Why Retiring from CrossFit isn’t really possible

By: Emily Beers

games

When I started CrossFit, one of the aspects that instantly drew me to it was the measuring your progress part. I had always loved the gym, and had always subconsciously wished the gym environment was both more social and more competitive.

My favourite part about playing university basketball was the off-season, when we would hit the weight room, track and stairs, and get timed and ranked based on our conditioning performances—both our physical performance and our mental prowess dealing with running stairs for half an hour.

Then one day, when I was part of the rowing team at the University of Western Ontario, my friend and I somehow got locked out of our boathouse and couldn’t erg. She had just started dating this guy who owned a CrossFit gym, and was sure he had rowing machines.

When we showed up to CrossFit London looking for ergs, my mind was instantly blown. Men and women were stringing together pull-ups, then picking up barbells and throwing them over their heads. And the best part was they were actually talking to each other, laughing, socializing as they worked out! What kind of gym was this? If nothing else, it seemed like a more likely place to meet a man than the Internet dating I had been doing.

Needless to say, CrossFit quickly became my new sport.

In those days, competitions and local throwdowns started to exist, but their frequency wasn’t what they are today. People didn’t have teams of five specialty coaches, nor did they even follow individual training programs. Recovery didn’t involve Compex devices or Norma Tech compression suits; it involved a beer at the box with your friends. In those days, nobody was really “training for the Games.”

Yet we were already measuring our progress, keeping track of our numbers, trying to get better everyday. It was an inspiring feeling when I went from being able to do 3 pull-ups to 25 in just 4 months of training. And getting my first muscle-up—an ugly-looking movement for me at the time, where I flung my feet so high over my head they almost touched the ceiling—still ranks as one of my best CrossFit moments ever. In those days, the two things that led to the “I can’t wait to get to to gym” feeling everyday was the progress I was experiencing, as well as the friends I was quickly making.

But like all competitive people, as the sport started to grow over the next five years, and seeing as I was reasonably talented, I kept signing up for competitions and local throwdowns. And while I’m proud of my tangible accomplishments in the sport—especially having had the opportunity to compete at the 2014 CrossFit Games as an individual, competing also caused me to go down a confused road: A road that made it very difficult for me to understand why I was doing CrossFit in the first place. And it has made it very difficult to let go of competition.

Retiring from other sports was so simple. When I quit gymnastics, I moved on to another sport. I stopped flipping everyday and started pursuing track and field and basketball. And when I stopped playing basketball in third year university, I immediately stopped touching basketballs. As for rowing, I haven’t been in a boat in six years, since the day I decided to give up rowing to focus on CrossFit.

In all those cases, I let the sport go and never looked back.

CrossFit is different. While you don’t need to enter competitions to be a CrossFit athlete, the whole sport is based on fitness for life—on essentially getting better for life—so how do you keep your commitment to fitness for life when you’re no longer competing?

Needless to say, when I decided after last year’s Regionals that I was “retiring”, coming to terms with it was the biggest mind fuck for me for a few months because I was left struggling to find a way to be OK with getting worse worse at CrossFit—with becoming less fit.

‘The most fit I might ever be in my life might be last spring at Regionals,’ I kept telling myself. That thought ate me up at night for weeks.

I always said I didn’t love competing per se, but that I loved competing because it gave me a reason to train. And I assumed if I wasn’t competing, my motivation to train would suddenly disappear. This scared me so much that I signed up for a marathon and started running this fall. I am a terrible runner and know if I don’t commit myself to hitting my runs and workouts each week, that marathon this spring might kill me. So far it has been a great experience. Running is getting easier all the time, and it has also made me more appreciative of the times I’m in the gym, because lifting and muscle-ups are so much more fun than running.

But the most surprising thing has been my realization that even though I have no intention to compete in the Open and Regionals this year, I still have this desire to get better.

I am still motivated to improve my snatch. I still want that 225-lb. clean and jerk. I still want effortless muscle-ups. None of my goals have actually changed (I have just added a marathon to my list).

For a good month there, I didn’t even understand why. ‘Why do I still care about clean and jerks and muscle-ups when I’m not even planning on competing?’ I would ask myself.

I used to think I liked competing because it gave me a reason to train hard. But now that I’m not competing, I realize I just like to train. Apparently, I actually like getting better just for the sake of getting better. And the strangest thing of all is that, even though I have spent considerably less time in the gym these past months, I’m not actually getting worse. I’m still getting better. Weird.

Turns out what I knew in my head—but didn’t always feel in my heart—was right all along: CrossFit was never really about the competitions.