The Tao of CrossFit®

It’s 6:21 AM on a Monday…
My alarm just went off for the first time. I promptly hit snooze. “Nine more minutes,” I tell myself. “Nine more minutes to sleep.” But I can’t fall back asleep. I never do. My mind is already stirring, and with it, my heartbeat accelerates. You see, 99 minutes from now…it’s on.

I lie there, I breathe, I take a few slow, exploratory stretches to see if and where I’m still sore. Every day that goes by, I notice less and less soreness during these waking stretches, and I just feel…solid.

Again, the alarm. It’s 6:30 AM. Snooze. I don’t need to be downstairs until 7:00 am. My mind begins to wander. A bit of anxiety sets in. “Can I do this today? Do I got this?” It was so much easier when I was young. Pop a pill–boom–instant energy, and off I went. But not anymore. It’s not about that anymore. It’s about the truth. It’s about keeping it real…keeping it raw. I don’t have to destroy the challenge…I only have to face it. I don’t have to be the best in the box this morning…I only have to do my best. “Yeah,” I confirm, “I got this…I got this.”

Alarm. 6:39 AM. Snooze. This time, my eyes stay open. I think, “It’s Monday. That means squats. Gotta get there early to warm-up my spine and hips, do a bit of stretching. Don’t wanna get hurt. Don’t ever wanna get hurt. It happened way too often when I was young. Gotta pay this body the respect it deserves. Gotta get there early…gotta get there early.”

Alarm, 6:48 AM. “Get up,” I whisper to myself, “It’s go-time.” Somehow the covers get flipped off. I prop myself up. My feet hit the floor. I stare at my feet and legs for a bit…grateful for how much work they’ve done, and how much they’re about to do…humbled.

Clothes, contacts, wallet, phone, gym bag, and down the stairs to the kitchen where I blend my recovery smoothie:  4 raw eggs, ½ avocado, 2 tbsp. unheated honey, 1 cup dark berries. Then, it’s time for breakfast:  I kick-back 2 raw eggs Rocky-style, grab a 16oz bottle of homemade green vegetable juice, and out the door.

There’s a CD playing in the car. The musicians are all telling me their stories. But I don’t hear them…not really. It’s a game, a technique. Get focused. Get up.

The 20 minute drive is a flash. I pull into the Team Howell Fitness/CrossFit Winona parking lot and notice that I’m the first one here. It occurs to me that I usually am, and it reminds me that several serious injuries from years ago have seen to this, have made this extra time to warm-up an absolute necessity. It bums me out for a moment. “You did the best you could back then,” I think to myself, “You’re here early now, and that’s all that matters.” My jaw tightens, my focus returns…I step inside, and leave the past outside.

It is quiet in my CrossFit® box. The squat racks stand empty. The rings hang motionless from the ceiling. And there, written on the main white board, is the WOD (Workout Of the Day). On the board this morning a particular phrase catches my eye. The words read, “Death by…” This phrase can precede any one of a number of exercises that occur during a CrossFit® WOD. For instance, it could be, “Death by Clean & Press,” “Death by Thrusters,” or my favorite to dread, “Death by Slamballs.”

I read no further and remind myself, “Stay here. Stay now. Don’t worry about the board. It doesn’t matter right now. You’ll cross that bridge when you come to it.” I’ve noticed that in CrossFit®, just like in my life, “worry” can destroy me, steal my resolve, and make me a victim even before I’ve done a single thing, before I’ve done a single… “exercise.” “Nope,” my mind repeats, “Stay here. Stay now.”

I proceed with my warm-up, which consists of several spine and hip mobilization exercises I learned long ago during my fitness career. I feel my body begin to loosen-up, switch-on. Other members—teammates—start to arrive. The conversation is light and involves discussion about last week’s workouts…the difficulty…the soreness. But never does the conversation drift even remotely toward complaining, quitting, or regret…and I love that.

The group warms-up together…jumping jacks, lunges, squats, jump rope and more. My mind drifts to my first couple of weeks in CrossFit® when just the two rounds of our warm-up routine alone were enough to tire me. Now, months later, the end of this warm-up triggers something primal inside of me…it’s time.

We then gather around the board where either owner/coach Mike or assistant coach Cassy typically presents the WOD. Today, it is Cassy. As her explanation proceeds, I notice that in today’s regimen there will be exercises at which I am not yet skilled. A bit of anxiety strikes as I anticipate the work…the discomfort. But then, I hear a voice like a drill sergeant in the back of my mind. It hollers, “Comfort is a trap!” The words ring in my head, and I realize that this is not a masochistic plea to seek out pain as a primary feedback mechanism. But rather, it is a simple observation of the phenomenon that becoming too comfortable—for too long—in any capacity—can be detrimental to my life.

Now, we’re in it…
Strict presses, jump-pull-ups and burpees. But nothing compares to the challenge of this day:  “Death by Back Squats.” Ten sets in ten minutes, beginning at the top of every minute, starting with one rep and adding a rep to each set as I go. Which means that as I tire, as fatigue sets in…the work increases. It occurs to me that this format represents the exact opposite of any instinct I’ve ever had…to do MORE as my energy becomes LESS! The goal:  Get to that 10th set…get those 55 reps.

I finish my 6-rep set and rack the bar with a grunt. I’m only 21 reps in, the minute is winding down, the next set is already on deck. Bent over at the waist, I’m gasping now, and I make no attempt to hide the fact that I’m already exhausted. Doubt creeps in, dragging embarrassment with it. How can I finish? How can I possibly give MORE when my body is telling me that it has LESS to offer?!

And then it hits me:  Life is not going to wait for me to “recover,” it never has. Circumstances have never been “perfect” for the next challenge…the next “set.” All I truly have is my decision about it all—right now, in this moment. I snap out of it at the memory of something Mike once said to me, “Take three deep breaths…you’ve got more.”

I do.
I did.
For, life does not wait.

Fifty-five reps and several exercises later, I’m on the ground…spent. I’m not the only one. I look around at the group that I’ve just shared a very private battle with, and I smile inside (my lips are too tired). Because, in that moment, it’s never been more obvious to me that the reality I experience during the pain of a WOD—as well as the joy of finishing it—is only real when shared. It occurs to me…this just might be the point of it all.

I manage to squeeze out a real smile…see you Tuesday.

(For more information on CrossFit®, please visit Team Howell Fitness/CrossFit Winona’s website here:

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About the Author…
Noah James Hittner is an independent Author and Musician from rural Wisconsin who has appeared on both radio and network television. His books and music inspire the mind and warm the heart. To contact Noah, or explore more of his work, visit:

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