On my 39th birthday I decided that I wanted to run a full marathon before my 40th birthday. I was giving myself a year to get into the shape of my life.
I am a certified personal trainer and have been a focused exerciser for over twenty years. Looking for a very structured plan that would offer variety and intensity I discovered CrossFit, which was new on the scene in my neighborhood. It seemed like a perfect fit.
So what exactly is CrossFit?
According to CrossFit.com “CrossFit is a strength and conditioning system built on constant, varied, (if not randomized) functional movements executed at high intensity.” So in other words, CrossFit takes the movements we should make naturally (running, climbing, lifting, throwing, etc…) and combines them in a workout. They are to be performed quick (many are timed) and with great power and force. The workout of the day (referred to as a WOD) is a mixture of Olympic lifts, gymnastics, explosive plyometrics, body weight exercises, and endurance drills. You will experience sprints, pull ups, push ups, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, and perhaps most notably, the burpee: a full body exercise also known as squat thrusts.
CrossFit is designed to make you faster, stronger, leaner, and healthier all at the same time.
The CrossFit experience depends on the person. Because of the intensity it attracts athletes and those with a military background. If you look on the website of any CrossFit gym (known in the industry as a ‘box’) you will typically find pictures of hard bodies doing amazing things. What is less publicized (and more amazing in my opinion) are the less glamorous CrossFitters. Those who have the guts to enter this over the top environment determined to meet their goals.
The first CrossFit gym I joined I met a guy in his mid sixties named Bob. He had suffered a stroke, which had left him weak and with limited use of one side of his body. He was working one on one with a coach, and his sessions were taking place during my group session. I found his determination inspiring. He never gave up. Not once. He got stronger every session; I could see his mobility and flexibility improving.
I met Anna when I joined my current gym. Her original goals were to lose weight and to conquer her battle with Bulimia. She had already lost over 25 pounds and countless inches. Standing side by side one might think I am stronger (I have her by at least 5 inches) but I assure you she beats me. Every. Single. Time.
As I mentioned, I started CrossFit to condition for my marathon. With my fitness background I knew how important cross-training was. I had a solid marathon training plan, but a balanced program would involve strengthening my entire body. I started out excited to get a comprehensive workout plan that would push me to my limits. I have a ‘go hard or go home’ type of mentality so I knew I would mesh well.
However, I have never been a huge fan of group fitness, so I was not particularly thrilled about working out with others. I certainly did not expect to connect with them and miss them when they did not make it to a WOD. My experience has turned out to be as much about building relationships as it is about building muscle.
My incredible coach, Carolyn, has taken the time to understand my health problems and encourage me to ‘scale down’, which means lower my intensity, when needed. In addition to Anna, I am motivated by each person who comes to our six a.m. sessions. Sessions last anywhere from fifteen to forty-five minutes. Some come every day while others (like me) come two or three days a week. While our goals are different, we are all there to find out exactly what are bodies are capable of.
CrossFit is not everyone
Fitness is an individual experience and it is important to find the right fit for you. It is also important to mention that experiences vary significantly from person to person and from box to box. As with any training program, it is important to speak with your healthcare professional before getting started.
I finished my marathon. My training was full of challenges and I have tons of race stories. Was it better because of CrossFit? Absolutely. I was stronger and my endurance was greatly improved. Most of all, I was confident. After you’ve complete a WOD called ‘Murph’ ( 1 mile run + 100 pull ups + 200 push ups + 300 squats + 1 mile run ) what’s 26.2 miles?
Article also available in the June 2013 issue of CarbSmart Magazine.