At some point in my post-adolescent development, I must have expressed an interest in weight lifting – or perhaps my parents thought I had expressed an interest, or maybe they hoped I would develop that interest – because one Christmas morning I trudged downstairs to find a Sears weight bench, bar, and about 230 lbs. of those plastic weights filled with concrete. You can find them all over Craigslist and Ebay now. It was fine as an introductory weight set. Especially for one that saw as little use as this one did.
Looking back on it now, I can see that there were three basic problems that I had with this weight set. And in thinking about it more, I can see the ways that, were it not for CrossFit, I would still be a sedentary lump on the couch.
The first problem was basic: I didn’t know, and had no real access to learning, the proper techniques for any of the more advanced lifts. The weight set came with an “instruction manual,” which consisted of a few 11×17 sheets of paper, saddle-stitched (a nice way of saying stapled) together, with illustrations showing the essential 2-3 steps to completing the movement. Example:
1. Bend down, grasp bar.
2. Lift while straightening back.
You get the idea.
Curls were the easiest thing to do, so that’s pretty much all I did. Occasionally ventured into the realm of bench presses, but never experimented with some of the more explosive movements like snatches or cleans. If I did, I’m certain that I didn’t do them correctly.
And that’s where CrossFit, and good coaching, have made a world of difference. Now, I know CrossFit gets a lot of flack from non-CF’ers because there’s a lack, or perceived lack, of accountability and training for its coaches. As a CrossFit enthusiast, I am well aware that not every CF coach is as well-trained and knowledgable as others – in fact, some are downright shitty at what they do. I am also aware that even amongst those who are highly trained, not all are blessed with the one skill that coaching requires: the ability to actually coach.
Fortunately, the coaches with whom I interact on a regular basis all have both the training AND the ability to actually coach a room full of people, all of whom are at different places in their fitness journey, with skill and patience and candor. One coach, in particular, stands out among the rest. He is engaging, excited about sharing his knowledge, and is able to coach and relate to athletes of all levels. He is CrossFit Level 1 trainer and USAW Level 2 National coach, with additional CrossFit Specialty Seminar training including the Coaches Prep Course, Olympic Weightlifting, Gymnastics, Movement and Mobility and Rowing seminars. He knows. His. Shit.
I truly believe that, had I been privy to this level of training when I was a teen, that cheap Sears weight set would have soon been replaced with Olympic bars and plates as I progressed in my training.
But lack of coaching and access to real training wasn’t the only barrier to my success.
The second problem: surroundings. I was alone, in my parent’s basement, with just enough room carved out in and amongst the junk and detritus that accumulates in one’s basement, for the bench and weights. Every once in a while, one of the neighborhood kids would join me in a joint session, but seeing as the other kid knew about as much as I did regarding technique, neither of us were of much use to the other. With no one to truly “work out” with, I soon lost interest altogether.
Once again, CrossFit > training alone. Why? Community. Plain and simple. You’re not working out alone. You’re surrounded by a group of like-minded (some would argue, snivelingly, that we’re hive-minded) people who are all well aware of their own limitations, and pretty soon know yours as well. And amazingly, all of these people want you to succeed with your goals as much as they want to succeed with theirs. And so you cheer one another on. You clap when a goal is reached, you push and urge and goad each other through those tough lifts or that never-ending chipper WOD, and you celebrate together when it’s over and scores are noted on the whiteboard.
Yes, I know – no everyone wants or needs to work out with other people. If that’s you – great. More power to you. Some of us need that extra bit of encouragement that we can only receive when we work out together in a group.
The third issue – and one I still have a hard time with – is because I wasn’t seeing instant results, I got discouraged and gave up. If I do curls and bench presses a couple of times a week, by the end of the month I should look like Charles Atlas, right? Well, it wasn’t happening (big surprise). Do a little work → no instant results → get discouraged → give up.
In this case, I can’t really say CrossFit has done a whole lot. However, because I am now receiving the training that I need, by people who know what they’re doing, and with people who help me by cheering me on and occasionally spotting me on the weights or whatever when necessary, it’s easier to continue going back 2, 3, 4 times a week and over time, you realize that suddenly, you’ve got muscles. You’re stronger than you used to be. You’re healthier than you used to be. You’re willing to take on more difficult challenges, even those outside the gym.
It’s all about your mindset. Training + community = desire to continue = progress.