Embrace the Suck: What I Learned at the Box About Hard Work, (Very) Sore Muscles, and Burpees Before Sunrise

A great read about Crossfit shedding light on the lingo, culture, and mindset of Crossfitters. A little old (published in 2014), but it's a good read for those of us just starting out or thinking about starting.

When CrossFit started to become popular, I was very much a skeptic because I've always worked out and worked out on my own. I did lifted weights, biked, swam, and ran. I called myself a runner and a triathlete and thought myself fit enough. I enjoyed training for road races and simply being fit. I didn't need CrossFit and all the craziness that went with it: all the weird exercises, shirtless-ness, lingo, and seemingly cultish mindset.

Especially that last part. If you know a CrossFitter, it's because they told you that they were a CrossFitter. After working out at a CrossFit gym for six months now, I know why: We all work very hard at our workouts to either finish, improve a skill, or just show up. Me picking up this book six months into my third try starting CrossFit was good timing because it shed light on the constant soreness that I was feeling, the how and the why of Crossfit, and the mental aspects of high intensity interval training helping to improve my performance in "the box".

Key insights

The lingo

This is a good place to start with the language of Crossfit. When I started out, I was intimidated and asked the silly questions. What does AMRAP mean? WOD? What does "tabata" stand for? Madden does a good job of sprinkling in these definitions throughout the book. Here are a few:

  • WOD - workout of the day
  • AMRAP - as many rounds as possible
  • Rx - prescribed workout (i.e., no modifications to the workout)
  • strict - no extra movement, just the exercise
  • kip - generating momentum with other parts of the body to assist with the exercise
  • box - CrossFit gym
  • tabata - a style of interval training, usually 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest

The how and the why

A chapter dedicated to how and why CrossFit works explains the premise of the exercise programming. It's about functional fitness, increasing every athletes work capacity, and varied workouts. Functional fitness is the idea that the movements and workouts that you do are designed around the movements that life will throw at you. Increasing your work capacity is as much mental toughness as it is physical strength and ability. And the varied workouts help to improve both the functional fitness and work capacity.

Mental toughness

The booked helped me improve my own mental toughness.

For one thing, going fast is hard, and it hurts.

Yup. Pretty much. And as I look back on my past workout history, I was a "slogger." Need to run 10 miles today? No problem, pace it out. Lifting and I get a little winded? No problem, just take a longer break. Not feeling like working out today? That's ok, the bed's nice and comfy. This isn't mental toughness.

Madden talks about the difficulties he has. Not only is he learning the proper form of the movements, but he also has his ego to deal with. A challenging workout ahead and want to quit? Nope. Chip away until your'e done or the clock runs out. Don't quit in the middle of a workout! I've felt the exact same ways in the middle of a WOD. I found it encouraging that I'm not alone in wanting to quit ... it feels like it when you're dying and everyone else is getting their reps in.

A big takeaway from this book was the idea of "chipping away." If you've got a long workout ahead of you, say like Murph: 1 mile-run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 air squats, and 1-mile run, chipping away is where you do the workout in small chunks. Chip, chip, chip. Focus on that small chip in front of you and eventually the workout will end. This change in mindset has helped in alleviating anxiety knowing the pain and work I'm about to put myself through.

Pain, fatigue, and nausea

So I'm lucky. I'm part of gym whose members choose not to get sick in a workout and with coaches who know how to watch out for potential injuries. But me being older, I get to deal with much more soreness and fatigue compared to the younger membership base of the box. Here's another great quote:

One of the keys to survive - and thrive - in CrossFit is learning how to tell the difference between regular old soreness brought on by hard exercise, and the kind of pain that's telling you something is way, way wrong, or at least wrong enough to become way, way wrong if left unattended.

In other words, get used to constant soreness because CrossFit will constantly exercise different parts of your body. The chapter was helpful for me getting a little into the science of exercise physiology explaining concepts like delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), the utility of foam rolling, banded exercises, and PVC pipes, and how to do a "rest day." Hint: you don't really lay around and do nothing, you're just not WODing.

Get the book or pass

Definitely get the book if you're just starting out or thinking about starting out.

Madden does an awesome job of sprinkling his own personal experience (to include how his childhood athletics shaped his fitness in adulthood) into the culture and mindset of CrossFit. It's helped turn down that voice telling me it's okay to quit in the middle of a workout by transforming the way that I approach my box's WODs.