I love CrossFit. I think one of the reasons it’s so effective and so life-changing is that we put our trust in the programming. We drink the Kool Aid. We believe our coaches know more than we do about movement, lifting, intensity. As long as we show up and work hard, we see progress. And, at least for me, it’s a relief to have someone else make the decisions for an hour or so.
But after awhile, things change. With over two years into this CrossFit journey, I have become more aware of what works well for me. I start to question. I no longer have blind faith.
And for a few months, as I struggled to find the balance between CrossFit and my own life experiences with exercise and eating, occasionally I would feel like an outsider looking into the CrossFit world. Here’s what I learned.
1. CrossFit Makes Me Bulky
Not a day goes by when I don’t read a CrossFitter’s rant against the idea that CrossFit makes women bulky. I can’t join in. CrossFit does make me bulky. I realized this about nine months into CrossFit. I’d lost a lot of fat but I still looked big. I was leaner but…yeah. Bulky. And I can totally understand why some women may not want to look like me.
But here’s the deal. Fat also makes me bulky. I’ve never been a small person. I am inclined for bulk. My proportions are not going to change. The trick is finding beauty in the bulk. Now I see strength, hard work and muscle in what used to be fat. My face is leaner. I can see definition in my shoulders. To me, that’s beautiful.
Some women have a more slender frame. They experience the weight gain and size increase that comes with putting on muscle. But they’ll never be bulky.
I think this rampage against bulk is misleading. CrossFit will not make you un-bulky. You are what you are. All you can do is strive to be the best with what you have.
2. Sometimes I Feel Like a Man
I am manly when I CrossFit.
I sweat. Stinky sweat. And now that summer is here, I am reminded of how manly I can smell. I dread activities such as partner carries because I know I can’t run fast enough to generate enough wind so the person on my back is spared of my sweat fumes.
I grunt when I WOD. Manly grunts. Deep belly grunts of primal frustration.
Sometimes when I have a disagreement with a guy at work, I daydream about settling it with a pushup match. Man against man.
My hands are rough. My cuticles are a mess. There is nothing feminine about me at the box. Except I wear a lot of pink. And purple. (And the little girly dance I do after a tire flip because I get dirty, and eeeew.)
I went a whole year without wearing my favorite black headband because I was convinced it made me look manly. I’m over it now. Because acting like a man at the gym feels good. I feel powerful. And free. When I load my bar heavier than the guy next to me, I smile. And I’d like to see him rock a pair of heels to the office the next day.
3. I Don’t CrossFit For Asthetics
I think that CrossFit is probably the most complementary form of exercise I could find. Meaning – it puts all my assets to use. I have a natural inclination for strength. I was built for it. With CrossFit, I have found true pride in my natural structure – something I was sadly missing for the first 32 years of my life. To me, finding that inner peace is much more important than worrying if I’m bulky or manly.
If I was CrossFitting only so I would look a certain way or to change my body type, I would have quit long ago. Of course, muscle is more becoming than fat (and I appreciate that), but more than anything I love how happy being at the box makes me – and how that feeling stays with me even after I leave. CrossFit has made me better. Not just at lifting, squatting and pulling. CrossFit has made me better in all ways.
And my untested theory is – if someone doesn’t try CrossFit because she’s afraid of being bulky or looking like a man, then it’s probably not the sport for her anyway.
4. I’m Over Hurting Myself
For a very long time I wore my various cuts, burns and rips like a badge of honor.
Recently I was sitting in a meeting at work and looked down at my legs. Box jump scar. Turf burn. Rope burn. Double under lashings. I looked like a rug rat trying to dress herself up as an executive in a skirt and heels. And for the first time ever, it occurred to me that by neglecting to protect my body during a WOD, I wasn’t doing myself any favors outside the box.
The only people who would identify with these markings were other CrossFitters. And quite frankly other CrossFitters don’t determine my advancement, raises or endorsements at my job. (Unless Jason Khalipa needs a Controller for NorCal?) There’s no shame in hand care and protection or wearing knee socks on box jump day.
5. I Still Believe
I’m a natural questioner. I have to understand it to believe in it. I may not always see the value for me in doing a particular movement or a certain WOD, but I’ve realized that the beauty in diverse programming keeps me from getting bored. Not everyday can be kettlebell swings and cleans.
I decided to stop questioning CrossFit. I’m smart enough to know when something works. And believing has done this body good.