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What I didn’t know Crossfit taught me until I gave it up

I know the jury is out on Crossfit and the long-term benefits or detriment to our health. That’s not what I want to talk about now, at all.


I started Crossfit to support a friend who was starting her own gym. That was my only reason. I had never imagined myself lifting weights and certainly had no aspiration to do a box-jump.


I didn’t know what I was signing up for, in all honesty.


But I'm stubborn as heck and when my cash is on the table, I am all-in. I outlasted most of the girls who joined our “yummy-mummy” class. And then some. I kept going when my friend sold her then, fully established gym, to a new lovely owner. I kept going right up until I was eight and a half months pregnant. I loved it.


Unfortunately, my shirts stopped fitting over my arms. And I found fitting in a rigorous schedule around three kids impossible. But I have full respect for the concept and loved my four years or so of being able to lift, jump, pull, squat and lunge.


It was only after baby number three was old enough for me to take up serious exercise again and I chose mountain biking, that I realised that Crossfit was taught me a lot I hadn’t expected.

Here are a few of the obvious ones:

1.     ‘Strong’ is sexier than skinny

2.     Building muscles through strength training made every other exercise I attempted easier

3.     Strong muscles equal stronger bones

4.     Nothing beats feeling fit enough to box-jump onto a dining room table, which I did, more than once.


But then there are the not-so obvious ones:

I realised that teaching my daughters about being strong instilled in them a desire to be strong themselves. We don’t refer to diets or skinny in our home, ever, but I am always aware of the fact that I am shaping their own perceptions of themselves by my words and actions. My almost-eight year old would refer to herself as ‘strong’ and would be using that words as a synonym for beautiful.


There was also the huge bonus of knowing that strength training is important. I know it may be a cliché now, but seven or so years ago, women didn’t strength train unless they wanted to enter competitions as those seriously stacked body-builders. Now we know, a few weight-lifting sessions from time to time build our bones, enhance muscle definition and definitely stand us in good stead for longevity.


And then the last bonus: Which is one that comes out often and not when I expect it, rooted in that session in Crossfit, where you read the breakdown on the board and realise that the morning would be a killer. Two hundred squats!! Were they crazy??? Eighty dead-lifts!!! Were they insane?? And within an hour, you had done it. You had bloody done it. I even started lifting myself up on that bar thingy!! I mean? And it gave me innate strength that I could do anything. The Lord knows, when I was riding a bike through sleet and rain to complete a hundred kilometre race, I needed to dig deep. I had to remember those days when I would arrive at the box (a.k.a. Crossfit gym) and see what was planned for our session and know that it may look impossible; at times even feel impossible, but it was possible. And more than that, I would come out the other side having done it.


It gave me the absolute certainty that I could get my body to do almost anything.


I needed to dig deep when times were tough on my first ten kilometre run. I needed to dig deep when I got back into ketosis after taking a year off. When I ventured off into the Amazon to try plant medicine on for size, I needed to dig really deep. And I will need to dig deep when I've signed up for my next big competitive event (watch this space!)


I can’t tell you how much I miss the sense of accomplishment, which is what a session in the box would give me. And like a professional athlete that has retired, I guess that longing will never leave me. Am I done for good? Probably, but not definitely. I can't ever rule out something that was so good.


It’s not a spiritual thing. As a Christian, I know that strength to face spiritual battles comes not from how strong our bodies are but where our soul finds rest. This is a different thing and serves a different purpose: Crossfit taught me physical strength and physical resilience. It taught me how important it is to be strong.


I realise that there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes from winning – succeeding – on a regular basis, that builds inside of you and can't easily be shaken. And what’s best about the Crossfit system is that the sense of winning isn’t victory over others, but victory over the self. When you lift more than you did yesterday or last week or last month, it’s a weaker version of yourself that you have conquered. And that is something that can't be taken away or disqualified.


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