CrossFit Can Radically Change Your Mind and Body — Here’s How

It seems like every corner of the internet has pictures and information about CrossFit. Look deeper and you’ll learn about the individuals who are devoting themselves to this all-encompassing fitness regimen and lifestyle. But if you are someone who is interested in becoming part of the CrossFit family, you might not know where to begin. You’re not going to wake up one morning and be magically transformed into a CrossFit poster child.

It is important to understand both the physical and mental changes that you will go through as you immerse yourself into the CrossFit culture. Here are seven ways you will be radically changed.

1. You’ll become mentally tough

One major truth about CrossFit? It is not for the faint of heart. The heavy workload and demanding level of intensity can break you down mentally; to the point that you might consider giving up altogether. But learning to push yourself to do “just one more rep” even if you’re sore from the previous day, will toughen up your mental facilities.

Bodybuilding.com suggests tips for improving your mental toughness, like learning quickly from your failures and turning a difficult workout into a point of strength. Not surprisingly, these helpful tips can also be applied to day-to-day life.

2. You’ll gain weight

If your goal is to lose weight, the scale will probably shock you when you start a CrossFit regimen. Yes, you will be burning a ton of calories from the high-intensity interval training, but since CrossFit is also about strength training, you will also be gaining a lot of muscle. You will probably even gain muscle in places that you previously had very little.

The weight gain here is a good thing. It is the start of your physical transformation. (Side note: That can also mean that your clothes won’t fit the same and that you will have to go shopping for apparel that fits your more muscular physique.) Of course, how much you gain or lose can also be dependent on your eating habits.

3. You will give up your junk food habit

Your new diet will help you yield great workout results. | iStock.com/JulijaDmitrijeva

As we previously mentioned, CrossFit can morph your physique. But exercise alone won’t get you maximum results. A change in your diet, however, can have a huge impact. As Livestrong.com points out, CrossFit hubs give diet tips and suggest keeping record of your food intake while you are training.

Eat This Not That! also has a good list of foods, including which protein and grains are the best for CrossFitters. Changing a couple meals and seeing better results could convince you to change your eating habits completely. This is just another step in engrossing yourself in this fitness and lifestyle plan.

4. You will become obsessed

As you surely realize by now, CrossFit is a lifestyle as opposed to any old exercise plan. This is why every CrossFitter you have ever met is completely immersed in it. And if you are serious about CrossFit, the same will happen to you — maybe even without you realizing it. From adjusting your eating habits, to religiously checking the internet to see what the latest WOD (workout of the day) consists of.

You will probably also notice at some point that everything you see on your social media feed has to do with CrossFit.

5. You’ll get really good at counting

You will start counting reps without even realizing it. | iStock.com/Ammentorp Photography

This workout regimen is about counting reps, from box jumps to medicine ball cleans. Counting forward, backward, and adding more reps to push yourself — that’s a lot of mental math. Especially in the middle of a rigorous WOD. As HuffPost points out, counting all those reps while in the middle of a difficult workout can help push you to do just a couple more — remember that mentally tough aspect?

Not to mention, you will probably start counting everything else in your life the same way you count air squats, or whatever exercise you enjoy most.

6. You’ll have a boost of endurance

With all the high-intensity exercise and healthy eating, you will notice that your endurance has shot through the roof. That’s because CrossFit bumps up your VO2 max, also known as maximum oxygen uptake. This measurement for overall aerobic fitness increases more with CrossFit than it does with running or riding your bike for a lengthy period of time, Men’s Fitness explains. (They even include a couple WODs that are perfect for increasing endurance.)

7. Your energy will surprise you

You will have energy for extra workouts, even if this one makes your abs a little sore. | iStock.com/jacoblund

One of the most noticeable changes that comes with pushing through a ton of CrossFit workouts is that you will have a newfound level of energy. According to HuffPost, you’ll even have this burst of energy when you are sore from a previous day’s workout! This surge comes from the improvements in your cardiovascular health from working out regularly.

So, if you feel ready to head to “the box” (what CrossFitters call the CrossFit gym) even though you can barely walk, it’s perfectly normal.

