The Psychology of CrossFit

By Greg Glassman

In CrossFit, Videos

August 18, 2009

Video Article

Coach Greg Glasman says there is a lot of psychobabble about athletes “listening to their bodies.” In fact, athletes do not listen to their bodies. Their bodies say, “Stop. This hurts.” But athletes carry on. Part of it has to do with the brain adaptation. They attend a cert and see how much an outstanding athlete like Greg Amundson has to suffer along the way to a sub-3min Fran. They realize that it’s okay to hurt just as much, and go on to shave a minute or two off their own Fran time. Learning to stop negative internal voices has “tremendously positive implications for anything you ever want to do in your life.”

The message is simple: Don’t quit. Coach Glassman believes some of life’s most important lessons can be taught in the gym early in life. CrossFit Kids is really a moral and character education plan. Industry, persistence and self-reliance are among the lessons taught.

CrossFit doesn’t spend a lot of time talking publicly about its emotional, mental and career benefits for athletes of all ages. The benefits are obvious, but hard to measure and prove. So the policy is to “radically understate” the benefits and allow testimonials to go unused.

Coach Glassman says he has seen entire families start CrossFit and get off Prozac and Ritalin. He expects to see growing use of CrossFit in drug rehab programs. There have already been some success stories.

In this video from CrossFit By Overload, Tony Budding discusses these and other related topics with Coach Greg Glassman. The footage was recorded on Saturday, August 8th, 2009 in Tustin, CA.

12min 2sec

Free Download


35 Comments on “The Psychology of CrossFit”


wrote …

Crossfit is 100% mental


wrote …

He's right about that inner strength of not to quit and the can do attitude you get as a result of crossfitting. It makes you an overall better, stronger more willing to tolerate any discomfort and keep going. In other words work outside your comfort zone to accomplish the task. And this can be applied to many aspects of your life.


Tom Seryak wrote …



wrote …

There is nothing better than accomplishing something that was previously thought impossible...and then realizing it wasn't that hard! For me, crossfit provides that rush often. No wonder it has worked well with depression.


wrote …

This is great stuff.


wrote …

This is a very compelling interview. I finished the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race on Saturday and I have to say, if it were not for the mental training and suffering I experienced so often in Crossfit workouts (in the Gym), I am not sure I would have finished the race. Coach Glassman casts a broad net here as to the benefits of Crossfit, all of which I feel I have experienced firsthand, but have never heard it discussed or articulated so well.


Luke Terry wrote …

Coach, I'm inspired by how you've broken down the intellectual barriers of a variety of disciplines and apply positivistic engineering logic, focusing on adaptation.
Tony, Coach, keep this stuff coming.


wrote …

This is very good.


wrote …

This was like such a paradigm shift. I have such crappy mental game, and i'm one of the athletes that "listen to their bodies" but really use that as an excuse to shut it down seems.

I really like the part where he says "his time is half of yours because he's suffering twice as much." Good stuff.


wrote …

Does anyone else find almost the opposite phenomenon at play when thinking about/doing CrossFit; does the fact that the WOD will crush you every single time no matter how much you strive and improve instill a certain resignation to being less than master of the domain?

I certainly experience this - I cannot name many CrossFit experiences which have left me feeling like I've overcome anything at all (PR's included) - my attitude is that all I've done is made myself slightly less average but that I'm so very very very far from 'crushing it' that I've no business kidding myself that I've achieved anything significant.

Being an inherently competitive person this is often times driven by the fact that 1,2 or a great many more (usually the latter) people have beaten me at a given WOD (probably an unhealthy association I know).

I'm intrigued to think that I am the only person in the CrossFit world who is consistently disappointed with my WOD performances (even PR's) - not because I didn't do well compared to my old standards (often times I do) but because there is so much further to go that I feel inadequate during even my best performances.


wrote …

Colin-you make a great point. Whenever I start to get a big head about my progress, I just dial up any video of a true firebreather hitting a benchmark Wod to remember just how far I still have to go (a long way!)

I'll chime in as well to say that my newly forged mental toughness is the greatest gift CrossFit has given me. Knowing that I have it within me to continue fighting and trying even when it physically hurts to do so carries over to virtually every facet of my life.

Example: I HATE math. Preppin for a graduate program that is statistics-heavy, I knew I needed to take some advanced math to get ready. So, I signed up for college calculus this summer. And it was hard for me. And often I wouldn't get things right away. But-I'd think to myself-I said I would finish this class and do well. Just like Barbara or Filthy 50-it sucks, but I said I'd do it, and I'll get it finished. (BTW, 8 weeks later, I got an A in calculus, and am confident and stoked for grad school)



wrote …

Haven't heard the interview yet only read the summary, so it might be in there somewhere...

