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BoxLife Magazine

Burnt Out? How to Enjoy CrossFit Again.

By William Imbo

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September 9, 2014

“Do anything, but let it produce joy.”
― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

We all have bad days within the box, where nothing goes your way. You feel sluggish, you can’t match a PR, you have to constantly stop and start again on those double-unders. Now, because we have all had days like this (if you haven’t yet, you will, soon), we accept it as a natural part of CrossFit. As Games veteran Ben Smith says, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” We chalk up a bad WOD to the CrossFit gods and come back to the box the very next day with renewed vigor and we kick ass, enjoying every second of it.

At least, that’s the ideal scenario.

Unfortunately, reality isn’t always as accommodating. For many people, a bad day in the box can turn into two, a week, or even a month. There are a number of reasons why this might happen—after all, CrossFit is intense and can wear you down both physically and mentally. However, the real danger comes about when you stop enjoying CrossFit altogether, and that’s a big problem. You pour a lot of time, money and effort into CrossFit, if you’re not enjoying it, then all those things are going to waste—and you’re development as an athlete will suffer alongside it. So, obviously this is a problem that needs to be rectified, but don’t worry! We’re here to provide you with some tips to get your passion for CrossFit back on track.

Avoid overtraining
Overtraining might be the most obvious factor in your decreasing enthusiasm for working out. As I mentioned, CrossFit is tough. It can be hard to keep up that level of motivation and intensity to tackle WODs day in and day out, leading to an eventual burnout. This can be both physical (putting you more susceptible to illness and injury, restless sleep) and mental (loss of desire, poor workout performance leading to added frustration, etc.). Fortunately, there is an easy cure for this one—take a day off, maybe even two! I assure you, you won’t suffer for it. A day of active recovery or complete rest gives your body and mind time to heal and strengthen, and is key for your enjoyment and progress within CrossFit.

Focus on yourself, not others
We have previously written about the importance of having a CrossFit rival. They can keep you honest in your commitment to training, help you to reach new goals and create a competitive environment from WOD to WOD. Once again, the theory of having a rival is that it will make each class that much more enticing and fun. But when you focus too much on the performance of others, you lose track of your own development as an athlete. What happens if they start to consistently outperform you? If they are doing a WOD RX, surely you have to as well, right? If they’re working on their handstands during free practice, you better get upside down too, surely? Wrong. While having a rival who is always ahead of you may give you a goal to reach for, it’s not exactly your goal, is it? You are a unique individual and a unique athlete. You should view your CrossFit experience accordingly. As such, you should remember that while you may struggle with certain movements and weights, you’ll excel at others. If it makes no sense to go RX, don’t do for the sake of saying you matched your rival—that’s a surefire way to get frustrated, or worse, get injured. Focus on elements of your ‘game’ that need work, and make each WOD about bettering yourself, not comparing your performance to those around you. It can be tough to keep that mentality, but it might be one of the reasons why you’re getting frustrated with CrossFit.

Stop training by yourself
This doesn’t just mean going to the box and working out alone. It also means making an effort not to be the guy/gal in the corner of the class keeping to themselves while everyone else is partnering up for strength work or preparing for a metcon. CrossFit is a social sport! By working out by yourself (in either context) you are depriving yourself of some of the great benefits it has to offer, such as support, instruction and friendship. If you need some extra proof, take a look at this Instagram post from CrossFit legend Chris Spealler, who recently retired from individual competition at the CrossFit Games.

In nearly 7 years of running the affiliate I can probably count on both my hands how many times I have worked out with a class. Now I try to do it 2-3 times per week. I follow exactly what the class is doing and how the trainer teaches it…with a touch of heckling and goofing around. It’s been incredibly good for me in this time of transition.”
-Chris Spealler

Don’t avoid your weaknesses
No one likes to feel inadequate, and being forced to confront your (exercise) fears has a not-so-funny way of humbling you quickly. Of course, part of CrossFit is accepting the fact that you are going to suck at something (or a lot of things). But part of that acceptance is acknowledging that if you want to get better at CrossFit, you have to work to develop your weaknesses—not avoid them. Doing so will make you enjoy CrossFit in two ways. Firstly, developing your weaknesses means that you will be naturally progressing as an athlete, so your performances in WODs will start to improve. And secondly, it’s incredibly satisfying to see a weakness become a strength. All of a sudden you’ll look forward to those movements in class, as you’ll be able to test how far you’ve come from where you once started, which conveniently leads me on to the next point…

Remember how far you’ve come from day 1
This is just another reason why you should keep track of your numbers. In the early stages of your CrossFit career, you’ll likely experience significant progress in your lifts, the amount of weight you can move, and how fast you can perform. Such is the beauty of CrossFit. However, it’s equally common for athletes to plateau, and all of a sudden you’ll find yourself fighting for every 5lbs on your back squat when you are use to seeing jumps of 10lbs or even 20lbs each time you step up to the bar. As soon as you start questioning your performance and get angry with a movement that you thought you ‘had’, you’re in trouble. Take a trip down memory lane and remember the days of overhead squatting with a PVC pipe because anything heavier was simply too challenging. Or how about all those bands you needed to sling over the bar in order to complete some pull-ups? Hopefully, you can look back on where you once were and smile in the fact that you have come so far. We often get caught up in the constant quest for improvement, and we forget to enjoy the journey instead. The journey is what CrossFit is all about.

Don’t forget why you started
I would argue that there is one underlying reason we all started CrossFit: to become fitter, healthier people. Within that main goal you might have sub-objectives, such as losing 20lbs or becoming a better athlete for a specific sport. Whatever the reason may be, it’s important that you never forget why you signed up for CrossFit in the first place. It’s easy to get lost in the numbers, WODs and fancy gear and forget this simple fact. Once you realize that you are actively pursuing that goal each time you step foot in the box, I’m sure your outlook on the sport will change for the better. CrossFit doesn’t need to be a stressful burden. When you start to feel burnt out, maybe you’ve overwhelmed yourself with too many goals and forgot to simply enjoy CrossFit. With the right perspective, you’ll see that it’s a great tool for achieving the simplest of goals—making you a happier athlete in the process.

Photo courtesy of CrossFit Fever/CC by 2.0

William Imbo

About William Imbo

William Imbo is an Associate Editor at BoxLife magazine, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer and holds an MPS in Sports Industry Management from Georgetown University. He is an avid CrossFitter and loves film, music and travel, thanks to having grown up across Europe. A fan of the New Orleans Saints and Newcastle United, Will's favorite CrossFit girl is Helen-least favorite being Isabel. View all posts by William Imbo →

One Response to Burnt Out? How to Enjoy CrossFit Again.

  1. Lucinda says:

    Taking a couple breaks from Crossfit over the past year has really helped me. Especially when I go back home for a week I resist the temptation to visit a box and instead focus on running and other activities. A week away once in a while does my body good and doesn’t destroy my gains either.

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