The Deeper Side of CrossFit

By: Matt Rasler

Next week marks the beginning of the 2019 CrossFit Open (to be more specific, the first 2019 CrossFit Open) and as such, acts as a New Year-esque reflection point for CrossFitters in the global community. It is a time to reflect on progress over the years, to anticipate growth over the last year, and to reflect overall as to what CrossFit means for that athlete.  Given the energy of the event and the commitment required to compete weekly for 5 weeks: this time of the year is filled with unbridled anticipation and anxiety.  Oh, and a lot of fun.

But perhaps more importantly, the yearly check-in offers a subtler opportunity: the opportunity to reflect on how CrossFit has shaped our lives in a deeper and more meaningful way than fitness and strength.

The 2016 CrossFit open was the first year I had the privilege of competing.  I would have been 3/4 quarters of a year into regularly attending CrossFit with my wife under the tutelage, primarily, of the same coaches that train me and my wife today. I have always been a slow, but hopefully strident learner, and the first Open was an absolute challenge both mentally and physically.  But, it was also a lot of fun.  I was already cemented into the community and had bought into the CrossFit machine completely.  But something of the experience expounded the merits of sweating with my pals and opened my eyes to the broader, and impressively massive global CrossFit community. 

It is easy to feel the grassroots nature of the sport when you are only tuned into your local box, but this event brought the focus outwards, describing the extensive sprawl and speed of growth of this CrossFit thing.  Thereafter, I have had the privilege of CrossFitting in different countries around different cultures, and dropping into Boxes freely when I travel.  The experience has been nothing short of amazing: though it is easy to see the differences at each CrossFit box that I have visited (though biased, I still think KJ is the best) one can not escape the remarkable similarity and continuity of culture across these gyms.  I remember dropping into a gym in a Dubai while visiting my wife who was deployed in the Middle East under the employ of the Army at the time (and also coaching CrossFit at the base she was deployed to), though nervous, when the class finally began, the warm up, workout, tools, coaching: all where remarkably familiar. I found myself engaged in something absolutely familiar within a very foreign culture.  It was magical!

It wasn’t long before the merits of this system drew me into coaching as well as continuing my training as an athlete. One of the single most difficult questions I receive consistently as a coach today is: “why do you coach”? Usually my response is straightforward and honest: I feel like I need to give back to this community, like I have something to give, and I feel that it makes me a better person because of the responsibility.  But there is a deeper part to this answer that I have been curating and chasing for some time. And the answer is part of something more holistic in my life, part of an observation of the change that I have witnessed in my self through this journey.

I want you to imagine a training ground for humanity, a school, if you will, for life.  In it, we work on our character flaws, perhaps some we did not even know we had.  We learn to be more patient with people. Less apt to letting emotions fuel reactions to other people and more apt to looking inwards for the source of negative emotions.  Rather than shy from criticism, we learn to embrace it.  Rather than hiding our weaknesses we more confidently share them.  Rather than judging people and putting them down, we assess and help them improve.  Instead of reacting to events we learn to focus our minds and pay attention to only those things we can impact or control.  We learn to be calm, classy, humble, and considerate even at the depths of physical weakness.  We learn to set attainable realistic goals and be brutally honest with ourselves and what we are capable of.  This, without loosing touch of hope.

We learn to have faith in a system so that we can focus on the work in front of us rather than constantly spinning on the end goal.  We become more social.  More confident.  We sit up taller and have a more commanding presence.  We have a voice in a community.  We have friends to lean on.  We have companions to do things with that make amazing memories and force us into doing things we would have never done without.  We eat healthier, we breath easier, we look more tone, we radiate the energy that is bursting within us.  We are more calm under pressure.  And we positively reinforce others’ efforts.

You will find on this training ground people activity asking the tough questions of themselves: how do I become more X, or how do I change Y.  You will find people actually changing, evolving before your eyes.  The notion of people being static and unchangeable will disappear and you will begin to realize that people do change.  It becomes irrefutable from this vantage. 

This training ground is a reflection of my experience in CrossFit.

All of this has led me to become more curious of humanity and the human mind and spirit.  It makes me dream of change in every aspect of life and apply the same principles whenever I have a desire to become something more.  Plan honestly, work hard, show up, focus on what is controllable, work more, asses progress, reflect, rudder, find experts, learn, work, repeat.

Not a secret to those who know me: I am an introvert, or perhaps used to be (which is an interesting thing to consider in itself).  Now I laugh and smile comfortably in a room full of alpha personalities.  I know myself more deeply, and have more confidence in my character and nature.  And because of this, I am more apt to being patient with people and I generally like and appreciate people more. 

I fear failure less; fear of failure being a considerable negative motivator and influencer in my younger years. I attribute this specific growth the casual environment in which my coaches and peers reward my efforts and applaud my failures.  Like a small child who just fell off my bike for the first (or 1 millionth double under attempt) and look back to see my parents applauding and smiling, I have grown.

Sometimes I question the ‘how’ of why CrossFit has created this ecosystem.  Sometimes I question whether these attributions are a consummate fact of CrossFit or is just an experience I have had with two amazing coaches in a tremendous gym.  I imagine other sporting groups and affiliations share similar opportunities for growth, though I do not know any that offer these things with such a low barrier of entry as CrossFit does.  The sport is still growing, maturing, so we do not know where it will be in the future.  But as the CrossFit Open of 2019 begins, I know where I will be: showing the world that I am more than what I was just a year ago.