Reader Question: Discouraged By Lack of Strength at CrossFit

Mastermind Weekend 1/16

Hey there!

I'm Tina

I’m the owner of Carrots ‘N’ Cake as well as a Certified Nutrition Coach and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner (FDN-P). I use macros and functional nutrition to help women find balance within their diets while achieving their body composition goals.


An in-depth, 4-week reverse dieting course for women who feel like their metabolism has slowed down, think they might have hormonal imbalance and can’t lose weight no matter what they do.

Hi, friends! How’s your Halloween going so far? Have you had any candy yet? I enjoyed a mini Twix with my Dandy Blend this morning and it was fabulous.


Yesterday was a rest day for me, so I took Murphy on a 2-mile walk around our neighborhood. When I got home, I snacked on some pistachios before dinner.

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Dinner was Paleo Pad Thai with chicken, broccoli, red bell pepper, onion, and scallions. Yum. I could seriously eat this meal once a week and never get sick of it. Best recipe ever.

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After dinner, I whipped up another batch of scary-weird sugar cookies to share with Mal for dessert. Oh, so good!

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Last week, I received an email from a reader, who just started CrossFit, about being discouraged by her lack of strength compared to the other people in her class. I feel like a lot of new CrossFitters experience these same feelings, so I wanted to share my reply on CNC.

Hi Tina!

First off, let me begin by saying I absolutely love your blog! I enjoy how you live your life with such a great balance of fun and fitness. Your entries on CrossFit finally motivated me to join a box and I have been a member for 6 weeks now. Similar to your fitness background, I have spent the majority of the last 5 years running and light strength training through BodyPump classes. Unfortunately, I have to say with the last couple of classes I have left feeling a bit down on myself.

I wouldn’t say I am an overly competitive person, but I do often compare myself to others. I am usually the girl with the lightest weight during the WOD. Yesterday for example, was my first workout that included snatches. I could only manage to do them with 31# while maintaining my form. Most of the girls in the class were busting out the WOD with the 75# Rx. Now, I realize some of these girls have been going for awhile, but others have only been there for 6 months or so. I just feel so weak compared to them!

Deep down, I know that I would rather work on my form and get the logistics right than try to push myself with the weight. I also know that I do excel at other things that some of the other girls struggle with such as Burpees, box jumps, sprints, etc. Even though I do try to remind myself of my strengths, I can get so discouraged with my lack of strength on the lifts.

I was just wondering if you experienced this at all when starting CrossFit, and if so, how long it took you to see improvements on your strength. I don’t expect to be Rxing with weight anytime soon, I just hope that in time, I will start feeling improvements in my strength.

Let me start off by saying that I am so glad you decided to try CrossFit!! It’s the greatest workout and it sounds like you are making some serious progress already. Doing Snatches with #31 after just 6 weeks is awesome! They’re a tough lift, and it’s great you’re focusing so much on proper form. You don’t want to get hurt!

When I first started CrossFit, my box was fairly new (only open for 2 months prior), so all of the people in my classes were newbies too, which made learning the various movements and lifts quite a bit easier, and there really wasn’t anyone to compare myself to. We were all in the same boat, so we made similar mistakes and had each other for support.

Fast-forward to 11 months later, our box is quite a bit different and there are tons of new faces. A number of the new members come from previous athletic backgrounds, so a few of them have had no problem picking up CrossFit and even Rx-ing the WODs after just a few months. Of course, I’d love to Rx the WODs too, but I’m not quite there yet with my fitness level. When it comes to CrossFit, having a competitive attitude is not a bad thing, but constantly comparing myself to other people is. I know comparison is the thief of joy and a serious energy-suck, so instead of getting discouraged by what other people can do, I use them as motivation.


