I’m a Former CrossFit Games Athlete and Champion. Transitioning to “Normal” Fitness Wasn’t Easy

When Lindy Barber was no longer working out for a living, a lot more than training had to change.

Exercise is something we have been told is important for a healthy lifestyle. Most people who exercise do it something like 2-5 days a week, an hour or so at a time, switching up their routines based on what they feel like doing that day. Some try weight training one day, a spin or yoga class another day, and potentially some fun intramural sports with friends to finish the week off. It’s traditionally done as something that allows you to excel in other areas of your life, but when you are a professional athlete, fitness is your career. You don’t exercise, you work.

Until 2018 at the age of 29, exercise had never been something that I did for my health; it had always been a part of the requirements for my athletic success. Exercise was not only practice and games but also running extra sprints and hills on my own to better myself for my club and high school soccer teams. It was extra lifting sessions and agility work before classes to become a better defender for my college soccer team.

[Related: How to integrate mental toughness into your training.]

Exercise then peaked as my full-time, eight-hours-a-day job while I trained as a professional CrossFit athlete for six years. I competed at the highest level as an individual for the first three years and then on a world championship winning team for the final three. But after retiring from elite competition, I faced more hurdles in my transition than most initially expect. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The Price of Fitness Dedication

After this many years (roughly 20 for me) this level of dedication to fitness starts to wear on you. Not only physically for your body, but mentally as well. You have been working in a profession that is based on your success as an athlete and how well your body can perform at your sport. You beat your body down day after day and still expect it to perform at its highest level whenever asked.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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An injury is not only a disappointment but also a missed paycheck. There comes a time in every athlete’s life where either your body starts to demand a break, or you’re mentally ready for a change. You feel like you’re ready to work out “like a normal person” and not have to train for multiple hours every day. You’re ready to not need to count every calorie that you eat every single day and you’re ready to finally go to a cocktail hour with friends whenever you want. You’re ready to eat cake on your birthday and a cookie on a Wednesday if you feel like it.

[Read more: The toughest CrossFit Open workouts.]

Transitioning Back to “Normal” Life

This transition for me was one that seemed GLORIOUS on the surface. I could work out however I wanted, whenever I wanted, and if I didn’t feel like working out on a Saturday and would rather go to brunch with friends, I could! I could take as much time off for exercise as I wanted, and even have a glass of wine at dinner without a worry that it might slightly disturb my sleep. I got to be “normal” again.

The allure of feeling “normal” is one that wears off, almost immediately. I took a total of about two weeks off from exercise before wanting to move again. I had the desire to work out because I do enjoy it, but because I didn’t have a workout plan anymore, I immediately felt lost. I didn’t know what I actually wanted to do for exercise, because I had been told what to do for training for so long.

I had no idea how to make exercise decisions for myself: Am I doing this workout because I actually wanted to do it, or because I felt like I should? Am I still working out everyday because I actually want to, or because I have instilled a level of guilt in myself for missing a workout while as a professional athlete. Was I truly confident in my own body and okay with gaining a few pounds, or was I confident in my body because of what I could make it do in competition, and it’s results from such a disciplined life?

I thought I was going to be able to fully embrace and enjoy the freedom of athlete retirement, but these questions and concerns were now the thoughts and the anxieties that began to control my days. I was not enjoying the exercise freedom as I had anticipated. I could feel the effects of my decrease in exercise volume and food freedom and it made me feel like I was, “losing myself.”

I realized that the disciplined lifestyle that I had created was who I identified with. I no longer knew who I was, or what I wanted without that discipline.

[Read more: CrossFit’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for inclusion.]

Evaluating New Goals

Lindy Barber
Lindy Barber

I had to take a huge step back and re-evaluate what fitness and exercise meant to me. I needed to honestly address questions like: Why did I even want to workout anymore? What was the purpose of working out? Did I even like working out? Did I ever truly enjoy my training or was it just something that I was good at, so I told myself I did? After a lot of soul searching, many months of some mild depression, anxiety and extreme stress I finally figured out the following:

  1. I DID enjoy exercise. It made me feel good, it gave me energy and I liked the feeling of completing hard work
  2. I needed a complete break from CrossFit. Since it had been my profession, the desire to complete the workouts as exercise instead of training for my career was not a distinction that I could make at this time.
  3. One hour a day WAS enough exercise. I didn’t need to double up my workout sessions each day to “earn” my rest or “earn” more food.
  4. My new reason to exercise was to be healthy and to live a long and happy life. End of story.

It’s now 2021, and it’s taken me over two years to get to a place where I can workout for about an hour a day, four or five days a week, and only exercise in a way that makes me FEEL good. I no longer feel like I have to be lying on the floor after my workout for it to feel successful. I no longer have to feel like I need to do heavy weights every single day, and constantly be trying to achieve new heavy singles. I have learned how I actually enjoy to exercise, how often my body likes to exercise and what fitness lifestyle allows me to live my best and fullest life.

Ultimately, I have found how to exercise like a “normal” person again. I believe that this adventure with exercise will continue to change and evolve as I do in the upcoming years, but overcoming these initial issues of finding peace in my relationship with fitness is a hurdle that I never expected to be so high.

When you go to workout today, tomorrow or whenever you do, promise to enjoy every minute of it and use your extra energy to continue to be a badass in everything else you do. I’ll promise to do the same.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.