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Is There Room For Women In A CrossFit Box?

Just a day at Rocket, all types of people, doing work, together.

Just a day at Rocket, all types of people, doing work, together.

I am a woman in my mid 40’s. By the time I found CrossFit, I was past 40, and had “been there and done that” for almost anything fitness related that you can name. Except weight lifting, unless you count adding tiny dumbells to some situps and stuff. Like many women (and maybe men,) I found the idea of CrossFit intimidating at best, and downright unappealing at worst. Not because of the exercise, but because of a culture that seemed so codified and aggressive in a way that I just don’t roll.

Fast forward. I’m now a L1 trainer, with a handful of other CrossFit certs to my name, and I own a CrossFit gym. I’d say that I drank the Kool-Aid, but Kool-Aid isn’t Paleo.

A lot of what I do is answer questions about CrossFit in general, and about Rocket in specific. Some of them feel like big, emotional and serious questions. Others are often whispered to me with the caveat of “I know this sounds silly, but…..”

So let’s get them all out there. Let me answer a string of questions, aimed at the women out there. If you men find some wisdom here also, that’s great. At the end of the day, I don’t actually think that men and women are all that different. But this is aimed at some of the specific questions that women tend to have, most of which are a byproduct of a lot of the sexism we all (men and women alike) have to deal with in this society.

Fortunately, I think that CrossFit is the perfect antidote to that sexism. Because, changing the world is going to be about men and women working together to do hard things, and support each other while being better and stronger than we can be alone.

1. Is this one of those gyms where all the women are all made up and perfect? Well, all gyms are different, but in my experience, I can tell you that the women in a CrossFit gym will look like the women in the rest of the world: Huge variety. They will come in all shapes and sizes, all styles. If you walk into Rocket on any given day, you will see every color, every age, every size, some will look like they walked out of a Yoga catalog, some will look, (like me,) like they just rolled out of bed after tossing a kid off them and barely made it in time. What I have noticed about CrossFit MORE than any other gym – or any other place I can think of, really – is that no one cares. I have yet to see any hierarchy or regard paid to what you look like. And I’ve never gotten a whiff of “pick-up” culture there. Most people are just there to do work. And support each other.

2. What do I wear? Anything you want. CrossFit clothing has only one requirement, that you feel comfortable moving in it. For some women that’s sweats, baggy shorts and t-shirts. For others (like me) it’s skin-tight things that don’t get in the way. We are all different. Do what works for you. I would also point out that you need to be both physically and emotionally comfortable. You need to feel like you.

The only structural considerations I would make around clothing are specific to certain tasks. Always have a pair of knee-socks handy in case you’re doing rope-climbs or deadlifts. Once you start moving heavy weight, I am a firm believe in weightlifting shoes.

Other than that, do what feels good to you.

3. What should I do with my hair? Honestly, the best thing you can do is just not worry about it. Out of your face is a good rule, but even that will change depending on what you’re doing. I can’t stand the way headbands feel when I’m working out, and even having it pulled back will bother me if my heart-rate gets up. Others? They tie that shit back!

I keep a hair tie around my wrist all the time, it goes on and off several times during a workout because sometimes the bun / pony will impede what I’m doing (sit ups, handstands against a wall, overhead squats that I raise from a back squat position.) Basically, do what you need to do. It’s all good.

4. Do I need to go on a diet? Um, this is a tough one. Your relationship with food and your body is an intensely personal one, and anyone who tells you that you have to do it their way has control issues and might not be a great trainer. That said, many of us do have some pretty clear ideas around food, and they’re often the opposite of what you’ve heard in other places.

CrossFit is hard, and requires a lot of good fuel. Often times, we’ll be telling people that they’re not eating enough. We worry more about people not getting enough good nutrition than getting too much. We do tend to talk about reducing things like sugar, grains, alcohol and other things that aren’t generally great for you. We certainly don’t require it.

