Imagine a sporting event with no booing or negative rivalries, where the loudest cheer of the day erupts for the athlete in last place struggling to complete the workout, and competitors complete an event, then turn and scream encouragement to fellow competitors finishing behind them. Imagine going to a professional football or basketball game where everyone in the stands intimately understands the physical struggle involved on the field below, having had experienced it on a personal level. This is the beauty of the CrossFit Games. Conventional sports fans watch pro athletes and say things like “Even I could’ve made that play,” whereas CrossFitters know for a fact they could not have. In this arena, spectators and athletes are unified by the fact that they are all CrossFitters. Each spectator has experienced the pain and misery of the movements being performed on the field and has a profound respect for the level of human work capacity displayed by the athletes they observe. But how can this be? How does the soccer mom or reformed couch potato understand and participate in the same fitness regimen as the Olympic-level athlete or elite military operator?
Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, states that “the needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree, not kind.” Simply put, everyone needs to be able to walk, run, squat, or sit and stand, and safely pick up objects of various weights. These are all functional movements encountered daily in life, and the distinguishing factor among individuals is not the movements but the intensity at which these movements are performed.
CrossFit workouts combine functional movements from multiple disciplines, like gymnastics, running and weightlifting, with the appropriate level of performance intensity necessary for the specific individual, regardless of athletic background (or lack thereof) to develop a “level of fitness that is, by design, broad, general and all-inclusive.” Its goal is general physical preparedness; the ability to handle anything life may throw at you…for the elderly man next door that may mean the ability to continue helping his wife safely exit their vehicle…for the young nurse down the street it may mean developing the core strength necessary to safely bend and lift patients all day without risking injury to her back…for the elite military operator it may mean developing the strength to move efficiently with 90 pounds of gear and the stamina to maintain that physical output for hours if necessary. It is all based on the individual’s current fitness level and where they aspire to be.
The WOD, “workout of the day,” combines both strength and conditioning elements for a total body workout experience. They are constantly varied, high intensity and shorter duration (5-20 minutes max workout time), and you are never likely to do the same workout twice in one week. Sessions are performed in a group setting with coaches present to help members warm up and modify the WOD to their fitness level, while maintaining the desired intensity, or athletic stimulus. Once everyone is ready, they perform the WOD as a group and cool down together afterwards.
In CrossFit, it is the equally distributed group work mentality that allows a diverse group of men and women the ability to relate and unify towards the common goal of finishing the WOD – for everyone experiences the same level of intensity. Once it is over, there is a shared sense of accomplishment among participants regardless of fitness level. Even scaled appropriately to fit totally different individuals, there is no doubt that grandma next to you worked just as hard to finish the WOD as you did.
Similar to military and paramilitary team mindsets, most CrossFit gyms (or ‘boxes’ as termed within the community) make it a point to see everyone through the workout to completion. The shared perspective from the beginning is that everyone there, from the newbie to the seasoned pro, is working to become more fit. When you start the WOD together, you finish the WOD together. Those who are struggling the most to finish the workout typically have the rest of the group joining in with the coaches to encourage them as they complete their final reps. Instead of self doubt and wavering in the face of physical struggle and mental adversity, you have a group of like-minded individuals rallying around and willing you to finish. When the WOD is over, everyone experiences the triumph of accomplishment as a group.
The CrossFit Games are a similar experience on a much larger scale, where the world-wide community gathers to watch the fittest men and women among them compete to earn the clout and title of “Fittest on Earth.” The first step to qualifying for the CrossFit Games is participating in a world-wide Open event. When asked about the CrossFit Games, Brad and Amy Chesley, owners of CrossFit Tyler, say the Open is what they love most. “This is the only time that a huge net is cast out over the entire WORLD in search of the fittest. For us and our community at CrossFit Tyler, being a part of that step is amazing.”
The workouts are performed at local CrossFit affiliates and scores are entered online. Everyone is encouraged to participate in the Open. Experiencing the same stimulus of the workouts unifies the community to the struggle of athletes vying for a qualifying spot at the Games. Top athletes proceed to a Regional event and from there advance to The CrossFit Games.
But even at the pinnacle of athletic performance in reaching the Games, the true purpose behind the arena is not the victory. Jason Khalipa, winner of the 2008 CrossFit Games sums it up succinctly stating, “The CrossFit Games is one expression of what CrossFit is about.”
From the WOD at your local box to the podium at the CrossFit Games, ultimately it does not matter who the winner is. Everyone benefits when overall contribution and full effort are valued above all. This is a true distinction that separates CrossFit from other fitness and sporting events, and CrossFitters know satisfaction is in the effort, not the attainment.
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