The importance of positive words in CrossFit

Meyken Houppermans, PhD. CrossFit Level 3 Trainer.
Founder and Head Coach
Positive words by coaches and positive self- talk by athletes impacts performance in CrossFit and effects health and wellbeing. CrossFit needs a comprehensive definition of health. CrossFit coaches have a responsibility in motivational coaching.

How positive words effect performance

The impact of words on an athlete’s performance is significant. Research has shown that words about the effectiveness of an intervention, for example about a specific technique or supplement, significantly effect the outcome of performance. For example, after drinking caffeine athletes run faster if they are told caffeine can improve their running, compared to if they are not told anything. This effect applies to evidence-based interventions with proven effect, as well as to placebo interventions. In both cases, positive honest words and a positive belief in the effectiveness of an intervention generate more positive outcomes. [1]

This demonstrates that an athlete’s performance is much more than just a physical or physiological matter. The external environment plays a great role such as the social support and positive words from friends, family, fellow athletes, and coaches [2]. Furthermore, the internal environment, the athlete’s mental and emotional state and their self-efficacy, effect performance. Self -efficacy is the belief in one's capabilities; feelings of confidence and control; resiliance to the changes in life and the perception of changes as challenges instead of threats [3]. (Do you have the right mindset?)

CrossFit can trigger life struggles

The struggles and issues a person faces in their life are often magnified in a CrossFit box, because a workout can act as a pressure cooker

CrossFit is a sport with a rough tough image, sometimes perceived as not very accessible for people who are not alrtready very fit or young. (The harmful image of CrossFit) The opposite is true. (Is CrossFit for you?) CrossFit can be challenging, physically and mentally. The high intensity, unpredictability and diversity of the workouts generate optimal training results, fun and excitement.

CrossFit can also be an environment for feelings of anxiety, insecurity or fair of failing (Fear of failing). The focus on results on the whiteboard and on performance can stimulate development and growth, but it can also trigger anxiety and feeling intimidated or scared. CrossFit can make a person feel on top of the world, the best version of themselves. But it can also trigger negative emotions, feelings, and thoughts such as self-doubt, insecurity, failure, negative self-talk, feelings of anger, disappointment, shame and jealousness etcetera.

Positive words for health and performance

Positive words by coaches and positive self- talk by athletes are expected to have a significant impact on performance. Especially in the challenging setting of a CrossFit box, positive words of coaches and fellow athletes, as well as positive self-talk and self- efficacy of the athlete can make a significant difference. Not only on the physical performance of the athlete but also on their mental, emotional, and social well- being also known as health.

Health is physical, mental, emotional, and social well- being

We consider health to be more than ‘work capacity across broad times, modal domains and age’, the CrossFit definition of health. Health concerns more than just physical health in ten modal domains throughout life. Although CrossFit hugely impacts and concerns the other aspects of health this is not yet incorporated in its definition of health. To us, CrossFit is a way of life, a comprehensive evidence-based lifestyle of taking care of your physical, mental and emotional health.

We also consider health to be more than 'a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity', the World Health Organizations definition of health. That state of complete well- being is a utopia, and striving for it will only lead to frustration, disappointment and never ending medical treatment.

At CrossFit Eudokia, we consider health as Positive Health: The ability to adapt to the physical, emotional and social challenges in life and the ability to self- manage, with health consisting of six dimensions: bodily functions, mental functions and perceptions, spiritual dimension, quality of life, social and societal participation, and daily functioning [4]. Numerous research has shown that people who demonstrate higher levels of self- efficacy and positive self- belief, and who practice positive self-talk have higher levels of physical, mental and social well-being and experiencing a higher quality of life [5].

Positive words of a coach and a positive belief in the effectiveness of an intervention such as a specific training technique, generate more positive outcomes on performance. Positive self-talk and self- belief of the athlete generate more outcome on performance and more health and well- being in general.

Motivational coaching

CrossFit coaches have the core-responsibility to teach athletes the physical performance of CrossFit and to coach them in their sports performance. This implies coaches also have are sponsibility to coach athletes in their mental and emotional performance, for example with motivational coaching. In short, motivational coaching is a technique to stimulate athletes to set their own goals and to find their own motivation to reach those goals, with empowerment of their self belief.

At CrossFit Eudokia we apply this technique in several ways, among which our annual Positive Word-month where our athletes do assignments to increase their mental strength during the workouts.

Not feeling sorry for you

The use of positive words and motivational coaching does not mean feeling sorry for the athlete, or cry along with them when the going gets tough. It does not mean affirming the perception of the athlete that everything is so difficult or awful. It does not mean going along with the struggles the athlete faces. A saying in CrossFit: Embrace the suck because that is what makes you stronger and that is why you are here!

The coach needs to set clear realistic boundaries and make clear that there is a task waiting for the athlete. The coach needs to challenge the athlete to use their qualities to get the job done. The coach needs to express their believe in the athlete, and sometimes give them a little tough love. Demand 100% effort, not results.

Many people start CrossFit because they want something to change in their lives. There is a reason someone starts CrossFit. A coach can teach athletes, that if they do what they always did, they will get what they always got. It's up to coaches to guide athletes to get where they want to get.


Our call to athletes: Next time you start a workout, tell yourself you CAN do this and focus on the fact that you are doing it or are trying it! And when you’re done tell yourself you DID it, and be proud of yourself!

Create your own health!©


[1] Hurst P, Schipof-Godart L, Szabo A, Raglin J, Hettinga F, Roelands B, Lane A, Foad A, Coleman D, Beedie C. The Placebo and Nocebo effect on sports performance: A systematic review. Eur J Sport Sci. 2020 Apr;20(3):279-292. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2019.1655098. Epub 2019 Aug 20. PMID: 31414966.

[2] Lindström B, Eriksson M. Salutogenesis. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2005 Jun;59(6):440-2. doi: 10.1136/jech.2005.034777. PMID: 15911636; PMCID: PMC1757059.

[3] Bandura,A. (1997). Self- efficacy. The exercise of control.

[4] Huber, M. (2013). Naar een nieuw begrip van gezondheid: Pijlers voor Positieve Gezondheid

[5] Bandura A. Health promotion by social cognitive means. Health Educ Behav. 2004 Apr;31(2):143-64. doi: 10.1177/1090198104263660. PMID: 15090118.; Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being.