There’s a woman who joined our box this past summer. She’s a triathlete, totally buff, and always does the workouts faster and with more weight than me. Even if I don’t take a class with her, I look for her name on the white board as motivation for myself. If she did X, maybe I can do Y. Same goes for my running buddy, Kerrie. She’s wicked fast, so I always look for her name on the whiteboard and try to beat her time. (And I know she does the same thing with my times!) Of course, it’s a friendly competition and we push each other to get faster. And if Kerrie beats me in a WOD, I think about her time/weight as something to strive for the next time.

I think it’s also important to remember that everyone was a beginner at some point and some people just have more natural athletic ability. Mal is a perfect example of this. He’s a really great runner and ran his first marathon in 3:15 by only doing the long training runs on the weekends. When it comes to CrossFit, he excels at running and rowing (he rowed in college), but he’s not the biggest guy, so he doesn’t put up a ton of weight. This used to bug him, but he knows he’s really strong at other kinds of workouts. During metcons, for instance, Mal is always the guy to beat and he often gets the fastest times and he’s proud of that. He continues to work on improving his strength and a lot of his focus/training goes into making those gains.

As far as seeing improvements in my own strength, it definitely took some time– and I’m still not Rx-ing workouts! It’s been nearly 11 months since my first CrossFit workout, and I still do plenty of Level 1 and Level 2 WODs. And if I do a workout as prescribed, it’s not one with heavy lifts. Usually, it involves running or some other unweighted exercise or skill, which is totally okay. I know I’ll eventually get stronger. The beauty of CrossFit is that the intensity of the workouts is all relative. Everyone’s heaviest possible weight is different, but if you scale properly, you’ll feel the same way at the end of the workout as someone who just Rx-ed the WOD. Basically, you’re still getting an amazing workout even if you’re not doing it as prescribed.

With that said, hang in there and keep on truckin’. If you attend regular classes and continue to scale the workouts properly, you’ll see progress. Be patient and sets goals for yourself. I keep a notebook at CrossFit with all of my weights, times, scores, etc., and use it as a way to track my progress, which is constant motivation to become a better athlete.

Question of the Day

Do you compare yourself to others when it comes to your fitness endeavors? If so, do you see it as motivation or as something else?

P.S. CrossFit fans: Julie Foucher recently announced her plans for the 2013 CrossFit Games in a post on her blog. She also gives some great advice for achieving balance.



  1. It is really hard not to compare yourself with other people. Especially in a gym atmosphere. I feel like we are all trying to go faster and push harder but there will always be someone that’s better. Using people as motivation is a great way to think about it. I know I need to keep that in mind!

  2. Focusing on form is crucial! Once you start adding weight, you’ll know you’re more than likely not going to hurt yourself. 🙂

  3. I loved reading your thoughtful response. As a CF newbie myself, this gave me a dose of motivation to keep truckin’ and believing. We all have our own strengths (pun intended). Just like you mentioned with Mal, I seem to do better with MetCon WODs due to my athletic background, while others can squat twice their body weight, but struggle with burpees. I’ve only Rx’ed twice in 5 weeks, but it’s such a wonderful feeling of accomplishment that I keep working towards.

    Thanks for the great post 🙂

  4. I definitely compare myself and just experienced that running with other bloggers at the Runner’s World Half. It’s not good for ones mental state and can really limit your ability to break through the wall in my opinion. Your body will get stronger and faster, you just have to be patient with yourself and not look at what others are doing.

  5. One thing that has really helped me improve at CrossFit was building strength. I was going to our box for classes 3x per week and doing yoga and running and racquetball outside of class. With some input from my coaches, I decided to refocus my workouts to build my strength.
    I still CrossFit 3x a week and have two rest days, but my other 2 days a week I spend doing strength training (Monday is deadlift and overhead press, Wednesday or Thursday is back squat and bench press) using Wendler’s 5 3 1 method as basis for my training.
    After a few months I have seen a lot of improvement in my WODs as a result and last night I out-lifted a gal who usually performs better than I do at heavy lifts! I’m not saying it should be all about comparing yourself to others, but there are some “benchmark” people for all of us no matter what our workouts are and it’s cool to see progress.
    Bottom line, I echo Tina – keep working consistently and you WILL improve!

