Now, there is a stereotype that CrossFit is a fitness *cult* and that its members *won't shut up* about it! Well, that may be true, but after two years of dedicated work in the gym I cannot deny the physical and mental changes taking shape. These changes have also flowed into my creative practices and have shown me how these areas are interconnected with my overall wellness.
Here is my list of 5 reasons why CrossFit has made me a better musician!
#1 Confidence: A Musician's Body Image
In my early 30s, I started feeling unsure of myself: too young for a mid-life crisis, too old for naïveté. I was stressed out and felt out of shape. I had achieved so much academically and as an artist, but also felt a little lost personally. My friends and family were getting married, buying homes, starting families, or getting doctorates. I was working hard but doubted whether I was really accomplishing anything. Another thing weighing on me was the growing realization and eventual acceptance that I was gay. Years of being in the closet were taking their toll emotionally, spiritually, and even physically. With encouragement from my family, I started going to an Anytime Fitness in Saint Paul, where I faithfully attended classes and saw steady progress even as part-time coaches came and went. By March 2020, I was on a bit of a plateau -- no huge gains, but consistent growth. Then the pandemic happened. My gym closed and my fitness routines were thrown into a tailspin like everything else. But, in those years were three important milestones:
In September 2020, as part of a self-imposed creative retreat in Duluth, I made an oath to myself while standing on the shore of Lake Superior to accept myself and my queerness and in doing so to continue growing spiritually, musically and physically stronger day by day.
In May 2021, I came out publicly on social media with a renewed purpose to be more open and vulnerable about this part of my life. That post also included a commitment to becoming more physically active since there was a clear connection between my mental and physical wellness that I wanted to strengthen and develop.
In August 2021, my brother-in-law invited me to KFP CrossFit and I kept showing up, taking risks, accepting feedback, and celebrating the milestones, no matter how big or small. It was addicting and by December 2022, the coaches named me "Most Improved Male Athlete of the Year" and now I'm a regular at the 6:15 a.m. classes five days a week!
This journey was about more than just acceptance. It was about showing respect to my body's role in my physical and mental wellness. By showing love to my body, I was learning not to hate or hide these parts of myself, but to celebrate them and develop them more fully.
In order to be a confident musician, you need to be comfortable in your own body. Your body is part of your instrument and essential for your performance. There are many types of bodies and many ways to be comfortable in them, but finding that balance and confidence is key.
CrossFit helped me reconnect my mind and body in surprising ways and was part of a much larger picture of acceptance and self-love that had been missing for years.
#2 Conditioning: A Musician's Practice and Habit
All of these traits are evident in your typical CrossFitter!
The people I have met are some of the hardest working, driven, and committed people I know. These are traits that are learned over time and don't always come naturally. It's uncomfortable to push yourself. It's frustrating to fail. It's not glamorous to lie in a pool of your own sweat at the end of a workout. But as an athlete it is critical to put in that work in practice so that your performance can be stronger. You need to build up your endurance and experience in order to succeed and adapt over time.
It's the same with music. Practice makes perfect. Those hard won moments in rehearsal and private practice are the skills and habits you need to develop in order to sustain a musical career. It can be grueling at times, but it takes commitment. The muscle memory comes with repetition. The mindset comes with consistent practice.
I'll admit that I don't have very good practice habits -- but CrossFit has shown me how progress can be made if you really dedicate yourself and work through the uncomfortable and unglamorous parts (what CrossFit might call "the pain cave") to get to the other side where those skills feel natural and sustainable as part of your musical toolkit.
#3 Coaching: A Musician's Self-Talk
As musicians, we have our own teachers and mentors, but not all of them have left us with positive self-talk. A negative comment can linger for years and echo in our minds. Mistakes can become mental blocks. Years of rejection can make you embittered. Performance anxiety and imposter syndrome are very real! It is important to be self-critical and realistic about our performances in order to improve, but it also essential that a musician surrounds themselves with positive and supportive voices. These mentors can be hard to find later in your career but are just as important then as in earlier stages.
The coaches I've met through CrossFit also understand the important of the whole person, not just the athlete. They genuinely care about other parts of my life, my interests, my hobbies, my mental well-being. This can sometimes be true among musicians, but more of us need to be reminded that we are more than just musicians! We are multifaceted people with real lives! Being a professional musician is a demanding lifestyle that can completely consume a person. I've found it is important to have interests and hobbies outside of music to not only be more well-rounded, but also to "escape the music" when you need that emotional distance. The gym is one of those places for me (so is my garden) and it gives me a chance to clear my mind before returning to the music with refreshed enthusiasm.
#4 Comfort Zone: A Musician's Echo Chamber
In our polarized political and social landscapes, it is easy to remain in our bubbles with people we assume think exactly like we do. But that bubble is exactly what prevents us from connecting to those around us in ways that create meaningful change and dialogue.
My CrossFit gym is probably the most diverse place in my daily life. There are athletes at my gym that are active and retired members of the military. There are police officers, nurses, teachers, and first responders. There are many races and ethnic backgrounds. There are people with physical and mental disabilities. There are religious and non-religious people. There are married couples, both straight and gay, as well as single people. There are kids classes, teenagers, parents, grandparents, and people of all ages. While we don't talk a lot about politics or social issues, I know that there is diversity of opinion at my gym. But what brings me hope is that even though we represent a wide range of backgrounds and beliefs, we come together around health and fitness to create an encouraging community. Those differences do not prevent us from caring for each other because our collective mission is greater - and that really inspires me!
When I see community building in the musical sphere, it may appear more diverse, but can feel very contrived. It feels almost clinical or sanitized instead of authentic. People may mean well, but can be patronizing. Or, people make assumptions and prescribe their specific goals in advance rather than engaging the community at the start and truly listening. An authentic community comes together around common purposes, but still leaves room for diversity of thought and opinion. It leaves room for the hard conversations. It leaves room for nuance. Even if that feels "messier," it is an environment where true change can happen.
#5 Community: A Musician's Support Network
We wait until everyone finishes before we clean up our equipment.
We cheer for everyone as they cross the finish line, no matter how long it takes them.
We celebrate the big and the small victories.
We give every person in the room a high five, fist bump, or hug, whether they are regulars or first-timers.
We take the time to battle our inner demons.
We honor and respect each other as well as our heroes and role models.
We see each other struggle and fail, but also watch them achieve things they never imagined.
We see other at our sweaty-gross-dying-on-the-floor-gasping-for-air ugliest.
We are forged in the fire again and again.
One of our gym mottos is "building unbreakable human beings" and that only happens through community. No one gets there all on their own.
It should go without saying, but "people are important in your life!" No matter what stage of life you are in or career path you are navigating, the people on that journey are influential. The more genuine and real you can be with those people, the stronger those relationships become. The more you show up among those real people, the stronger that network becomes. We all need a support network, but what does that network look like? Is it a vague network of colleagues, customers, and clients? Or, is it a network of life-long collaborators that are more like friends and family? Both networks are necessary, but when trials come, who is going to be there? Who can you ask for help? Who can be a partner? Who can be a "good hang"?
I have made many friends in the music community and am thankful for many strong relationships. Some of these go way back and others are much newer. Some of these are "forged in the fire" friendships created through season after season of collaboration and others are circumstantial. What my gym community has shown me is that you need to show up for people, especially those people that you are closest to, and build that "unbreakable" network by being a strong and dependable ally yourself. This takes time and dedication, but it is energy well spent!