Becoming a Moonie. Converting to Mormonism. Or Scientology. Going vegan, gluten-free, Paleo. Doing SoulCycle. Doing CrossFit. We join things. We join with great enthusiasm. We become fanatics. Eating becomes a ritual. Exercise becomes religion. It’s not enough to join. We become evangelists. We bore our friends with our obsessions. We must. Our lives have changed because of the thing we’ve joined. The thing we’re doing. The thing that’s transforming us, making us over into the heroic figures we’ve always wanted to be.
For me it’s CrossFit. I could give you the rational reasons why I do it. I was perfectly happy doing spin, running, some very elementary weight lifting. But my boyfriend wanted an intense workout, and we wanted to do something together. I liked the combination of metabolic conditioning and strength training. I found the community aspect motivating and supportive.
But let’s get real. The true draw of CrossFit is the drama.
I show up before the sun rises a tangled bundle of fatigue and fear. We’re doing wall balls, my nemesis. Will I die? Or we’re doing 50 million burpees. My back is still stiff from yesterday’s workout. Will I be able to control my breath? Will I get my form right so I work my glutes and hamstrings instead of those back muscles?
We start with the warm up. My knees snap and crackle through a set of squats and then it’s a set of 40 mountain climbers. I work through The Yuck And The No, that muddy feeling of resistance I always feel at the beginning of a workout (and sometimes in the middle). I panic a little -- if I’m feeling The Yuck And The No this early, how am I going to get through 50 thrusters?
The warm up does its job and I’m more feeling more limber and confident by the time we start the Workout for the Day (WOD, in the parlance of the CrossFitters). It’s usually some laughably huge number of repetitions of 2-4 intimidating exercises. Kettlebell swings and burpees and pull ups. Clean and jerks with box jumps. Power snatches with Ski Erg and row machine sprints.
It’s 10, 15, 20 minutes when the pounding blood in my ears rivals the pounding music that keeps me moving in a trance-like state. With each repetition, each weight lifted I work through The Yuck And The No. I burn through it. Muscles tear. Synapses pop and sparkle. I am hyper focused. And by the end I am relieved that it’s over but more than that I am victorious. I made it. I pushed and pulled and ran and jumped and kept going beyond the muscle fatigue to the other side, where exhilaration rewards me.
Day after day I do things I didn’t know I had the power to do. Why wouldn’t I become addicted to that?
Now let’s talk about the scary stuff. CrossFit is rough on your body, especially the older you are. It exploits the very same Tracy Flick try-harder personalities it attracts. I'll finish a workout triumphant, but sometimes wishing perversely that I’d tried a heavier weight or gone a little faster. I’ll see other people who started CrossFit around the same time I did surpassing me, and it’ll push me to compete when I should listen to my own body and respect where it’s at. I’ll want to go day after day without a break, like Bess returning to the ship in Breaking the Waves, when I should take a recovery day.
And that, more than the workout, is the true challenge of doing CrossFit in my 40s. It’s holding back. This is something I struggle with every time. I keep reminding myself, if I want to keep doing this long term I have to build slowly. And I have to work out smart, not just hard. Working hard is almost … easy. Working hard is what I’ve always done. Working smart, though, takes insight and discipline.
So that’s where I am right now, almost 10 months into this journey. We just completed the CrossFit Open -- again, at the urging of my partner, who continues to inspire me while helping me keep the long game in sight. Since this was my first time I just wanted to participate and get a benchmark to work against. I did scaled versions of all the workouts, so my goal for next year is to do the RX for at least 2 or 3 of the workouts. And my other goal is to be still doing CrossFit a year from now because I haven’t damaged myself.