Balance in CrossFit is Key to Success and Longevity in the Sport
It’s January and temps have been sub 20F for the last few days, but things are about to heat up this week down in Miami as Karen, Marisa and Shannon head down to The Wodapalooza to compete and represent CrossFit Amoskeag in the Elite Team series for the first time together! Many of you have likely seen them compete locally or at Regionals and have also seen them performing superhuman feats in the gym during training and probably think, “those girls must do nothing but work out all day!” The truth of the matter is, they’re very normal, with careers and lives outside of the gym…and they put their booty shorts one leg at a time.
So how do they do it? As we jump straight into the New Year, many of us have set goals for ourselves. Whether they be for CrossFit, lifestyle, physical or mental reasons, we thought it’d be best to hear from some of the best on how they achieved their success.
Life, Work, Gym – How do you fit it all in?
Karen: Very carefully. It is a very delicate balancing act. As much as we try, it is impossible to make more hours in the day which means at least 8 are reserved for rest, 8-10 for work, 1-2 for driving and eating which leaves a solid 4-8 for training. The most important of all is sleep, without enough rest training intensity is reduced, mental acuity at work is destroyed, and all productivity is lost. Beyond that, work will always have my priority over training; there are days that I would love to spend 3 hours in the gym but I have something due for work that keeps me out of the gym at all…I don’t stress it when that happens, it balances out long term and there are a lot of benefits to giving the body an added rest from strenuous wods especially when stress levels are already elevated. My career is why I went to college, pursued my MBA and pays the bills so the prioritization over crossfit is a no-brainer.
I consider myself very lucky that I enjoy and look forward to going to my job and CrossFit pretty equally – most of my coworkers are active in some way or another and there is a strong company culture to get outside and stay active so as long as the job is getting done it is rare that someone looks down on me being out of the office for a little over an hour at lunch to sneak in an extra workout or lifting session. In the past this hasn’t always been the case which led to unhealthy habits of using sick or vacation time just to be able to create enough hours to get a workout in.
In a lot of ways I credit CrossFit with recognizing that I couldn’t be happy in a life where I spent 40+ hours a week at a job I dreaded and would never be passionate about. Had it not been for truly enjoying CrossFit I may not have ever realized how unsatisfied I was in previous careers because I wouldn’t have had that reason to desperately want to get out to play.
Getting to and setting goals and priorities
Shannon: Know that your goals don’t have to be the same as the next person’s. One of the greatest aspects of this sport is that you get to set your OWN goals and prioritize how to get there. Goals don’t magically get met so you need to ensure you work on them. I’ve asked more questions then I care to admit to, have taken initiative and have stayed persistent. Failing is a sign of trying so don’t be afraid of it. I often set goals based on my weaknesses and do my best to make progress when I have an extra few minutes of training time. I’m a firm believer that a little bit goes a long way and love having the opportunity to add in a little extra accessory work.
This sport can be a great fit for anyone because there are so many different levels of aspiration within it and it’s up to YOU to decide what you want from it. With that said, you also get to create your own goals and mine was to compete, so here I am J.
Marisa: My number one priority every year is the open and doing my best in that. Following my performance in the open my number one goal is qualifying for regionals. All other competitions throughout the year are for fun and practice, I try not to take them too seriously.
Karen: I think I already addressed priorities but as for goals I ignore about 95% of what are considered “SMART” (specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, time related). I stick to more of a “Am I having fun? Am I making progress?” mindset with no specific or measurable bounds for where I’m going or should end up – work is a little more structured with deadlines and expectations but my personal goals come down to the same two questions.
What do you leave out or forego in order to stay so competitive?
Shannon: The number one thing to leave out is negativity. Surround yourself with people who won’t call you crazy for the dedication to the gym and for trying to live a healthier lifestyle. If you have a positive mindset, everything else will follow. I consider myself extremely lucky to have those who have stuck around and for the training partners that I have…. Sometimes, I wonder if we laugh more then we lift! Second, expecting every day to go as planned or to be as good a training day as the next. Reality is, you will probably have more of the less impressive days in the gym then you do good ones. Don’t stress yourself out over it. Stress will only limit you more and bring you back to square one of negativity outweighing positivity. Sounds cliché… but it’s true! I miss lifts all the time… the difference between myself as an athlete now vs. when I first started…. Laughing it off and work toward it for the future. Third… training/the gym IS my “Me-Time.” I forego watching TV to avoid getting hooked into a favorite show at night and get up first thing on the weekend and head to the gym to keep a routine. People often ask when do I do things for myself…. The gym IS for myself and in turn, I have given up a few habits that I was happy to kick… including staying up later than I should and getting hooked on a TV show. On my off days and weekends, I take advantage of seeing friends for dinner or splurging on breakfast on Sunday’s (Mickey and I love French Toast!). … or taking my nieces and nephews out for a “date”…. I don’t HAVE to leave anything out, but I definitely CHOSE to.
