I don’t like CrossFit and you don’t have to either. Let me explain. It’s hard, sometimes painful. There is a lot of physical, mental, and emotional discomfort and just when you think you are getting stronger and faster, the discomfort increases. It sucks. I mean when does this get easier right? I used to think it was supposed to get easier. Now I don’t. Now I’m looking for a place to lean into the discomfort and try and learn something from it. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I train; that’s why Solcana is my home.
I was introduced to CrossFit at my brother-in-law’s wedding. The day before the ceremony, his box was hosted a Wedding WOD. Everyone on the guest list was invited but my wife and I were the only non-gym members who showed up. It was a 23 minute AMRAP consisting of 6 deadlifts (#185/#135), 23 KB swings (#50/#35), 20 wall balls (#20/#14), 12 push-ups, and a 100 meter run holding your partner’s hand (The wedding date was 6/23/2012…get it?). Obviously, the coach scaled the weights way down for us, but it was still an invigorating, exhausting, experience. We spent the rest of the weekend limping around in pain from the DOMS. The experience stuck with me, and a few weeks after the wedding I contacted a CrossFit gym here in Minneapolis and went in for my intro workout. The first time I did Baseline, it took me 10:43 and I was so tired at the end that the coach had to help lift my feet on the pull-ups (in addition to the giant assistance band I was using). After I had recovered I joined a group of other newbies at the gym for some beginner classes, and started attending regularly. It was during that time that I met Coach Hannah. Her enthusiasm for coaching and the care she showed us as athletes stood out and I saw her from time to time in class or around the gym. Then my daughter was born my training went to hell along with my sleep. Meanwhile, things were getting odd at my gym and I decided it was time to move on. I figured that I had done my last burpee and I wasn’t sorry to see them go.
When I heard that Hannah was raising money to start her own CrossFit gym I read her mission statement on Indiegogo. It was an easy decision to donate to the campaign. At the time, I didn’t see Solcana as a place for me; I just thought “Hannah’s pretty cool. I’ll bet this is going to be good.” I was moved by her vision to create a space that was in service of bringing “joyful health” to both its members and the community. I was feeling pretty out of shape so I grabbed the “First Members Club” perk, figuring that a month of classes would jump start me back into my own “personal” fitness routine. For years I’ve had a fantasy of doing hardcore training alone in a Spartan gym, with nothing but my iron will to carry me through the pain, forging myself into a badass. The problem is that just doesn’t work. I can never maintain momentum long enough to sustain the type of changes that I envision for myself. I used to think that this was due to weakness – that my failure was a confirmation of all the negative shit in my own head. But I was wrong. Now I believe that we need other people in order to learn, grow, change, and excel. We need teachers, mentors, friends, competitors. We need people to laugh with, fight with, be inspired by; we need community. I think that human beings love to take on challenging problems (both mental and physical) and push ourselves to solve or conquer them. The problem is that we are afraid all the time; most of the times we don’t even realize it. We move away from fear and discomfort out of instinct. Fear serves a rational purpose, but most of what we practice isn’t self-preservation, it is avoidance. This is critical, because our physical and mental responses to a stressful situation are not determined by our values or beliefs (as much as we might wish that were true); they are determined by our practiced responses and our experiences under stress. This is one of the most important things I learned studying martial arts.
After graduating from college and moving to Washington, D.C. I began to study Aikido – a Japanese martial art rooted in jiu-jitsu. One day, a senior student invited me to come to a class with his teacher in a different art. After the class the teacher graciously invited me to return and become one of his students in his art: KaizenTao (or the way of Kaizen). Kaizen is a Japanese word which means continual improvement. That single class opened my eyes to the true purpose of training – overcoming fear and improving ourselves, as martial artists and more importantly, as people. I trained with my teacher and our small group twice a week for nearly two years before moving to Minneapolis. During that time, I learned many things, but the most fundamental lesson was this: fear is not only in your mind – it’s in your body. We spend most of our time holding our breath (often because we are afraid). Holding the breath creates excessive tension throughout the body, which greatly impairs our ability to think and move. Physical tension in and of itself is not bad. In fact it can be quite useful when we are trying to move a heavy barbell. It is the lack of awareness of the fear and tension which is the problem. We have to learn to notice the excess tension and release it so that we can overcome fear and relearn what our bodies and minds are capable of so we can train them at their full capacity. The way to do that is through choosing to experience discomfort so that we can learn to relax and eliminate excess tension and fear under duress. Since no one wants feel discomfort, one of the best ways to expose ourselves to it in a safe way is under the guidance of someone who can lead you through it with a group of people you trust who are attempting to do something similar. One good example might be a class at Solcana…
When my free period came to an end I decided to join Solcana and commit to a membership here. I already knew that CrossFit was an effective method of physical training. What I didn’t expect was how much this community would change me. I had forgotten my own lesson. I knew there would be a lot of strong AF people here. But I didn’t expect to find so many people who are striving to improve themselves not just as athletes, but as human beings – people who are committed to facing discomfort in order to continually improve themselves, their community, and their city. That’s why I’ve stayed. I could do deadlifts anywhere. But I want more than a strong body. I want a stronger mind and heart too and this is a place where my fellow athletes are willing to push me to get there. Of course, if you do love CrossFit, that’s great. I’m still glad to be training with you. Just don’t expect me to get psyched up for “death by thrusters.”