It was late one chilly Monday afternoon. October 27, 2014, to be precise. Three colleagues of mine had planned a late birthday celebration dinner for yours truly, who had turned the big 4-0 six days prior. Italian food – oh, glorious breadsticks and mozzarella and alfredo dipping sauce and pesto pasta… I had just finished telling 2 of my friends that no, I would not be joining them at the gym that evening, as I had decided that I was going to be chubby until the new year. That’s all. No big deal. Pass the breadsticks, please!
Speaking of the gym, I turned to friend #3 and asked how Crossfit was going. She said something like, “It’s great. You should come try it!” We’d had similar conversations before. I would ask a few questions. She would offer a few enthusiastic answers. Then, I would scurry off and ponder for a few more months. “Yeah, maybe… I’m thinking about it,” I replied.
“Come try it. Tomorrow!”
[insert sound of needle scratching across the record here… and if you don’t know what a record is, go look it up, because I’m 40 and, reasons!]
My friend contacted the coach, and we settled on Thursday – 3 days from that fateful, delicious meal. In 3 days, I would try Crossfit.
In all honesty, I thought about trying Crossfit for over a year, probably closer to two. There were (and are) many things to consider. There was also a lot of hype to wade through – a lot of good information, but a lot of misinformation, too. There were logistics and budgets to consider, and pros and cons to weigh. There were also some stereotypes and mental hurdles to get over – all before I could even walk in the door.
One of the highest concerns on my list was cost. A month-to-month membership to a Crossfit gym* in my area costs $120/month, which is not only a significant monthly fee, but is even more unwieldy when I hoped to also continue membership at my traditional gym/wellness center (with its own monthly fee). If I couldn’t swing the cost, all other concerns were moot. I can’t say that I’ve quite figured out the cost piece just yet, but when I looked at just how ridiculously careless I was being with my health (at an age where any minute now, I could find myself in a doctor’s office learning that it’s too late to prevent one of the myriad of diseases being overweight and inactive might afford me), it was clear to me that I had to find a way to carry the financial burden. The risks to my health and livelihood were just too great.
Another reason I wanted to find a way to overcome the cost factor was that I have so many friends that enjoy Crossfit, and seeing their accomplishments on Facebook was terribly motivating. Of course, most of the time, I thought to myself, “I could never do that!” but occasionally, I found myself thinking, “I wish I could do that!” I have never been a gym rat. When I got into running, most people that knew me were shocked. One of my life mottos used to be (literally, I kid you not), “Running is a means of escape! (and that’s it!)” I’ve never been naturally athletic, and I wasn’t a great runner – but I put in the work and met milestones I never could have imagined. One thing I always enjoyed in the gym but never explored in depth was strength training. I made a few failed starts at putting together my own strength circuits over the years, but without someone to tell me what and how much to do, I never saw results and never stuck with it. Crossfit comes with coaches, though, and the foundational concept of scaling workouts intrigued me. It also plays well with my love of tracking numbers and statistics and PRs.
As I dove into the literature online, I quickly learned that Crossfit is an extremely polarizing topic. People either love it or hate it. It’s the best benchmark of functional fitness on the planet, or it’s going to kill you (not just injure you – kill you!). Personally, I’m a middle-of-the-road kind of gal. Yes, I tend to fall on the liberal side of the fence on most things (politics, finances, ethics, behavior…), but I can’t think of any circumstances where I’d be considered an extremist. So I tend to take extremist accounts of things with a grain of salt, and sift through the rhetoric for evidence-based opinions and facts. When I put my sieve down, I was left with this:
It seems to me that Crossfit, like anything else, can be dangerous. Running can be dangerous. Football can be dangerous. Snowboarding can be dangerous. Hell, Zumba can be dangerous (sequin in the eye! GAH! Kidding… seriously, though, I had to quit my Zumba class last year because the constant changing of direction in the floor moves tweaked my knees like nothing else ever had!). My point is, any activity that gets you up off the couch and out into the world has the potential to be dangerous. How do you minimize those risks? A lot of it is common sense, and applies to any physical activity – listen to your body, understand and accept your limits, learn from trained and experienced coaches and mentors, and study and practice the craft.
