dynamic. Remember that last time you were on the treadmill and glanced over at the pace the person was running beside you? Remember how you bumped your speed up one more tenth of a mph than hers? Remember how you were not going to stop running until she stopped? Unknowingly, you were getting better because you were competing. In the community of CrossFit, competition with other class members is inevitable… and it makes you better.
-Adam Howell, CrossFit Trainer