My Swimmer-Does-CrossFit Experiment Comes Full Circle


As a Masters swimmer, I have the flexibility to change-up my training and essentially do whatever I want whenever I want, which makes swimming a joy most of the time. To supplement what I’m doing in the pool, I often hit the gym.

Just over a year ago I entered the CrossFit world to spice things up and I learned several important things along the last 12 months.

Throughout the chronicling of my CrossFit experience, I was hit with all kinds of reader comments, from the rational feedback to the ‘I hate CrossFit no matter what’-type hysterics.

Here is what I gleaned from my swimmer-goes-CrossFitting experience as I now step away from ‘the box’.

As a refresher, here are my previous swimmer-does-CrossFit posts to give you background:

#1 – Gym Fatigue Carried into the Pool

Reader Comment: “This new fangled Crossfit thing has hurt a bunch of kids. My daughter hurt her shoulder. I say just be careful and protect your body!!!”
In CrossFit‘s defense, I am solidly on the swammer end of the ‘in-swimmer-shape’ spectrum. My age dictates I take recovery seriously and adhere to the signs my body relays to me when I push things too far.
As such, my usual week of hitting CrossFit at least 4 times followed by swimming workouts took its toll, where I wound up not being able to give my full effort in either and both wound up suffering.

#2 – Non-Specific Strength Got Old

Reader Comment: “But I eventually realized that doing random stuff for time doesn’t train you for anything specific.”

Although I saw a direct translation of certain CrossFit moves or elements to improved mechanics in the pool, we simply didn’t perform those particular exercises often enough to maximize that translation.
CrossFit prides itself on being varied and avoiding muscle memory, which I found prevented me from building on the specific movements I found were most helpful to my training in the pool.

#3 – Increase in Strength Comprised Mobility

Reader Comment: “Matt Fraser [American professional CrossFit athlete] is not similar to any elite swimmer.”
I’ve lifted weights in some form or fashion my entire adult life, but I’d never performed Olympic lifts before I joined CrossFit. Also, I’d never lifted as heavy as I did when in the CrossFit gym.  Over the course of my CrossFit year my overall strength improved in leaps and bounds, to the point where I had to shop for new clothes since my body was changing, especially in the shoulders and arms.
However, I found my new ‘big guns’ more restrictive in the pool. My mobility in the water definitely took a hit. I wound up feeling that my blending in aesthetically with the other members of the CrossFit gym wasn’t worth not being able to maintain swimming staples, such as a high elbow recovery in freestyle.

#4 – Reduction in Quality of Pool Training

Reader Comment: “CrossFit is good and all, but my shoulders hated it. Had to give it up.”

I didn’t suffer any performance-impacting injuries, but my body was indeed sore and tired literally all the time. I would wake up stiff and achy and go to bed the same way.

I wound up using my swimming workouts as a form of recovery from CrossFit WODs instead of using the pool as my primary form of exercise. I didn’t like that feeling that I was shortchanging what I loved to do the most.

#5 – Overwhelming Lifestyle

Reader Comment: “CrossFit: The Scientology of Fitness”
What I had heard about CrossFit wound up being very true at my particular box. Gym-goers form a very close community that can both be welcoming, but also extremely CrossFit-centric. I wound up living and breathing CrossFit and began to realize that every conversation or communication I had with my workout buddies revolved solely around CrossFit.

My experience confirmed I need to have more of a well-rounded mentality when approaching working out. When I meet fellow swimmers at the pool, the last thing we talk about is swimming. Yes, we happen to be swimming, but we chat on family life, we gripe about work and we trade weekend plans.

Do I miss CrossFit since I’ve stepped away? Honestly, not really. I still get my weight-lifting fix in on my own terms, on my own time, with the ability to do the gym stuff that best benefits what I’m doing in the pool. My body doesn’t miss feeling fatigued all the time and the quality of my swimming workouts is getting back to where it was pre-CrossFit.

The experience simply reinforced the fact that I’m a swimmer, first and foremost and that’s how I want it to be.

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