There are times in every CrossFit experience when you come across a WOD that is a true grinder. These are the ones that you have to battle through mentally as well as physically. They are the ones you have to negotiate with yourself to even finish. Everyone gets to that point where you make the choice: Finish or throw in the towel and walk away.
As I’ve stated before, I’m no super-elite CrossFit athlete. It’s easy for me to say that longer workouts like our “12 Days of CrossFit” (a topic I’ll be covering in detail next week) or something like “Murph” (one-mile run, followed by 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 air squats, then washed down with another one-mile run) are ones that I really wouldn’t put into this category. While I would never call either of these “easy,” I know going into them that I’m not very fast and the WOD is going to take me a long time to finish. So I just keep chipping (or grinding, if you will) away at them until I’m done.
But surprisingly, it’s sometimes the shorter ones that I struggle with the most. “Fran” (21-15-9 thrusters and pull-ups) has always been a particularly difficult one for me. I know many struggle with Fran because they do it so fast that it’s a whirlwind shock to the system, crashing against your oxygen-starved body all at once, leaving you panting for life on the box floor. My struggle is not with the speed aspect; it’s the push and pull elements pitted against one another that tear me up in every way.
The volume (especially in the first set of 21 reps of thrusters) is something that I battle through every time. I don’t think I’ve ever knocked out more than 14 or 15 of these reps unbroken. Mentally I often have to talk myself into staying “on the bar” to get past 10 reps or so. That, combined with watching my fellow class members switch to pull-ups as I am bent over trying to breathe, usually causes me to beat myself up for not being able to more effectively do the required work.
Once I do move off the demoralizing set of thrusters, I take my tired arms and burning lungs to the pull-up bar and begin to grind out sets of three or so as I begin to switch gears from a dip-and-push thruster to the pull-and-raise movement.
To me, this workout is both insidious and brilliant in its simplicity, and I can see why the best of the best often compare their war stories and struggles using their Fran times as a common denominator.
I was curious to find out what other grinders struggle with in their WODs, so I asked around and fielded some responses. While several had a common theme (Murph or other long and often 30-plus–minute type endurance WODs which seem to never end), I was surprised by others who had struggled with WODs a lot of CrossFitters would deem to be “easier” because of their normally quick times and scores.
Morgan M. from my local box told me, “The most challenging WODs for me are when there are lot of a single movements being repeated (e.g. ‘Isabel’ or ‘Grace’). WODs like these are the most difficult for me because the thought of doing 30 reps of a move that takes such finesse can be insurmountable. Last time I did Isabel, I saw people putting away their equipment and heard people begin cheering me on, and I remember thinking, ‘I'm on rep 14. I'm not even halfway done.’ In other WODs with more variety, each time I start a new move, I get a fresh wave of energy — mentally and physically.”
Because I don’t really struggle with Grace or Isabel (though keep in mind I don’t really “dominate” them by any stretch of the imagination) I hadn’t really thought about what it was like for people who are going through the mental letdown that Morgan described. That’s an area that CrossFit will definitely force you to confront: give up or get locked in and do the work.
Another one I hadn’t thought about (possibly because I try to repress the memory of it) was from the Open in 2012. A writer friend of mine, Alex T., mentioned that, “The seven minutes of burpees was one of the worst workouts I've ever done. It seemed like there was no end.” These types of WODs are very deceiving. I’d argue that the number of CrossFitters around the world actually increased when they saw that the first WOD of the Open was just burpees. I mean how hard could that be? Anyone can do burpees. But seven minutes was relentless.
Physically, some workouts can give grinders fits. Short athletes might love to deadlift because of having to make the bar travel a shorter distance, but wall balls might make them cringe. The opposite could be said for the taller grinder. My friend Scott T. highlighted this problem when he told me, “I am absolutely horrible at “Diane.” HSPU and even the lighter deadlifts make that one really rough for me. I'm tall, long-limbed and incredibly good-looking.” While rowing might be better for Scott’s long pull (he’s taller than 6’3”), the greater distance of the deadlift pull, coupled with the extended inches in the bodyweight-intensive HSPU (handstand push-up) make this WOD one he has to push himself to grind through.
Everyone has their “goat,” that WOD that makes them consider skipping class entirely. But if we all avoided those days, the odds of getting better and working on weaknesses would be slim. As CrossFit grinders, we have to strive to be good (as good as we can be) at all areas of training. So for me, I’ll keep plugging away, slowly, at Fran, and someday I might be able to finish it with a respectable time.
What WODs do you struggle with? What is a workout that you would consider to be a “true grinder?” Share your stories with me at jtolgrinder @ gmail.com.
Stay on the grind.
— Jamie Toland (JTol)