As I sat down to write this blog post for Kill Cliff about fitness, I spent some time scratching my head as to what value I could provide in this category. Sure, I had run a CrossFit gym for three years and competed in Regionals a few times. But that’s not exactly exclusive territory these days, especially compared to the other Badassadors in the Kill Cliff stable. What I realized makes me unique among the others is that I’m NOT competitive in CrossFit anymore. Nor do I want to be. So, for all of you that are recovering competitors, this is for you.
Competitive exercising can be fun. I enjoyed it and still like “competing” daily at my local box. But as the CrossFit landscape has evolved over the years and the sport of CrossFit has become a serious endeavor that requires essentially full-time commitment, the better-than-average Joe’s out there like me increasingly find our once vibrant dreams of making the CrossFit Games slowly dimming. For me at the age of 42, this is especially true. Even the 40-44 Masters’ bracket is now chock full of incredibly fit athletes that would rival Games winners of years past.
The question becomes – what to do? For me it was the realization that I now needed to focus on the lifestyle of CrossFit, not the sport. I’m not able to devote 4-5 hours in the gym each day, and quite frankly, I don’t really want to. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with doing that. For me it was purely a shift in priorities. I had to take a step back and ask myself what my true fitness goals were. And once I realized that it was not becoming a professional CrossFitter, I was forced to re-evaluate how I approached things.
The truth is, all that I want is to maintain my current level of fitness as long as possible, ideally for the rest of my life. I want to look and feel good without spending my entire day in the gym. But I also still want to be challenged, get outside my comfort zone, and most importantly, be part of a like-minded community. So knowing all that, here is the recipe I came up with for life after competitive exercising:
I’m a firm believer that putting yourself through some measure of suffering makes you a better person. I think you kind of have to have that mentality to show up at your box each day. I’m not sure a WOD is ever “fun”, but it’s rewarding, and I feel better for having done it. The key to long term fitness is to suffer smarter. Work smarter while you work harder. Get yourself uncomfortable, not injured. Worry less about the leaderboard and more about competing with yourself. In the sport of lifelong fitness, you are the only competition you really need to worry about.
- You don’t need specialized programming. If you go to a decent gym, the “regular” WOD is plenty. There are a lot of great online programming sites out there and I have nothing against them. But as a non-competitor they are superfluous. The key is getting the most out of your gym’s WOD. Commit to putting everything into that 60 minutes instead of worrying about anything extra.
- Don’t be a slave to programming. I mean a couple of things by this.
- First off if you travel and drop in to a gym, just do their workout that day. Don’t be the weirdo that says you have to stick to some other program, even your home gym’s. I realize that you might end up doing the same movement two days in a row this way. Unless you are seriously risking injury in that scenario just suck it up. It’s an unknowable situation which is part of the point. This is a mind-hardening opportunity.
- Secondly you need to know when to scale or change things to avoid injury. This was extremely difficult for me to implement, but it’s critical. No one knows you, like you. If you have a nagging injury that’s going to be exacerbated by a movement, then modify it. Remember the goal is career longevity here. A great workout that allows you to come back the next day is far preferred to Rx-ing a workout at the expense of being out of commission for days or weeks.
- Don’t do movements that are purely competitive advantages. The best example I can think of here is bounding box jumps. I don’t do them anymore. I CAN do them. But I choose not to knowing full well that it slows me down. Believe it or not, you still get great training value by just jumping up on the box and stepping down. I also no longer do kipping handstand push-ups. I finally decided that slamming my head into the ground repetitively probably wasn’t a good idea. Instead I create a slight deficit strict version with a couple plates and still get an exceptionally good workout. The line here is going to be different for everyone. But depending on who you are, it might be time to chill out a little on butterfly pull-ups or modify some other move. I can speak from experience that you can absolutely crush your soul in a workout with purely strict movements at high intensity.
- Know when to push. High intensity is a critical aspect to the effectiveness of CrossFit but where I used to have only one high intensity gear, I now have two. This goes back to injury prevention. If the workout involves low skill movements that present less injury risk, my default is still redlining it. But as soon as some heavy weights or technical stuff gets thrown in, it’s time to operate at redline-minus. For example, the other day the WOD was “Death by Burpees”. I know that it’s almost impossible for me to hurt myself doing burpees. So I know this will end in complete collapse on the floor. And it did. But if that movement had been coupled with squat snatches, now it’s a different story. If I need to slow those things down a bit to nail the form, that’s my new default.
- Lastly don’t forget to be part of your community as well. Too often we get wrapped up in the individual aspects of CrossFit. Part of what makes it special is the other people at your gym. I get inspired by those around me and I hope that in turn I inspire them occasionally. We are all in this together and you can’t be a member of a tribe by working out at your house. The benefits of the social aspect of your local gym cannot be overlooked.