At Rocket, we really shy away from talking about weight loss. We don’t assume that’s anyone’s goal, or that it needs to be. We really focus on setting goals around physical activity in your life and things you want to be able to do. Generally, bodies change shape as a result, but our focus is always on what you can do, not what you look like.

5. Is this all clicky, like high-school? Honestly, I’ve never seen that. But our gym might be special. Generally speaking, people are here to do work, make change, support each other and get strong together. I’ve seen people who might never even meet in the real world become friends and training partners in the gym. I have seen friendships forged that cross religious, political and social spectrums. Again, maybe our gym is special (actually, I am sure it is, but that’s because I’m sure “I” have the best members on the planet,) but I think this sport has a way of bringing people together.

6. Are people all, like, staring at each other’s bodies and stuff? Yes. It’s a fact of life. This is as good a place as any to get used to it and get over it. But here’s the thing, while we can’t control where our eyes land or the random fleeting thoughts that enter our brains, we are all responsible for how we treat each other. We’d all be lying if we told you we didn’t get an eye full of ass now and then, it happens. You know what we do about it? NOTHING. Don’t say a word, don’t change a thing.

I actually wrote a much longer piece about my daughter’s love of wearing booty shorts, that talks about the fact that you are not responsible for other people’s thoughts or actions. So you can read that, but in general, treat all people with respect, own your body and your behavior.  And keep your thoughts to yourself. I’ve never felt uncomfortable in a CrossFit gym, and I used to wear a gigantic fake wedding set on my ring finger to stop guys from trying to talk to me at traditional gyms. I’m sensitive to that shit, and I’ve never seen it in a CrossFit gym. (Partly because we are such tight-knit communities that no one would treat their friends that way, if that makes sense. Small classes tend to create the kind of relationships that are immune to such things.)

7. Is it hard? Yes.  If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t work. Anyone who tells you there’s an easy way to get and stay strong is just lying to you in order to sell you something. Without going too much into biology, the way you build muscle is stress and healing. The way you get stronger is by going to your limit, hard, and then backing down to rest. It is hard. And you will never be alone.

Honestly, I think the hardest parts are really emotional. We fear failure, so pushing to failure is hard. We are afraid everyone else is better, so we compare ourselves and try to do what others do rather than listening to our bodies. And, as women, we’re often told to be polite, quiet, small….  I LOVE when I finally get women to be loud, to grunt, to not worry about what they look like and focus on what they can do. I cry when I hear women say that they are now more interested in their muscles, or their strength than what size they are.  Yes, it’s hard, emotionally and physically. And that’s why people love it. They’re getting results, emotionally and physically.

Look, CrossFit goes against a lot of what we’re taught in this society as women. It is NOT about being small, or quiet, or attractive or polite or any of the little boxes that we like to put women in. It’s about being strong, deciding for yourself what you can and can’t do, deciding for yourself what your body will look like, it’s about belonging as an equal member of a community. I’ve been in a lot of CrossFit gyms, and although we are all different, I have never seen a CrossFit gym in which I didn’t feel like women were more respected, in all their diverse forms, than they are anywhere else in the world. Really.

Every now and then I see crap about women in CrossFit. There is the inane article that I railed against yesterday, and CrossFit HQ itself has a habit of releasing undeniably sexist photos with sexist captions. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you it’s perfect. It’s not. But there are thousands of gyms in the US alone, from a sheerly mathematical perspective, those isolated instances are not a reflection of the sport as a whole. And they certainly don’t reflect the incredible passion and people who own affiliates and create communities around health and fitness.

Is it perfect for everyone? Absolutely not. We’re all different, nothing is perfect for everyone. But if you are wondering if there’s a place for you within the CrossFit community, the answer is “YES.” And if you go to a gym that doesn’t feel good to you, go to a different one. This is like dating, it’s about relationships. We’re all different, there may be a better match for you somewhere else. It’s your choice. It’s always your choice!


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