What sets CrossFit apart from Orange Theory, HIIT Boot Camps and all the other high-intensity functional fitness knock-offs out there is the pursuit of higher level skills, skills that require not just strength, mobility and conditioning but skills that also require coordination, balance, agility and accuracy.  In other words, the hardest types of skills to develop and the ones that help you develop the greatest athleticism transferrable to sport and life outside the gym.

This includes weightlifting but for most of us the more challenging domain is gymnastics.  From the pull up to the ring dip to the skin-the-cat, the pull over, the muscle up, the handstand push up, the cartwheel, the forward roll and the handstand walk, the gymnastics elements provide perhaps the greatest challenge to CrossFit athletes.  You may possess the tenacity to grind through Murph, but do you have the determination required to develop a front lever?

Developing these skills is neither quick nor easy for most of us and the road to basic competency is paved with hours of frustrating practice.  If you watch children at play, they love to challenge themselves and each other to test new skills, to test the threshold of their abilities.  And they delight when repeated failures lead eventually to breakthroughs.  At CrossFit we cultivate that joyful, youthful spirit of adventure and exploration that most adults seem to abandon.  Not everyone has the patience for practice.  In fact, most adults would rather avoid skills that fall outside their domain of competency.  And so they stop growing and they start aging into the “inevitable” fitness decline.

Several Christmases ago I decided to give myself the gift of a back flip.  I’d always admired athletes who could do this but am terrified of going over backwards.  I hired a gymnastics coach for one-on-one instruction.  There was fear.  There were tears.  There were more than a few bumps and bruises.  I promise you it wasn’t pretty, but by the end I got it.  I got a few in fact.  I’m by no means a master.  I’m not yet ready to perform this skill without a spotter and some good mats for safety, but I traveled the difficult road from can’t to can.

At the 2020 Open, Sandman and I both knocked off 5 consecutive muscle ups to open 20.5.  Thanks to some tips from The Truth, they felt easier than ever.  So I was surprised to hear from him that my technique was still far from optimal.  A glass-half-full guy, I heard this critique as an opportunity.  If I can get 5 with inefficient technique, I can’t be more than a few technical fixes away from my goal 10 in a row!  Thus inspired, I set out to buy myself my 2019 Christmas gift.  Sandman, Silk and I hired The Truth for a semi-private training session on the kipping muscle up.

From the start it was apparent that Silk is on another level entirely.  As a coach you have to feel pride to see an athlete execute with such skill.  As an athlete it is both inspiring to behold and also serves as a stark, disappointing contrast when you realize your execution looks nothing like that.  I could take solace however in the fact that at the outset Sandman’s execution was a few shades worse than mine.  That wouldn’t last.  Both Sandman and Silk quickly improved and managed to complete some great looking muscle ups.  I, on the other hand, could not get over the rings with the new technique.  The Truth, perhaps sensing the little storm cloud of frustration brewing over my head, tried repeatedly to reassure me with verbal pats on the back, “It’s okay Corey, you just need practice…”

“I know!” I wanted to snap back.  It’s always like that with me.  And it’s never just a “little bit” of practice, it’s always a whole lot more practice than anyone else in the room needed to master the basics of that skill!  I really don’t know why I thought that maybe this time it would be different.  After so many years of evidence to the contrary, how did I delude myself into believing that this time I might progress at the same rate as everyone else?

The Truth introduced some helpful basic exercises as stepping stones toward developing the skill.  Once again, the dream team seemed to get them while I struggled lacking both the necessary strength and mobility.  By the end of our session, my 10 consecutive muscle ups looked much farther away than when I’d walked in, maybe a birthday gift rather than a Christmas gift – but only if I put in a lot of consistent work week-after-frustrating-week.  As I did for my first muscle up, my first kipping pull up, my first handstand walk, my first bar muscle up, my first pistol, my first overhead squat and my first so many other elusive skills.  It’s enough to make you want to quit and join Orange Theory!

I share all this in order to acknowledge each of you who came out Saturday and worked diligently for 30 minutes toward your goal of muscle ups or pull ups or ring dips or L-sits or handstand walking.  I want you to know I appreciate the painstaking effort required to achieve each of these skills and I’m fully aware of the frustration that can too often turn into discouragement.  If you haven’t seen me struggle same as you, it is only because you haven’t known me long enough.  Fifteen years ago when I started my CrossFit journey, I did not possess many of these skills.  I had to learn them the hard way just like you.  And I could never have done that at a HIIT Cardio Boot Camp.

Saturday we saw a lot of good work accomplished.  Magnum, Smokey and Sandman all demonstrated strict muscle ups in sets of two or three.  Silk showed off some smooth-as-you-know-who kipping muscle ups with effortless grace.  Magnum and Smash held RX’d L-Sits from the floor, a feat that is still beyond my reach.  Smokey took some great strides forward in the handstand walk while Doc Disc got his first 16 foot handstand walk then duplicated it on his very next attempt!  And many more of you developed greater competency with pull ups and chest-to-bar pull ups as well as ring dips.  It may not have been as fun or sexy as a typical CrossFit metcon but it was a very productive training day!

Because I embrace the often-times frustrating challenges CrossFit continues to place before me, I am fitter now that I was 15 years ago and can perform skills I never thought possible when I started.  I assure you that if you stick to it, the same will be true for future you.  So, as frustrating as the program often is, I refuse to surrender to discouragement knowing that 15 years from now future me will be performing skills that today seem impossibly far from reach.

And armed with the right mindset, you will too.  Have you challenged yourself today?