Even though understatement may be the policy, I think documenting some of the effects in relation to the medicin slippet with prozac and ritalin, would be of great value, lest it should just room around as hearsay.

I would encourage Coach Glassman and the Crossfit community to pick up the following book/contact the author for insights to the crossfit community. the book is a gem of insights (a lot though prelimenary, must be said) from the last 10 years or so scientific investigation on exercise's effect on the brain:

John J. Ratey, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

The book made me get back to exercising, and eventually crossfit not for the sake of my body (nice sideeffect :-)) but for my brain, after years of troubles following an accident. Theres just so much interesting research being done that yet needs to be discovered. Would be great if Crossfit could add to this.

just my five cents


wrote …

This is an article that I could have written to evidence your theory.

I own a real estate company in Miami and as you all know, that market imploded which left my friends and family asking me the following:
What are you going to do now?
Aren't you terrified?
Are you reading all of the reports, etc...

I stopped reading the morning papers and read only the Crossfit web sites where I was able to find the inspiration, the perserverence, the commitments and the self reliance.
So Every morning I say "3-2-1 Go" and kill it in the gym with my "never quit, stay positive attitude."

Things in my industry got even bleaker but I kept perservering.
Last month I closed an impossible deal worth over $16.5 million.

My philosophy is to prove everyone wrong and always believe in yourself.

Thank you!


wrote …

wow...i learn so much here. thanks for ALL of this.


wrote …

It would be interesting to see what initiatives or inquiries cross Coach's desk. He mentioned that people in the substance abuse community have approached him, and he also said something that was too important to let slide by: that the brain craves intense activity as much as the heart does.
That has to be true on so many levels, whether one is developing confidence, improving life skills, or learning to push through their limits in the course of a workout. As far as unconscious functions go, how often does one get their brain 'out on the track' like a sports car for some high output and shifting the gears through various neuromuscular motor patterns?

I remember some time ago a father writing on this board that after workouts he was seeing improved function in his mentally handicapped daughter. They were CrossFitting in the backyard. Holy Cow, I thought, if that's not grounds for a study, I don't know what is. (I also recall the article about the autistic boy.) Has any grad student strapped on some electrodes and watched the brain waves during a Fran? Since medicine has had only so much success penetrating these minds from without, maybe we should start some firestorms within - and see what busts out.

That's why I'm curious to see what parts of the the outside world are beginning to interact with CrossFit proper, namely Coach and his top people. I continue to be amazed that the world at large has not seized upon this methodology. Here in Puerto Rico, where essentially no one has even heard of CrossFit, the school year has begun. Yesterday, at Cross Country tryouts, the varsity coach told my 11 year old daughter, last year's 6th grade island running champion, that she had the strangest running style he had ever seen. She was Posing (while smoking everybody on the Varsity.) This morning the gym teacher stopped me on campus to remark on how she cranked 51 pushups in the Presidential Fitness assessment.

In a way, it's not that amazing, I want to say. You just work at it the right way. There's the proof, after all, a gangly little Hannah Montana fan who's practically BUDS qualified.
I wonder what other kinds of discoveries will be proven in other people's lives.


wrote …

Anyone notice Coach keeps looking slimmer and slimmer each video recently, wonder if he's zoning and doing wods?


Matt Charney wrote …

On the subject of athletes not listening to their bodies, I think Coach is only half way there. I think the elite athletes listen to their bodies much more often than the other athletes. The difference they only listen during rest, recovery, injury and fueling, all the non-workout stuff. When it comes time for the intensity they flip a switch which turns off that little devil telling them to stop. When the workout is over the switch is back on and they are listening again.


wrote …

This should really be a free article. As a trainer I'd like to talk about the mental aspect of CrossFit more, and this talk would be a great way to articulate the kinds of transformations we've all seen.


Hey Colin, I know how you feel and when I first started crossfit I often felt the same way. After a few months I began to consistently feel discouraged. A change for me came when I changed my attitude as in regards to how I channeled my competitive nature. I stopped focusing on beating every person in the gym and instead turned the competition inward. I focused heavily on two things. 1. I worked hard on having the best form/full range of motion/technique in the box. For about a month, my times suffered a bit but my body did eventually adjust and I'm a much fitter person for having done it and 2. My competition is for time is always against myself now. You can only control your own actions and as long as you continue to improve relative to yourself, you are headed in the right direction. My mental attitude in a WOD changed from "you've got to beat these people" to "what ever you do, do not stop". After a while, between forcing myself to really focus on the movement and to stay mentally strong I began to notice serious improvement.

