At the sports history conference I presented at last week in Colorado, I had an interesting experience during the question period following my presentation. I had just spent a lot of time trying to emphasize how the shift from skinny as an ideal to muscular as an ideal (i.e. “strong is the new skinny”) is not all that productive in terms of broadening the way that we relate to our bodies. Even though I know what I was trying to get across, there was one question that I think missed the mark. After commenting on how the bodies of CrossFit athletes and even athletes more generally today are different (more muscular, notably)—and attractive—there was a question about whether or not there are ever competitions amongst CrossFitters based on aesthetics or appearance. Knowing that some people outside of the CrossFit community don’t know what a CrossFit competition entails, I explained that there aren’t competitions that are based on physique—it’s a sport where performance is what matters. I made a point about the ongoing debates (as well as the overlap) between bodybuilders and CrossFitters and moved on, but this left me thinking about what is different about CrossFit and the way, thanks to it, I relate to my body. While these are things that I’ve noticed on a personal basis, I think they’re common thanks to the sport itself and the way that it’s promoted.
CrossFit, even though it’s an exercise program and people who do it do not necessarily care to ever compete, is about performance. As is the case with lots of sports, when people focus on their performance and their success in a sport, they can stop obsessing over the way that an activity makes them feel (even if they may be motivated to start it up because they think the bodies that CrossFitters have are awesome–I’m not going to beat anyone up for wanting to feel attractive). With a white board and a little bit of competition (with yourself and with others), CrossFit invites you to take a look at what your body is capable of. With the absence of mirrors, it doesn’t even suggest that you should care about how you look while you’re in the process of it. With something to be proud of besides a “hotter body,” I know CrossFit, for me, has given me a long list of options when it comes to goals to focus on that make me feel good about working out. Again, this could come from other sports (I have a similar appreciation for the goals I can set when I’m focusing on triathlon or on running or cycling), but I think CrossFit is set up to emphasize it.
To that end, I think the CrossFit boom has gotten more people to test their bodies and to consider what they’re capable of than most fitness programs could ever hope to. Along with that, I think it’s driven more people to try out new things: whether or not you think it’s unsafe or crazy or if you’re asking for someone to pass the Kool-Aid, there are more people than ever doing things they wouldn’t have been exposed to before. I’d be curious to see the stats on how many people have worked out with barbells and/or hopped on a rowing machine and/or redeemed themselves by climbing up the rope that used to torment them in gym class thanks to CrossFit.
Even with all the negative press around CrossFit, I think there’s a bit of “any press is good press” going on: we are talking about things. Discussions about what makes a sound exercise program (safe, effective, and what those even mean) are more common than ever. While I think the best workout is the one you enjoy and that you’ll continue to do, I think all the arguing over whether CrossFit is good or bad has only helped people in the world of health and fitness. You might not think that the Paleo diet is the way to go, whether you hear about it and get curious about whether or not these bacon-eating CrossFitters are onto something or decide that the approach is seriously misguided, you’re thinking more intensely about what you put in your body and about what defines “healthy” for you as a result. CrossFit challenges a lot of mainstream ideas and that kind of challenge and invitation to consider what you take for granted to be true. If you can’t handle a challenge to what you think is true or to what you think is best for yourself, I’d question how certain and secure of what you think you really are.
To wrap up, I’m not a CrossFit competitor. Other than a few just for fun competitions at gyms around town, I’ve not aspired to do a whole lot with my training. Sure, regionals was awesome to watch and it’s probably natural to think about what it would take to get yourself at that level, especially since some of the people I’ve shared a lifting platform with have worked their asses off and gotten to that level. But I don’t consider myself a hard-core CrossFitter. I go and “ruin my gains” by hopping on my bike for 3 hours on a Saturday, by starting up a fundraising bike tour across the continent, and I
try not to don’t take myself too seriously. But even with this kind of casual CrossFitting, I’ve seen that there is a heck of a lot of good to come from the program that is on so many people’s minds these days.
What do you think?
Have you had a similar experience with CrossFit?
When are you feeling the best about your body?