“I gotta run a little faster; I gotta reach for the sky; I gotta come a little closer; even if I lose, I gotta try…”
— Kansas, “Inside Of Me”
“Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
Every Saturday, my CrossFit gym invites friends to join members for workouts (“Bring A Friend Day,” as it’s called). It’s a little bit of a misnomer, as guests don’t necessarily have to be friends — as one coach likes to describe it, “bring your friends, neighbors, coworkers, colleagues, enemies, ‘frenemies,’ whomever.” It doesn’t necessarily have to be by invitation; anyone interested in trying CrossFit can come to these classes — a type of “try before you buy” session, if you will.
I’ve tried to get friends to go to these sessions, with mixed success. Those who do enjoy the sessions, but I have yet to have one friend (other than my wife) try it out and join the gym. (Admittedly, there are fringe benefits for me to get someone to sign up — a month of free membership, for example.)
What’s interesting is those who don’t try it and outright refuse my offer to join me. (As I tell people, joining me in these sessions pretty much guarantees that I will work out on Saturday!) I tried to tell one friend that I thought CrossFit might benefit her. Not only did she outright refuse to take me up on it, I got the impression that she was actually scared to try it. She would not even keep an open mind about it; she just said, “I will NOT do it. Don’t ever ask me about it again.” End of conversation.
My question: why???
I would never twist anyone’s arm into trying it (well, okay, maybe friends with whom I know I can get away with it), but what I don’t completely understand is why people fear it. I get why people won’t do things like go bungee-jumping (disclosure: I am deathly acrophobic), eating exotic foods (I’ll try almost anything, although I draw the line at anything that has more than four legs, shellfish excluded — Andrew Zimmern I’m not!), or do something on a dare. But why are people afraid to try CrossFit?
I think part of it is that it’s human nature to fear what you don’t know. People will see these images of CrossFit (I often post what I do on Facebook) and immediately get the impression that they’re expected to be able to lift large amounts of weights, be pushed to do double-unders, or be able to do pull-ups right off the bat. The fear of “gymtimidation” comes into play. People who fear it are likely afraid of being embarrassed or injured.
First, one of the selling points of CrossFit is that anyone can do it. I’ve seen people as old as eighty (and even more!) in the gym. I once saw a guy who had the use of only one arm in a workout (it was interesting watching him on a rower and an Assault bike). I’ve seen newbies who struggle with weightlifting form. Even I have my own struggles; I can’t (yet) do any moves that involve pulling myself up (pull-ups, muscle-ups, rope climbs, etc.), I have trouble with movements that involve squatting (I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my knees), and I’m not exactly the fastest runner (for me, there’s almost no difference between a jog, a sprint, or a fast walk). Heck, even some warmups can sometime leave me out of breath.
However, one of CrossFit’s selling points is that it is scalable. You are never asked to do anything you are not capable of doing. If you have trouble with pull-ups (like I do), you can do barbell pull-ups or ring rows. Unable to do a certain type of weightlifting movement? Don’t worry about the weight; instead, use a lighter weight, an empty bar, or even a PVC pipe, and practice your technique. Whatever movement gives you trouble, there is always a way to scale it that will allow you to perform it to your capabilities.
I’m sure the fear of being injured comes into play. As I just said, you’ll never be pushed to do what you’re not capable of doing. But one of the selling points for me is that CrossFit emphasizes technique. If you are not sure about how to do a movement, coaches will teach you how. If your form has issues, coaches will tweak it so it is better. Technique is key to anything: the better your form, the less chance you’ll be injured.
I also think the intensity is a factor. CrossFit can get very intense. Admittedly, there isn’t a lot that’s enjoyable about working your tail off to the point where you’re gasping for breath and end up lying on the floor. That’s something that can scare people off. However, how hard you work out is up to you. Intensity is what you make of it. But why is it so intense?
I think it’s because the majority of people who take CrossFit seriously want to improve. People push themselves because they want to get better at what they do. Did a deadlift weight of 305 pounds? Next time, I’m going to try 315. Run 5,000 meters in under ten minutes? Next time, shoot for nine. CrossFit is about making yourself better. While you are not asked to do anything you can’t do, you are asked to challenge yourself and push the limits of what you can do. Even my own gym’s motto is “(Be)tter” (as in, “be better”). I wrote before that you have to get uncomfortable in order to improve. Making yourself better involves going out of your comfort zone. How much discomfort — intensity — you decide to put into it is up to you.
Finally, there’s the phenomenon that Planet Fitness refers to as “gymtimidation.” People are embarrassed by their lesser skill level and are often intimidated by performing in front of other people who are in much better shape. This attitude does not exist in CrossFit. Everyone — even the elite athletes — roots for everyone else to succeed. I remember one time watching the CrossFit Games on TV and hearing the commentator say, “CrossFit is probably the only sport in which the person who comes in last gets the loudest cheers.” Even in events where athletes are finished, they will often go back out into the field to cheer on and encourage those who are still working through the event. Here’s a secret: everyone, at some point in their lives, was a beginner at something. Someone once said that one of the worst phrases ever coined was “do it right the first time.” It’s almost never done right the first time. Fear of embarrassment should never be a factor in trying something new.
I wrote before that CrossFit is a supportive community. I have made a large number of friends in CrossFit, and even though I look more like a couch potato than an elite athlete, I feel as comfortable with this group as I do as any group in which I’m involved.
Although people have their reasons why they don’t want to try CrossFit, fear should not be one of them. CrossFit can be a fun and exciting way to keep fit. Give it a try. Who knows? You might just get hooked — like I did!
And if any of my local friends are interested in hitting a Saturday “Bring A Friend” WOD, hit me up!