I Joined CrossFit To Make Friends… Here’s What I Learned

What's unique about CrossFit isn't just the high intensity, unique language, and functionality but also the high level of camaraderie that grows from something as common as working out. While the concept of breaking a sweat with someone as relationship-building is not unique to CrossFit, when I say “working out”, I mean something much more specific. At ICE NYC, “working out” is synonymous with changing your life and the lives of those you sweat alongside. Through common goals, fiery intention, and a string of moans and curses, our masks drip off, our veneers are stripped, and we become the most authentic, vulnerable versions of ourselves, together.

CrossFit gives us the tools to unveil ourselves and then forces us to show that authentic self to a room of sweaty, shirtless, loving, athletes. Since this process requires vulnerability, it connects and creates relationships, tribes, and squads fairly quickly. Simply put: CrossFit is the way I made friends in a city of go-go-go and anonymity.

When I joined CrossFit two months ago, I joined with a goofy-grin hope: to make friends. After living in New York for just-short of six months, it dawned on me: I had been living in the city for almost half a year, working 40+ hours a week and hitting the weight room 6 days a week… but I still didn’t have any friends.

I joined CrossFit for the opportunity to make friends with a similar devotion to health and fitness, but I haven’t just made friends, I’ve been welcomed into a family, and I’ve learned just how important camaraderie is to the fitness journey.

Here, I share the 3 things I have learned about the relationship between friendship and fitness since joining CrossFit and becoming part of the ICE NYC fam.

1. Competitive Energy Between Friends Can Be Fun!

Times. Reps. Rounds. Wodify. Leaderboards. CrossFit inherently has a competitive element because everything is timed or scored (and therefore measurable). For those of us who are not innately competitive, it can be fun to discover a new competitive edge of ourselves. For those of us who have played sports our entire lives, or have become competitive through a long-held sibling rivalry, channeling that competitive energy into the sport of CrossFit can feel not only freeing but enlivening.

Yet, isn’t competitiveness the enemy of friendships? That’s what I thought before joining CrossFit...that competition between friends could only cause drama and chaos. However, I could not have been more wrong.

Two weeks into my CrossFit training The Crossfit Open started and the competitive energy was double what it is any other time of the year. The Open is an opportunity for any CrossFitter to complete five workouts, one a week, each revealed Thursday night for the five weeks the Open spans. Each week athletes have until Monday to do the WOD and submit their score. Yes, The Open is a competition, but it’s designed to be fun and it’s also a great way reach your health and fitness goals. To honor the mix of competition and fun The Open is intended to me, every Friday night during The 2017 Open, ICE NYC hosted an event (Friday Night Lights) in honor of the WOD where every CrossFit athlete was encouraged to either do the workout to the sounds of their friends cheering them on, or to grab a plate of food from KettleBell Kitchen and beer and channel their inner cheerleader.

While the competitive energy was present, who’s name would take presence on the leaderboard wasn’t the point or the priority. The point was being together: sweating and cheering on a Friday night. Besides, anyone who spends their Friday night at the gym, is someone I want to be friends with.

2. My Friends Strengths Can Become My Strengths

In CrossFit, it is a gift to be friends with people who are more skilled, stronger, or more consistent at a certain movements, lifts, and gymnastics moves than you are. While the Coach is there to coach and work with the athletes in a semi-personal training style during class, after class when the athletes hang around to stretch, foam roll, and work on their weaknesses, friends share tips and tricks about how to conquer a particular movement. Simply put, after class we play in the way you would expect CrossFitters to play.

During the weekdays I attend the 8am class in Tribeca, after class many of us linger for five to ten minutes. Those “throwaway” minutes have been integral to my progress as a CrossFit athlete. Of those who stay after class to chat, stretch, or improve, there are many many people who can kip, kip well, and have been kipping for years now. However, I am not one of them (or, I should say, I was not one of them until a week ago). Every day after class I would jump onto the pull-up bar and spend 2-3 minutes practicing “opening up” my shoulders and “breaking” the bar with my hands. I was not consistent, some days my movements would be fluid, other days I would hang there confused and frustrated. However, my CrossFit friends were always there after class to help me master my kips, to help someone else get their ring muscle-up, and to talk as hamstrings got rolled out and shoulders got stretched.

After almost two-months of these post-workout hangout sessions, kipping clicked for me in the middle of a WOD.. Without those consistent 2-3 minute sessions of advice and play from my friends who could do the movement, it would have taken me a longer to learn.

My experience is not unique, in fact a study out of Kansas State University found that people exercised up to 200 percent harder and longer sweating alongside a partner or friend who they perceived to be at a higher fitness level than them. Working out with friends who are more skilled or stronger has serious benefits, science and I can prove it!

3. Friends Hold Friends Accountable

I work out at the same time every day, with (mostly) the same people who work out at the same time every day… What can I say? We’re creatures of routine. Because of this, when I miss a morning sweat-session, my absence is noticed. If I fail to show up to the morning class two mornings in a row I can expect either a text from one of my new friends and workout buddies, or a wink followed by, “Long time no see!” when I finally do return to class. For me, knowing that my absence in class is going to be noticed means fewer excuses and more accountability.

ICE NYC is particularly attuned to when our athletes miss their “usual” class, or fail to show up multiple days in a row. Owner of the box, Izzy Levy,  and ICE NYC Coaches have been known to send a quick text asking if everything is okay if someone has been MIA longer than usual. At ICE, we are a family, and as the saying goes, “Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten”.

For more information about the benefits of working out check out 6 Benefits of Working and Working Out In Community-Based Spaces.

Author Bio: Gabrielle Kassel is a New York based writer who has a deep affinity for weight-lifting, living mindfully, and the em-dash. She has been published at Women’s Health Magazine where she worked on the online editorial team, Feather Magazine where she was a contributing health writer, and ICE NYC where she works as the social media editor. In her free time she can be found reading self-help books, making soup, and practicing hygge.

IG: @gk.fitness