Why CrossFit Is Great For Your Life, Not Just Your Body

Biological Engineer By Samantha Sutton, PhD
Biological Engineer
Samantha Sutton has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. in Biological Engineering from MIT as a Howard Hughes Predoctoral Fellow. She has presented her life design philosophy to companies such as Google and the National Cancer Institute as well as universities like Duke, Stanford, and Yale.

Sure, like most people, I love exercise because it keeps me healthy, makes me feel great, and gives me a body I love.

But if that’s where it stops for you, then you're missing out!

Exercise can actually help you cultivate many life skills that are key to designing all the other areas of your life — career, love, time, your relationship with your parents, you name it. In fact, if it weren’t for my time spent in CrossFit (my workout of choice), my company wouldn’t be as successful, my relationship as deep and loving, and my enjoyment of my life a great.

I challenge you to learn these skills in your workouts. They may not come automatically, so you'll need to find ways to consciously cultivate them.

Here are some ways I have consciously turned my CrossFit workout in a “two-fer,” helping both my body AND my life. Even if you don’t do CrossFit, you can easily integrate these ideas into your workout of choice:

1. Cultivate gratitude by rowing.

If you think about it, the hour you spend in your workout is prime “me” time. Your mind is free to go wherever it wants ... so instead of grumbling about how tough the workout is, lead it to someplace constructive. When I row, I think of one thing I am grateful for on each stroke.

By the time the row is finished, some 150 gratitudes later, I feel positively in love with my life. I leave my workout ready to take on the world, and my business and relationships have sure benefitted. Where could you add gratitude to your workout?

2. Defy fear with handstands.

Do you feel paralyzed with fear in an area of your life? I’ll never forget the fear I felt the first time I tried wall-assisted handstands in CrossFit. The last thing I wanted to do was to fling myself, upside-down and back-first, into a wall. Can you blame me? Isn’t the same true for taking risks in life, in general?

With the handstands, I looked my fear in the eyes and said, “I don’t care what you say, I'm doing it anyway!” And I did it. The more I practiced defying my physical fear in CrossFit, the better I got at defying mental fear in other areas of my life, like boldly asking for a contract for my business. Where can you practice facing down your fears in your workout?

3. Build empathy by distributing care.

Each class, I make it a habit to reach out to one person who looks like they're having a bad day. Maybe I compliment their form, offer a suggestion, or just give them a smile and a “nice job.” I also tell my instructors what I like about their leadership.

I have met some great people this way, and it gets me out of my own little world and into someone else’s. I leave my workouts feeling like I am part of something bigger, and my relationships have benefitted. Who can you reach out to in your workouts?

4. Push my limits with squats.

Where could you be pushing your limits in order to get the life you want? Are you resisting going to that networking event where you'll know no one, even though it really would behoove you to get good at networking? Pushing your limits is a skill, like any other, and exercise is a great place to practice it.

When I do back squats in CrossFit, there is a momentary pause in which I don’t know if I can push the weight up. In that moment, I mentally wrestle with myself. “I can’t do it! Yes I can! This is hard! Yes, but I can do it!” Each time I succeed at pushing that weight up, my belief in myself grows stronger, which makes it easier for me to push boundaries in other areas of my life, too. Where can you be pushing your limits in your workout?

5. Practice patience with jumping rope.

Have you ever tried doing a “double-under?” This is where, when jumping rope, you rotate the rope around yourself twice in each jump instead of the normal once. It's hard. The first time I tried, I simply couldn’t even come close. I looked around at all of the people around me who made it look so easy, and felt stupid and frustrated. Maybe I was just not built to do them?

But then I reminded myself that skills take time to learn, and that I would get there in time. Over the next six months, I was patient with myself, trying diligently and celebrating each small step, until now I am happy to report that I can do them with ease. Where in your workout can you practice patience with yourself?

With these five practices, I have become a better person as a result of my hours working out. This is why I find it so odd when people say they don’t have time to exercise. I can think of few things I do that get more results per minute than exercise. Your time exercising can be one of the best investments in your career, your relationships, your health, and you development as a person. You just need to create it to be that way.

What will YOU bring to your workouts to help them tone your life, not just your body? Write me a note and share!

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