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Last July, I only signed up for a month of CrossFit so I could write a post about how stupid I thought it was. Coming from a running and yoga background, and never once setting foot in a gym, I thought those people doing countless burpees, flipping tires, and grunting while lifting weights were nuts. I’m the first to admit that I was absolutely wrong. After just one month, CrossFit jump-started the most life-changing physical and mostly mental transformation I have ever experienced (aside from becoming a mom).

I decided to commit to CrossFit for an entire year, going four to six times per week, to see what would happen. I just hit my one-year CrossFitversary (fist bump to me!) and feel compelled to share my experiences in the hopes that they might inspire someone else who is thinking about trying CrossFit to finally take the (box)jump!

Before: July 2016

My journey actually didn’t really go as planned, so I wanted to map out each month so you can see that progress wasn’t all uphill for me. There were a few times when I actually lost faith in CrossFit and wanted to throw in the kettlebell towel — sorry, these puns are just too easy! I think anyone on any sort of fitness or weight-loss journey will be able to relate to this.

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Throughout the 12 months, I weighed myself regularly and took monthly photos, just because I’m a science nerd and wanted to have actual data to compare from month to month. The numbers actually kind of shocked me.

Month 1, July: Starting weight: 122 pounds. Feeling awesome, I just wanted to get into the groove of learning all the different exercises and the correct form. I gave up running for CrossFit — bye-bye hour-long runs and hello seven- to 12-minute WODs! Goal number one: do a pull-up.

Month 2, August: Weight: 118 pounds. Still on my CrossFit high, I was actually bummed that I had to miss about two weeks of classes because of traveling, but I tried to do workouts while on the road, like this 200-rep bodyweight workout.

Month 3, September: Weight: 121 pounds. I climbed a frickin’ 15-foot rope! Enough said. I also hurt my back in the middle of the month, putting too much weight on the bar when doing front squats (I was trying to keep up with the 60-year-old woman next to me!). So I took a little break, worried that maybe people were right about CrossFit causing injuries. But after a few days, I felt fine. It was a good lesson in not allowing my ego to get the best of me and in paying more attention to my body and my ability level.

After: July 2017

Month 4, October: Weight: 122 pounds. The weather was starting to get chilly and the mornings a little darker, but I still stuck with getting up at 4:40 a.m. for those 5:45 workouts. I was really starting to get to know my CrossFit community, and every night these two women and I would text each other: “Class tomorrow?” It helped motivate me to go, even when I was insanely tired or sore.

Month 5, November: Weight: 123 pounds. After four months, my arms and back started getting thicker, my sports bras and jeans felt tighter, and I actually wanted to quit CrossFit and stopped going for few days. I was pissed that I was getting up so goddamn early every day, working my ass off, and eating clean . . . and still had my baby belly. My husband was actually the one who convinced me to stick with it, knowing how happy it made me, and how strong and confident I was feeling. Other women at my gym also made me feel better about my muscles bulking up a little, reminding me not to focus on how I looked, but on what I could accomplish. They also said that for them, nine months was when they started to lose weight, so I stuck with it.

Month 6, December: Weight: 124 pounds. For some reason, I thought the six-month mark would be monumental and I would finally have the slim and ripped body I was convinced CrossFit would offer me. So when I compared photos from Month 1 to Month 6, I was embarrassed that my body wasn’t there yet. I had to remind myself that any progress was still progress, no matter how small, and it motivated me even more to push myself during those workouts and stick to eating healthy.

Month 7, January: Weight: 126 pounds. Holidays + my birthday = tons of cookies, overeating, not exercising much, and feeling like crap. Oh well. I did finally get two strict pull-ups: goal crushed! I didn’t think it’d take me seven months, but better late than never.

I also had conflicting emotions about adding weight to my bar because I was worried that lifting heavier would make me bulk up even more. So I started to back off on the weight. One day my coach, Kristi, joked a little and said, “Sugar, your bar is looking a little light.” So I told her my concerns, and she admitted to having the same thoughts when she started CrossFit six years ago. She basically threw out her scale and slowly started to fall in love with feeling strong, and now she loves her big muscles. “I wish mine were bigger,” she said. So that started to change my perspective about how I felt women were supposed to look and how I thought I wanted to look. I said, “F*ck it!” and started adding more weight and really challenging myself. It’s an amazing feeling to press a heavy bar over your head!

