How one athlete is changing the conversation around mental health.
“Pain is temporary. Awesome is forever.”
So said a t-shirt at my CrossFit “box,” which, like over 12,000 affiliates around the world avoids the word “gym.” Indeed, this isn’t a place to spend an hour on a stationary bike, cycling your way to boredom over a tabloid magazine. The box is a bit more intense.
“In our CrossFit classes, we combine gymnastics, weightlifting, and metabolic conditioning in workouts that are constantly varied, intense, but also scalable so that they are always challenging regardless of your level of fitness,” says Chris Oman, head coach of Cape CrossFit.
Still, the notoriously high intensity of CrossFit has created controversy. “There’s no way inexperienced people doing this are not going to hurt themselves,” sports medicine specialist Wayne Winnick said in a New York Times article.
So, is CrossFit dangerous? Yes and no. Sure, the classes are intense and often end with people making sweat angels on the floor. But the workout itself might only last a few minutes, with the rest of the hour dedicated to warming up, cooling down, and developing specific skills.
To avoid injury, the best CrossFit boxes focus on proper form and good technique. New members go through a basics course that covers the core movements before they join regular classes, where limits on attendance ensure individual attention. CrossFit coaches also go through a rigorous certification process, much like pilots clocking up hours in simulation before they’re entrusted with lives on a plane. (And yet there are still countless people who train without coaches or common sense—many of whom document themselves on YouTube—that give CrossFit a bad name.)
The key, I’ve discovered, is mindfulness. It’s about tracking my own progress and not worrying about where I rank compared to the group. When I first started CrossFit just over two years ago, I’d often end a class feeling frustrated and, sometimes, angry because I wasn’t performing as well as everyone else. Never mind that they might have been doing CrossFit for several months or even several years; it was still tough not to be where they were.
But then I got to a point where I realized that comparisons in CrossFit count for squat. As much as you might think other people are scrutinizing your every move and judging you for falling short, that’s not the case. They’ve got their own stuff going on. And all that counts is your performance relative to yourself.
“The number one reason people injure themselves at [the] gym is because they’re trying to do what the guy next to them is doing,” my yoga teacher said one morning, encouraging us to practice with our eyes closed to avoid comparisons. “So unless you’re watching someone to correct your technique, focus on yourself.”
This wasn’t the first time yoga taught me a valuable life lesson. You see, I’d been doing the same basic workouts for about five years after I bought my first DVD. I’d made great progress and was happy with where I was. But then I went to my first class at the gym and pushed myself like never before. It’s safe to say that I could have made it through my life without mastering an array of complex poses. But it’s been amazing to stretch myself (pun intended) and see how much more I’m capable of.
At the same time, I’m not obsessing over mastering everything and have accepted that there are some “pretzel positions” I might never do. And that’s OK. I’m enjoying the experience for what it is, not trying to prove anything to anyone. I’m having a good time and that’s more than enough. Success and failure don’t exist because I’m happy regardless of whatever happens. And that’s the kind of awesome that lasts forever.