The year was 1981. Jane Fonda debuted the first ever “workout” video, Olivia Newton John was getting guys off the couch with her hit song, Let’s Get Physical , and I purchased my first leotard. I have been working out consistently ever since. Over the years I have gotten into strength training, running, cycling, kickboxing, yoga, P90X (1,2 & 3), Insanity-and an array of other workouts and videos . So, after 30 or so years of this, I considered myself to be fairly physically fit. That was until I tried CrossFit.
My first experience with CrossFit was this past December. My coworkers and I thought it would be fun to surprise our boss and show up at one of his CrossFit workouts. He was thrilled (I’m sure) and the rest of us could not walk for a week. As humbling as this experience was, I was compelled to go back.
CrossFit is known for its highly intense full body workouts that include speed training, Olympic- and power-style weight lifting, kettle bells, body weight exercises, gymnastics, endurance exercise and more. CrossFit gyms (referred to as a “box”) are usually housed in a large warehouse or garage. The CrossFit philosophy holds that members train to enhance 10 key physical qualities: cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy. CrossFit coaches develop their own daily workout or follow the “WOD” (Workout of the Day) from the CrossFit website. Total workouts start out with a high powered warmup (a workout in itself), skills training to work on form, and ends with the WOD which usually lasts anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes.
According to the CrossFit website: “CrossFit is the principal strength and conditioning program for many police academies and tactical operations teams, military special operations units, champion martial artists, and hundreds of other elite and professional athletes worldwide.”
Some of the WOD are specially named after women or military heroes. A few examples are:
- The Barbara involves five circuits of 20 pull-ups, 30 push-ups, 40 sit-ups, and 50 body weight-only squats performed in order, while only resting at the end of each circuit for a 3-minute period.
- The Murph – a timed 1-mile run, followed by 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 body weight squats, finished off by another 1-mile run.
- The Jackie – 1,000 meter row, 50 thrusters with a selected weight, and 30 pull-ups: preferably performed without any rest between each exercise.
So why would one put themselves through this torture?
There is a scene in the movie Rocky III where Apollo Creed takes Rocky to his old boxing gym back in LA. Rocky had just gotten creamed by Mr. T and his manager, Mickey, just dropped dead of a heart attack. Rocky lost his mojo. Walking into the gym filled with very intimidating men, Apollo said:
“You see that look in their eyes, Rock? When we fought, I trained hard but I didn’t have that look. You had it and you won. Gotta get that look back, Rock. Eye of the tiger, man”
The first time I walked into my Crossfit box I thought of that scene. The members were fully present, focused and ready to kick butt (and more than slightly intimidating). There is no hiding in back of the class at CrossFit. Prepare to show up ready to give it your all. When you are finished you will know that you really worked out.
At CrossFit, everyone is on the same mission-get in the best shape possible. Exercises are done in group workouts where members encourage and support each other. The camaraderie in CrossFit is part of what makes the experience so great. CrossFit is about competing against yourself and not each other. Even the people who finish last get a round of high-fives for pushing themselves as hard as they can. Members log each workout on a community website called “Wodify”. Members get to track progress, comment on each others results, and strengthen the sense of community.
Find out what you are made of
I will admit that I have a certain amount of trepidation prior to each CrossFit workout. But I always leave feeling really energized with a great feeling of accomplishment. So often we let our own self limiting beliefs keep us from moving forward or trying new things. Getting past these mental blocks boosts self confidence that spills over to other areas of your life.
Even Grandma can do it
Well, maybe not everybody’s grandma. But for as intense as CrossFit is, there are a wide variety of individuals participating. Teens to baby boomers, men & women, athletes to people who are working out for the first time in their life. Even though the exercises are challenging, there are progressions for every fitness level.
Yes, Fun! The variety, the team atmosphere, the adrenaline rush-it’s difficult to be bored at CrossFit.
So what is the down side?
As with any high-intensity workout, your likelihood of getting injured is greater. It is easy to get caught up in the adrenaline rush at CrossFit and push yourself too far. Before attempting any of the prescribed exercises it is important to learn proper form. There is typically a series of “On Ramp” classes that guide your through the various exercises. But it will take you a bit longer to perfect them. It is important to listen to your body and increase your weights accordingly. And be sure you schedule enough recovery time between workouts. If you have a chronic injury, CrossFit may not the best option.
Not all CrossFit boxes are created equal
With no background in training or coaching you can become a certified CrossFit Trainer by attending a two day certification and passing a test. Once you’ve been certified, you’re free to open up your own affiliate with no quality control enforcement. That is why it is really important to do your research prior to joining a CrossFit facility. Set up a one-on-one training session with the coach. Reach out to the members and ask them about their experience. Try to get a trial membership (that includes training); this way you are not locked into anything.
I have only been doing CrossFit for a couple of months and I can see how easy it is to get hooked. For now, I plan on incorporating it into the rest of my fitness routine a couple of days per week and will see where it goes from there. If you are looking to amp up your fitness routine, I would encourage you to give CrossFit a shot. Eye of the Tiger, man!