How CrossFit Prepared Me for the USMLE Step 1


We talk all the time about how our experiences inside the four walls of the CrossFit box translate to life outside, but never has this truth been so glaringly apparent to me  as in my preparation for the USMLE Step 1 board exam.  As the hours, days, and weeks of flashcards, Qbanks, and practice exams dragged on, I couldn’t help but notice the ways in which my CrossFit training had prepared me for this intellectual challenge. Reflecting on this experience, I’ve collected the top 12 reasons why CrossFit prepared me for the task of studying for and taking the USMLE Step 1 exam:

A great motivator for any task: The Clock
A great motivator in many aspects of life: The Clock
  1. Success is born from routine, structure, and commitment. Expecting your test score to jump 50 points or to get a muscle up in one day is unrealistic – these improvements come from sustained, regular practice and small improvements over time.
  2. Though we may find more enjoyment in practicing what we’re good at, the greatest overall improvements will come from working on our weaknesses. If you’re much more comfortable with Olympic lifting than gymnastics, the best way to improve your overall fitness is by spending more time on gymnastics skills. If you’re confident with Cardiology topics but Neurology makes you want to have a panic attack, the greatest improvement in your overall score will result from studying Neurology.
  3. If you put in the work, you will see measurable improvements. AMAZING.
  4. Studying is like an AMRAP. If you start your day thinking about how you have 12 hours to go, you will feel overwhelmed and defeated. Focusing on making each repetition perfect, answering each practice question to the best of your ability, will allow you to stay in the moment. Before you know it, the timer will “Beep” and your AMRAP will be over.
  5. Time worrying about what everyone else around you is doing is time wasted. How much time your friend spent in the gym or what his score was on the workout is just as irrelevant as how many hours your classmate spent studying or what she scored on her practice exam. What IS important is YOU and that you are sticking to your plan, working hard, and seeing improvements in your own performance.
  6. There is no greater motivator than the clock. The clock is guaranteed to increase your power output whether it may be physical power or brain power. Use the clock to set a timeline and stick to it – tasks will always fill the time you allot them.
  7. When times get tough, you can always trick yourself into doing more work with a TABATA interval. Increased intensity = Increased power output. Scheduled breaks are necessary to allow yourself to reset.
  8. Scores are a great way to motivate and track progress, but your performance in any single workout, or on any exam, does NOT define you. What defines you is the type of person you choose to be and how hard you work with the tools  you have available.
  9. Practice the way you compete. Doing a workout with questionable range of motion in training will only prepare you for “no reps” on the competition floor. Taking a practice exam with longer breaks, in a comfortable environment, while sipping your coffee is not going to prepare you ideally for the test day environment.
  10. When you’re on hour 6 of 7 of your exam and you just want to give up, you can always draw from your experience on round 6 of the Sevens when you felt the same way. In that workout you were able to able to dig deep and push through to the end, so this exam should be no different. The feeling of achieving a goal after questioning whether you would be able to is unmatched.
  11. Your potential in any endeavor will be maximized by relying on your support team. Whether it’s your mother coaxing you out of bed to study at 7 AM with freshly brewed coffee, your coach pushing you through a workout when you are near your breaking point, or your friends who work, sweat, laugh, and cry with you, surround yourself with people who will make you better.
  12. Each day is new. No single workout, no single set of practice questions matters. What matters is the cumulative effort and hard work sustained over time.
The right support team is crucial in shouldering any task
The right support team is crucial in shouldering any task

27 Responses to “How CrossFit Prepared Me for the USMLE Step 1”

  1. Dina

    How did you end up doing on your exam? Awesome I hope!

  2. Tina

    “Success is born from routine, structure, and commitment” Pure gold. I’m trying get my nine-year-old to understand this. He wants to be excellent at everything automatically without putting in the work.

  3. crisscrossfit

    Success is born from routine, structure, and commitment – that is pure gold and something I’m trying to teach my 9YO who wants to be excellent with the effort.

  4. crisscrossfit

    that would be excellent WITHOUT the effort….

  5. dawnpoints

    This is a profound synthesis of ideas Julie. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I hope to follow in your footsteps one day at the CCLCM, and am working hard to make it happen. Thank you for commenting on -how- and -with what attitude- to work.

  6. Brian

    Great post! I remember taking the STEPS and how much time and effort the studying and testing took. The mental toughness you learn in Crossfit will also help you during your residency when you’re 20 hrs into your 28hr call and the ER calls up another admission. You’ll be able to dig deep and focus which will be a greatly appreciated by your patients and team. Keep up the good work.

  7. Scott W.

    “Surround yourself with people who will make you better.” – Julie Foucher

    Thanks for the quote.

  8. ~jenniferlynn

    I am long done with school, but I do compare my Crossfit training to just about every other experience in life. It makes you so much stronger of a person inside and outside of the box; and the list above is so versatile!

