Book Review: Embrace the Suck

embrace the suckAs soon as I read about Stephen Madden’s Crossfit memoir Embrace the Suck in a magazine last December, I knew I had to get it. It wasn’t a question of if I’d read it, but when. I sought it out in a bookstore a week or so later, read the jacket and leafed through it, and thought “yep, I want to read this,” but was slightly off put by the $30+ hardcover, rip-off when you buy books in Canada price. Not to be deterred, I went online to order the next day so I could save $10 (but then impulse bought fun, gold-detailed champagne flutes to go with my impulse book buy in the name of free shipping. Gets me every time).

Happily, both the book and my fancy glasses arrived in time for the weekend before Christmas holidays. The champagne flutes were perfect for mimosas and other holiday entertaining occasions, and I managed to read the book cover to cover in just over a week. Probably you’re not reading this blog to hear about my spending habits or what champagne flutes I buy (you can find them further marked down here though, if you’re interested). So what did I think of the book, you ask?

Short answer. Loved it (sort of obvious since I read through it so quickly). The author has a self-depreciating sense of humor that makes the book fun and easy to read. He also comes at Crossfit from a humble, everyman perspective that makes it super-relatable, especially for someone like me who considers herself a total non-athlete (although I would argue given all the athletic endeavors that Madden, former editor-in-chief of Bicycling magazine has a slightly more athletic background than I (Hilary) do).

Although I am somewhat of a Crossfit enthusiast, the way the book is written and laid out, I think anyone could appreciate and learn from it (and hopefully be convinced to give Crossfit a try if they haven’t already). Chapters are entitled: 1. The WOD, 2. How and Why it Works, 3. That Fleeting Feeling, 4. Finding a Box, 5. A Few Words About Pain, Fatigue and Nausea, 6. Diet and Body Image, 7. The 20X (where Madden chronicles his experience at an intense one day Navy Seal program), and 8. Nine Days in May.

So you can see how if you knew nothing about Crossfit, the book lays it out nicely and explains all the different components. Like many others, Madden first learned about Crossfit in an article he read, and decided to give it a try to improve his overall physical fitness (being a cyclist and someone who already considered himself physically fit). Embrace the Suck follows his Crossfit journey, the lessons he learns, and the inner voices and demons he vanquishes as he proves to himself he could do things he never thought possible.

My favourite quote from the book comes on the very last page:

“It’s not about how I compare to the rest of the world. It’s about showing up and doing your best and not giving up on a promise.” I think that this a very succinct and accurate summary of what Crossfit is about, and something that we can all be reminded of when we start to think about how we measure up to others.

I also love what Madden says in the chapter on his experience at the 20X, a grueling one day experience taught by former Navy SEALs. When asked by one of the instructors why he was there, Madden blurts out: “I’m here to be a better father.” Later on in the same chapter, when asked the most important thing he learned that year, he says: “Love is the answer.” As he goes on to say “If I didn’t love my family, why would I have done this? And, if I didn’t love myself, how could I have done this?”

Like anyone else, if you’re doing Crossfit, you have to know your why. The workouts are grueling. It’s going to be hard. You’re going to get beat down like you never have before. If you don’t know beyond the shadow of a doubt why you’re there, chances are that you just might quit someday. Love doesn’t have to be the answer for you, and you don’t have to be doing it to be a better parent, but there has to be something driving you, helping you to “embrace the suck,” as Madden puts it. If you don’t know what is driving you, sit back and think on that for a while.

I’ll let you read the book to hear the rest of the story. Crossfitter or not, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. You’ll probably learn something, and come away feeling fired up, remembering why you started (or want to start) Crossfit, and excited to get to the gym to hit some PRs, push through tough WODs, and remind yourself that you’re capable of far more than you ever thought possible.

Read any good Crossfit/fitness books lately?




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