Almost two years ago, I wrote about my newfound love for CrossFit. If the title of this post didn’t give it away, last week, I cancelled my CrossFit membership, and today I signed up at the Equinox near my office. This post actually started as an email to a friend who asked me about why I had recently decided to leave CrossFit and go back to a globo-gym (thanks for the inspiration, Jessica). Here it is:
I think it’s important to start by saying that I’m not a CrossFit hater now just because I’m no longer doing it. I still think there are lots of wonderful things about CrossFit and would encourage people, especially women, to try it and see if it’s a good fit for them.
I was in a really bad place mentally after the bikini show I did in March 2013, and at the time, CrossFit was exactly what I needed – a community of people and coaches who didn’t care what I looked like or what body fat percentage I was – they only cared that I worked hard and that I got stronger and faster and fitter. It was just what I needed to counter all of the mental and body image issues I had developed while competing in bikini.
For the first 6 months or so of doing CrossFit, I wasn’t completely committed. I was still doing bodybuilding style training at another gym a couple of days per week and then going to CrossFit a couple of days per week (cherry-picking the workouts I liked and was comfortable with, of course). When I moved to Chicago a year ago, I decided to go all in on CrossFit. I was going 5-6 days per week, hitting PR’s like a boss, and getting more and more enthusiastic about it. Around summer time, I even started supplementing my regular WOD’s by working with one of the CrossFit coaches one-on-one – mostly on Olympic lifting and skills like handstand walks and kipping. I was improving pretty rapidly – I could do things I hadn’t done before, like handstand push-ups, pistols, handstand walks, rope climbs, and a bodyweight clean and jerk. I learned how to do kipping pull-ups and chest to bar. I also had great rapport with the other 7 PMers, and looked forward to seeing them at each WOD.
Fast forward to August when I competed in the Rx division as part of a team at a local box throw down. It was both a good and bad experience. I realized a few things. One, I will never be anything more than a mediocre to average CrossFitter. So much of my identity was tied up in PR’s and performing in WOD’s. I felt like a failure when I went home after a workout having missed my last PR by 10 lbs or finished second to last in the WOD. And it dawned on me how ridiculous that was. I am not a professional CrossFit athlete. CrossFit had become so much bigger in my life than it should have been. It’s great to chase performance and strength, but the competitive nature of CrossFit and the ever-present push to improve and compete with everyone else can make you a little crazy. I am not a worthless human being just because I couldn’t Rx the WOD, but that is sometimes how I felt! Second, I was really beat up physically. I was ripping my hands every other week and had a rotating set of injuries from foot to knee to shoulder to neck. My body just cannot handle 5-6 days of training at that intensity, but the culture of CrossFit is that pushing through the pain and not missing WOD’s is what makes you hardcore, and that’s what I wanted to be. I also started questioning the substance of some of my CrossFit friendships. As I became less enthusiastic about CrossFit, some of my friendships at the box began to falter, and those that I am still close friends with have almost all likewise become a bit disenchanted with CrossFit and stopped doing it.
My ideal training is a blend of both worlds, I think. In CrossFit, I don’t get a say in what workout I do. Sure, I can scale the movement or the weight, but at the end of the day, I am doing the programmed WOD that the coach came up with for everybody to do that day. Sometimes, it’s nice not to have to think about your workouts and just do what you’re told. But it takes the individual out of the equation – individual goals, individual preferences, individual recovery requirements. My goals have shifted, and I don’t think they are compatible with the general CrossFit programming at my box.
I love that CrossFit has made Olympic lifting more popular. I love that CrossFit teaches women that being strong is more important than being skinny. I love the intensity that CrossFit brings and how empowering it is to lay on the ground at the end of a workout, gasping for air, knowing you laid it all out there. I love how supportive and encouraging members are, even as they are engaged in friendly competition with one another. I love the accountability of people noticing your absence if you don’t make it to the gym for a few days and that looking forward to seeing friends is part of what keeps you coming back.
But, I think I am different now than when I started. I want to take back control over my training. I want the ability to adjust my workouts based on my goals, on how sore I am, on how much energy I have. Sometimes, I just want to put my headphones in, blast some heavy metal, and go lift heavy stuff without having to socialize with everyone around me. Or I want to do 35 minutes on the stairmill while I think through a problem. Or I want to do a tempo workout that isn’t focused on doing as many reps or rounds as possible in a set timeframe. I want to compete with myself and not be concerned with how I stack up against others on the whiteboard. Just like bodybuilding can place too much emphasis on appearance, I think CrossFit can overemphasize performance. Not every workout has to be a balls to the wall death march. Not every lift has to be a new one rep max. I will still clean and jerk (albeit, not for time). I will still use metcons for conditioning. I may throw in benchmark WOD’s every now and then to test myself. I am glad I’ve trained both ways, but I think the perfect training style for me is somewhere in the middle, and by cancelling my CrossFit membership, I’m giving myself the opportunity to figure out what it is.