If I look at the criticisms of Crossfit through that lens, it’s no more dangerous than running or swimming or biking (to this point, my preferred workout activities), and it’s definitely no more dangerous than waiting around for diabetes to come knocking and kick my ass. This is where I feel like it is important – no, absolutely critical – that you find a Crossfit gym with trained, experienced coaches that respect a common sense approach to the sport. The goal of a workout should not be to puke your guts out upon conclusion and spend the next week in the fetal position – and if that was the approach of my coach, I would walk right back out the door. Intensity deserves respect – and you don’t get stronger from working out. You get stronger from recovering from working out. Part of staying healthy in an intense program like Crossfit seems to be a combination of personal responsibility, and coaches that are interested and observant and know when to push, when to toe the line, and when to back off.
Of course, not every gym will have phenomenal coaches. My research indicates that the requirements to earn a “level 1″ Crossfit trainer certification and open a gym are akin to finding a prize in a Cracker Jack box [damn, is that another old-person analogy?], so, yeah… not all Crossfit gyms will be great. Not all Crossfit gyms will be the right fit for you, great or not. But some will. Just like anything else – there will be good gyms and bad gyms, good trainers and not-so-good trainers. I think anyone considering Crossfit should look into a number of gyms before settling on one – even try out the free first-timer class at a couple gyms to find the right atmosphere and the right coaches. Look into the coaches’ backgrounds. Ask questions. Talk to people. There’s a Crossfit gym in the building where I live, and (don’t call me a creeper) I’ve spied on their workouts a dozen times or more to get a feel for the place. I could tell from day one: it wasn’t the right atmosphere for me. I got similar feedback from friends that had worked out there, so, convenient as it might be, it was not the gym for me.
Atmosphere… that was a big factor for me in deciding to try Crossfit. I don’t want to say that I needed to be handled with kid gloves, but my ego was and still is in pretty rough shape. Two years ago, I was running half marathons at my goal weight, having lost 100 pounds in a year and maintained it for another year. Every day, Facebook friends fed me praise and called me an inspiration. Then, life happened. I moved half way across the country. I started a new job with greater responsibilities. I struggled financially with a house back in Chicago that I couldn’t sell, and renters that decided to stop paying rent. I let myself slip, and I fell off the fitness roadmap and gained 50 pounds back. Of course I noticed that the praise and compliments stopped, and the only thing left to think was that – while I never set out to inspire anybody – I was now a disappointment to all of those people. A let down. A failure – not only to myself and my own goals, but to everyone that looked up to me. It was nobody’s fault but my own, and that was a hard pill to swallow.
The thought of walking into a Crossfit gym full of athletes – real, true athletes – was terrifying. I was overweight. Out of shape. I’d never even heard half of the words these Crossfitters were throwing around to describe their lifts and exercises and workouts, let alone ever done most of these things. I hadn’t touched a barbell since high school (yes, 22+ years ago, for the smart alecks that are counting). I feared judgement. I loathed the thought of dragging everyone else down, making everybody wait for me to finish. I feared failure. I needed to find a welcoming atmosphere – one that would accept me as I was, on credit that I would give it my all and improve every day, if given the chance.
I’m nothing if not good for my word. So, as planned, I showed up to Rocktown Crossfit to meet my friend and try a Crossfit class. I wish I could think of a word more strong than “terrified,” because terrified does not even begin to describe how I felt walking through the front door. As the old saying goes, we should all strive to do one thing every day that scares us, and Crossfit was definitely filling my quota that Thursday.
To be continued….
* Yes, I know they’re called “boxes,” and no, I’m not ready to throw around the lingo around just yet. I’m still in my on-ramp Ms. Awkward McAwkwardson phase. Give it time. I’ll be spewing the Kool-Aid soon enough.
Photo credit: John Piekos, Kettlebells https://flic.kr/p/9VFQGG