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Heart Shaped Box


About a year-and-a-half ago, on the occasion of my 500th WOD at my affiliate, I wrote a post titled “Heart Shaped Box.” The essence of the post was that my journey in CrossFit is only possible because I wanted to come back. And that’s because of my trainers and friends who I’ve met and developed relationships with along the path.

Part of it was written to acknowledge that I had survived 500 workouts but I also wanted to address a question that was posed by some of my non-CrossFit friends: “Why do they call it a box?”

Until someone directly asked me, I had never pondered that question before. When I started training there, everyone called it a “box.” The online community called it a box. Therefore I just called it a box. That was it.

I began to realize that for me there was a deeper metaphoric and philosophical connection. Yes, physically, most affiliates are cube-like to some extent; they possess a box-type physical structure. But that does not distinguish them from the physical structure of most traditional gyms.

After taking some time to consider, I responded this way: “It doesn’t apply to everything in life, but a lot of times you put valuable things in a box. You store personal items that represent memories and other items you care about in a box. That’s what makes it important and special. I feel like my CrossFit family and experiences are the same as special things I would put in a box, so that’s where they’re located. I guess that’s why they call it a box.” This answer seemed to satisfy the asker, so I included it in the post about my 500th WOD.

The box, the trainers, people who become friends, the local community and the worldwide community are what makes CrossFit special. Even for an old, average grinder like me, these things are what I care about and are at the heart of why I have dragged myself out of bed before dawn, day after day, for the last three years. I pay them to make me sweat and suffer, and I love it.

I’ve heard other CrossFitters talk about the bond that develops between CrossFit athletes who have shared a common experience after suffering (some would say grinding) through tough workouts together. I think that’s a big part of it, but it’s not the only thing.

Several years ago, I made a choice that changed my life. I was unhappy with how I was doing physically and diet-wise. I was ready to make a change. While watching a commercial about a set of exercise DVDs that were “guaranteed” to help me achieve all my fitness goals in just a few months, I almost picked up the phone to order it.

I had tried various DVD at-home workouts in the past and, despite my best intentions, had failed at all of them. There was something about coming home after work and having the choice of simply not pressing play that made them too easy for me to not follow through. Likewise, as a coach and teacher, I have unlimited access to our school’s gym and weight facility. They have all I could ever need to get into shape and reach my fitness goals. Yet year after year, I came up with excuses to not go in and train. I needed guidance and accountability.

Because of all these factors, I made the choice to skip the DVDs and try CrossFit with Trainer Brian. It was a life-changer. The workouts are great, and I am constantly challenged with new things, but it’s the personal connections that have made the biggest impact.

I have no idea the number of times I’ve been greeted with a hug or a handshake when I walked in the box. I don’t know exactly how many times someone has come over and offered me a hand to get up as I’m lying on my back, post-WOD, struggling to breathe and compose myself.

These are the things that make the box experience meaningful to me. You can’t get that from a DVD. Other gyms I’ve been a member of or trained at in the past didn’t know my name. They didn’t talk to me about how they did on the workout or ask me about my job or go out to breakfast with me after grinding out a chipper. But then, they were just “gyms” — places where one completes a robotic task before work. A chore list: Leg Day, Cardio Day, Back Day, Pec Day, Arm Day, etc. Tan-Gym-Laundry.

Not at my box. And, I’m willing to bet, not at yours either.

These are the experiences and the people I keep in my heart-shaped box. And this is why I love and thrive in this community.

What do your box and its members mean to you? Write me and tell me about it at jtolgrinder @

Stay on the grind.
— JTol