The Virtue of CrossFit

I’m a student of philosophy. That’s pretty easy within the confines of a university, but I try to apply it throughout. This means that I try to apply my reason to events, people and other phenomena I encounter. When something doesn’t sit right with me, I try to take the time to understand why.  As a student of philosophy, I’m lucky to be able to ask “why?” more often than most, and so far that endeavor has been to my benefit.

A rather fluffy intro, so let me give you some meat to go with that salad. My dad tried everything to get me to participate in every single sport at school, from cricket to rugby to athletics to hockey to swimming… you get the idea, right? I enjoyed athletics and rugby, and cricket until high-school, but it was always more of a chore than a pleasure – I never really played for the love of any particular sport. I tried to stay involved in athletics when I got to university, but it’s not very big there and I had shin splints on and off for about 4, 5 years. The crucial point regarding my non-participation was the fact that I’d never decided to do it, for myself. I know a lot of great sportspeople, and those who just do it casually, who do it for family members, partners or someone else, but regardless of whom or what the object might be, the person doing the sport decided for him- or herself that s/he wants to do it. One does these things for selfish reasons, and by selfish I mean you find things you identify with, things which represent what you value, and then you decide how best to achieve or honor it.

Before I get too philosophical again, let me start talking about CrossFit. I broke my arm playing rugby in 2012 and thus I put that on the back-burner for a while. I hadn’t participated in athletics for a few years so I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t really feel like getting back into it because of my shin splints. However, a friend of mine, Mike, told me about a guy living in town who did his own fitness-program in his backyard – no gym fees, no ogling spectators, none of that flashy stuff. Just a pull-up bar, tires, dips-bars, a punching bag and some cinder-blocks to use as weights. I decided to tag along, if only to see how unfit I was (in that regard I definitely received a shock to my flabby system). To be quite honest, the first few sessions beat the puff out of me, and it wasn’t CrossFit in the strictest sense. The dynamic, functional exercises were there though, and man did I enjoy it. Getting through each workout really felt like an achievement, and the whole thing seemed to fit in quite well with the athletics program I’d started with. I managed to find a great physio in town, who used acupuncture to help me with my shin splints. The treatment really helped but the pain would come back once a week or so. I really think having shin splints is to experience one of the worst pains known to man, and it’s definitely worse than breaking my arm had felt. Why did I keep on training, any rational person would ask. Well, it’s not for any fairy-tale reason, I can tell you that much. I didn’t want to show the pain who was boss, I didn’t want to impress anyone, I didn’t want to qualify for my province or anything like that; I just wanted to run, and run fast.

I’m an Objectivist in that I believe we have talents and skills for a reason, and that reason is to use those abilities, to utilize them as we see fit, to increase our happiness and to help us flourish. The fact that I can run fast gives me such unrestrained pleasure that I get choked up just writing about it. So, to state it as simply as possible, I just kept on running because it gave me the greatest pleasure. As I started to lose the unnecessary weight I was less constrained by shin splints, and my time kept dropping so that factor eventually came into play. I still haven’t run under 11sec in the 100m, but right now it’s just about doing the work day to day and enjoying it.

Now you might wonder how the ‘Virtue of CrossFit’ fits into all this, so allow me to expound on exactly that. CrossFit is growing faster than anyone could ever have imagined, and I know there are those who bring up Uncle Rabdo and the fact that they see the whole thing as a cult. Well, what is CrossFit’s ‘mantra,’ if you will? Functional, all-round fitness. It’s about being better equipped and enabled to tackle life, regardless of whether you’re an aspiring professional athlete or a businessman or a grade 8 pupil just starting high-school, the discipline, passion and general enthusiasm which comes with doing CrossFit will only be good for you. Once you start to listen to your body, you’ll know when it’s time to take a day off or scale your training back a bit – as with anything you do in life, you need to listen and decide for yourself what you’re going to do. Accredited CrossFit boxes are accredited for a reason – that reason being the fact that the coaches have done the necessary courses – but if you find yourself clashing with a coach, find a different box. It’d probably be better to try a few workouts on your own, just so you can feel your way into the whole thing. I know that one easily get caught up in the whole thing, but keep in mind that you’re incredibly unique and what works for someone else might be wrong for you. For example, 3-time CrossFit Games champ Rich Froning says that he rocks up at the gym and just does what he feels like. Of course he trains like a machine, but he had to work incredibly hard to get there.

I’d never put much store in eating better, in exercising a lot and that whole lifestyle – it was just something which other dedicated, disciplined people did and, being an Objectivist, I want my own reason(s) for doing something, not having it forced on me or doing it to please someone else. However, as I got more and more into athletics and doing ‘CrossFit’ workouts on my own, in my dorm room, exercising just became something which I needed to do every single day. I can come up with some highly motivating, peppy, cliched version of my story in which I immediately cut-out all the ‘bad’ food, started measuring my weight every day, drawing up a list of goals and deadlines and all that, but the truth, the black and white truth, was this: it was bloody hard. I love sweets; milk chocolate, chocolate mousse cake, peppermint crisp tart, chips etc, and I still eat those. Now though, it’s more a treat, not because I feel I have to punish myself by eating lean meats and vegetables and such, but because I want to reward my body and myself, day in and day out. Of course around Christmas time and New Year’s people like to relax and just eat what they want, which I think is also fine, as long as you put in the hard work before and after. I think the whole CrossFit way of living is what will allow me to flourish as a human being, and that, to me, is the ultimate virtue.

Now for the thrilling denouement. If you’re the kind of person who likes everything set-out and planned well in advance, use that method. However you want to go about getting fit(ter), you decide. Not your parents or your significant other or a dietitian or some government bureaucrat; you have to find your own reasons for what you do and how you live. Try not get too caught up in the whole ‘new year,’ fresh start, sweep everything away phase of the year. The only way you’re going to enjoy getting fit(ter) is when you accept which weaknesses you have, but more importantly, what your strengths are and how’re you can use them going forward. I’m not trying to convince you that CrossFit is some miracle quick fix – it’s tough, but you’ll love it. I’m at the point where I can train twice a day, and that’s after about a year. To wrap it all up, go out and try a few workouts. Do them at home, and if you aren’t sure about technique and such, ask a coach or someone whom might be experienced in the field. Try and keep in mind that CrossFit is swimming, running, cycling, weights – all that and more. Finally, I wish to thank my athletics coach, Antonio, for being an inspiration bar none, and Marion and Mary, owners of CrossFit Double Platinum, who welcomed me into their box and have guided me on the path to actually using weights for the first time in my life.  After all that, I simply want to tell you to go out there and have fun – that’s what CrossFit is all about! Oorah!

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