The other day at my gym, CrossFit Immortal, a woman was taking her first class. It was a grueling workout and I noticed her struggle to complete the exercises and to overcome her intimidation. Afterwards, a few of us told her that she’d done a great job, and we reassured her that it gets easier. But there was so much more I wanted to say, as someone who was in her shoes a little over a year ago:
Just keep coming back. You will be stronger, faster, and more flexible than you were before. I decided when I turned 40 that I needed to get in better shape. I had always been active, but never particularly strong or athletic. As a kid, I never earned that Presidential Fitness Award and rarely made it off the bench in sports. As an adult, I could run a few miles but I required the assistance of friendly strangers to lift my luggage into overhead bins. With CrossFit I’ve seen remarkable gains in strength and endurance. But it’s not just that I can squat more than 100 pounds now or that I’ve trimmed more than 30 seconds off my 2000 meter row. It’s that I have more stamina when I’m playing with my kids. I can carry heavier packages home from the store. I don’t need as much help moving furniture or shoveling snow. I don’t know what it is about CrossFit’s approach (e.g., high intensity intervals, heavy weightlifting, etc.) that works for me. I just know that I’m fitter today than I’ve ever been in my life.
Math may temporarily escape you, but this is actually good for your mind. For me, CrossFit has been kinda like yoga, but with no Sanskrit and lots of grunting. In the past, my attempts at meditation and other mindfulness exercises were never too effective at stopping my racing mind. But I find Zen at CrossFit. I discovered that if I don’t focus intently, I’m slow or ineffective or, worse, I could get hurt. So, during a workout my mind, body, and breathing are all tuned to the same channel and I am perfectly present. No other thoughts can enter my consciousness. I have joked that I feel dumber at the end of class – with every ounce of my mental energy devoted to the workout, I become a bit dazed, as occasionally evidenced by my inability to add up my reps without a calculator! But if you’re like me, your mind needs that break, and you will find that you leave the gym with a clearer head.
Warning: You will feel like you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. CrossFit is for people at every level of fitness – nobody gets off easy and nobody has to sit out. Even you, newbie, can do the workout. Just scale it down – go slow, put less weight on the bar, step onto the box instead of jumping. The most important factor driving your success will not be your physical ability. It will be your mental fortitude – your focus and your willingness to stay positive in the face of daunting challenges. I read a blog post the other day that put it well: “CrossFit is not life or death, but it can be about staring into the face of something you fear and making a decision about how you are going to handle it.” When you practice this day after day – putting aside fears and self-doubt and choosing to press on – you make progress and, in turn, you learn how capable you really are. It’s empowering. And, the magical thing is that this can-do attitude overflows into your life outside of the gym. (Why else would I have accepted the invitation to sing with my friend’s band in February?! I never would have had the nerve to do that before.) So just be warned, you may start to feel like a girl-power anthem…and who knows what you’ll agree to next?
You’ll become attached (but not in some weird cult-y way). Haters say CrossFit is a cult. Harvard Divinity School once compared it to religion. I don’t think you’ll find it to be either of those things, but I do think that the community that forms in a CrossFit gym is something special. People here are competitive, but it’s not about being better than someone else. It’s about being better than you were yesterday. So, there’s a friendly and supportive vibe. The person getting the loudest cheers is usually the person coming in last place. What you experienced as a newcomer that day – welcoming outstretched hands and kind greetings from everyone in the room – is standard practice. At CrossFit Immortal we’re stay-at-home moms, lawyers, teachers, students, corporate professionals, small business owners, doctors, nurses, retirees, cops, craftsmen… We’re aged 16 to 60-something. In some ways, we don’t have much in common, but it doesn’t matter. We are connected by our love of Nike MetCons and CrossFit t-shirts. Just kidding. We’re connected by virtue of the fact that we show up and work hard, and as we laugh and struggle and persevere together we develop a special bond. You’re going to love these crazy people.
I’d tell the new girl to come back again the next day. And the next. Not because it’s the only way to get in shape, or because running fast and lifting heavy things is so important. But because I know from experience that she will grow. She will face fears, overcome challenges and show herself what she’s capable of. (And, she may even pick up some cool new workout tees along the way.)