As for the "Psychology of Crossfit", it is fifty percent of why I use it to train my players (I am a strength and conditioning coach for a rugby team). In addition to the physical shape it gets my guys in, the other huge benefit is getting my players comfortable with performing under the extreme mental stress of pushing your body way past where it wants to go for extended periods of time. This is where games are won or lost, the last 5 to 10 minutes where if you can outwork the other team they will breakdown and give it to you.


wrote …


You continue to inspire with your theories. Your clear speaking and organization when describing training methodology is second to none. Thank you for sharing these videos, please keep them coming! More interviews!



wrote …

A one on one with Coach...... best video ever.


replied to comment from Alex Stuart

No, it shouldn't be free. 25 bucks for a "year" plus hundreds of archived articles... give me a break - if you can't afford that, you're not serious about health and fitness.


wrote …

Fantastic stuff!!
$25 a year...WOW!!

I found the following quote on the site of a CF affiliate (sorry, can't remember which one):

The pain of discipline or the pain of regret...your choice.

I have printed that off & put it on my bulletin board as a daily reminder of hard work & intensity. I'm still working on my intensity, as I find it difficult to really push myself as much as I could/should. I'm getting closer & even at my current level of work I'm seeing results.

I'm a high school weight training teacher & football coach & I'm getting geared up to fully implement Crossfit ideas & methods into our classes. In using WODS with both teenage boys & girls, I find that the needed level of intensity is also elusive for them. However, I'm excited to see how it goes in a classroom setting versus an after school/summer program which draws kids who WANT to work out.

In any event, great stuff--keep it coming!


wrote …


I was going to write a long response, but Jesse took the words right out of my mouth. Points 1 and 2 from Jesse are the exact things that I did. I was a small college football player that started 3 years...but I could only do 2 pull-ups when I started crossfit. How embarrassing do you think that was? At this point, I still won't beat many people in a pull-up contest; however, after each WOD, I finish by looking around and realizing that I just accomplished something that 98% of the world population can't or won't. And maybe I did it better than 50% of the people that did...puts me in a fairly exclusive group. Something to be proud of and drive confidence in the rest of my life!


wrote …


I feel just like Jared and Jesse and they nailed it. I have been crossfitting for three months and as a retired military member I tried to out perform everybody in the box from day one of elements and failed at every level. I was told by our coach to check the ego at the door and things will begin to happen and he was 100% correct. I focus on my performance, the perfection of the moves and techniques and the rest will come in time of course. As Jared put it we do perform at higher levels than most especially at the so called "FITNESS centers" (I was a member of a lot of them)so in a sense you are outperforming many people. For me every WOD is a victory " I win".


wrote …

"You will need to learn, as I have learned from sports, that the mind is an incredibly important factor in athletic success. It is probably the most important single factor because, without it, the most naturally talented athlete in the world will achieve little more than trivial local recognition. The athletes who truly "make it," the Olympic contenders, the national champions, the world record holders, are mentally some of the toughest people in the world. No one is born with that kind of toughness, and it doesn't come overnight. You must develop it, cultivate it, cherish it." -- Marty Liquori in "Marty Liquori's Guide for the Elite Runner"


wrote …

This is what I tell everyone that comes into our gym: There are 2 ways to approach CrossFit. 1. You can take the "I want to live life better approach". With this approach your not worried about "winning" everyday. Your goal each and every day is to improve the way you handle your daily activities. The people that take this approach are usually the ones that start to improve faster that the ones coming in and right off the bat trying to come in first. The people in the first approach are more worried about form and technique than finishing the workout first. 2. Then I tell people that they can take another approach to CrossFit. This is when CrossFit is their sport. They eat, sleep, and live CrossFit. These are the ones that will do anything to get their name on the board or to finish first. Just like in Football, these individuals have to watch film, practice, read everything there is about CrossFit, and practice again.
It's all about what your goals are. If you want to crush the gym, it's going to take practice to perfect each and every movement. The more efficient your form is, the faster and stronger you will be. There's nothing like doing Thrusters and having to balance on your toes for each rep because your form sucks. Doing this will drain you both physically and mentally.
My advise to you would be to start over again. Go back over the main lifts (Air Squat, OHS, Front Squat, Deadlifts, etc.) and make sure your form is perfect. This could be the main culprit preventing your from getting new PRs in your Max Effort lifts. Get it in your head before every workout, that it is practice. Take things slow and make each rep count. I tell everyone that I don't care if they carry over 30 minutes into the next class, as long as they took their time and made each rep count. When the movements become natural, no matter how much their mind is screaming, that is when we will take them off the chain and time is everything. Until then, everyday is practice for them.
Sorry for the long post.


