If the title of this post is foreign to you, it shouldn’t be—it is one of the core tenants of CrossFit and, to me, the most important. In the early days of CrossFit, it seemed that there was an understanding that no matter how fast you could run, how much weight you could lift, or how many muscle-ups you could rep out you could always be better. More than that, the prevailing sentiment was that the only winner of the workout was the workout itself, and that anyone who entered battle with Fran, Nate, or the Filthy Fifty left beaten, humbled, and better off for it. The community aspect of CrossFit formed around this tenant, and people grew close as they suffered together.
Over the last few years, however, the competitive side of CrossFit has captured the community’s focus, often at humility’s expense. It’s been years since I’ve heard “check your ego at the door” and, to be honest, there have been many times when I’ve needed to hear it. In my 11 years of doing CrossFit, I’ve sustained two significant workout-related injuries, both within the last five years and both as a result of hubris. The first happened while I was attempting a 10 rep deadlift at the same weight as a friend who I thought I was definitely stronger than. I wasn’t. I ended up tearing a tendon in my abdominal wall and not being able to work out for months. The second time was at a partner competition, where I had the honor of representing Depot alongside the legendarily fit and handsome Jason Dupere (sorry lads and ladies, he’s taken!). Long story short, I held on to an overhead squat too long because I didn’t want to let down my partner or my gym and ended up dislocating my elbow, putting me out of full training for another couple months.
In both these instances, things went awry when I shifted the focus from myself to the people I was competing against or with. But while the deleterious effects of my ego were well-defined in these cases, ego can also sabotage our fitness is much subtler ways. “Miscounting” reps during a workout or shortchanging a movement’s range of motion are probably the most common manifestations of ego in the gym and they take away from both the physical and mental benefits CrossFit provides. Ultimately, you alone serve to benefit from your time in the gym and cheating your workout is simply cheating yourself. In more candid, CrossFitesque terms, cheating in a workout is like faking an orgasm while masturbating.
Similarly, but less intuitively, ego can undermine an athlete’s fitness by holding them back via their insecurities. Many people do not join a gym at all because they are worried what other people might think of them. Saying “I’m too fat,” “I’m too old,” and/or “I’m too out of shape” to do CrossFit is just as much an ego trip as is skipping reps in a workout, the other side of the same coin. Many people, once in the gym, are held back from truly immersing themselves in the experience because they are too worried about what people will think of them. They protect their egos by lifting alone, not talking much with others, and generally not investing emotionally into the community because they see themselves as less fit thus a lesser gym member. This is yet another way that ego can impede an athlete’s ability to reap the full benefit of attending a CrossFit gym.
CrossFit holds the capacity to both inflate and mitigate ego. And while I do not think it’s possible to ever truly overcome our need for external validation, there is a lot to be gained from trying to do so. So the next time you’re headed into the gym, I encourage you to stop and think about what you are about to do, what you can bring to the workout and what you can take out of it. Then, as you step through the doors and into Depot, make the conscious decision to check your ego. Your workout will be better off for it, and so will you.