  9. Mike

    I’m still a pre-med student and this has profoundly changed my outlook on preparing for the MCAT. I knew there was a connection between CrossFit and the real world, but I never knew how to apply it. Taking the essence of CrossFit and its basic principles makes the MCAT less intimidating. It’s like you know, mental prep before Fran.

  10. Aric

    As a fellow med-student/crossfiter, I couldn’t agree more with this post. Discipline and self-accountabilty go a long way in any endeavour. Hope step 1 treated ya well

  11. cvc0012

    Good Luck Julie! I’m a dental student and I completely agree that the character you build in the gym is immeasurably powerful in the outside world.

  12. Padma

    Really glad I ran into your blog. I started crossfit in Janaury and start med school in 2 weeks. Super nervous. Do you have any tips on balancing both? Exercise definitely helped me focus and prepare well for the MCAT. so I don’t want to quit, but trying to keep up with crossfit while studying for anatomy seems overwhelming, lol. But yay on finishing your Step 1!!!

    • Cellia

      Don’t be nervous – the hardest part is getting into medical school, everyone at the school will want to help you succeed. It is the volume of information that seems tough at first. But be creative and tenacious as every crossfitter is. Learn how you learn best and be willing to study and learn differently than the typical: lecture, read, review format. Study is extremely efficient in small groups, discussions, and applying what you learn to patients and people you know who have a particular medical condition. if you work together, divide and conquer learning what you don’t know, and then regroup to put it all together again. “surround yourself with people who make you better” that applies to the other med students you study with as well. Commit to crossfit -even if you do a 7 or 10 minute WOD on your bedroom floor with a kettle ball and a pull up bar- just take the few minutes to get your brain chemistry stimulated before you start your day. Even a med student has 10 minutes before you jump in the shower! I can’t imagine a better way to review anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and neurology, than a quick run through of what is happening to your body while you are crossfitting. Do timed wod’s ( so you don’t have to count necessarily – just do it for time and don’t worry about counting reps – perhps -) and review your anatomy while you work out?!?!?!. Whatever you do – just be creative and find fun ways to do things. You can do it! Don’t ever forget to make sure that what you are learning is fun – remember why you wanted to do this, and apply what you learn every day to that greater goal of helping people. You will not find it so tough when you are enjoying it!

      you will be great!

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  14. Morgan C

    I totally agree. I’m also a fellow med student/crossfitter. I just took COMLEX Level 1 (same as USMLE for DO students). I really think CrossFit helped me prepare in so many ways, just as it did for you. It was by far the most mentally challenging thing I’ve ever done and CrossFit is probably the most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done, but I wouldn’t want to do anything else. Good things come to those who work hard and put in effort.

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  16. K

    Taking the bar in 9 days. Thanks for the reality check.

  17. Cori

    Thank you so much for this! I have to take a really huge huge test in the morning, and I’ve been freaking out…I needed these 12 reminders!

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  20. Elizabeth Peralta

    As someone who is going to apply to medical school soon I am so glad I found your blog. I have been doing crossfit for about 10 months now and I cannot imagine life without it. I really enjoyed reading this post and it helped me put things into perspective in my own preparation for the MCAT. Crossfit is something I want to keep doing once I am in medical school and I had been concerned about being able to find a box (being able to afford it lol), and just being able to manage staying physically active. I am very glad to see there are people doing it so I know it is doable!

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  22. max

    i enjoyed reading this.. so much that i even am writing a comment, which i never do! i can identify.. i train crossfit and just finished up medical school in switzerland. congrats on passing your step 1, hard work pays off! the worst is behind you.. step 2ck is much easier to study for, because you study material that you will be able to apply in the hospital! you are very inspiring!

  23. Brice LE DEROFF

    Great and impressive! have a good WOD.

    Beyond-limit Crew

  24. sohaib

    I don’t cross fit but have been following the games for a few years .. you are an inspiration to all those out there who might not find the time to have a healthy lifestyle. being a physician, I know how hard medical school can be during the MS1 and MS2 years with the step 1 being one of the most anxiety provoking exams .. I applaud your commitment to a healthy lifestyle and wish you the best in your career .. my daughters think you’re awesome

  25. Danial

    Hi there
    I have recently started following crossfit games and damn you re one heck of an inspiration … I just followed a few participants and here I am applauding you . I am a doctor myself and pursuing postgraduate training in Ireland but during medical studies funding time and organizing oneself for such games Bravo…!
    I just printed this post of yours of organize oneself and have posted it on one of my room walls…..
    I would love to see you in games again if ure planning to as by now you will be out from med school and might as well give an inspiration of organizing ourselves while being committed to hospital routine and workout at the same time .

    God Bless you


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