Month 8, February: Weight: 123 pounds. After seven months of doing CrossFit, I felt like I was gaining muscle, but I still had a layer of fat that wouldn’t budge. I knew it had everything to do with me eating too much! Aside from giving up sugar for the month of January, about halfway through the month I started doing intermittent fasting (IF) to see if it would help.

Month 9, March: Weight: 123 pounds. I did three ring pull-ups! I also completed one month of intermittent fasting and noticed my belly getting a little slimmer. Woot!

Month 10, April: Weight: 123 pounds. This is the month I noticed my upper-body strength coming in handy during yoga. I could now hold handstands for over 20 seconds. And with two months of IF under my belt, I was starting to see some definition in my abs! Lifting heavier and pushing myself more during workouts coupled with getting a handle on my diet are what really started to make my body transform.

Month 11, May: Weight: 124 pounds. I pressed into a handstand, crushing a goal I’ve had ever since I started yoga in 1999. And after three months of continuing with IF, I was pretty psyched that my baby belly fat started to shrink more, even though the scale showed weight gain. I was also drinking more water (like a gallon a day), which helped with eating less and belly bloat.

Month 12, June: Weight: 122 pounds. The final month of my year-long CrossFit journey, I experimented a little more with my diet to try to solve some bloating issues, and I committed to a two-week fruit, veggie, and nut diet, which helped reveal my first glimpses of a real six-pack. I actually wore a bikini at a public pool for the first time ever, which for me was a HUGE deal. But even huger was the fact that from kettlebell swings to wall balls to overhead squats, I was lifting way more than I was when I started. I not only looked stronger; I WAS stronger!

Final Thoughts

I drank the CrossFit Kool-Aid and now I’m hooked. I am so grateful for the inner strength and confidence I feel every day, in the gym and in my life. The absolute greatest benefit is the freedom I feel from the constant negative thoughts I used to have about my body, of always trying to lose weight and get leaner and more toned. Of incessantly thinking about food: what I should eat, what I shouldn’t eat, feeling bad when I ate too much, and worrying about when I was going to fit in my next workout. And what I was doing wasn’t working at all, so it’s an amazing feeling to put in the effort and actually see results. And I’m not done yet. I just signed up for a year-long membership so I can crush some more goals — muscle up; I’m coming for ya!

I know what you’re thinking — that CrossFit is cult-like or too extreme or “not your thing” — because I was there, too. I thought it was only for burly men or athletic women or 20-year-olds or people who are already crazy-fit. But anyone can benefit from CrossFit, no matter their ability level or age (there’s a 72-year-old woman in my class who can deadlift as much as me!). Everyone has to start somewhere, and I’m so glad I took the plunge a year ago. CrossFit is hands down one of the best things that’s ever happened to me, because it’s helped me love myself in a way that I never thought possible, and that love spreads out into every aspect of my life. It could be the same for you, but you’ll never know unless you try. So what are you waiting for?

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Jenny Sugar

It changes you. Almost instantly. You become simply different; better. From the moment you encounter CrossFit, your body works to meet the sport’s various (and constantly varied) demands. Your heart gets more efficient, your muscles get stronger and your body gets leaner. Understanding how your body makes those adaptations involves a little digging into exercise science, but you’ll be rewarded with the ability to better appreciate exactly how your body has changed and how CrossFit makes you, well, a better version of yourself.

On the Inside

Our bodies are almost constantly experiencing stress, and we’re very fortunate that they’re enormously able to adapt to it. We’re not even talking about the idiot who cut you off on the highway or the ridiculous deadline your boss handed down or the dinner with your in-laws that’s looming on your calendar, though the body does react to those kinds of stressors, too. Instead, we’re addressing physical stressors. Like all exercise, CrossFit causes stress to the body, and a process called the general adaptation syndrome (GAS) forces the body to adapt to it, via three main stages.

The Alarm Stage

In the first stage, the body encounters an “unaccustomed” stressor; that is, a physical demand it doesn’t have the capability of meeting completely. (Think of your first thruster, muscle-up or pistol.) This puts stress on cells (like muscle cells) involved in the processes that are called on to meet that demand. When a cell is stressed beyond its capacity, it gets damaged. In the case of muscle tissue, cells (also called muscle “fibers”) are disrupted. The cell membranes are degraded, which causes swelling, and you spend the next day or so moving gingerly and wincing from the resulting delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

The Resistance Stage

Within the next 36 to 48 hours, your body begins transitioning out of the alarm stage and DOMS subsides. It has now gauged the damage, responded to it and can begin the repair process during what is known as the resistance stage. Your body actually responds in a very logical way to this stress event. It has just encountered a demand it was ill-prepared to meet. That stressor caused damage, and the body, which is in a constant battle to achieve stasis, doesn’t want to go through the alarm phase again should you re-encounter that stressor in the near future.

