Starting CrossFit, Running, or Yoga? Slow Down And Water Squat

Starting CrossFit, Running, or Yoga? Slow Down And Water Squat Barefoot Rehabilitation Clinic

04 Aug Starting CrossFit, Running, or Yoga? Slow Down And Water Squat

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Author’s Note: If you’re starting CrossFit, running, yoga, or some other activity where you’re ramping up your workouts, this post is for you. It’s written from my perspective of dealing with CrossFitters who have been working out for months or years.  I hope to bring attention to the culture of CrossFit, running, + yoga by examining the meme above.  That mindset is hurting people.  Even all-loving yogis.  

The conversation with Hardcore Harry, who has been CrossFitting for 5 years, goes like this.

ME: You’ve been working out 5 days per week for a while now.  You’ve been injured for 3 months.  It’s obvious to both of us that you need to slow down + let your body heal.

HARDCORE HARRY: (pause – smile – pause)

ME: I see that you’re facing resistance.

HARDCORE HARRY: I understand what you said (wanting the conversation to end).

ME: (Poking the bear) Tell me what you’re saying in your head that you’re not saying out loud with your words.

HARDCORE HARRY: I don’t want to, can’t stop, won’t stop.  Exercise is my stress management. It makes my days better.  It makes me look good. Feel healthy.  I lost 50 pounds a few years ago through exercise. I don’t want to gain the weight back.  I want to have a healthy heart.  Live a long time.

ME: I understand your perspective.  In your statements, there are many assumptions we won’t address now.  The take home message I want you to realize is this …

ME: The way you exercise is not helping your body.  It is hurting your body.  You are not nurturing yourself. You are not loving yourself.


The verbal exchange above is not restricted to males or females.  40-year-old worker bees or high school athletes.  CrossFitters, runners, triathletes, or yogis.  Those who are starting CrossFit or yoga or who have been doing it for 10 years.

There’s a common denominator.

It’s a lack of self-love that causes a lack of nurturing.

Seasoned CrossFitters – It’s Getting Old …

This past week alone at Barefoot Rehab, I told almost double-digit patients:

Slow down.  You have structural damage to your joints.  Do you want to walk in 30 years?

Four of those patients own CrossFit gyms.

The whole die-hard, sweat angel on the ground when the clock-hits-zero mentality has got to go.

It’s too much load.  Your capacity cannot keep up forever.


I’m not saying we shouldn’t push hard on occasion.  But every workout?  5 days a week?  The gazelle doesn’t flee from the tiger everyday for the duration of his life.  The all-out physical effort is a one-time thing followed up by enormous lengths of physical + emotional recovery time.  Lounging out by the watering hole with your gazelle babe + dude friends.

But CrossFitters?

They leave it all on the black mat.  Then, they commute to work in the heavy traffic, where they curse the slow-moving lanes.  Only to get to work + to feel the burden of deadlines.  Finally getting home to spend more non-recharging energy cleaning the house or cooking for the kids.

It’s not limited to CrossFitters. The yogis do it too.

There’s “yin” yoga + “yang” yoga.  “Yang” yoga is the yoga Americans love.  Fast-paced, high temperatures, constantly flowing + moving with buckets of sweat on the ground.

You know you’re activating a stress response, don’t you, silly ass? (I mean that with love.)

When does it end?

Well, I’ll tell you where it ends.

It ends (hopefully), when the CrossFitter, runner, or yogi steps into our office + I diagnose them with a problem that cannot be fixed, but still allows some level of activity.  And yes, even gentler yoga can cause degenerative conditions.  The reason why the timing of this incident in our office is paramount is the touchy balancing act of:

I’m experiencing enough symptoms to get real help

(because I’ve been trying to fix this myself for a while now)


I’m still working out as much as my injury will allow me to.

If it ends, that athlete will slow down, keep working out with less intensity + less symptoms. If this sounds like you, continue reading.

If the pain hasn’t gotten big enough, in magnitude, duration, or emotional amplitude, the athlete will continue with the ridiculous high level of loading + parallel pain symptoms.  If this is you, you can stop reading now.  I won’t be offended.  I’ll still be here to diagnose your condition when the pain gets intense + rampant enough.  I only hope that I can still reduce your pain.

I couldn’t help my mom.

Slowing Down – What is Nurturing?

The best example I can think of is the parent-baby relationship.

Most parents I know drop whatever they’re doing to accomodate their baby.  Feeding, holding, loving, making googly eyes.  Picture the most loving parent you know holding his/her baby.  You can almost visualize the energetic love showering down on the baby.  Holding the baby with unabridged love is nurturing the baby.

It is the nurturing that imprints on the baby a sense of groundedness, support, + right-mindedness for the rest of that baby’s life.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost the ability to nurture ourselves + we can’t find our ground.taiji-quan

In Taijiquan: The Art of Nurturing, the Science of Power (affiliate link – if you purchase the book, pennies go in the Barefoot piggy bank), Master Yang Yang of the Center for Taiji & Qigong in New York City explains how the core foundation of all Qi Gong exercise is nurturing our whole selves: body, mind, + spirit.

Qi Gong is an Eastern movement philosophy developed initially for the purpose of fighting.  As non-fighting citizens in China began to observe the health-enhancing effects of the fighters’ movement practices, they began to inquire about the practice to the point where today, Qi Gong is practiced by individuals across the world who want a movement practice that brings positive benefits that aren’t experienced in other forms of movement.

