A Spork In the Road: Falling In, Out, and Back In Like with CrossFit

After three and a half years of CrossFit, I’ve come to a spork in my training.

Yes, a spork. Not a fork.

A “fork in the road” implies that there are three or more clear paths. As it relates to training, you ask yourself, “What do I want to get out of training? To get stronger? To compete at a high level? To lose weight?” Once you decide which road to go down, you make the changes and get on with it. This is the point when you decide to commit to new programming, switch gyms, or get on a squat cycle. Or maybe it’s when you decide to step back all together and try something else for a while, like yoga or trapeze or um…a globo gym.

Sporks have no clear path. There are fork-like options, but you’re not prepared to make a change or fully jump into something new because you have no idea what you actually want. Mostly, you’re just swirling around in this vessel, half in, half out. Occasionally you’re on fire like the good ‘ole days, but most days you’re midway through a WOD asking yourself, “Why am I doing this? Why do I keep doing this?”  

And then you burpee again and again and again. Not because you want to or because it’s helping you reach a goal, but because you’re there, suck in the well of that spork.

A photo posted by Brooke Siem (@brookesiem) on

Much like the seven year relationship itch, I find that after about three or so years, many everyday athletes find themselves stuck in their own fitness spork. They spend the first year figuring it all out and enjoying weekly PRs. The second year gets spent competing in local competitions and seeing improvements on movements that were too advanced for year one. By the third year, it’s about putting two years of hard work together, because now that they’re stringing muscle ups together and cycling heavy weight, workouts are a whole new experience.

And then, one day, they’ve reached their peak. At least, they’ve reached the pinnacle of where they’re able to get given the amount of time they spend training. Everything stalls. The workouts start to seem the same, numbers don’t move, times don’t go down. It’s not a true plateau, because a plateau implies that things will perk up if you just push through it or train more. As an athlete who works out for an hour after work, training more isn’t an option. The spork has arrived.

Now what?

A year after competing at 2015 Regionals, this is where I’m at. I’m back to being a regular ‘ol gym member who takes regular classes and doesn’t insist on staying for an extra hour to do accessory work.

My first year, CrossFit provided me with everything I was missing: a goal to work for, an hour a day that gave me a break from my own mind, friends. The second year, I realized I could be competitive and worked my ass off to make a Regionals team. The third year, in the weeks after Regionals, I was enjoying the fruits of my labor by training with whoever was around and doing whatever they were doing. It was fun because I could actually do all the movements and keep up with them. It was stupid because I wasn’t following a program or being coached. I got injured.  

I took eight months off of CrossFit and spent a significant portion of that time irrationally mad at or jealous of those who were able to be in the gym. Occasionally I’d come in for a strict movement WOD or some bodybuilding style workouts, but generally, I rested and spent a lot of time in physical therapy. I tried to get back to my ballet roots, did some yoga, and took a lot of long walks, but mostly I was pissed that this thing that brought me so much joy could also bring me so much anger and frustration.

I forced myself to get used to the idea that I may never be able to do CrossFit ever again. At best, I figured I’d be able to get back into regular classes here and there, but I’d never be competitive. I’d reached my goal of competing at Regionals, and I needed to get to a point where that was enough.

It was enough. It is enough.

A photo posted by Brooke Siem (@brookesiem) on

Finally, after plenty of physical and mental therapy (getting your brain back in the right space is a huge aspect of recovering from injury), I got back in the gym.

My second workout back was 16.1, and even though I knew going into it that my score wouldn’t be great, it wasn’t until halfway through the workout that I realized something bigger had shifted: I no longer cared. I was happy to be able to physically do the workout, but beyond that, all of the spark I once had was gone.

At the time, I figured that internal need to move faster would return once I got my lungs back. Five months later, my lungs were back but that drive never returned. I’d gone full spork, so much so that what was once the hour long break for my brain is now the time when I feel most vulnerable. Every emotion regarding my current life situations comes flooding through just because I can’t cycle 125lb clean and jerks anymore.

And then I judge myself for being so whiny. Suck it up, brain.

I know that I’m not the only one who has experienced this shift. I’ve had conversations with athletes of all levels, from those you’ve heard of to regular people who go into the box before or after work. This phenomenon isn’t limited to CrossFitters either. I’ve heard these same words come out of the mouths of marathon runners, triathletes, Olympic lifters, and die hard spinners. We all say the same thing: something has changed, but I can’t put my finger on it and I don’t know what to do about it. The most interesting part about these conversations, though, is that none of these people have actually quit. We all keep at it because it’s part of who we are.

A photo posted by Brooke Siem (@brookesiem) on

Right about now, someone out there is all set to write some passive aggressive comment about how there are bigger problems in the world and stop complaining and blah blah barf. Obviously this is not a worldwide crisis, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. No one commits to something for years and then doesn’t wonder what it means when things change.  

Which brings me back to the spork in the road. At this point, CrossFit has been around long enough that a good majority of people are out of the honeymoon phase. Most are actively trying to figure out how functional fitness fits into their life as a whole, without having it define their entire life. Perhaps this means learning to work within your limitations. Maybe your 40 year old shoulders can’t handle muscle-ups anymore, so you’ve accepted that it’s strict pull-ups from now on out. Or maybe it means letting go of the day to day competition, and understanding that every day in the gym allows you to live a better life outside of the gym.

For me, I realized that CrossFit gives me an opportunity explore something I’ve always wanted to do: teach. With that one decision to (finally) invest time and money into my Level 1, I’ve noticed that my excitement and motivation has started to come back. There’s little chance that I will ever be as strong or fast as I once was, but as it turns out, that’s really not the point.

Fitness is a long-term relationship that adapts over time. We’re all eventually going to age out of our current mindset and abilities. So, grab your spork and explore it, embrace it, learn to understand it. No change comes without loss, but nothing great ever came from something that stayed the same.

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