So, during the resistance stage, muscle cells not only repair themselves to the level they were at before, but they also complete a repair process that will ensure they’re better able to meet the demand of that stressor. The mechanism by which a muscle cell becomes stronger is not a physiological mystery; we know how it happens. During the resistance stage, your muscle cells take up new proteins and synthesize them into the microfilaments needed to cause muscle contraction and into other protein structures in the muscle. At the end of this process, which may take as many as three to four days (depending on the level of the damage), you will have more microfilaments pulling on tendons, which creates more force and increases strength. So the next time thrusters are on the whiteboard, you’ll be better able to meet that physical demand.

The Exhaustion Stage

We all need the alarm and resistance stages if we are to become stronger, faster, fitter and more powerful. However, if we don’t allow sufficient time for the body to complete the repair process, we run the risk of moving into the next stage — exhaustion. In the exhaustion stage, cells are not fully repaired before again encountering a demand they cannot meet. Once again, damage occurs, and the alarm process begins. Over time, insufficient repair time, stemming from training sessions that are too intense, too frequent or too frequently intense, leads to overtraining and breakdown.

The first marker of overtraining and insufficient recovery is poor physical performance: WOD times get worse, and it can be harder to lift loads you used to manage easily. Taking the general adaptation syndrome into account, three things become clear for those wanting to understand how CrossFit can and does improve athletic capabilities.

First, how much time the body spends in the resistance stage is key. Therefore, rest truly is part of the adaptation picture. Rest is not laziness; it’s required for improvement. Second, nutrition is an important part of the picture. In particular, sufficient protein intake ensures that muscles in the repair process have adequate circulating amino acids to synthesize new microfilaments and increase muscle force. Third, herein lies the beauty of CrossFit’s mantra, which specifies that the stressor must be “constantly changing.” Show us someone who enters a gym every day and does the same thing, and we will show you someone who is merely going through the motions, whose body adapted a while ago and is no longer making improvements.

By virtue of its very structure, CrossFit does not allow such stagnation to occur. This sport gives your muscles and cardiorespiratory system something different every day, something to which they must adapt. That creates an environment in which muscles and energy systems regularly encounter an unaccustomed stress and have no choice but to respond.

Body Fat and Breath

We haven’t done any formal research, but we’d be willing to bet a significant number of burpees that one of the primary reasons people start CrossFitting is to lose weight. Fortunately, it assists quite handily in that pursuit. As with muscle mass, CrossFit will burn just enough fat to yield optimal CrossFit performance. A physique that is too lean doesn’t provide adequate energy stores for a long WOD or repeated bouts of performance, and, even though it’s common to feel stronger when you’re packing a few extra pounds, a body that carries too much fat will struggle when cardiorespiratory endurance is called on.

These two physiological variables are intrinsically tied. Cardiorespiratory endurance is measured by assessing how much oxygen an athlete can use during intense exercise, and this indicator of aerobic capacity is termed VO2 max (maximum oxygen uptake). VO2 max is expressed in milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body mass per minute (ml/kg/min), and because body mass is part of the measurement, your weight affects your ability to carry and use oxygen during endurance exercise.

Here’s what happens as you progress at CrossFit: During a WOD, your body supplies energy to the working muscles through various means. The more aerobic the exercise, the more energy comes from oxidative mechanisms (aka burning glucose and/or fat). Over time, two things happen to make you more aerobically fit and better able to withstand a long WOD. First, your working cells become able to extract more oxygen from the bloodstream, thereby providing a way for those cells to attain more ATP (the body’s source for energy during exercise) for muscular contraction. Second, your body’s oxygen-utilization capacity increases. That is, you become more efficient at accessing oxygen and using it for energy production during a workout.

