They show up in abandoned warehouse or industrial areas. As sudden as the pop-up churches do…bringing people dressed in tight-tights, short-shorts, tight shorts, and baggy shirts that the sleeves, and most of the side of the shirt, were cut from. They call this phenomenon workout space a “box”, and it looks just as industrial inside as it does on the outside. They drink from the “koolaid” and talk about how their “fully natural” real food diet is going compared to the paleo diet they were on yesterday.
That’s right. It’s crossfit, everyone.
After about three months of non-stop pestering from a friend about joining for the free class on Saturdays, I finally sucked it up and actually kept the day free enough to join him at this place. With rough directions and a local from my friend, I circled the block about three times trying to spot a sign for a gym….and then I remembered: That’s not how crossfit works. Everyone talks about crossfit, but you have to earn the right to be there by proving that you can recognize a crossfit spot on your own. It’s…I dunno…part of the test? Anyway, I figured out the building I needed to go to, which was indiscernible from the auto body shop attached to it on one end of the block. (Full disclosure, I figured it out by seeing the people dressed in classic crossfit attire- see above- heading into a garage door on a building that was standing wide open).
They were already starting the warm up when I got there. So I hopped right in. I only knew two people there: My friend and his wife.
We fell into the lines and did the crawling across the floor and lunge-stretches. During which, some little kid was keeping up with me and all I could think was “Damnit. Some juvenile is going to be better at crossfit than me. And I guarantee that I have been working out and lifting and running longer than this kid’s been alive!”
We did what crossfitters consider running: a race for six teams of six people… it was basically a short suicide run. Go a few meters, touch the line, run back, go a few more meters out, come back, tag next runner. They called it a race. Not me. I joked that I came to do crossfit, not workout.
My team won though. So. Yeah. Go team!
That’s kind of the thing about crossfit, though. Looking in from the outside: Every thing is a race or a competition. I’m not comfortable with anything that says, “grab the heaviest weight you can manage, and now maneuver these moves with that weight as fast as you can!” I admit, they do have a coach on hand, who demonstrates the “proper” movement, and then walks the room to watch for blatant poor mechanics… but this all spells injury and pulled muscles to me.
The workout on this day was a “13 minute ladder”. So, you do work pretty non-stop for 13 minutes. They give three movements to do, and you start with 10 reps of each, and add 10 with each round until the 13 minutes are up.
The warehouse was filled with pumping techno music, and it soon seemed like everyone was moving in time with the hypnotic beat… OH MY GAHD THEY HYPNOTIZE PEOPLE HERE! Ok, they don’t. But something did throw my workout off:
“Why does this room suddenly smell like doughnuts?” I asked my friend while we both tossed giant medicine balls into the air above our heads.
“There’s a bakery”
“Where? Do we go there next? Is this part of the crossfit torture?”
He laughed. “Just do your workout.”
My partner for the workout took it easy on me, and though I did get some sweat going, I didn’t get torn up or over-exerted. I guess the fact that a number of people end these workouts collapsed in watery, dead-smelling heaps on the floor shows that people do get the workout they’re looking for at crossfit. Although the room was crowded, the floor afterward was not.
With membership costs spanning $100-160 per month, its a pretty huge buy-in to join a crossfit box. And yet, they are wildly popular. Everyone I know is all-in and committed almost as deeply as runners get about running. They don’t need to advertise beyond word of mouth… or beyond their hugely popular “crossfit games”.
But is this a healthy or safe workout?
I voiced a concern above about how the workouts operate, and I did the research, which is why this post took so long to get out after my crossfit experience.
The fact is that there hasn’t been any significant research into this question.
The takeaway from what is out there is that crossfit is pretty much as dangerous as any other high-intensity sport. A lot of the injuries could be explained by the draw of the crossfit culture: Do a very short, very intense workout every day and come out at the end with washboard abs and looking like you belong in a fitness calendar. (Hell. I want that!) This draws people who don’t have a lot of fitness to start with into the mix. Those folks just coming into realizing that they need to actually act on something in order to get the results they want: weight loss. But they want the results Now. They want them fast. And crossfit appears on the surface to promise this. These people are likely to skip over the ever-important step of “consulting with a doctor prior to starting a workout regime”. They dove in too fast and upped the chances they’d get hurt. And this? It can happen with any sport.
And there’s no denying that the results are real for so many at crossfit. I do wonder if that’s not also a function of the person’s genetics. Because there are so many runners who sport those hard-sought “ideal bodies”, and my husband assures me constantly that it’s a matter of genetics in that area (while also assuring me that I’m thin enough and look fit enough…I disagree, but whatever).
Also a major turn off to me: Working out so hard and intensely that you throw up. Its completely possible to train and improve without having to vomit every time. The fact that crossfit tends to encourage a mentality of “if you’re not tossing your breakfast bar during the workout, then you’re not pushing hard enough” disgusts me. It borders on a cover for encouraging sports-induced bulimia. Vomiting is natural only when your body has taken in a toxin or a virus and has to reject it to keep from getting worse or dying. Also. I just don’t like seeing that. It puts me off in races when it happens too.
There’s no denying that crossfit could be a good choice as a cross-training option for runners. It certain will strengthen your core and leg muscles. It will sculpt your arms… shockingly a part of the body that runners don’t usually train. But diving into the type of workouts crossfit puts out there too early-on in the search for your fitness and workout body could prove to be detrimental to your fitness journey, derailing you by injury or discouraging you by the amount of weights and repetitions you’re supposed to do.
True, this was my first workout in a box proper, but I’m not new to crossfit workouts and the heavy weights they utilize. My line of work, specifically where I worked, got very heavy into it. To the point where running distances was actually discouraged because they valued being able to do the heavy weights above all else.
Jokes on my coworkers who taunted me into doing their workout one day. My cardio is on point, and I didn’t skip weight work. So while two of the three others were making sprints to the toilet to toss lunch, I was keeping time with the fittest guy in the office (true, he was in a weighted vest) but I made it through the whole workout, shocking all of them. I’m just saying. Don’t knock how strong a person has to be to run multiple marathons in a year for fun.
Okay. Brag over.
Should you do crossfit? Only if you really want to. And can afford it. I highly recommend that you get some fitness program started before going into crossfit. Get started on your journey before you dive into this kind of workout. And good luck. Will I crossfit? I’m not quite into the cult-ure there. I don’t dig weight lifting enough. I think that a lot of the weight loss has to do with dedicated movement AND the fact that most participants are guilted into participating one of the two or three diets crossfitters utilize.
So… You could also take up a cardio type program and commit to a diet and see results you’re looking for.
But here is where the greatest advantage of crossfit applies:
You have a large collection of people keeping you honest to the diet and workouts, and so you’ll have a higher chance of success.