  6. Great post! I’m definitely guilty of comparing myself to others as well and found Julie Foucher’s post super helpful. I like the idea of comparing myself to others as a form of motivation to do better, but there’s a problem with that too…it can be limiting.

    There are a few people at my gym that are consistently better than I am, and I’ve found that using their times or performance as a benchmark could be preventing me from really achieving what I can achieve. We’re doing Fran tonight, and I have a goal time to beat based on my own PR and what a friend did this morning. But if I shoot for her time, thinking, “that’s all I have to do, beat that time,” then it’s limiting me mentally. Does that make sense?

  7. tina this is such a great post and really perfect advice. i think over time, i’ve reached the same spot that you have – comparing only for inspiration and not letting myself get discouraged. i work out with my best friend and she’s so much better than me at anything cardio (sprints, jump rope, plate pushes, etc.). recently, i sort of forgot my own advice and let this get to me a little. finally i confided in her about it, because she saw something was bothering me and asked me. when i told her, her reply shocked me. she said “hello? you kill me on deadlift, cleans, squats – any power lifts. you are so much stronger than me and i am always trying to get to your level.” it was such a reality check for me that i’m too critical on myself and i need to recognize my strengths, while trying to improve my “goats” (i love that crossfit doesn’t call them weaknesses). sometimes i guess i need a reminder.

  8. I definitely see it as motivation, but it’s important to focus on improving yourself! I can understand being frustrated, especially in an environment where everyone is working together and can easily compare to one another. I’m lucky I run/weight lift alone in that regard, but on the other hand having other people there would push me harder!

  9. Actually, I don’t compare myself to others. I only compare myself to what I did yesterday, or last race or last workout. I think I learned this early in my running career. That it is about my journey and my goals, not someone else’s.

  10. I came into my gym pretty strong and was able to start doing WODs RXed at about 6 months. However, I’m still pretty out of shape, a terrible runner, and struggle with chippers, so I totally know how your friend feels. Honestly? Some of the girls doing RXed weights are probably jealous about how good she performs during metcons and WODs with running. The great thing about CrossFit is that we’re all in it together and we’re there for each other and cheer each other on. Strength will come with practice, dedication, eating right (and enough! none of that 1200 calorie BS) and time. Hang in there.

  11. Ugh, yes– I always find myself comparing my performance to others. It get exhausting. I was in a slump for a while where I “thought I should be able to move heavier weights” because of how long I’ve been training– like I wasn’t where I thought I should be. Every workout sucked because I wasn’t meeting my own expectations.

    BUT then I stopped, took a step back and decided to focus on where I am now. Every workout I’ve had since that decision has been amazing.

    I think Crossfit is all about scaling to your ability– it’s really the scaling that will make you better in the end. If you push yourself too much, or get down on yourself about not doing every as RX’ed, it will only slow you down more.

  12. I haven’t tried CrossFit before but I already feel like I can relate to this reader as sometimes I find that I allow that same fear to keep me from group exercise classes in general. But I have to remind myself that if I don’t keep at it, I won’t get better and that when I DO (because I WILL) get stronger, I want to make the new people to the class feel like we’re here to help motivate them rather than discourage.

  13. Good answers! And as always, form is most important. So if someone is worried about putting up more weight than someone else, and the form is wrong, that’s much, much worse.

    I don’t really compare myself anymore. I know that I am different than other people, and I am much stronger & faster than I was a year ago, and that’s all that matters to me!

  14. A few years ago when I was just starting to get into running, I would read a ton of running/fitness blogs and compare myself to their pace/distance/race times. Then I realized that I was a newbie and I was comparing myself to others who were training for marathons or who had been runners for years. When I joined a training team for my half marathon, I did let friendly competition push me to train harder and get faster. I was so proud when I ran my first 1/2 marathon in under 2 hours! Now I just remind myself that friendly competition is good but to not fall into the trap of comparing myself with others.

