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5 Types of CrossFit Pain

By October 23, 2016November 19th, 2019No Comments


We all know, or have been told, that pain is a natural part of the CrossFit experience. And while I’d like to debunk the fact that injuries are a common CrossFit occurrence (they’re not), I’m not talking about pain from an injury.

CrossFitters experience pain on multiple levels throughout our training, each type unique in its torture. If you’ve been buddying with the barbells for any length of time, you may recognize some of the following:

Pre-meditated “Flight” Pain

Have you ever looked at the WOD and had your muscles hurt just from the thought of all the reps that lie in wait? That’s what this is. You woke up feeling good, thinking, “Yeah, I’m gonna go workout, woo! I feel great!”

But then your “fight or flight” response kicks in, and your body heavily leans toward “flight.”

You get to the box and the coach scrolls down the screen, and you see “5 rounds for time at 90% effort.” Or heavy kettlebell swings. Or what you notice the WOD involves more than a mile of running, added together. (I digress to say, never add, people! Never do the math beforehand!) Suddenly, your body feels very, very tired. Your legs, which before were thrumming with energy, now quake. Your heart feels sad. You are not up for this fight.

What before seemed like a great morning to be alive now feels like a terrible day to do any sort of physical activity. Is that a tightness in your shoulder you feel? Perhaps you pulled a muscle and are only just now noticing. Maybe you should go light today, take it easy…

But no. You know the “everything hurts and I’m dying” pain is coming, and you must embrace it. If only for the mediocre satisfaction of knowing you are not a quitter.


“Everything Hurts and I’m Dying” Pain

A “popular” type of CrossFit pain, though one we all loathe and dread more than death. This is the pain evoked by so many record-breaking Girl WODs, first-day-back-from-vacation WODs, and if you’re going all-out… pretty much any WOD (especially ones that involve running).

In a typical WOD, you have several phases of rep-effort:

-You have your “just getting started” reps—after the timer starts and you’ve barely begun to sweat. You don’t realize how much your life sucks yet.

-Then you have “realization reps,” when you realize how much the WOD sucks, or that the X’s are a lot “easier” than you thought they would be, but the Y is somehow kicking your ass.

-And then you have your “everything hurts and I’m dying” phase of reps—and the subsequent “pain.” Usually about two/thirds into the WOD, you know the Y is killing you, and you feel it in your very core. The thought of picking up the kettlebell makes you want to cry. You’re positive that if you run any faster, you will throw up—and there’s somehow five minutes left in this God-forsaken AMRAP.


Here, Ray shows us what is possibly the best visual depiction of EHAID Pain.

The pain evoked here is more mental than physical. It’s that notion that everything in the gym is against your body, and you’re forced to suffer through it. “How on earth will I keep moving?” is a question that torments you, but you cannot answer. You just have to let it happen. Keep going. You can’t stop to think about how much you’re dying because then you might actually, finally, maybe quit.


And then, miracle of miracles, when a tear is preparing to make its way from your sweaty eyeball as you look at that fat kettlebell with dread—it ends. You realize you don’t have to pick it up again. That glorious timer has sung its finishing song, and you fall on the floor, your heart practically exploding.

-There’s one more type of rep-effort—the best kind, in my opinion. Sometimes you look at the clock ten seconds before the AMRAP is over, or the workout is “for time” and you have only a couple reps left. I call these Mercy Reps, and in them you find a morsel of relief—only because you know it’s almost over. In these reps, the “everything hurts and I’m dying pain” remains, but it subsides slightly. You kick it in gear for a few glorious seconds, and then bam. You explode. At least, that’s what it feels like when the timer sounds.


“I am Tinman, Watch Me (try to) Move” Pain

We all know this pain well, as it is good ol’ fashioned “sore.” It’s what you experience the days after your body does something it’s not used to. Or it is used to, just hasn’t done in a while. Or you did heavier. Or you just didn’t stretch enough. Or you didn’t have enough recovery nutrients. Whatever—your body hurts because you worked out. And now you can barely move.


But this is really a good hurt—at least when it’s not so intense that you can’t pick up your phone. It’s usually duller, a constant reminder throughout the day that you challenged your muscles, and they’re improving. You’re improving. We CrossFitters wear this soreness proudly. And while soreness is not a true indication of how hard you worked, we like to tell ourselves that it is. After all, how often do you get sore muscles after eating an entire pizza and binge-watching Stranger Things? There’s got to be some logic to that.


“Delayed Onset Soreness” Pain

We’ve all woken up only to realize we can hardly remove the covers from our body. Usually, we expect it. We go hard, and we know the Tinman Pain will follow. But this type of pain emerges after you crush Tuesday’s or Wednesday’s WOD.

–And Thursday, you were fine—no harm, no foul. Friday, also fine. Maybe that brutal workout didn’t hit your muscles as hard as you thought it did.

But now it’s Saturday, and your body is laughing at you. Making you pay. You realize those 100 GHD sit-ups did, in fact, pummel every part of your abdomen and quads. It hurts to lean backward. It hurts to laugh. Sneezing is unthinkable. All this for a workout you did several days ago, one you thought you’d escaped.

Beware. When you think you’ve dodged the Tinman, wait a few days. Sometimes you’ll be in the clear—but don’t breathe that sigh of relief until the workout is at least four days past and you know it won’t make you clench in pain.


“That Means You Should Be Doing it More” Pain

If you’ve been CrossFitting for any amount of time, you’ve no doubt been told to stick a Lacrosse ball where it hurts. Literally. That might mean you lie on the floor with the rubber demon under your shoulder blade, or you sit on a box while it digs into the crevice under your glute.

There is a moment when the ball hits a tight muscle, a muscle that’s probably been bothering you lately, but until now has not made itself fully known. Suddenly your entire appendage is filled with white-hot pain. Somehow the ball is on your back, yet you’re positive someone is stabbing the front of your shoulder. The words “rotator cuff” take on a whole new level of meaning—and obscenity.

You cry out in agony, and it’s usually at this moment that the coach tells you, “Yep. That means you need to be doing this more.” Because if you nursed these kinks, they wouldn’t be there. It wouldn’t hurt so bad.

Which, at that point, is about as helpful as saying, “If you worked out more, you wouldn’t be so out of shape.”

Uhm, duh. But it HURTS.


Sometimes we wear sunglasses to hide our pain.

This is why I have said that mobility is often worse than our infamously brutal workouts. This type of “mobility pain” is sharp and stabbing, and yet you’re supposed to lean into it. Pain like this is also referred to as “hurts so good” pain, though in the moment it feels anything but.



There you have it, folks. If you don’t CrossFit, now you know that our pain goes much deeper than “feel the burn” and “sore.” And if you do CrossFit, now you have a name to put to your grievances. Because, sometimes, just naming the pain helps. 😉

Anything I missed?