crossfit workout intensity application to workplace

“Be stronger than your
strongest excuse.”

The connection between working out and creating better leaders is a topic that isn’t always discussed and definitely deserves some more exposure. Todays focus is on HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and CrossfFit which can be traced back to the physical training of our elite personnel in the armed forces. Few would argue that the benefits of doing a CrossFit workout are worth the sweat and grind but…

  • What about applying the same intensity at the gym directly in the workplace?

As an L&D professional and a Crossfitter myself, I was curious to take a closer look at how developing one’s physical and personal prowess could directly improve and impact ones mental and professional presence.

According to a recent study about the connection between Transformational Leadership and CrossFitDr. Carol Himelhoch, Professor of Management at Siena Heights University discovered the following themes with leaders who did CrossFit:

  • Leaders became more self-confident.
  • They gained a belief in themselves as capable of tackling insurmountable challenges.
  • They also trust that practice, trial, and failures will lead to ultimate success.
  • They need to remain open to risk-taking and change.

To truly understand the connection between the two, I went directly to the source – Eric Williams, Owner at CrossFit Walnut Creek and here is what he had to say:

  • “Think of all of the qualities you admire in the best leaders you know.
    Those same qualities appear in high level CrossFit athletes and are a characteristic further developed in those finding CrossFit for the first time.”


“Hiding from your weaknesses is a recipe for incapacity and error.”
– Greg Glassman, Founder of CrossFit

In the workplace: Being humble although often seen as a weakness, is one of the easiest ways to win over your team and also one of the most neglected. Strong leaders lead from behind and not in the front all the while giving up the spotlight so their team enjoy the limelight. The truth is, excellent leaders understand the power of humility and how to use it to succeed.

In Crossfit: The greatest character flaw of any athlete is failure to acknowledge short comings and believing that that wrong inputs will lead to the right end results. Video is critical to understanding how you move. 360 degree feedback from peers, employees and supervisors shape the entire picture of who you are and where you lack strength.

“When you feel like quitting think about why you started”

In Work: Being good let alone great at anything in life requires not just commitment but focus. Focus on both your goals as well as your strengths and opportunities for growth. As a people manager, you will be tested everyday both by your team and outside circumstances. Staying true to your goals is critical for success.

In Crossfit: The development of a squat is a project with benchmarks, costs/benefits/risk, setbacks and feedback systems. The beauty of fitness is that the inputs/outcomes relate on a near 1:1 basis. When you can be honest with yourself enough to accept exactly what you have to do to develop your physical game, and the process to get it done, you might be more likely to acknowledge the intangibles in your work processes that are preventing you from getting to the next level.

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” 

In the workplace: Being open (and authentic) to coaching and receiving feedback is the key ingredient and difference between good versus great and great versus exceptional. Strong leaders welcome and acknowledge this as an opportunity to improve. Remember, t’s not just about receiving it but also seeking it out.

In Crossfit: There is always someone bigger, better and stronger. Taking cues and tips from the folks that have been there and done that, will make your ascent faster and more efficient. Workplace habits/processes have a tendency of being rigid, stubborn and bound by tradition. Through being open and coachable, the opportunities to learn from others is endless.


“Your mind will quit 100 times before your body ever does” 

In the workplace: Patience is not the ability to wait, instead its your ability to keep a good attitude while waiting. Strong leaders know this and embody what being patient looks like. They don’t rush to conclusions with others and allow certain events to unfold before either speaking or taking actions. Developing ones self (let alone someone else) takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your leadership skills if you try to rush it. Be patient both with yourself and others.

In Crossfit: You may need to complete 1000 bad reps before the FIRST one that feels “just ok.” From there, it is another 500 reps until you get one that feels good. Greatness comes after 1000s of repetitions. You may have to put your foot in your mouth 100 times before the words come perfectly in your delivery. But if you give up at your first failure, you will never arrive at your destination.

“Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” 

In the workplace: Being in the unknown is not a fun feeling. In fact one of our main brain cravings is “certainty” and when we don’t receive it, we typically fall into a victim type state of mind. Strong leaders recognize the need to understand everything in their path but also recognize the importance of learning something new which can only be achieved through stepping outside their comfort zones.

In Crossfit: It’s a constant variation of unknown workouts, all of which you come prepared to take on without knowing ahead of time. Being prepared both physically and mentally is key. CrossFit is the specialty of not specializing – be as good as you can at as many things as possible to mitigate your chances of getting stuck on a physical task.

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success” 

In the workplace: Being inclusive means to collaborate with others inside your community. In this case, it could be your own team, your peers or outside colleagues. The challenge with being inclusive is that you open yourself up both for criticism and vulnerability. Strong leaders understand the power of team and how collaboration can successfully contribute to both new ideas as well as reaching the finish line quicker, smarter and stronger.

In Crossfit: The massive hulks and the tiniest of frames can work in tandem to achieve goals relative to their ability. Just because someone isn’t as strong as you, doesn’t mean they won’t get there some day. Sometimes an outsiders perspective can vibrate your understandings of how things ought to be done.


Final thoughts:
You don’t need to do Crossfit to improve your leadership skills but clearly there is a connection that can’t be dismissed. Both take hard (and smart) work, commitment, risk taking, self-assessment, and good communication skills to name a few. In fact, focusing on the principles in this article alone will surely begin to awaken the elite leader within yourself. Burpees are optional. 


The floor is yours:  What “outside” principles do you apply “inside” the workplace?

Please leave your comment below as your insights are greatly appreciated and a learning opportunity for everyone reading this article.

With leadership,

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