  15. To the reader regarding CrossFit – DO NOT worry about how much weight you are using! I’ve been doing CrossFit for 2 months as of today and can only snatch 25# so that fact that you can snatch 31# is awesome. I am petite (4’10” and under 100lbs) so my weights are very “light” compared to others’. But I will tell you that when I started, I could barely clean the 15# training bar. Last week, I got up to 43#! YOU WILL GET THERE! Focus on yourself, even though it can be hard. At first I was nervous but my coaches have been incredible. Work with them and have confidence in yourself, plus give it time. 🙂

    P.S. I also completely agree with Tina, keep a notebook (I use my iPhone) to track how much you’re lifting during WODs or strength portions. It’s incredibly helpful!

    1. @Nicki: Thanks for this note, Nicki (and Tina)! I’m in the OnRamp program and have finished four classes so far. I’m about 110 with zero upper body strength (even lifting the training bar has been a struggle), so I’ve been a bit down on myself. It’s encouraging to see someone else in the same boat and see your lifting progress. Really! 🙂

    2. Thanks so much for this post! I am 5’0″ and was very skeptical if I can do crossfit being so petite. You have given me alot of encouragement:)

  16. I’d like to chime in here! It took me several months to get to know people at my box (and five months later I’m still meeting people each class!), but as soon as I did, these people became allies, and started rooting for me.

    Now, instead of frustration of not coming close to RX, I feel comfortable and confident in achieving my personal goals, and it’s AWESOME to know that my gym-mates are there as a support system. Another good thing about CrossFit is that everyone excels at something different. You might see newbies killing it on handstand pushups, when “veterans” are struggling. Tiny women doing muscle ups but not being able to lift 35#. Or you might get smoked by a gentleman four decades your senior on sprints… do not despair! Find what you are good at, and take pleasure in your accomplishments – find what you are bad at, and lighten up and strive harder! {It makes it so much more fun if you can share the joy of achievement with each other.}

  17. I can so very much relate to that email. I’ve been doing crossfit for about 3.5 months now and am JUST getting to the point where I don’t feel like the beginner girl. Something that was incredibly hard to deal with after being so used to being “good” at stuff like normal sports growing up, and running in the past couple years. When we do wods heavy on running, box jumps, burpees and other met con type of stuff, I excel. Heavy lifting…I’m at the bottom of the barrel.

    I never link to stuff in comments but I actually just wrote a post summarizing my thoughts on all this last week:

    Basically for me, it comes down to how to capitalize on “failure” and grow from it. There’s nothing more humbling than watching girls half your size lift twice (or more) what you’re doing.

  18. This is super relative to me right now! I’ve ben CF-ing for 8 weeks and just yesterday we did a WOD with snatches. I’m very competitive and fairly athletic, so when I could complete with workout with just 45# (Rx – 65#), I was extremely frustrated. I was reminded by an article in The Box magazine that it’s about form and technical lifting, as to not hurt yourself – which would in turn set you back.

    Be reminded that others struggle with different parts of training: diet, complexion, energy, etc…and just like many can’t see your frustration with comparing yourself to others, you can’t see what they struggle with.

    It’s a work in process 🙂

    CNC: I love the quote!

  19. I was given some great advice when I started getting “serious” about my workouts…the key to getting ahead (at the gym)…is getting started! 🙂

  20. I try not to compare myself to others, but sometimes it happens inevitably. There are a bunch of girls at my box who have been doing CrossFit for a while, so I don’t necessarily compare myself to them, but rather girls who are more on the same level as me. It is good motivation during a WOD to do this I think, but I always feel good after no matter what and don’t let the comparison get to me.

  21. Snatches are especially hard in the beginning! I remember doing them with the women’s 35 pound bar and falling over. I’ve been doing CF for 5 months and now I can snatch at least 75lbs. Once you get the form down and everything the weight will come, and likely faster than you think! But form is EVERYTHING so really take your time to focus on it! Bad form causes injury, I can tell you that first hand, I pulled a muscle in my back doing deadlifts because I was not paying attention to proper form and was trying to go too heavy!

