Mindset of a Recreational CrossFit Athlete

performance physical therapy Apr 04, 2022

CrossFit athletes are a special breed of human. In fact, a lot of people refer to CrossFit as a cult due to the commitment (and almost obsession) that CrossFit athletes have to the sport.

The CrossFit brand has done a good job over the years in getting their affiliate gyms to develop a sense of community and belonging to their members. Each gym is different, but for the most part the members become close to each other over time – much more so than in any other group fitness brand or class that I have experienced in the past. For example, my wife and I have become friends with some of the members at our CrossFit gym. We text regularly and will even meet up outside of the gym. Some of the members have even started hosting Friday Fundays (on their own) at the gym to spend more time with their “gym” friends.

When it comes to working out, or actually participating in CrossFit, you show up to a class and do a WOD (workout of the day). There is a prescribed workout (Rx) that dictates how much weight you should lift, how many reps you should do, etc.

Are you a competitive CrossFit athlete or a recreational CrossFit athlete?

This should be pretty easy to figure out, but from my experience people don’t think about this very often.

To keep it simple, if you are competing in CrossFit competitions regularly (1+ times per year) and attempting to get to the next level (Open, Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and Games), then you are a competitive CrossFit athlete.

If you are doing CrossFit because you want to be healthier (less chronic diseases and improved fitness), you want to look better naked (lose fat and get that 6-pack), or because you simply enjoy the cult vibe that CrossFit puts off, then you are a recreational CrossFit athlete.

Most CrossFit athletes are recreational.

Here is the mindset shift that I think most recreational CrossFit athletes should consider.

Okay, so if you made it to this point in this post, then you are a recreational CrossFitter. Listen up.

Where CrossFit succeeds in making high-intensity, functional exercise something that people enjoy, they lack in individualization. WODs are meant to be programmed for the best and scaled for the rest. I’m not saying you need to scale every workout, but just know that the workout isn’t specifically designed to match your body’s needs.

I strongly believe that we, as humans, have very strong and resilient bodies. It is good to stress the body and to challenge yourself to complete movements and exercises that put you out of your comfort zone.

The mindset shift that I think recreational CrossFit athletes should make is that we do not need to always perform the WOD as prescribed.

By all means, if you have the ability to perform a WOD as prescribed then do so. I try my best to complete each CrossFit WOD as Rx. However, we also need to listen to our bodies. The number 1 body part that gets injured in CrossFit is the shoulder, so we’ll use that as an example.

If you notice shoulder pain every time you do kipping or butterfly chest-to-bar pull-ups, then you should take a hard look at why you are putting yourself in pain. Your first reaction should not be to stop doing kipping or butterfly pull-ups, but rather figure out why you have pain. This may require some guidance from a sports-minded physical therapist or even a qualified CrossFit coach. If it is a mobility issue, well we may be able to address that. If it’s a strength issue, that can be fixed. If you have an existing shoulder injury, then you may be putting too much load on your tissue.

The mindset shift is that you do not always need to perform the workout as prescribed. There is nothing wrong with individualizing the workout to complement your body. If you are having shoulder pain with certain movements, there is nothing wrong with taking a step back to figure out why those movements are painful.

Let’s be honest. No one else in the gym actually cares if you are performing the workout as Rx or “scaled.” Now that we have brought up scaling the workout, I want to debunk a stereotype about this.

Scaled workouts are not always easier, but the term does mean to scale the workout down in intensity.

I want to challenge you to “modify” or “individualize” a workout that seems out of the scope of what your body can handle. This means that if your shoulder does not currently respond well to kipping or butterfly chest-to-bar pull-ups, then you shouldn’t automatically drop down in intensity to a ring row. If it is the kipping that bothers your shoulder, then you can do strict pull-ups. This is not easier than kipping pull-ups, but you were able to modify the workout to make it better for you at this given time.

If you are not competing for a spot in the CrossFit Games, then why would you knowingly perform a workout as Rx when you know it will cause you pain? I want to be clear here, I don’t think you will have pain just because you are doing a workout as prescribed, but rather I am speaking about when you are dealing with an injury or pain.

Most CrossFitters have it in their own head that they need to push as hard as the other people in the room and do the exact same workout. While this is fine for the majority of the time, it is not always what is best for your body. And as I mentioned before, modifying the workout doesn’t have to mean that you make the workout easier. Simply individualizing the workout could actually make the workout tougher.

My intent of this blog post is to tell you that it is okay to modify a programmed workout to make it more specific to your individual needs. The workouts are typically programmed with a lot of considerations, but are still generalized to the overall population of the gym.

Listen to your body.

If you need help translating what your body is telling you, then contact us and we will guide you through the process.

Corey Hall, PT, DPT


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