CrossFit: A Sisyphean Endeavor?

By Dr. Jane Drexler

In Rest Day/Theory

March 04, 2013

PDF Article

Dr. Jane Drexler asks who we are between the first rep and the last.

“He is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.” —Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

If you want to wax philosophical about CrossFit, few better moments will capture your attention than the Dog Sled event of the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games.

Picture the now-iconic image of Chris Spealler, and you see an unforgettable moment: all eyes were on a man whose whole being was focused on the herculean effort of pushing a way-too-heavy-but-somehow-not dog sled across an arena floor.

The dog sled was part of the second half of a multiple-round workout that included three rounds of overhead squats and double-unders, and then three rounds of handstand push-ups and a 385-lb. dog-sled push from one end of the arena to the other, 40 feet at a time. After each 40-foot push, we watched Spealler and every other athlete stand back up, turn around, and walk back to the beginning in order to earn—through HSPUs—the right to push the sled again.

We don’t usually pay much attention to the time in between rounds, when not a whole lot is going on. What’s to look at? It’s people walking, resting or catching their breath. We don’t usually see that as worthy of sustained attention.

But I want to linger on that moment.

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11 Comments on “CrossFit: A Sisyphean Endeavor?”


wrote …

It is difficult for me to verbalize what is in my head and heart in that gap before I start the next round. So many things, (dread and nausea are at the top of the list) but I could never put my finger on what was driving my compulsion to finish. No matter how slow, or how ugly it is... just focus on finishing the next round. I think Dr. Drexler nails it for me. Each round I finish is a triumph over all the things I've ever felt were impossible to complete. Thanks for your insight.


wrote …

Great article! Thank you!!


wrote …

Fantastic perspective and great article. Obvious NOW, is the similarity of this story, of our workouts, and what we already knew, that as we continue on, even when or rather especially when it's inconvenient, unconfortable, painful, etc.... that's when we are actually building ourselves, our characters, when we call a no rep on ourselves at the cost of a PR, to be true to the movements and the workout. To keep an accurate count of reps, etc. A cheated PR really only cheats yourself, and lessens the true value of accomplishing that momentary PR. Since we are always striving to imprive, those fleeting moments of accomplishment, while they should be valued and enjoyed, are only moments on our path to health, well being andd fitness. I have thought that clarity is often found through the struggle. I personally feel much more clear and focused later on after the fog of pain of the workout has subsided.
Great article. Makes me want to start reading greek mythology.


wrote …


Fantastic article...perfect timing for the open!

Thank you.


replied to comment from Justin Arnest



wrote …

Both this and "Aristotle in a Box" are exceptional at conveying what it means to travel the road. Thanks for posting.


wrote …

The challenge in life is to derive meaning. With the acquisition of meaning there is a tendency to ward off the existential depression associated with meaninglessness. Even the paradoxical action of continuing to struggle while faced with a meaningless task represents the spiritual/existential victory, otherwise known as a winning attitude. Non biologically based depression is typically associated with people who have found no meaning in life, even if the meaning is to simply continue the struggle.


wrote …

One of the best things I've read in a very long time. I suspect that most admire the products of what may seem Sisyphean efforts; the big lift, the fast run, the well behaved child, A boulder at the top of a hill. It's interesting to consider that the negative space between the efforts is a place where the will is most strenuously tested and as a reason for claiming victory. Thank you.


wrote …

Great article!


wrote …

Thanks for the read makes me want to try 13.1 again. very inspiring.


wrote …

As an athlete returning from injury, and having just turned in my thesis on expressions of development and morality in Albert Camus' "The Stranger," this article takes on a VERY special meaning for me. Job well done! I always wondered why I was so drawn to Camus in college, and maybe the connection you've made here explains it.

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