Marisa: I would say my social life outside the gym is much less than what it used to be. I don’t necessarily look at this as something I’ve given up it’s just my life choice. I would not be able to train my full ability if I was always out late or hungover on the weekends.
Karen: I’m not sure if I necessarily consider it leaving it out but an outside social life has definitely been forgone. I have had amazing people come into and out of my life and I know a lot I have fallen out of touch with is completely my fault – spending the hours of 5:30-8 at the gym every weekday in addition to Saturday morning training sessions makes it very difficult to grab dinner or drinks or do other things to stay in touch with friends who do not share my enthusiasm for fitness – I do sometimes take rest days to catch up with friends but not nearly as often as several of those friends deserve for putting up with me. I also love rec leagues and playing different sports but almost never make an ongoing weekly commitment because of the effective I know it would have on my training.
How do you manage diet?
Shannon: I have been working with Mike Molloy, PhD on my nutrition. He has been a HUGE help and the perfect addition to my CrossFit journey. I now count my macros , something I said I would never do. But after being stubborn for a few years, I am quickly learning that under eating (which I was by a lot) was just as detrimental as over eating. Knowing what you are putting into your body is equivalently important as knowing of HOW MUCH you are consuming.
I plan my meals in advance and prep my food for the work week, on Sunday’s. Planning and prepping my food in advance is a huge benefit and I quickly saw how much time and sanity it saved me throughout the week. Many people “don’t have time” but the truth is, planning your food in advance takes no more than 30 minutes. Prepping your food may take an hour or so but once you go through the process a few times, you learn ways to cut down time. Like anything, practice makes perfect and it’s no different when trying to plan your food in advance. Prepping your breakfast and lunches ahead of time, will save you time every day when you get home, allowing more time for other things. It will also help you stay on track with your food instead of grazing, spending additional money, or taking in food you don’t necessary need.
Don’t get me wrong, on the weekends I’m not as strict on my food as a reward for the week, but I don’t go overboard. I love my donuts and that’s jusssst something that will always remain, ha!
Marisa: I eat mostly healthy foods and try to avoid anything processed. I do not count or weigh any of my food I flex what I’m eating according to how my body feels. I avoid dairy and limit the amount of animal protein I take in and eat an abundance of vegetables, seeds, and fruit.
Karen: The only way I can manage my diet is through weekly meal prep – typically a Sunday afternoon activity. My office has no cafeteria which makes vending machine type snacks far too appealing if I don’t pack my meals. Most Sundays I will make 5 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 5 morning snacks and then will do granola or trail mix as a post lunch snack. Depending on the week sometimes meal prep consists of crockpotting everything to save time other times I am able to put more time and effort in…but cooking is another of those activities I consider fun when I have the time. Weeks when I am less prepared I have learned to find the best possible options at restaurants when at all possible I try to go to one’s that I know are either farm to table or locally sourced to try to keep the quality of the food similar to that which I make myself. There are plenty of times I still don’t eat as clean as I could but then I fall back on the “Once a Runner” quote: “If the furnace was hot enough, anything would burn”; sleep, work and training still find their way to the top of my priorities over diet but that is partially because I know I am putting in the time elsewhere to offset some of the negative side effects of an occasional breakfast sandwich or muffin.
A final note that I think is worth mentioning when considering priorities, balance, etc. is that especially as a semi-competitive crossfitter, I have come to know how my body feels; I know how it feels with excess stress, lack of sleep, malnutrition, etc. none of those feelings are desirable. Over the last 6 months I have lost about 6-8 pounds, it wasn’t because I noticed it looking in the mirror but instead it was gymnastics felt heavier, lifting felt slower – first step to losing that weight was making coffee at home to eliminate stopping at Buckley’s where I would inevitably buy a muffin every time. That general awareness kept me in check with my preparation better than anything else I could imagine. Especially for people newer to crossfit it can be amazing how much you can learn about your own body by keeping a general log of what you eat, how much you sleep, stress and work, how you workout and how you feel – but don’t use it for accountability as much as a science experiment; our bodies are all different and will respond to different stresses and challenges very differently – awareness is the beginning of overcoming unique struggles.