  22. I do compare myself to others when it comes to fitness; I’m competitive by nature and feel like I can’t not compare myself. It’s motivating but can definitely be a slippery slope. When it becomes discouraging, I step back to regain perspective and look at how far I’ve come.

  23. I definitely compare myself to others, and I think it works both ways. Sometimes it’s a huge motivator, but other times I look at people doing certain things (like running a marathon!!) and I think I’ll never be able to accomplish that. That can get discouraging.

  24. I too have only been at crossfit for about 6-8 weeks. Last week I got all excited as I did my first L2 wod. But yesterday the workout killed me at a L1!! I think this was because it was a heavy upper body wod and that just isn’t one of my body’s strengths. I’m a runner so the fast lower body wods are easier. I try to focus on having fun with those wods and focusing on the big benefits of the harder (for me) wods. Keeping a record works really well for motivation. Sometimes you don’t feel like you’re progressing but looking back on your records you see you are. It’s easy to forget where you were even last week without keeping records!
    I say all this but I am sitting at home writing this trying to get motivated to go to today’s session. That hard wod from yesterday kicked my butt and I can barely move!!! 🙂

  25. In response to the Crossfit newbee’s concern…..everyone at Crossfit has their own strengths and weaknesses. Personally, I am an endurance athlete…I am doing Crossfit because my weakness is strength, especially my upper body strength. There are people in my class that can do muscle-ups and lift prescribed weight every WOD, but they can’t run for their life. I was a newbee like you….. I could run miles and miles and do squats for days when I started Crossfit 5 months ago, but I couldn’t do a pull-up even with a large band (I had to start with the jumping pull-ups even for a few weeks) and I couldn’t do Crossfit push-ups with your arms close to your body (I had to do push-ups on a bar). Now I can do pull-ups with the lightest band and I can do 15-20 Crossfit push-ups at a time. I still can’t do a pull-up without a band like many of the other girls, but I know I am stronger and as long as I have seen my personal progress I am getting my hard work and money’s worth. I bet I will be able to do a pull-up in another 5 months or at least that is my goal. Also, when you start crossfit, it is important to get the technique of each lift vs. lifting a heavier weight. I bet there are people in your classes that are doing a heavier weight, but their technique is wrong and they are just muscling the weight.

    Don’t get discouraged. Make short term goals (week by week) to reach your long term goals. Example: For a few weeks, I went to Crossfit 5 minutes before the workout started to work on my double-unders and pull-ups. My short term goal was to do 2 double-unders in a row and 5+ pull-ups with a band without stopping. My longer term goal was to do one single-under and one double-under for 10 cycles in a row and do 10+ pull-ups with a thinner band without stopping. I succeed after 4-6 weeks of extra practice and asking others for advice. Don’t be afraid to ask people in your classes for tips…everyone was a newbee at some point! I promise, you will see improvement, especially if you go 3x per week for 8+ weeks.

    Good Luck! Keep up the good work!


      1. @Tina: Oh my gosh, it’s SO much better now. I still get really frustrated with my fitness level (I had a super embarrassing temper tantrum during a WOD with pull ups the other day) but everyone there is incredibly nice and supportive. That’s 99% of what keeps me coming back, and seeing the little tiny improvements helps too. 🙂

  26. I DEFINITELY compare myself to other people. I did it just this morning at CrossFit! Sometimes it’s good, because it pushes me harder than I normally would push myself. Sometimes, however, it gets me a little down and I start associating people with being better at a certain skillset than I. Then I start to resent that person a bit. Healthy competition is great, but definitely having stopped and started with CrossFit a few times, I can say that YOU should be your top competition. Look to beat your last PR, or seek to lift a bit heavier than you did last time. Seeing the progress in yourself is so much more satisfying than resenting the people around you. I’m still learning this!

  27. That pad thai looks a-maaaaa-ZING! Where is that recipe? I’m so glad I came across your blog (what did we do before pinterest?!) You have one more follower! 🙂

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