That Year When I Was A CrossFit Badass…
So yeah, I was really into CrossFit.
I was dive-in-head-first, balls-to-the-wall, super gung-ho obsessed about CrossFit for a year. Only a year.
That seems strange to say. Because it seems like it took up more space in my life than that! And I guess it did if you’re talking about the effect of powerful experiences.
I recently shared in my last blog post that finding CrossFit helped bring me back from a temporarily poor relationship with food. And it did that by filling a void. The void that many former high-level gymnasts experience after leaving a sport that has defined their lives since early childhood.
That very first “trial” workout brought me back to those super challenging gymnastics workouts that pushed us to our limits. And I felt alive! THIS is what I had been missing! Not arbitrary lifting of weights. Not a competition where you need to learn how to pose in order to flex certain muscles. Where you need to LOOK strong but not necessarily show any sort of strength.
No. THIS daily test of strength, endurance, and physical skill was what got me going. I was good at the challenges, but I had room to be much better. There was always a weakness to work on. There was always progress to be made. There was always a battle between mind and body.
And the strong community pushing you to perform… Assuring you that you weren’t alone in your insane quest toward your ultimate physical potential… THAT was the clincher.
I joined CrossFit right after the Summer Olympics in 2008. And then I left it right after performing in the CrossFit Games in Aromas, California in the summer of 2009. This is what happened during that year…
The only reason I came to that first “trial” workout in ’08 was because CrossFit 360 had recently opened its doors right next to the space where I took hip-hop dance classes. I didn’t know what CrossFit was – and I certainly didn’t know about the CrossFit Games.
That first month as a newbie, I would simply do my best at each workout and then gush to my clients for days afterward. I would be shocked when I would consistently perform ahead of a group of female water polo players who had recently won silver medals in the Beijing Olympics. People started to know who I was around the gym, and that felt good.
I’ve always loved kickboxing – so when I dropped by CrossFit 360’s sister gym to check out their heavy bag classes, I was intrigued that they also offered Krav Maga (which is an Israeli form of self defense). I gave Krav a try, especially because some of my new buddies were big fans. Soon enough, I began switching off between Krav, CrossFit, and Kickboxing classes. Oh, kicking those heavy bags is really SO satisfying… 😉
Life was good. I had my new family and a schedule I loved. I felt fulfilled and challenged at the same time. I had energy and enthusiasm for days! I attended special weekend workouts and organized fun mud runs. It felt so good to feel good. To feel capable and inspired. To be noticed for being a badass and to help lift others up to badassness. Plus, I just really felt alive!
By Christmastime, I had added a Muay Thai Kickboxing class as well. It was a good challenge, but YIKES, is my reaction time extremely slow!
In the new year, people began to convince me to train for the CrossFit Regionals (you could just walk right in to Regionals at that point… much different than today!). So I rose to the challenge. I kept up my schedule (minus the Muay Thai, thank goodness) and amped up my CrossFit workouts. I even created crazy beach workouts and truck pushing circuits! I felt pretty prepared going into the competition, but I didn’t think my performance would even compare to the top athletes I would see.
It was truly a SHOCK when I placed 4th after an entire weekend competition in April ’09. The top 6 moved on to the Games. Holy sh*t… I did it…
What a rush! At this point, though, my body was already beginning to hurt. All that intensity and no recovery practices were breaking me down. The CrossFit community wasn’t yet aware of the importance of foam rolling, soft tissue work, and mobility exercises. As a Fitness Professional, I was aware… but I had given myself NO TIME! Every day was jam-packed with both multiple clients and multiple workouts.
And at this point as well, I didn’t feel that I could drop any one of those workouts. Not only was I well known in my little community and feeling pressured to keep up the displays of badassness, but now I needed to train for the CrossFit Games! Now was not the time to back off!
I was now part of the “SoCal 6” – and we met almost every weekend to work out together and push each other leading up to the big competition. That whole 3-month period is one I would never trade for anything. It doesn’t work like that anymore in high-level CrossFit. Rivals can no longer get together to train. There are contracts and sponsors and serious rules.
This was back when we could push trucks and run up hills of sand together – when we could think of ourselves as the TEAM from Southern California. We made each other better. We challenged each other to some pretty nasty workouts, but really we had SO MUCH FUN.
Thankfully, I found Jeff and Carolyn Alexander of Network Fitness at that time. Jeff helped me learn recovery techniques and work out some issues with my shoulder. He kept me healthy leading up to the Games. But damage had been done. An entire year of intensity without recovery had given my 31-year-old body plenty of imbalances and plenty of pain.
Not only had I not scheduled any time for recovery… But I had become obsessed with the idea that a workout was only worthwhile if it was intense. This is not a good mindset to have. Movement doesn’t only need to provide a vehicle for burning calories.
So CrossFit wasn’t the problem for me. I was the problem. I found something exciting and fulfilling and oh-so-enjoyable… And then I took it too far. I began to feel BAD if I took a day off. And since I didn’t take many days off, I began to stop enjoying all the activities that I had come to love. I was stuck in a viscous cycle.
I would have kept going with that cycle at the end of summer 2009. I was hurting, but I was deep into it all. The CrossFit Games was an amazing experience. And I was just getting started with accepting challenges from my new high-level athlete friends!
Fortunately, my husband and I left the country to travel around Europe for a year while living out of a VW bus. We had been planning the trip for years. In hindsight, it was the best thing for me. It made me slow down and recover. And boy, did it take a long time to recover…
My point this time?
No, it’s not that I have a bit of an obsessive personality that causes me to dive in with endless gusto (although you can see the pattern, yes?) 😉
It’s that… Your relationship with exercise is just as important as your relationship with food.
The role that exercise/movement plays in your life must be a balanced one, to be more exact.
Go ahead and get crazy with your CrossFit workouts, Spartan races, martial arts classes, marathons, etc, etc! Fall in LOVE with a new challenge and the community that comes with it!
But don’t forget about recovery.
Rest. Lower intensity mindful movement (whether that be yoga or just active mobility). A return to normal breathing. Crushing your muscles on the foam roller or lacrosse ball.
And don’t forget that taking days off will NOT cause you to lose all your skills. Days off are a MUST for keeping a healthy mindset about exercise.
Yes, my friends – movement is extremely important. Finding inspiration in movement is essential for many of us as well. But movement is not the only part of the health equation. You can heartily LOVE the movement you do and the community surrounding it – but it will only serve you if you maintain balance. No massive guilt, no preemptive dread. Just space to enjoy and to feel alive.
That’s what I am striving for as I get reacquainted with the type of movement I’m passionate about!
Thank you for reading and best of luck to YOU in striving for your healthy relationship with exercise <3