Athletes often work hard to improve their VO2 max, but what many don’t realize is that one way to increase VO2 is to drop a few pounds. Less bodyweight means less work for your body to do — less mass to carry during “Murph,” so to speak. Right there you can see how CrossFit benefits the body. It optimizes body mass so that muscular work can be performed with sufficient energy stores, and it simultaneously burns fat (thereby reducing total bodyweight) so that aerobic capacity can be optimized, as well.

On the Outside

Now that you know what goes on inside your body when, say, “Fran” or “Helen” or “Cindy” (or any of their friends) come calling, it’s easier to outline the more visible results of CrossFitting: what it does to your musculature.

Size

When muscle grows as a result of CrossFitting, it does so as a function of the stresses placed on it. Those stresses are specific to CrossFit, just as stresses from other sports are particular to them. For instance, by doing multiple sets of eight to 12 reps and employing short rest periods, bodybuilders achieve a large amount of muscle size without the same level of force development, or strength.

Likewise, powerlifters work with low-speed movements at weights of five to eight RM and achieve increases in force production without the same level of muscle growth. In the same way, a CrossFitter’s muscle size adaptations are particular to him or her. While we know what is going on in the muscle (increased protein synthesis as a function of the “alarm” phase), we also see that the wide variety of demands placed on the muscle causes it to adapt in many ways — not only with some growth but also with low- and high-speed strength. (This is important in strengthening the associated tendons, as well.)

So the CrossFitter develops the muscle size specific to his or her needs. Microfilaments are increased and muscles get bigger, but more important, they become functional. That is, they become better at meeting a specific physical demand. This means the CrossFitter has only the amount of muscle size necessary to achieve performance objectives. But that muscle is also efficient, and the nervous system calling it into action is primed through all those many hours of practice.

Balance

CrossFitters need muscles that are strong through full ranges of motion and at high speed. If mobility is compromised because of muscle bulk, that full range of motion cannot be realized. Ever seen an athlete with large shoulders and biceps try to rack a bar at the top of a clean? His muscle tissue gets in the way, and he ends up holding the bar off his shoulders.

So does that mean CrossFit automatically limits muscle size? No. What it means is that CrossFit will induce adaptations such that muscle size is enhanced for optimal performance yet not at the expense of range of motion. In other words, CrossFit creates a balance of musculature. It’s very common for athletes to have training experiences in which they focus on certain lifts, emerging with compromised ranges of motion because of muscle imbalance. Not only does this limit mobility, but it also places the athlete at increased risk of injury.

CrossFit doesn’t let such an imbalance develop. Muscles on all sides of joints are taxed in WODs and full ranges of motion are maintained accordingly. If you stay with CrossFit, you will experience the opposite of what many experience in standard gyms; instead of becoming less mobile as your muscle tissue grows, you will become more mobile.

Strength

It seems to be a fairly common belief among athletes who transition into CrossFit from other athletic pursuits that they’ll somehow become weaker in exercises at which they previously excelled. This is rarely the case, and in fact, strength even in exercises not commonly performed in CrossFit boxes either remains steady or increases. What is happening physiologically is a phenomenon called “muscle memory.” Muscles can retain (and regain after injury) their previous strength with far less activation.

Exercise scientists still don’t quite understand the mechanism behind this, but they suspect that some function of the nervous system and/or hormonal activation triggers a kind of “memory” in the muscle. Further, because of the variety of movements intrinsic to CrossFit, it’s very common for athletes to encounter exercises that include the same biomechanical movements as the ones they’ve stopped doing. The muscles involved will still have been trained (and hard), just in a different way, further reducing the risk of atrophy.

The Shape of CrossFit

Movement molds the body, and athletes who specialize in one sport have adaptations skewed to that sport. This is why Rich Froning and Camille Leblanc-Bazinet have the bodies they do. They, and other high-level or long-term CrossFitters, have the optimal physical structure and muscular adaptations for functional performance in CrossFit. In other words, that’s what a CrossFitter should look like. And further, those changes are what enables a body to be great at CrossFit. Because so many muscles are trained in a single WOD, it’s actually quite difficult to identify or highlight one or more muscle groups that “define” a CrossFitter. However, two specific muscle groups tend to become remarkably well-developed in dedicated CrossFitters.

