About three years ago I got so sick that I was worried there was something really wrong with me.
I got the flu, and it morphed into pneumonia. For ten days I was feverish, could barely speak, had to take breaks whenever I walked anywhere to spit gunk out of my mouth. Things were bad enough that I had to cancel the majority of a 1.5 month long trip that I’d planned to Europe.
The illness was probably more related to the fact that I never got flu shots, instead of the fact that I never worked out, but it made me realize that life was short. I had gone almost my entire life without doing any regular exercise, and I knew that this should change. It’s funny when I look back in retrospect, as my then-girlfriend and current wife Ronna, would gently try to persuade me about how important it was to exercise. Little did she know that soon I was going to be pretty much addicted to working out.
I decided to sign up for CrossFit, and I know this may be hard to believe, but I had virtually no idea what it was. I just knew that a friend did it and said it was fun. I must be the only person in the world to have attended their first CrossFit class without obsessively reading every critique about it online.
Deep inside I probably suspected that it was going to be another failed attempt by me to find some kind of workout routine. I had tried MMA, yoga, Capoeira, regular gyms, running…none of it worked at all. I’d get excited for a week or two and then suddenly stop going. But I was desperate. I knew I had to work out, and that it was a serious piece that was missing from my life. I had nothing left to lose.
So the important question is: What makes CrossFit different?
This answer is going to be different for everyone but there’s one thing I absolutely guarantee you that you should do:
If you can’t seem to find anything that motivates you to work out, but you know that you want to find something, you should definitely try CrossFit.
If you are already really into yoga, Rock Climbing, running or any kind of regular physical activity, then this article isn’t aimed towards you. Sure maybe you’d find CrossFit fun, but you are also lucky to have found something physical that you are happy and excited to do on a regular basis.
However if you are like I was, and don’t work out regularly, or if you’ve tried a lot of things and none of them have worked, you should definitely try Crossfit.
What is CrossFit exactly? I would describe it as a combination of weightlifting, gymnastics and conditioning. Each day you usually lift some weights or work on a new gymnastics skill, and then at the end of the day there is a pretty intense workout that could combine many different athletic skills.
I’m not guaranteeing that CrossFit will work for you, but it worked for me while everything else failed miserably throughout 30+ years of my life. Why is this the case, and why might it also be true for you?
I can tell you a few key reasons why CrossFit worked for me, and through anecdotes and observing others experiences, I can tell you why it worked for other people to
1. It’s fun
Why did I stop going to the gym 1-2 weeks after buying an annual membership? Why did I try to run for a week here or there, and then stop shortly thereafter?
It’s because I found these activities painfully boring. Even today, I find the idea of going for a casual 2 mile run to be soul sucking.
Meanwhile whatever you may say about CrossFit, no one will ever call it boring. It actually fills me with actual psychological pain to not go to a CrossFit class.
Why is it fun? I’d say the two main reasons are due to the fact that each day is a different stimulating workout and because your progress is very easy to quantify.
It’s hard for me to imagine any exercise system that is set up to be as entertaining as a CrossFit class is. And when you enjoy something, you are going to naturally want to do it again, and therefore you won’t be lazy and fail to regularly exercise for 10 years at a time.
2. It uses the same techniques that video games use to keep you hooked
It’s no secret that video games are pretty popular. When you play a video game, your goal is often incremental improvement in one of many skills. A great example is the extremely popular Iphone game: Clash of Clans. You can upgrade your troops, build new defenses or create new and powerful spells. Each of these things makes you slightly stronger, and therefore you constantly get positive reinforcement that keeps you excited to play the game. CrossFit works in exactly the same way.
In CrossFit there are literally dozens of different skills that you can learn. Improving at any one of these skills simply means you are stronger and faster than you were the day before. Because there are so many different ways to improve, you are almost always improving at something. Maybe one week you can deadlift more weight, the next week you are able to use less resistance on a pullup, the next week perhaps you learn to kick up to the wall into a handstand and next time you may find that you suddenly can run a mile one minute faster than you could six months ago.
Eventually these incremental gains add up and you look back at yourself from a year ago and see a different person. Each of these gains are also very fulfilling and keep you hooked so that you’ll reach the next one.
For the first year of anyone’s CrossFit experience, these gains come rapid fire, and can make you near obsessed with going to the gym to experience even more of them.
3. If you want it to be, it’s competitive
At the end of each class there’s usually a timed workout in which you try to do a lot of stuff in a short period of time. This is called a Workout of the Day (often shortened to WOD). When you complete this workout, your score goes up on a whiteboard and you can compare your scores to everyone else.
For my first 6-12 months or so at CrossFit, I didn’t pay much attention to the scores. I knew that there were tons of people who were much faster and stronger than me, and so I just focused on improving my own skills.
Eventually I noticed a shift, where suddenly my scores were creeping closer and closer to people who I was never close to in the past. Now all of the sudden I wasn’t just focused on improving my own skills, but also got to take part in a mini competition every single day.
For a naturally competitive person like me, this aspect of CrossFit was very important. The good news for those less competitive folks is that I believe that the majority of Crossfitters aren’t overly competitive and so if that’s not really your thing, then you don’t have to take part in it and can blissfully just focus on your own personal development. But if you want it to be, there will certainly be plenty of other competitive people at your gym to push yourself against.
4. The community
People are CrossFit are very supportive, especially to newer members. I think that for a lot of people it’s important to have a bunch of other people working out with them, invested in their progress and who are rooting for them to succeed. This aspect definitely keeps a lot of members coming back. Tons of real life friendships are formed through CrossFit, so it’s also a great way to meet people and to get in shape at the same time.
Now that I’ve been at my gym for about three years, I know almost everyone there (and we have a few hundred members), and it definitely makes it a more fun and rewarding experience.
5. You’ll find yourself doing things that you consider impossible
There is this CrossFit move called the Muscle-Up. The Muscle Up is a gymnastics move in which you basically jump onto a pair of rings, and use your bodyweight to get above the rings and do a ring dip. It’s sort of like a pull up on steroids.
When I first joined I saw people at my gym doing these and while I thought it was impressive, I was pretty sure of one thing: There’s no way that I’m ever going to be able to do one of those.
These guys were like freak athletes to me…they could do 20 pullups in a row, squat over 300 lbs, and basically do everything faster than me. I didn’t consider myself some kind of special athlete, and so I knew that I would keep improving, but I didn’t see any scenario where I’ll suddenly be doing lots of muscle ups.
It turned out I was wrong.
Now the muscle up is a relatively basic move for me, and here’s a video of me doing them 1.5 years ago in a team competition at my gym. At the time this was the most I had ever done consecutively. All of those incremental gains add up and eventually you find yourself doing something that didn’t seem possible when you started.
I’m sure that if you consider yourself someone who isn’t in great shape, and do CrossFit for a year, you too will find yourself doing “impossible” things.
There are a lot of various critiques of CrossFit on the Internet, largely made by people who don’t really know what it is. However if any of those people think it’s better to just sit on the couch and play IPad games every day, instead of finding an exercise routine that actually encourages you to work out, they are out of their minds.
I spent nearly a decade looking for something that would keep me in shape, and always found so many excuses to remain lazy. CrossFit was the only thing that worked for me, and if you are in the same spot as I was, it might be the thing that works for you.