Does suffering in a group make it easier? Dr. Steven M. Platek believes the camaraderie of CrossFit can get you through the nastiest WOD.
What does CrossFit have to do with pain?
Quite fascinatingly, our “feeling” of pain in the physical is tightly and neurologically linked to our feeling pain in the social realm (being excluded, ostracized, etc.). The kid who does not get picked for dodgeball experiences a sense of pain very similar to what he would feel if he were just kicked in the face with a dodgeball. Sure, some differences exist, but in both examples the neural alarm system would become activated. In the former case, all the pain is in the social neural alarm system, with little or no physical feelings of pain (although continued social exclusion can produce real physical symptomatology).
See, humans have been highly social critters during our evolutionary history. Our brains have evolved to be social. We like the feeling of team support, and when our support system is threatened, our brains respond using the same exact systems as those used when we are physically injured. This occurs in order to motivate us to get back into the group. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can reduce physical pain; camaraderie reduces social pain.
Let’s take this one step further: if physical pain and social pain systems are so tightly linked neurologically, then we might hypothesize that medicines which reduce physical pain ought to also reduce social pain. Indeed, new scientific evidence suggests certain painkillers, and variations in genetic susceptibility to painkillers, can make someone feel less upset about being excluded from a social situation. I think this is an amazing discovery!
Similarly, the thing that reduces social pain—camaraderie—might be able to reduce physical pain. Little scientific data supports this idea, but I think we see some evidence of this phenomenon every day in CrossFit in a highly cooperative, competitive, friendly and encouraging environment. Camaraderie, or being made to feel like you are part of a group that is supporting your goals, can make you push through a WOD or any challenge life throws at you.