On Day 1, anything is possible. That’s part of what makes it attractive, enticing, and scary. What you were doing before probably wasn’t working — at least not taking you where you want to go now — so what have you got to lose? It’s a rush to try something new, to step into a new potential, so you do. A car ride later to this warehouse-y place, a bunch of hello-nice-to-meet-yous, a barrage of information, it gets really loud, your muscles are on fire, it’s over! No matter what the workout was, it was probably really physically demanding, but the adrenaline and social pressure carried you to the finish. Drenched and exhausted, a bunch of high fives and smiling faces, you succumb to the notion that this was how it’s supposed to be, so you roll with it.
On Day 2, you wake up to a reality check. Everything hurts, everywhere. Coach says it’s going to be something “totally different, different muscles” because CrossFit™. The soreness is so pervasive, will it even matter?
You show up to tell Coach how sore you are, and once you’re there, well, you’re not going to travel all that way to turn around and go home, right? You ask them to be gentle, you crack some jokes about it together, and they try to help! But. It. Still. Sucks. What have you gotten yourself into? Is this a cult?
Fast forward a few months (a typical “honeymoon” phase duration). A lot happens! You make a ton of progress, but it is ALL still oh so hard. Will it ever not be?
The short answer to this is “no, of course not.” The slightly longer, more interesting answer is “and you wouldn’t want it to be.”
I have a secret to share with those of you who are coming to the end of your CrossFit honeymoon (or have already long since passed it). The secret is this: intensity is intrinsic to the human experience, and in many cases it’s how we derive meaning from our efforts. “Hard work builds character.” This means that, no matter what it is you are doing, what makes you feel alive is when you have to fully apply yourself, even if it hurts, ESPECIALLY because it hurts. When your muscles are burning and you want it to be over, but you can still technically choose to keep going, that is the gift.
This phenomena even has a term associated with it: “flow state.” There are books about it, but the summary definition is when the task at hand is either barely within your abilities, or slightly outside of them. When only your best will give you a shot at success, and even still it isn’t guaranteed. This is exhilarating, this is what makes us feel alive. It’s ubiquitous and heralded in modern sports. “4th and goal” “bottom of the ninth”, when it’s all on the line, in that state of intense uncertainty, that is where we grow.
Flow state also occurs in everyday life in surprising ways. Do you remember that time you procrastinated on an assignment and had to summon everything in you to scrape something together just in the nick of time? Or when you could barely hook that final grocery bag around your pinky finger and heroically waddle through the front door? Even giving 100% to a mountain of simple day to day tasks, or just cleaning a pile of dishes by hand in an extremely time-efficient manner (hopefully without breaking stuff). Those are instances of flow state too. It can work against us at times, because again success isn’t guaranteed, and quality can suffer as a result, so I wouldn’t recommend becoming too fixated on it in your professional or personal life, unless you’re okay with spilled groceries everywhere. In most of areas our modern lives, thoughtful planning almost always trumps a heroic effort, because a plane beats a car, beats a horse, beats a runner. But when it comes to exercise, this is where you have everything to gain, and not much to lose. It is where you get to carry on the tradition of our ancestors, and experience an intensely physical version of flow state.
What happens if you go hard in a workout and come up short? You grow. Go for a PR and make it in front of dozens of your friends? Or miss it? You grow. You win by playing the game.
In Part 2 we will discuss why understanding this may not be enough for your long-term success. Stay tuned!
CrossFit Cypher Owner