Quads

In CrossFit, your quads have no choice but to adapt. From thrusters to cleans to squats, quads are stressed so much and so often that the only way they will survive is to become stronger. Some of that strength will include enlarging the muscle tissue; most will include increasing myofilaments within the muscle cells. But what will also occur with training, especially if caloric intake does not increase dramatically, is that (a) intramuscular fat in the quads will be reduced, and (b) the quads will grow to realize the fullness of the muscle. Yes, that can mean that the quads will get bigger (depending on how much intramuscular fat was lost relative to the amount of muscle gained), but their overall shape will also change.

Deltoids

We challenge you to find another sport (or even training program) that incorporates more overhead movements than CrossFit. And when the pressing and jerking and handstand push-ups stop, there’s always the isometric overhead work, such as overhead squats and overhead walking lunges. All that overhead work is why CrossFitters experience shoulder muscle (deltoid) development. Think of the deltoid as a round cap to the shoulder joint. In its pushing, pressing and pulling movements, CrossFit calls on all three aspects (groups of fibers) of the deltoid: the anterior, lateral and posterior portions. Regular CrossFitters simply can’t avoid training any part of the deltoid, and that creates balance that gives the shoulders a full, round look.

My CrossFit Transformation Was Much More Drastic Than I Expected–But Not for the Reason You’d Think

Most people start CrossFit because they’re looking to lose weight, or get stronger, or get into the best shape of their life. Having played rugby in college, taught Zumba, finished a marathon, and taken up bodybuilding, for me, CrossFit wasn’t about the physical promises. I joined a CrossFit box (as the gyms are called) because I needed a job.

I moved to New York for what was, at the time, my dream job. But six months in, I called my mother sobbing. I’d just been given notice that the company would be letting me go in two weeks’ time. The eager post-grad haze had worn off, I was no longer certain I had chosen the right career field, and I was hit with a wave of loneliness.

After living in the city for half a year, I’d failed to make any friends. Late nights at the office had taken precedence over happy hours and girl-gang hangs. And because I’d often gotten off work late, instead of sampling New York’s fitness class scene, I’d opted for a 24-hour big box gym. There, I’d do some bicep curls, walk on the stairmaster, and after about an hour, flex, take some mirror selfies, and leave.

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Now, here I was, bummed out, wishing for pals to vent to about my impending unemployment, and in serious need of pulling together work. So when I saw on Instagram that a Manhattan box, ICE NYC, was hiring a front desk social media manager, I applied.

I’d talked (or at least, thought) trash about CrossFit in the past, even though if I’m being totally honest with myself, I had no reason to. But I guess there was a part of me that was a little intrigued with the whole CrossFit phenomenon and the community it promised.

My first interview took place directly following a class. Having arrived super-early, I caught the tail end of the workout and watched as the athletes congratulated each other and brought it in for a cheer. The ethos of the group reminded me of my time playing rugby in college: The coach was treated with respect, the team was determined and focused, and the athletes followed an implicit “No One Left Behind” policy.

While the promise of barbells alone couldn’t convince me to try CrossFit, watching a class and talking with the gym’s owner about community, fitness, and joining the two could.

After my interview, the owner called to let me know that if I tried CrossFit and liked it, he’d hire me. So I signed up for a class the very next morning. I thought taking a CrossFit class would be like updating my LinkedIn, flossing my teeth, or eating greens: a necessary evil.

Turns out, CrossFit is not a thing you just walk in and out of every once in a while. If it sticks, it sticks real good.

I’ve changed plenty since I was originally hired at the box. For one, I switched to a part-time role so that I could pursue a fitness writing career, but I still work out there and consider the box my home. Twelve months since joining the ICE NYC CrossFit community I can safely say the sport has changed my life. Here’s how.

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It’s cliché, but patience is a serious virtue

Most boxes have an on-ramp process that involves learning the ropes (and basic barbell lifts and bodyweight movements), but because I had weightlifting experience from my collegiate days I was allowed to pass over those sessions. (If you’re thinking about joining a box, take advantage of these offerings; I regret missing the learning opportunity). Even though I had fitness experience, it still took a long time to figure out what the heck I was doing.

CrossFit defines itself as constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensities, and that constantly varied part… it’s a lot. There’s the snatch, and then there’s the power snatch. There’s also a hang power snatch, and a hang squat snatch.

