My Third Year of CrossFit: Lessons from the Pandemic

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I have been doing CrossFit for three years now, and I thought it would be a good time for another recap. Without a doubt, the thing that went well this year in CrossFit was my lifting. I made pretty solid gains in most of my lifts as you can see in the chart below. I’m not too proud of my gains in the strict press, but I am still working hard at it. I am learning that shoulder strength really takes time.

My One-Rep Maxes are Improveing…

2017201820192020 Goals
Dead Lift150205255300
Back Squat 155195255300
Front Squat125155215250
Bench Press140160210250
Strict Press90115140175

The Impact of the Pandemic on My Training Routine

While I kept working out consistently the entire year during the pandemic, I noticed a dramatic drop off in motivation as the year progressed. We stopped meeting at the CrossFit I attend pretty early in the year. At first, I found myself still doing all the exercises and still working out at high-intensity almost every day. Yet I found myself slowly tapering off on the high-intensity parts over time. I remember walking down the hall to my home gym feeling like “This really sucks. I don’t have any energy.” Most of the time I would push through and make myself do the workout, but after 6 months I noticed that the number of high-intensity workouts had dropped to two per week.

This really sucks. I don’t have any energy.

CrossFit Lessons in 2020

Lesson #1: You Need People to Push Yourself Hard

I realized something quite obvious this year: I need people to push myself hard. At this point in my fitness journey, I don’t need people to stay in shape, care for myself, and workout regularly. I have that discipline already. But if I want to push my heart rate into Zone 4 with any kind of regularity, I need other people to workout out with me. I find this true outdoors as well. Even if I have a partner who is less fit or less skilled than I am in a tough outdoor adventure, just having someone there changes my energy level. There is some kind of magic thing that happens with other people. We are social animals and we cannot escape it.

There is some kind of magic thing that happens with other people. We are social animals and we cannot escape it.

Lesson #2: We All Need Coaches and Mentors

The second less I’ve learned this year is related to the first: We need people to coach us. If you watch the video on this post, there is a clip of me doing a deadlift with my one rep max. My form is absolutely terrible and I nearly injured myself badly doing it. Unfortunately, I can’t do much about that now. As a workaround during the pandemic, I am videotaping myself on my deadlifts so I can correct my form. It’s not as good as having a coach, but it’s better than nothing.

Lesson #3: Intensity All the Time is Not Always Beneficial

The third lesson I learned this year is about intensity. If you do CrossFit then you know that cross-fitters love intensity (getting your heart rate into Zone 4 for short workouts). And, in defense of CrossFit, short intense workouts are a fantastic way to get into the best shape of your life. That said, for me, CrossFit is a piece of the puzzle. The real sport I am training for is climbing and mountaineering, so I need to put a lot more energy into endurance training.

I did a lot of long-distance hiking over the summer without much intensity training and I discovered something startling. I remember coming down from a remote pass in the Sierras called Baxter Pass. In two days I had gained and lost over 10,000 feet of elevation with a full pack. The day I came off the trail I had put in a 20-mile day and realized that I still felt great by the time I reached my car. This was a level of fitness that I had not seen in myself before, but it made sense. I had spent the entire summer doing long slow distance hiking with a heavy pack and my consistent training paid off. I realized, that depending on your sport, the all-intensity-all-the-time mantra of CrossFit isn’t always beneficial. I’m certainly not going to quit CrossFit, but I might dial back how much intensity I do and how often I do it. given my plan to pursue big High Sierra adventures.

Keep it Fresh by Learning a New Movement

I am still hoping for a 300-pound deadlift next year. I didn’t get there this year, but maybe next? I am really looking forward to CrossFit with people again when this COVID thing is over. In the meantime, I am still learning and trying to master new movements and exercises. At the moment I am working on my toes-to-bar and I’m doing pretty good. I can do rep after rep without swinging with is a huge improvement. I am working on getting my reps higher. I am also working on my pullups, adding a weighted pull-up component every week to my workouts. CrossFit puts a big emphasis on learning new movements that really keeps it from getting boring. I find when I hit a wall of boredom and lack motivation, switching to the mastery of a new movement tends to get me unstuck.

I hope my journey gives you some encouragement to keep pressing into your own fitness journey. As all crossfitters love to say, “Keep embracing the suck.” It’s totally worth it.