The following is an excerpt from Train For Something Greater: An Athlete’s Guide to Spiritual Fitness available at Amazon.com.
CrossFitters have much in common: language (WOD, AMRAP, Pukie), diet (Paleo-Zone-Primal), apparel (Lulu, Vibram, Inov-8), and philosophy (pain is weakness leaving the body). Before we started talking, eating, dressing, and thinking alike, we shared a common experience: we were all humbled by CrossFit.
Here’s the story of my first CrossFit workout.
I was curious when I pulled into the parking lot of the industrial park where my friend Mark’s box was located. If I hadn’t been looking for it, I would have never noticed it. There was a small sign next to an open bay door. Inside, the wall was lined with old school workout equipment. No mirrors, TV’s, or machines. Lots of barbells, kettlebells, and medicine balls. Mark introduced me to his trainer, Eric, and my curiosity morphed into butterflies.
It felt a lot like visiting a new church.
Eric asked me a few questions, had me sign a waiver of liability, and explained that CrossFit is “constantly varied, functional movements executed at high intensity.” I had no idea what any of this meant, but it sounded good to me. To begin, Eric put me through a short warm-up that was harder than anything I’d done since my college days. While I was catching my breath, he introduced me to a “baseline” workout designed to assess my fitness while also giving me a taste of CrossFit.
When he wrote it on the whiteboard, it seemed like an innocuous combination of movements. I was going to complete a 500 meter row, 40 squats, 30 sit-ups, 20 push-ups, and 10 jumping pull-ups. I thought it would be a cakewalk, especially since I was working out three or four times a week and already in pretty good shape. This delusional self-assessment was based on nothing concrete except that it had been several months since I had to buy a pair of bigger jeans.
Just before I started, Eric said, “A good CrossFitter can do this in less than 5 minutes, but it will probably take you 8 or 9 minutes to finish it.”
I grew up in competitive athletic environments. I was an over-achieving basketball player in high school. I knew a challenge when I heard one. I decided I would do the workout in 6 or 7 minutes and then let Eric apologize for underestimating me.
He said, “3-2-1 Go!” and I started rowing, squatting, sitting, and pushing. I never got to the pulling part. When I finished my 20 push-ups, I stood up and walked over to the pull-up bar. I was 7 minutes in and only had 10 jumping pull-ups left. I grabbed the bar and tried to collect myself so I could jump/pull my chin over the bar.
What happened instead was that in my peripheral vision I saw darkness creeping up on me. Just before it pounced, I decided it was better to go down on my own rather than fall like a tree hacked to death by a lumberjack. The good news is that I didn’t faint. That would have been embarrassing. Instead, I spent the next 10 minutes flat on my back, unable to roll over and stand up. Other athletes had to step over me as they went about their training.
I was delirious and kept asking Eric to call 1-9-1 as he hovered over me. He offered me water and kept asking if I was okay. When it seemed likely that my family wouldn’t be testing the validity of the waiver he had me sign, he leaned in and said, “Welcome to CrossFit.”
I call it The Great Humbling.
Rather than see my humiliation as something to be ashamed of, I now view it as one of the most important moments in my life. As I drove away from the gym and tried to remember where I lived, I was sure of three things: 1) I was going to be sore in the morning, 2) I was in worse shape than I thought, 3) I was going to submit to Eric and this CrossFit methodology that had devastated me in less than 10 minutes.
My great humbling busted open a door, barred shut by my self-deluded ego, to an even greater transformation. I lost over thirty pounds, weaned myself off of anti-depressants, and rediscovered a love for competition that had lain dormant in me for over a decade.
Almost every CrossFitter I know has a “great humbling” story to tell. CrossFit shows no respect for our fitness background. Bodybuilders, personal trainers, triathletes, former All-Americans, out of shape has beens, self-deceived never weres; it doesn’t matter. We all end up in the same place: flat on our backs and begging everyone within earshot to make the pain stop.
First comes humiliation, then transformation.
This is also the necessary order of things in the realm of spiritual fitness.
 Translation: There is a good chance you’re about to throw up the protein shake you foolishly drank before coming here.
 My wife doesn’t like the term “humiliation” in this chapter because of its negative connotations. I understand her concern. For many, humiliation is synonymous with shame. This is not the way I’m using it here. In this context, humiliation refers to the act of being humbled, which in my experience, leads to a positive outcome. Plus, I like the way humiliation and transformation almost rhyme.
To read more, check out Train For Something Greater: An Athlete’s Guide to Spiritual Fitness available at Amazon.com.