Does It Have To Be This Hard?

Seriously, does CrossFit really have to be this hard?  I’ve been asked this question a few times, most recently yesterday, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought it myself after getting my butt kicked by a gnarly workout like the Filthy Fifty!
As with many rhetorical questions, the answer is “Yes… and No.”  Do you want the short answer or the long answer type of thing.
So, Yes, CrossFit does have to be this hard.
In order to elicit the hormonal response needed to get stronger, as adults we need to lift heavy weights.  If you don’t lift weights and seriously challenge yourself, which can of course be uncomfortable and hard, you’re not going to get stronger.
In order to improve your anaerobic conditioning, that is to say your “horsepower” or your ability to move yourself and maybe some external load quickly for a short period of time, you have to practice working in that oxygen-depleted state where your muscles are burning and you’re sucking wind and you just want to stop.  Ouch, that hurts, that’s hard.  But you’re getting more fit because of it, getting your body more accustomed to working in that environment and thus creating additional capacity when you need to turn up the volume and sprint, or move a heavy object, be that a barbell or your neighbor from his burning house.  Or fight.
How about if we just want to improve our aerobic conditioning, or our “endurance” – the ability to keep going at a slow pace for a long time.  Here is where the answer “No” creeps in a bit.  If you ONLY want to get better at running marathons, then a long-slow-distance running plan is a viable option, and you don’t need to put yourself through the hard stuff.  Just the boring stuff.  And, if long distance running is your only game, guess what you can’t do?  Sprint.  Jump high.  Do a pull-up.  Lift some heavy-ass weights.  So here’s where we get back to “Yes”!  The other option to improving your aerobic capacity is interval training, which we have been doing quite a bit of lately with our CrossFit Linchpin program.  Doing hard high-intensity intervals with appropriate rest periods (enough to catch your breath) will increase your aerobic capacity by challenging your body to take up oxygen and deliver it to your muscles more efficiently.  Your body does what it does best and adapts to the stresses placed on it, and becomes more efficient at oxygen delivery, and thus your aerobic capacity, your ability to run for a longer time, is increased!
In the end, getting back to the short answer approach, the answer seems to be “yes” – if you want to become more fit, you have to work out hard.
Finally, another sometimes overlooked benefit of following our training plan and living the CrossFit lifestyle is increased mental toughness, or grit.  I probably don’t have to tell you that if you want to be more mentally tough, you have to practice doing things that require mental toughness.  In completing these hard workouts and not quitting, not giving into that inner voice that’s telling you “maybe this isn’t a good idea anymore, maybe you should stop”, you are hardening your resolve to not quit in the future when an obstacle pops up in the gym or in your life that other, mentally weaker people would shy away from.
But, “No”.  Training hard takes a toll on your body and it’s important to focus on recovery just as much as you do in the gym.  This is why nutrition and sleep are so important, and it’s also why schedules their WODs (Workout-of-the-Day) in 3-days-on, 1-day-off blocks.  If you are going balls to the wall for 3 days straight, unless you are a cyborg you are going to need a rest day, or a lower intensity day.  This might be your good opportunity to go for that longer run, or warmup and just work on skills for 30 minutes.
So if you are asking if it always has to be this hard because you are feeling seriously depleted, tired, groggy, and you don’t know what’s wrong but maybe it was those 5 intense workout days in a row, then guess what – the answer for you today is “NO!”  It should not be a hard day for you today.  You are going to take it easy, and live to fight another day.  That doesn’t mean you can’t step foot in the gym, but it does mean that you’re not in “competition mode” today – you’re in “working the kinks out” and “mobility is my life” mode, and more power to you because tomorrow you’re going to come in and crush it!
If you’re reading this blog, that means you are on your journey to be the fittest version of yourself possible.  And that means you have to physically work hard.  You have to go to the dark place where the doubt monsters hide in your mind and tell them to pack their bags, you’re in charge now.  You have to keep on pushing your physical and mental limits, and your body and mind will adapt.  And you wouldn’t want it any other way!  To paraphrase our good friend and CFKI teammate Hazen, a fountain of intensity and sage wisdom, “If I wanted it to be easy, I would go to Zumba!”

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