Ramadan and CrossFit

An Introduction to Ramadan and CrossFit from CFNH member, Sal:

You might have heard me throw around the phrase “Ramadan Reps” this past week at the gym. Since it's currently trending at CFNH, the coaches thought it would be a good idea for me to write a little piece to let everyone know what “Ramadan ” is all about.

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the 9th month in the lunar-based Islamic calendar and is celebrated by Muslims around the world – about 1.5 billion people.  It is the month in which the Qur’an, the holy book for Muslims, was revealed.  It is probably best known because Muslims abstain from food and drink each day from dawn to dusk (these days that is about 3:30am to 8:30pm). Because of the lunar calendar, Ramadan moves back ten days each year, and in the winter, the fasting period can be as short as 7 am to 5:30 pm. The end of the month is celebrated with a holiday called Eid-ul-Fitr.

Why do Muslims fast?

In short, Muslims fast in Ramadan because God tells us to, but also because fasting teaches us awareness – awareness of God, awareness of others, and awareness of oneself.  When we feel those hunger pangs in our stomachs, or lick those dry parched lips, it reminds us that we are living this life as a creation of a greater being.  Fasting reminds us to be good citizens, to help our fellow people, to be kind to each other, to exercise patience in all situations, and to have better spiritual discipline. It gives us the experience of those who go hungry or don't have access to clean water, and encourages us to be have empathy and give as much as we comfortably can to charity.

There’s a quote in Islam that I love because it frames this ritual within the big picture.  It goes: “whoever does not give up false speech and acting upon it, and ignorance, God has no need of him giving up his food and drink.”  From this we learn that Ramadan is about more than just being hungry and thirsty, but that it’s about being a good person and doing the right thing. 

How does Ramadan impact your workouts?

Lots of people have been asking me if Ramadan affects my workouts.  Before I get into that, let me say that I love Ramadan, and I love CrossFit.  I also believe that this love is not mutually exclusive.  Just like Hakim Olajuwon and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were known to fast during NBA games and practices, I decided that I wanted to keep my workouts the same.

“But won’t you get hungry, thirsty, or tired?” people often ask.  Yes, I do, and that’s OK, it’s all part of the package. 

Being smart about this is important, especially since this Ramadan is in the heart of the summer, jeopardizing personal health is not worth it, ever.  There’s a big difference between digging deep and working hard and being irresponsible.  I make sure to fuel up before sunrise with food and liquid that will carry me through the day – I wake up at 3am and pound anywhere from 40-50% of my total calorie needs for the day and drink at least a liter of fluid.  I make sure to constantly listen to my body and specifically listen for the subtle signs that distinguish the feeling of doing a hero WOD from the feeling of being ill.  Okay, now that we’ve established that disclaimer here, let’s move on.

I don’t change my workout schedule during Ramadan – I try to get in the same number of WODs and the same number of Oly workouts per week.  I know that these workouts are not going to feel like regular workouts, and that’s OK.  I try to embrace any extra feelings of pain because it allows me to be authentic to my beliefs, which is well worth a few extra self reminders to never quit.  CrossFit is all about pushing oneself to be better in all ways, so this fits right in with our mantra.  I say all this with the hopes that it will serve as motivation not just for those who are considering working out while fasting but also for those who are facing a challenge, whatever that challenge may be, and are wondering if they face that challenge and do CrossFit at the same time.

So, about those “Ramadan Reps,” what’s that all about?  Every rep during Ramadan counts more.  Muhammad Ali (may God rest his soul), one of the greatest athletes to ever walk this earth, once said “I don't count the sit-ups. I only start counting when it starts hurting because they're the only ones that count. That's what makes you a champion.”  So if you see me being more lazy than I usually am, remind me to be strong and to push through, especially during Ramadan. There may not be a special R++ button on Wodify, but it definitely counts extra, not for anyone else, but for me, because I know that I had to give a little extra to stay true to myself.

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