That is such a cop-out title. People love the “Why CrossFit is Dangerous,” “Why CrossFit Isn’t For Me,” “Why CrossFit is the Best Thing You’re Missing,” etc. Even so, I want to consider and share why I continue to participate in this form of fitness and recreation, and why this is the only other athletic thing I’ve stuck with besides cheer and dance–and why it’s the only athletic thing that I feel like I’ve grown in and continue to progress in as I approach my two-year anniversary.
I remember my first workout clearly. I got left behind on the warm-up lap after a very nice girl chatted with me for a bit and then picked up her pace to match the rest of the group. I learned how to clean and jerk from a very hands-on coach. I was the last person done with the lightest weight possible. And I was thrashed for several days following. But I logged on to Facebook and left a very telling status update that night which basically told my circle of friends, “Okay, I finally understand this CrossFit thing.”
After one session, I realized that it was a form of fitness which provided the opportunity for people to push their boundaries, not in terms of physical limits, but in overcoming mental hurdles. Weightlifting, for example, is something I was mildly interested in, but societal norms in rec centers and other gyms is that girls, ladies, and women don’t use the weight room. It was always intimidating, uncomfortable, and a sure-fire way to look like the novice I was. But CrossFit basically says, “To Hell with that.” Women learn the same lifts, the same moves, and the only difference is that sometimes our prescribed weights are lighter. There is nothing that says we can’t aim for the males’ prescribed weights, and depending on the workout and people’s fitness levels, sometimes I lift heavier than the guys. And there is no shame in any of that for anyone.
Essentially, the workouts continue to be challenging as a person progresses. The seemingly endless ability to scale and modify–whether that means “down” or “up”–means that it truly “never gets easier, you just get better.”
The Third Space
Typically, people have their home space and their workspace. In my line of work and in the spirit of balance, we often talk of establishing the “third space,” that place that exists outside of home and work. My third space in recent years always tended to be a coffeeshop or a bar, somewhere where I spent time reading and writing, for the most part. After graduate school, I didn’t need that function as much (for better or for worse), and I floundered a bit in trying to establish a different sort of third space.
What my gym has provided me is a third space for recreation, the ability to shed the weight of the day (ironically, usually by throwing literal weight on me) and a place to rejuvenate. For some folks, that place isn’t and never will be a gym or a fitness center, and that is perfectly fine. Trust me when I say that I’m surprised the gym became my third space. For a long time, I was the girl who made every excuse to avoid going to the gym; I still do that–except I establish good, solid reasons to keep myself out so I can get a rest day in (over-training is bad for you, people!). My third space is a place to reconnect with myself, where for a small amount of time, I can disconnect from technology and the tasks at work and focus on self-improvement. It’s also, luckily, a place where I can interact with other people and feed my social life.
And that brings me to the people of CrossFit. My athletic background was, in my mind, fairly minimal. I spent 12 or so years dancing and 4 years cheering between high school and college. I dabbled in other team sports, but mostly harbored a distaste for the years I attempted soccer, basketball, and softball. I enjoyed being around other people, even though I didn’t have a ton of incredibly close friendships from dance and cheer, which is no one’s fault; to me, it seems like I just didn’t quite fit in the same way most of the other ladies and men did. (On a related note, I fit in quite well with my band people, but that was outside the fitness spectrum by a long-shot, at least in my experience.) However, I still loved the team dynamic, understanding how each individual’s strengths played into a bigger picture while we were each able to hone our skill sets and work on weaknesses.
After college, the opportunity to participate in team-based fitness seemingly disappeared. I think I’ve mentioned numerous times that I tried running, I tried yoga, I tried group fitness classes, but each time, I lost interest and quit going (even after buying memberships for some of these things!). Nothing grabbed my interest enough to make me commit. Looking back on it, part of that reason was there weren’t other people to hold me accountable. Sure, there were regulars in my classes, but the environments weren’t conducive to socializing and getting to know other people.
But then there came CrossFit. Technically, CrossFit classes are group fitness classes; there are scheduled times and a coach, and you’d think it would have been the same situation as with Zumba or spin or cardio kick-boxing. For some reason, though, a team develops and emerges, and in my case, I was able to integrate into a team, which then led to my accountability to others kicking in, which then led to returning over and over to the gym, which then led to a greater want to develop individually and contribute back to the overall skill set my gym showcased.
That sounds fairly convoluted, I think, and there are a lot of psychological and social processes at work there, but what it comes down to is, there are a lot of good people that I met, and that mindset that we are all in this journey together is prevalent in the community. (“Community?” Yeah, there’s definitely a community around this form of fitness.) There are more and more fitness communities springing up, too (based on my social media), and there is a ton of potential in those teams and communities to shift the habits of other adults towards health and fitness.
Oh, and also–they’re fun!
Some of the SEAtown CrossFit crew during float day on the Yakima River near Ellensburg
In a nutshell–it’s a healthy combination of fitness, self-improvement, relationship-building, and fun. We push and challenge each other to try new things. We teach each other. We laugh. We encourage. A personal fitness journey moves to “we,” and the secret to what I need to be happy and healthy is no longer a secret.