This variety is part of what makes it fun; you get to try so. many. different. things! But that also means there’s an unending stream of things to learn. The go-go-go New Yorker in me loved the exhaustive list of exercises, but the athlete in me felt overwhelmed by the variety.

I had to learn to be patient with myself and my body. If I forgot the difference between a hang, a squat, and a power clean, I had to learn to ask. If I couldn’t string together more than a few pull-ups, I had to ask for drills that would help me be able to… eventually. I gave myself permission to not know what the heck I was doing, and then developed the patience necessary to be okay with the learning curve.

Winning isn’t everything

My position in rugby was wing, which is the position that scores. Racking up points for my team was my job, and when I failed to do my job well, a loss for the team was usually the outcome. I love winning, and I brought that love of winning to CrossFit. “Finish first” was my motto.

And sometimes I did. Sometimes I’d take the top of the leaderboard on a bodyweight WOD (which stands for workout of the day), and I’d smile smugly, feeling proud. But then the next day, I’d have a workout with heavy barbells, and no amount of willpower would allow me to lift the barbell and lift it quickly while keeping good form.

A few conversations with my head coach helped me realize that my competitive spirit will help bring results for any goal, but that when it comes to heavy lifting, there’s a cardinal rule: Technique first, consistency second, and intensity last. “I love how competitive you are and how eager you are to learn and get better,” she told me. “My advice to you: There’s no rush. CrossFit isn’t going anywhere. Take it slow, learn, work hard, trust the process. You’ll end up where you’re supposed to be.”

Rest days aren’t a sign of weakness

When it comes to getting stronger, you need two things: First, you need to work your muscles, which causes little tears in the muscle fibers. Then, your muscles need to repair themselves, which is a process that requires rest.

Before CrossFit, I would go to the gym six to seven times a week. I stuck to that same schedule when I started CrossFit. I often went seven days a week because it was all so new and fun. My workouts lasted an hour, but sometimes I’d join some of the CrossFit vets for an additional workout afterward. Surprise, surprise: I got an overtraining injury.

Six days of heavy weights and intense intervals every week is too much, and I probably would have gotten stronger faster if I had stuck to just four or five days a week and actually given my body the time it needed to recover between sessions.

The mind is a muscle that needs to be trained

Anyone can do CrossFit: The workouts are scalable, which means that people of all fitness levels can come to a box and do the workout of the day. But CrossFit is no joke. When it comes to barbells, box jumps, and burpees, you need more than physical strength. You need mental toughness.

If you want to achieve your best performance on a workout, you must be willing to suffer–we call it “finding the pain cave.” When you’re trying to snag a personal best, your body and mind work against you. But the pain cave is a place where I’m forced to ask myself just how much I’m willing to give to reach my goals.

Building the toughness necessary to endure the pain cave isn’t as easy as dropping to the floor and cranking out 20 push-ups. It takes work to get your brain to a point where it is willing to push longer and harder than it ever has before–and to know when to tone down the intensity. During my first year of CrossFit, I had to train my brain every single day through practices like journaling, meditation, and breathing exercises.

You don’t need to switch your eating habits to match your friends

Paleo. Whole30. IIFYM. Before these diets went mainstream, CrossFitters were jazzed on them. Until I started CrossFit, I didn’t realize the nuances of these diets.

I’ve dipped my toes in the waters of all of these diets for anywhere from a week to a month, and I always come out thinking the same thing: They’re just not worth it to me! Counting macros may work for certain goals, but it is hella time consuming, and it made me obsessed with food.

Similarly, while I liked the Paleo diet (and it’s even stricter cousin Whole30) in theory–lots of veggies, protein, healthy fats, some fruit, and no grains or dairy sounded okay–in practice, I became a hangry monster. Basically, cutting out all grains and added sugars meant that I ate fewer carbs, and carbs are really important when you’re exercising regularly.

While I thought trying out my friends’ eating habits would be a fun bonding activity, it always just ends up making me grumpy.

Abs really are made in the kitchen

A month into my stunt as a CrossFitter, I had the flattest stomach I’d had up until that point. Which meant I had a new-found confidence to strut around the gym in my sports bra after every sweat sesh.

But while I looked good, I was getting tired four hours into my workday and didn’t have the energy I used to. Could I have mono a second time? Why was this happening?

