There’s a certain type of agony only those who are liable to pass out or throw up in pursuit of their fitness goals can appreciate.
There are also those of us who can appreciate being in and out of a gym in under an hour, yet totally spent.
The latter, I joined the CrossFit program at Undisputed Fitness this spring. The idea of working really hard for short periods of time appeals to my efficiency sensibilities—and there’s surely something in me that likes being called a badass.
CrossFit subscribes to exercises more reminiscent of real-life movements, which incorporate a wider range of muscle groups than would be had on my standard Genoveva Chavez Community Center regimen (45-minute elliptical or run; sit-ups ’til bored; listlessly moving a small weight above my head, duration unknown).
These days, when asked to explain where I’ve been and why I’m so sweaty, I glibly describe CrossFit as “jumping on boxes and picking up heavy stuff.”
Actually, CrossFit espouses a series of highly functional movements, performed at varying intensities, which focus on three basic fitness tenets: gymnastics, weight lifting and endurance.
Preceded by a standard CrossFit warm-up (kind of like a mini workout complete with reps) and some sort of skill instruction (“This is the right way to lift a giant barbell above your head; this is the wrong way”), each day’s workout varies greatly.
In general, workouts include a set number of several different exercises repeated for time (for example: 100 pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups and squats), or as many as possible in a given amount of time. Sometimes, there’s no time constraint at all but, rather, a set number of chances to reach one’s personal best (for example: back squat, shoulder press or dead lift) in a given exercise.
Workouts can be as short as six minutes (six rapturous minutes of rowing as fast as seasickness allows) and as long as an hour (the Murph comes to mind, in which 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups and 300 squats are bookended by mile runs).
What makes it all tolerable, though, is suffering equally with others.
Barring health impairments, I am required to do just as many pull-ups as the tiny 60-year-old woman to my right or the hulking barely legal Adonis to my left, as the new mother behind me or the plump 28-year-old pencil pusher across the room.
According to the gym’s owner, Tait Fletcher, there’s no one way to describe CrossFitters because “there’s such a cross section of different mental aptitudes, different physical aptitudes,” he says.
Each activity, therefore, is scaled to personal ability; we’re simultaneously all in it together and attempting personal goals. Times are recorded, as are our personal bests.
Though I’ve stagnated plenty, in the long run I’ve continually gotten better.
I started doing my push-ups using a green band (which takes off 65 to 80 pounds of one’s weight) and jumping off a bench simultaneously. Now, I can use the black band (10 to 15 pounds) and do pull-ups from a dead hang, lift more and squat more than my body weight (like an ant!). I also don’t want to die nearly as much after a workout.
Competitive-sounding platitudes aside, this is not a dude’s gym where large men with large necks lift large weights and leer. This is, surprisingly, an all-ages, all-genders gym—and I must acknowledge the women of CrossFit.
Ranging in age from their early 20s to late 60s, the women of CrossFit are an impressive lot. Going just as hard and fast as their male counterparts in traditionally male-oriented exercises, the women of CrossFit (including the many female instructors at Undisputed) dispel stereotypes daily. (Check out
if you have reservations.)
This is never more evident than during team workouts.
Early on, a young, very fit-looking construction worker—I’ll call him Muscles—showed up for his first class, a team workout. Looking around at a class made up largely of older women, I confess I was pretty glad when Muscles was assigned as my partner. As much as I love a good workout, there is something at the base of my existence that also hates that very thing, and I surely didn’t want to have to do more than my share.
The workout required that, at all times, one of us contribute to complete the total assignment. If memory serves, together we had to execute approximately 100 pull-ups, 100 box jumps, 100 burpees (the most terrible things in the world) and 100 push-ups. At the end, both team members were to sprint 200 meters together.
I suggested we try to do even amounts of work: In other words, Muscles would do 20 pull-ups, I would do 20 pull-ups until we’d reached the 100 mark. Then the same for the box jumps, burpees, etc. Even though it was Muscles’ first day, he looked, to me, more like a CrossFitter than I did.
Midway through the first exercise, however, my hulking partner was writhing on the ground, forcing me to continue with the exercises until he coalesced. My continual pleading resulted in only a handful of attempts by him, quickly jettisoned, to continue. I had to do almost the entire two-person workout myself and had to usher him out of the bathroom to complete the final sprint.
Looking around at other body types, he appeared more physically capable, but it was the older women who kept on trucking, steadily chipping away at the workout.
Long story short, I had my assumptions reordered, and Muscles was never seen again.
Some consider CrossFit a grassroots fitness movement for its accessibility. Ostensibly, with only minor equipment, one could go to
and complete the workout of the day for free. I consider it kind of a cult.
Fletcher agrees. “Cults have their own diets, their own language,” he says, referring to CrossFitters’ preference for the
and acronyms such as WOD, AMRAP and PR.
One could do these grueling workouts by him or herself outside of the cult but, in my experience, one doesn’t. And if I’m going to cast huge kettle bells above my head, I’d like to at least have a few months of instruction under my belt.
But then I’d lose interaction with the cast of CrossFit, who are unafraid to yell when one is being a lousy quitter.
Fletcher, a known name as a fighter in the mixed martial arts world, has a long answer about the appeal of CrossFit, something to do with athletic endurance and the perimeters of experience, but also has a much more succinct and pragmatic one.
“I wanna live longer out of an old-folks home,” he says.
Me, too. And I wanna be a badass in the meantime.