This month marks 3 years since I first signed up for CrossFit. Since then, CrossFit has been the bread and butter of my workout routine. It’s helped grow my love of fitness in huge ways. The style of workout really suits me and the individual gyms I’ve found have been fantastic.
Even though it works for me, I’ll be the first to admit that CrossFit is not for everyone. That said, over the past 3 years, I’ve learned a lot about fitness in general from being a CrossFitter. Here are the 3 of the biggest lessons I’ve gained from these 3 years.
1 | The right environment can make or break your fitness
Before I started CrossFit, I went to the campus gym most mornings before heading into work. I spent my gym time lifting weights and strength training, but I didn’t have a prescribed set of movements, a set time in which to complete them, or any program I followed at all. Instead, for example, I would designate a day “leg day” and wander around the gym. I might do a couple sets of barbell squats, then lunges, then maybe a few banded kickbacks. Did I get stronger? Sure I did. After all, it was a big upgrade from my previous routine of hanging out on the Stairmaster for 20 minutes and then going home. But looking back, I know for sure that I wasn’t working nearly as hard as I could’ve been.
Once I started CrossFit, I had a trainer holding me accountable, a room full of people watching, and a clock to battle against. There was no such thing as “eh, 2 sets is enough, I’ll stop there”. Even though my workouts at the campus gym and at the CrossFit gym lasted the same amount of time, there was a world of difference in how much work was happening. Likewise, the progress I saw went through the roof, too.
Finding an environment where you feel nudged to work a little bit harder can make a huge difference.
This not only applies to finding an activity that works for you, but also to finding a specific class that works for you. There’s definitely such thing as bad CrossFit gyms that wouldn’t light my workout fire. There’s also such thing as not-so-great yoga studios, uninspiring BodyPump instructors, and so on. A lot of what makes a fitness experience good or bad comes down to what makes you tick as an individual. Don’t be afraid to try out tons of new things until you find the right combination of a workout, studio/gym, instructor, or group of friends that helps you do your best and have a good time.
Switching to CrossFit didn’t give me massive gains because of some magical secret. It gave me results because it was an environment that pushed me to put in a crapton of work. No matter what the workout is named, if you’re putting in heaps of quality work, you will almost certainly see results.
2 | Max effort doesn’t mean what you think it means
I like working out because I like to push my limits and get stronger. I like to peel back the curtain and see what I’m really capable of, mentally and physically. I like to get better at something. But in order to get to that point, that means putting myself up against real challenges.
Before I started CrossFit, I almost never really reached max effort. I didn’t do workouts where I collapsed into a sweaty heap on the floor afterwards.
Doing intense CrossFit workouts means getting to the point I want to stop, and then pushing past that. And then getting to another point I want to stop, and pushing past that. And again, and again, and again. I’ve reached that point in other physical challenges, too, but CrossFit was the training grounds where I really got to learn and practice what it means for me to push myself.
A lot of people seem to have this belief that as soon as you feel like stopping, that means you’re at your max and you should back off. As soon as people feel resistance coming from their bodies and minds, they think ok, that must mean this is enough.
It’s really easy to lure yourself into a false sense of effort. It’s easy to dial back the intensity to a point where you’re working, but you’re not truly grinding through it. But something that feels hard isn’t the same as reaching your max.
Learning to embrace productive suffering is truly transformative, both physically and mentally.
Now, I’m not advocating that you should exercise til you puke every single day. I’m also not advocating that you push yourself in situations where it might not be safe.
What I am suggesting is that people have SO MUCH MORE capacity than they think they do. Challenge what you think are your limits.
Even now, I’m sure I haven’t reached some pinnacle of maxing out. I’m sure there are still deeper levels of effort that I haven’t yet reached. But CrossFit has really driven home that maximums are rarely where you think they are.
3 | Write down your workouts
When I first started my intro sessions, my trainer really, really stressed the importance of writing down our workouts. He equipped us all with a simple notebook and took time out of all of class to be sure we were writing everything down. He even had cubbies set up for us to store our notebooks so we wouldn’t have to worry about forgetting them at home.
After my trainer kickstarted the habit, it was natural for me to continue using my notebook in the months that followed. I diligently wrote down my workouts every day I came to the gym, including my score, any scales and modifications, etc.
That habit followed me to my other gyms, and it has been indispensable. Being able to flip back through my workouts has come in handy countless times. It’s so useful to be able to compare my scores, weights, and times through the months and years. I recently fell woefully behind in writing down my workouts. I’m seriously kicking myself. Don’t make that mistake!
Even if you don’t do CrossFit, I would encourage you to journal your fitness in some way, shape, or form. It’s so easy to get lost in the day-to-day and forget about the progress you made. By keeping records, you have proof of your hard work and your improvements. If you do workouts that involve numbers, such as running, biking, or lifting weights, fitness journaling is extra-useful. Even if you participate in something like yoga, barre, or other group fitness, consider keeping a journal anyway. Write in it daily or weekly about the sessions you did, how you felt, if you got better a particular pose or movement, if there was a sequence you really like, things like that. I’ll bet you’ll be glad you did!