My coach guessed it: I was under-eating. My go-to meals and daily intake hadn’t changed after I’d joined CrossFit, and I wasn’t giving myself the fuel I needed to power through–and then recover from–the high-intensity workouts.

With a little guidance from the coaches in my gym and phone calls with a nutritionist, I revved up my breakfasts to include more protein and complex carbohydrates (wahoo for sweet and nutty overnight oats!) and made a point to have a snack between lunch and dinner. Suddenly my energy levels shot back up–and my abs have only gotten more defined.

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CrossFitters make great friends

CrossFit isn’t just special for its high intensity and unique lingo; there’s also a surprising level of camaraderie. I used to think that made CrossFit a cult, but it’s way more accurate to simply call it what it is: a community.

People usually work out at the same time every evening, so you end up spending five to seven hours a week with the same crew of 20 who are similarly interested in health and fitness.

While the concept of breaking a sweat with someone as relationship-building is not unique to CrossFit, in CrossFit “working out” really means something much more specific. It means changing your life and the lives of those you sweat alongside; it means being pushed physically harder than you’ve ever been pushed with a group; and it means calloused high fives, fist pumps, and even sweaty group hugs.

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Life changing events are rare. Finding your soul mate, the birth of your child, the loss of a loved one. We believe that some thing just “happens”, but sometimes is very easy to make them happen.

When I started CrossFit I was really skeptical. I never found the right motivations to play a sport and I neither felt the need of doing so. But during a warm and sunny afternoon everything changed. CrossFit got me and is not planning to let me go. The show is just at the beginning: and here is how my life really changed in just 150 days.

I do things I never thought I could do

Really now. Snatches? Handstand? “I’ll never do such things”. “Are just not for me”, a little voice inside my head was saying. But once again I was under evaluating the impact CrossFit was going to have on my life.

The baggage of knowledge, experiences and motivations that my trainers gave me in just five months is huge. I played many sports in my life, but it never happened to me to learn so many things – and improve so much in doing them – like in the last five months.

CrossFit ass-kicked me and brought me outside my comfort zone – sometimes really far – and I understood that just in this way we learn, improve, and grow.

Are you scared that you’re not the kind of person that can lift a barbell? Do you think you’re to heavy to lift yourself up on the rings? You’re sure you can’t run a half marathon? Just step in a CrossFit box and give your trainers time enough to prove you wrong.

I learned to find motivations

It doesn’t take long to understand that CrossFit is more than just physical strength and power. Motivations and the ability of remaining focused on goals are an essential part of this great sport.

My personal experience said that once I started finding motivations for my workouts – and trust me when I say that I really needed them more than once – it became even easier to find motivations for my everyday tasks. Reading a boring business report? Going to the Post office? Fixing that shelf your wife is talking about since weeks? CrossFit really is a great training system for commitment and consistency.

I started eating well

I never dieted in my life. I’m lucky and I’ve a metabolism that allowed me any kind of junk-food and carbo-horror-show without punishing me with a levitating belly or fluffy love-handles.

But I wasn’t expecting to find a direct correlation between the quality and the amount of food eaten and the quality of my workouts. Our bodies are great machines and they need high-quality fuel, in the right amount and at the right time to deliver the best. Nevertheless, starting eating only quality foods and cutting out the rest I started having a general healthy feeling all day long. Plus, my last blood exams were great!

I made friends and learned to accept their help

You probably heard a lot about CrossFit Community. And yes, everything you hear is true.

I’m an Italian expatriate living in Switzerland and one of the hardest things I experienced after my relocation was making new friends in the town where I now live with my wife and my daughter. Tight working schedule and general routines left us no time and opportunities to build a new social life.

Everything changed after I joined my CrossFit box. There I found motivated athletes – students, workers, housewives and businessmen of all ages – with whom I share goals, passions and values. I bonded with most of them and some of these people are becoming real and solid friends.

Furthermore, I learned to accept help in time of need – we all like that little push when we are fighting against our limits – and to appreciate the Spirit of Community. I’m generally a not sociable person, but the real deal of CrossFit is sharing our experiences with others who genuinely believe in what we believe. It might sound superficial. But when we are sweating at the box we’re not just training: we’re bonding with other human beings who are fighting for our same goals. Something that nowadays we rarely have the opportunity to do, and will make us better and more complete persons.

Crossfit changed my body

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