Inherent in the practice is nurturing. If any part of the whole is NOT nurturing, a Qi Gong practitioner would say: “Don’t do that.”

If you’re too tired to practice, you’d be told: “Go to sleep.”
If you’re experience a pain with a specific movement, you’d be told “Don’t do that.”
If you’re fatigued, you’d be told: “Rest”.

Notice, in zero of the three scenarios above are they told “Come to the box, do the WOD anyway, + push as hard as you’re able!”

Moderation is baked in to the foundation of the Qi Gong practice.  Not too much or too little.  Not too long or too short.

Wherever you’re body, mind, + spirit is currently at, is good enough.

Where does the Path of the CrossFitter lead? Observing NFL Athletes

There’s been much discussion around professional football players, the injuries they accumulate, + how to protect them from sufferable lives post-career.

More recently, the Huffington Post documented how we shouldn’t be surprised when NFL athletes retire early.  The article centers around concussions, which occur at a higher prevalence given the violent nature of the sport.  But the injuries are not limited to the head/brain.

The NFL athlete is now typically retiring before the age of 30.

These athletes have experienced a tremendous amount of load as they’ve pushed their body’s fitness + capacity as much as they’ve been able to.  As a consequence, their teams have the highest level of healthcare + recovery doctors, therapies, + strategies in order to keep them in the game.

And it’s not good enough.

The CrossFitter’s body doesn’t even come close to the healthcare access that NFL bodies have.

Yet, CrossFitters put just as much load on their bodies that the professional athletes do.

Working out as quickly as they can go, with as much weight as possible, 5 days per week, for as long as the body will allow.

Because it’s fun!  And all of our friends are doing it!  It gets results – lean, muscular bodies with feel-good hormones to boot!

Until, our bodies can’t keep up anymore.

And an acute injury happens.

It’s OK, because you’ll roll out.  Mobilize.  Get a massage.  Maybe that works for a little while.  Then the pain keeps coming back.  It lasts longer than it used to.  And occurs with smaller weights + earlier in the WOD.

Finally, they … the CrossFitters out there hurting themselves … becomes you.

And you step foot into our office.

Starting CrossFit On A Better Path – Move Through Water

Pushing the body with high load is a privilege you earn through slowness.

The path is to slow down.  (Think emergency brake.)

We all desperately need to slow down.  Not only in our exercises practices, but in our American ways.

It’s OK if you’re 5 minutes late due to the traffic.
It’s OK if you are late getting your project in.
It’s OK if you finish the WOD a few minutes slower than if you had gone as hard + fast as possible.

In Qi Gong, you learn to move slowly.  By moving slowly, you groove movement patterns that allow you to move faster, more efficiently, later.  Remember, Qi Gong was not created as a health practice.  It was created as a martial art/fighting practice.  Polished + shaped by hundreds of years of wisdom, this practice works to develop efficient fighters.

Effective fighting doesn’t start with the fighter moving as quickly as possible from the start.  Effecting CrossFitting doesn’t start with the athlete racing the clock from Day One.

You bring the energy, nurturing part to Qi Gong movement by pretending that you’re moving your body through water.

Since I became certified in Qi Gong a few months ago, I’ve been practicing every morning as a morning meditation.  Below is a video I created bringing the principle of “Moving through Water” to our Squats.  I call these “Water Squats”, which is an effective method to bring slowness to starting CrossFit or any other fitness activity.

Please excuse my shirtlessness.  I’m embarassed + afraid to post it. But I’m embracing the Stoic practice of confronting fear.

To Water Squat:

  1. Pretend that you’re moving through water.
  2. Move as slowly as possible.
  3. Bring your awareness to your movement.
  4. Express gratitude.
There is No Fitness Longevity Without Gratitude

One final word.

I’ve been physically unable to walk several times in my life.

Herniated discs.  Inflamed torn labrums.  Inflamed torn knee cartilage.

At every single one of those times, I said to myself:

How wonderful is it to be able to walk?! I can’t believe how I took walking + standing for granted.

You cannot start CrossFit, do Yoga, run, workout, do a water squat, move through water, do Qi Gong, express fitness longevity, or be as happy as you want to be without gratitude.

As soon as you’ve lost the gratitude, you’ll speeden up again.  And your speed is not sustainable.  Because you want to be CrossFitting, running, + doing yoga more than 5 years from now.

100% of us will die someday.

Gratitude is love is slowness is nurturing is health is longevity is happiness.

From a bird’s eye view of our lifetime, the concepts are inseparable.

Please, be grateful.  Every day.  Especially while you’re water squatting.

See the elephant?  Be like the elephant.


speechbubblesWhat are your thoughts on starting CrossFit more slowly?  What about water squats?  Are you ready to slow down? I know that this is contrary to conventional wisdom.  But, something has to change.

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Dr. Chris Stepien, DC, Full-Body ID Certified, ART Certified, CSCS, and CrossFit Level 1 Certified, fixes your annoying and frustrating pains, even when it's been over 6 months and you've seen 3-5 other doctors or therapists without lasting relief Barefoot Rehab in Denville, NJ. And when you're sad, depressed, or not enjoying life, Dr. Chris wants to hug you. He invites you to reach out, no matter what your concern is. Barefoot Rehab is here to serve you.
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