wrote …

Excellent words of wisdom from Coach as usual. I must preface this by saying I have the utmost respect for Crossfit having drunk deeply of its waters after over twenty years of conventional weight-training and bodybuilding type drivel from which I am nearly recovered. (Keep up the amazing work Coach!) Only one possible point of contention I would point out. Near the end of the interview when he mentioned the efficacy of Crossfit in producing good and capable kids who will do the “right thing”, I would recommend a disclaimer: “The inner strength, confidence, perseverance etc. fostered in the gym can be used to various ends based upon the widely different things people view as good, beautiful, or desirable (i.e., what they value as virtuous).” The drive fostered in ones quest to crush Fran pr’s can motivate the rapist in pursuing his ends just as much as it does the officer pursuing him. In a less dire situation, the child (or adult for that matter) can simply become more confident and capable in the pursuit of his or her agenda, regardless of who gets stepped on along the way. In short, Crossfit may very well make people more psychologically confident and capable in various arenas, but it will only do so within the framework of one’s established worldview.


wrote …

This is my first post ever on the site and I have been Crossfitter for more than a year now. I think alot of people here make alot of great points. Colin (#10), I feel the very same way you do, but I think that is the competitive nature of people. We continuously tell ourselves we accomplished nothing to drive ourselves to keep trying. I am that way in my professional life and now with Crossfit.

I would like to offer an alternative affect this has had on me professionally and personally. I have a very stressful career (I know I am not the only one) and it is a "desk" job. Before Crossfit, I could stay awake all night, if not actually working, worrying about work. Even when it was family time, I was not really there, my mind was at work. I was a collegiate athlete and slipping into the typical white collar physique. I "worked out" but never really payed much attention to what I ate. I searched for change and escape, not really knowing what that meant. I found what I needed in Crossfit. I still work at the same job, usually no less than 60 hours a week and the stress is higher than ever. However, for one hour a day, I have an escape in that I know I have to tune myself in mentally to tackle that day's WOD, or I could get hurt, not finish, etc. This has brought so much focus to my life with everything. My physical health (exercise and diet), my family life and my work. Has it helped me land a promotion or sign a big client? I would say no. It has helped me learn mental focus and drive. It is funny, at the beginnning of my workout in warmups my mind will wander to work and then I have to tell myself I better get focused or this will get ugly.

Back to the competitive nature, I am competitive to the end. I tried golf, yeah right. I go to war with myself everyday (3 on, 1 off). I hate it when I lose time on a WOD from a previous time or struggle to finish. That is what keeps me coming back.


wrote …

I am 55 years old and just recently started crossfit. I am totally inspired by Coach Glassman. The WODs are hard but will keep plugging away, then plan on taking crossfit courses. Thanks for this, keep it coming.
Mark Chaffee


wrote …

Amazing video.

Please make this available for non subscribers so we can post links to it!!!!!!!!


wrote …

What I like about this is something I tell my clients...Work capacity across broad time and modal domains is not just about fitness. It is about all work and all modal is about job(work) raising kids, listening to you partner... Everything is improved by pushing the limits of you capabilities.
semper crossfit...


wrote …

OK - I too believe the beating you get in the gym helps you achieve outside it.

Let me throw just one wrench in this mix. CrossFit attracts the kind of people who push themselves. The type of people where a new PR is just not good enough because someone did better. The type of people who just won't quit.

Those are the type of people who close $16.5 million real estate deals. They excel at life. So maybe the ability to crush life is from your ability to crush life and that trait draws you to CrossFit.

One more thought - who cares... CrossFit let's you practice pushing yourself through pain both mentally and physically and practice makes perfect. So let's go practice.


wrote …

I know for me - I won't claim causality, just making an observation - the number of CF workouts I've done where I wanted to quit and I just decided, "No, I'm am going to beat this MFer into the ground," ... and did. Today was Eva, and after the very first 800 meters I was like, "Oh GOD, this is going to be bad." Each round was one more down, and part of me said, "Hey dude, you're having to scale the kettlebell and the pullups anyway, you can stop after the third round, you've been pushing yourself." And then that other voice, "Nope. Let's do this." It's come up when I decided to run a longer distance than I was planning on, in other workouts that were absolute hellish slogs. I know that Crossfit is working out my determination as much as my muscles, and I believe that this isn't just for workouts. This is the good stuff, and it'll show up in life in ways I may not even recognize.

Thanks for putting together the best stuff there is so we can all gain from it.


wrote …

Are there any drug rehab centers that implement fitness like crossfit in their rehab programs yet?

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