November 23, 2011

Observations from a CrossFit Beginner

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About four months ago, I heard the rumblings of a trendy phenomenon called “CrossFit”. My police department was buzzing about it and so I searched the Internet to investigate. I was led to a web-site where I watched a video about CrossFit and decided instantaneously that it was for crazy people. The video depicted men and women with chiseled abdominals lifting Olympic-sized weights and maneuvering feats of athletic elitism on boxes and gymnastics rings. The decision to stick with my 30 minute routine on the elliptical with a magazine at my local gym seemed sound.

One of my co-workers and newly converted CrossFitter would often stop by my office to chat about which part of his body he couldn’t move after his Workout of the Day (WOD). While that was more validation for me to stick to my elliptical, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by how much he loved it. He assured me that all fitness levels were welcome and convinced me to try it “just one time.”

I scheduled my session and made my way to my nearest CrossFit gym where I was met by very welcoming coaches. I was immediately intimidated by their minimal body fat and deducted that my initial impression while watching the video on-line was correct.  I also noted a bucket in the middle of the gym labeled “pukey”. Compelled by these observations, my “fight or flight” survival instincts kicked in and I decided to wait for the coaches to look away so I could escape (fighting just didn’t seem to be an option given their muscular physiques). It occurred to me that I had already provided them my identity and it was painfully obvious that they would be able to catch me with minimal effort if I ran, so I reluctantly stayed.

It was during the next few weeks that the coaches would provide me with “elements” training – an introductory phase where I would learn proper form and technique before joining the seasoned CrossFitters in their WOD. Despite my being the new face in the gym, no one missed an opportunity to introduce themselves and provide encouragement in those moments when I needed it. Now that I am able to put it in proper perspective, it was the kindness of the CrossFitters that kept me coming back in those days I felt intimidated and overwhelmed. They continue to do that for me every day.

In the elements phase, I felt pain that I had never felt before. I was no stranger to strength training but this was different and unlike any other experience I’ve had in the gym. This was full body training that encompassed stamina, strength and flexibility all at once. It was grueling and it moved me so far out of my comfort zone by challenging everything I thought I knew about fitness and what my body could endure.

I finished the beginner phase and became an official CrossFitter. Over the past four months, I have come to the realization that the workouts do not get any easier. They aren’t supposed to. I have conquered some personal milestones like climbing the rope and doing pull-ups without a band. I can even do some double-unders (although I invariably suffer from welts in the process). Even though I’m gaining skills, every WOD makes me want to curse my coaches (and I often do!). Each day is a new challenge because no work-outs are the same. When I attain a goal, we celebrate the achievement but the ultimate victory is the understanding that you can always be better than you are.

I started CrossFit to get in better shape; I remain there because of what it has done to stifle the little voice inside my head that tells me to quit when things get hard. In the “box”, it’s not an option to quit because the coaches will remind you that the work-out you are doing is named after a real soldier who lost his life serving our country. When I begin to feel as though I cannot do 50 more box jumps or pull-ups, I remember that 20 minutes of pain is nothing compared to what our soldiers endure in the trenches. There are some days I modify the prescribed weight and there are some days I’m slower than everyone else but CrossFit has taught me to condition my inner voice to say, “Do not give up” and my body listens.

That is a lesson for both inside the gym and out.

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