Creating Change in Life AND Finances: What CrossFit Can Teach Us About Paying Off Debt


Many of you might not know this (or have any reason to know this), but we sometimes work loooong hours here at ReadyForZero. While I love what I do and don’t mind spending the extra time doing it, it can be pretty challenging to fit in other important parts of my life.

The byproduct of working long hours? You end up looking for anything that might help you optimize everything.

So when I came home one day from work and told my husband I can’t possibly imagine doing a long workout when I really should be asleep soon, he told me he knew a way I could work out for 5 minutes and get the cardio equivalent of a 30 minute run.

“Say what?” I asked. “What is this magical workout?”

His answer: CrossFit. Since I knew we didn’t have the budget to join a CrossFit gym, I immediately balked at this. “But,” he said, “since you’re not in stellar shape anymore [thank you startup hours], all you have to do is a 5 minute warmup and I promise you won’t be able to move afterwards.”

I had to try it. I’m realistic enough to know I’m not going to get a long workout in when I get home late. So he gave me the 5 minute routine:

30 squats, 20 sit ups, 10 push ups – 3 times in a row – as fast as possible while still keeping form.

I tried not to laugh. It sounded so easy! Well…I wasn’t laughing 5 minutes and 30 seconds later. Nope. I was on the floor in our living room panting and barely managing to mutter the word “water” before he handed me water and a towel. He was certainly laughing though…

And thus I learned that you can get faster results for large goals if you’re willing to work really, really hard. And the results could not only be faster, but far more powerful! With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to look more closely at the principles of CrossFit and see if they can be applied to financial goals, such as debt payoff. Join me for the analysis! I promise you won’t be on your living room floor begging for water by the end of this…

A Definition and the Ten Fundamental Principles of CrossFit

If you haven’t heard of CrossFit yet, then one thing to know is that it’s all the rage these days. And (judging by my Facebook feed), once people try it, they seem to get addicted, fast.

So what is it? Here’s a definition, according to Wikipedia:

“Promoted as both a physical exercise philosophy and also a competitive fitness sport, CrossFit workouts incorporate elements from high-intensity interval training, olympic weightlifting, plyometrics, powerlifting, gymnastics, girevoy sport, calisthenics, strongman, and other exercises.”

How can one workout incorporate so many different types of physical fitness? CrossFit achieves by focusing on ten general fitness principles:

  1. Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance
  2. Stamina
  3. Strength
  4. Flexibility
  5. Power
  6. Speed
  7. Coordination
  8. Agility
  9. Balance
  10. Accuracy

Think these principles in no way have anything in common with your finances? Let’s explore!

Cardiovascular / Respiratory Endurance

The ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen.

If you’re anything like me, then cardio is the most painful part of your workouts. I could do yoga all day long, but pull out my running shoes and I’ll quickly run and hide. Unfortunately, I know I have to work that cardio in because it’s the key to heart health. Without cardio, other workout efforts are nearly pointless.

So what’s the equivalent of cardio in your debt payoff? Budgeting. Budgeting definitely has its painful moments, but it’s the foundation on which all of your financial health stands. If you don’t have a strong budget, your entire financial house could crumble to the ground in an instant.


The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy.

While cardio builds the strength of your heart, stamina is the endurance you need to work out for longer. Stamina keeps your heart pumping, even when you’re at your most tired.

Budgeting also requires a good bit of stamina. Just like a sprint, anyone can follow a budget for a few days or weeks. But what about that first bump in the road? Or the first time you get tired of budgeting? Having the stamina to push through makes all the difference.


The ability of a muscular unit, or a combination of muscular units, to apply force.

To build strength is to build muscle – and that muscle is what gives CrossFitters the ability to do countless pull ups and other weightlifting exercises. It’s also a foundation just like cardio that allows them to continue building their fitness and trying more challenging exercises.

Strength building is just as crucial to your finances. If you waiver on your budget, you won’t be able to get very far. You have to build the strength of your resolve so you don’t waiver when temptation strikes. Luckily – this is easy to do! CrossFitters build strength through repetition and you can do the same with your budget. So keep practicing and you’ll be able to build those money muscles!


The ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint.

Flexibility is how you can protect your body during and after a workout. You can build all the muscles in the world, but if you can’t move your limbs because you’ve become so stiff, those muscles won’t do you much good at all. That could also lead to painful and even debilitating injuries.

See how this might align with your finances? If you don’t have flexibility in your budget, you’ll quickly face an injury. The injury could be a budget bust from an emergency cost or an emotional splurge – but the worst part of the injury is the psychological effect. Give yourself budget flexibility so you can bounce back quickly if this happens to you.


The ability of a muscular unit, or a combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.

Power is strength in short bursts. CrossFitters doing a timed workout will channel all of their power within the small time frame allotted – whereas for a longer workout they’d want to spread out their energy so it can last longer.

If you’re trying to pay off debt, power is a great way to accelerate your plan. For example, if you receive a tax refund, apply the whole thing to your debt. That one short move will knock your balances way down. The great thing about power is you can find ways to manufacture it, even at your lowest energy moments. One ReadyForZero user boosted her debt payoff by selling her car. That one burst of power was the last step she needed to complete her goal!


The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement.

Like strength, speed can also be built through repetition. Going back to the CrossFit warmup my husband had me try, the more times I do it, the faster I get. Now I’ve shaved my time and have the strength to try more difficult workouts.

The same can be done with debt. You can speed up your debt payoff timeline by changing your monthly payments to biweekly payments. But it will only work if you keep the new speed going repetitively.


The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement.

There’s a reason CrossFit focuses on many athletic principles at once. Being able to do many increases coordination. Coordination is the difference between being a great weightlifter and a powerful force in a more dynamic sport.

In finances, coordination keeps you going in a more dynamic situation – since life is never as simple as the budgeting models we lay out. It’s not enough to just have a budget, just make biweekly payments, or just pay extra on your debt. If you coordinate all of these things, then you can succeed.


The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another.

It’s easy to look at CrossFitters and focus on their sheer physical strength. But they are also quite agile with the bodies of weightlifters but the movement of dancers. That’s agility and, like coordination, it improves their dynamic capabilities.

To not have financial agility is being as still as a weightlifter who’s unable to jump or run. Agility is what’s going to maintain your momentum when life throws a curveball. So keep building that strength, but don’t forget about your agility so your budget can be ready for anything.


The ability to control the placement of the body’s center of gravity in relation to its support base.

Balance in a workout is as important as agility. To have balance allows you to have a freer range of movement and perform better in sport.

By now you can probably see how important balance is in your debt payoff process. Without it, you could quickly burn out and your debt payoff plan will… well, fall over. Create balance in your plan by remembering to focus on other goals as well and by giving yourself an occasional break.


The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity.

Accuracy is important in your form (so you don’t injure yourself) and in almost all sports. Perfecting your accuracy will keep you healthy and build your skills.

The best way to build accuracy in debt payoff is to develop an optimal plan. Here at ReadyForZero, we believe the debt avalanche method to be the most optimal debt payoff plan. By focusing on the highest interest rate accounts first, you can ensure that most of your strength (in this case, the funds that you can allocate to debt payoff) will be used efficiently by paying off the most costly debt first.

Reaching Multiple Goals Simultaneously

Creating an interesting analogy to debt payoff isn’t the only reason for this post. If you are working simultaneously on your fitness and financial goals, doubling down on your efforts using the same principles can bring incredible results! In fact, we even have an ebook that describes in more detail how you can reach your fitness and finance goals at the same time.

Once you start making one positive change in your life, you’ll be amazed at how other positive changes start to fall into place!

Image Credit: Us Department of Defense

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