CrossFit: Why Is Everyone Yelling At Me?!

Did you read that title as if you were a 5-yr-old kid at the dinner table while your mommy was yelling at you to eat your vegetables? Good. Because that’s how it was intended.

Note: This post has been edited since it’s original version. I realized that it might be misinterpreted by some, and there was a better way to make the same point. It is aimed at the CrossFit culture as a whole, and to serve as a reminder to the broader community.

This article was inspired by today’s WOD at CrossFit Addict, and the hard work of one of our newest members, Kim. More on Kim’s story at the bottom of this article, but first I’d like to say a few things about motivation.

First off, let’s be clear. This is not unique to CrossFit (the yelling-for-motivation or the vegetables), but both definitely have their place in the sport. For the sake of me not getting hungry again, let’s focus on the yelling. We’ll save the veggies for later.

While I’ve only worked out at a few CrossFit gyms, it comes as no surprise to me when I see folks very loudly encouraging others. I hear chants of “Let’s go!”, “Come on, keep moving!”, “Down and up, down and up!”, “Don’t stop!”, “What are you doing?!”… you get the idea.

CrossFit workouts are, generally speaking, very intense. Intense people are drawn to CrossFit, and thus, their intensity shows. Comments like these, spoken at a loud volume, certainly have their place on the motivation-and-encouragement spectrum. For some—I would suspect mostly elite athletes & adrenaline junkies—this technique works. It’s highly motivating, and gets those athletes to perform at an incredibly high level. A level they would not have reached on their own.

The problems with this type of motivation

1. Most athletes in a CrossFit gym are NOT at this level.

They’re not here to do competitions, compare themselves to others, and beat themselves into the ground until they can’t stand up any longer. They want to get in shape. They believe CrossFit is one of the best ways to do that. And the community of people is awesome to be around.

CrossFit prides itself on being scalable. And I truly believe it is. I, for one, have scaled, and am still scaling, quite a few movements. And I continue to see people enjoying workouts AND getting stronger, all while scaling the movements.

So please, let’s not treat everyone the same. Stop assuming everyone in there is a superhero-inspired, former athlete, hardcore badass. They’re not. And some of them never want to be.

CrossFit should welcome those folks the same way it welcomes the elite—with a smile, a handshake, and a collective “Let’s get to work.”

2. Different people are motivated by different things.

People respond in different ways to various types of stimuli. What motivates one person might drive another insane. What I do to make her smile during a WOD might make him want to punch me in the face.

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to motivating others.

Some people work harder when you yell at them. Others do better when you help them count their reps. Some like to be stopped & coached mid-WOD. And some definitely want to be left alone.

To be a good motivator, you have to first understand your audience. Please be careful next time you’re about to raise your voice. Take a second after class to get to know that person. Talk to them about the WOD. Establish a better understanding of what makes them tick. And then you can get them to get more out of their workout.

If you fail to understand them, what you think is encouragement might be just the thing that drives them out of your gym.

3. You might not know that person’s goal for the day.

There are so many movements in CrossFit, it can take years to become efficient at them all. And a few more years to perform them all as prescribed. No one becomes great at everything overnight.

It’s important to pick a movement to focus on, and work on it. Consistently. Maybe it’s a broad goal of focusing on heavier weights one week. Maybe it’s barbell technique. Or skip the barbell all together and focus on endurance. Mobility. Handstands. Double-unders. There’s so much variety in CrossFit that you can work your entire body and still skip out on quite a few “staple CrossFit movements.” Don’t be afraid to tell your coach “No.”

A good motivator needs to understand this. You might see someone taking longer-than-you’d-like-to-see breaks between reps, but how do you know they’re not calculated? Maybe his shoulder is still sore from 3 days ago. Maybe her wrist mobility is lacking so she’s doing a lighter weight.

There could be many reasons, unbeknownst to you, why someone is not doing what you think they could be. But until you get to know that person, and find out what those reasons are, be careful what you say. You just might be hurting them more than you’re helping them.

Kim’s Story

I barely know Kim, to be completely honest, but I worked out with her tonight, doing kettlebell swings & burpees alongside her as she finished up her 21-15-9. Kim was the last one to finish tonight, but don’t let that fool you. All it means is that she worked longer than anyone else did, and for that, she earned a great deal of my respect.

I realize I just preached about knowing your audience before you motivate them, and here I am saying I barely know Kim. So how did she inspire this piece on motivation?

There were several of us encouraging Kim to the finish. While it would have been stereotypical CrossFit to keep telling her not to stop, in our screaming voices (you’ve gotta be louder than the gigantic fans & blaring rap music)… that didn’t appear to be what was going to help Kim get to the finish.

While I barely know Kim, I watched her during the workout. I saw how she was moving through her set of 21. And then again through the beginning of 15. She was smart about it. She knows her body well. She was pushing hard; you could tell by the look on her face. But she wasn’t pushing so hard that she was on the brink of collapsing.

She was doing sets of 1 or 2 burpees during the round of 15, before taking a few seconds rest. So when it came time to do her final 9 burpees, instead of trying to get her to do 9 unbroken, I encouraged her to do 3 sets of 3, with only 3 seconds rest in-between. I did them with her, and counted down on my fingers between each set, so she could easily see when it was time to go again.

Three in a row was more than she was doing at the end of her round of 15, and with the same (or slightly less) rest in-between. A difficult but manageable challenge, especially knowing these are your last 9 reps of the workout.

Truth be told, I don’t know for sure how Kim likes to be motivated, but judging by the handshake & hug she gave me right when it was over, I feel as though I may have gotten it right this time.

Final Word

Coaches, please get to know your members. Understand their goals, their personality & what makes them tick. Pay attention when they’re working out. Pick up on cues. And use all of that to be smart about your motivation techniques.

Fellow athletes, much of the same applies to you. While we aren’t getting paid to be there, and might not have a certification, we still play an important role in our own local CrossFit community. The nice thing is,  you don’t need a certification to motivate. And when you really help someone through a workout, you do get paid… with a sweaty handshake and a hug.