Crossfit is not like most fitness programs. It’s more like a cult.
A friend in the military—one of the few who is not yet drinking the Kool-Aid on a daily basis, it seems!!—described it to me as such, and the comparison’s hard to avoid, for it has all the necessary ingredients. You have an enigmatic but charismatic leader (known, most commonly, as “Coach”) whose minions post workouts every day on the Crossfit website. (It’s at www.crossfit.com, if you’re feeling masochistic.) You have glimpses of the fantastic rewards that await if you are willing to fully submit to this lifestyle—not just in the site’s pictures and short video clips, which show chiselled, beautiful people doing things that defy the laws of biology and gravity, but also in the movie posters for the movie 300, whose actors, you will find yourself explaining to people, got in that shape by using Crossfit. And you have scores of devoted followers—among them yours truly—hanging off every pronouncement from Coach (whose title is always capitalized on every Crossfit discussion board, it seems), copying down His pronouncements and bringing them to the gym, and most importantly, engaging in bizarre physical routines that seem tailor-made to push body and mind and soul to the breaking point and beyond, often leaving said follower prone and gasping on the gym floor in a pool of his or her sweat.
And do these followers leave the cult? No! Despite the ongoing sense of physical inadequacy and occasional humiliation, they keep coming back! They (we, actually) return day after day to this website, and attempt the workouts, and track their—I mean our—progress; many find it hard to even contemplate a return to the old routines.
And why? Because Crossfit is awesome.
Crossfit’s very capriciousness is part of its appeal. It’s all too easy to fall into boring routines at the gym, doing the same exercises over and over until you almost want to drop a dumbbell on your head to break the monotony. However, with Crossfit, you don’t know what tomorrow will bring—at least, not until about 10:00 p.m. or so the night before, when the W.O.D. (Workout-Of-the-Day) is posted. (You do know beforehand what your rest days will be. Every fourth day is a day off. It’s a brilliant schedule—you’re not always working out on the same days of the week.) Some W.O.D.s are stupefyingly straightforward, like doing seven single-rep sets of the Deadlift for max weight. Some of them are astonishingly complicated, with strange sequences of jumping and throwing and running and lifting. Some of them will take close to an hour, but many can be knocked out in less than twenty minutes, and a few are even closer to ten. But all of them are challenging. They’re based on the principle that, rather than isolate individual muscle groups or work on single elements of physical fitness in isolation, you should work out in a way that integrates your muscles, because that’s what happens in the real world, and you should work out in ways that tax both, say, muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness, because, again, that’s what happens in the real world. And everything is done for either max time or max weight or max reps, so if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll always be pushing yourself.
Many of the workouts are named after people, so you’ll read strange comments on the discussion boards, like “I made Melissa my bitch today” or “Fran really kicked my ass” or “I did Michael and didn’t have to stop and poop halfway through.” (OK, I made that last one up, but I did almost use it as a facebook status update once. Some devotees brag about “meeting Pukey,” which basically means what it sounds like—if you do some of the workouts with sufficient intensity, there’s a fair chance you’ll vomit. For me, though, “Poopey” is a bigger problem, especially in the mornings, and especially in the workouts like “Michael” that mix treadmill time with other exercises. I will get up and go to the bathroom, and then go to the gym and get on the treadmill to try and fake my colon into thinking that I’ve started my workout, and I’ll go to the bathroom again, and then I will come back and finally press “Start” on my watch and make it through a couple rounds of whatever craziness Coach has cooked up, and my colon will say, “Haha! I’ve got you!” and I will scamper off to the bathroom yet again, lest I soil the treadmill in what I can only assume will be a spectacularly messy and spatter-y fashion. My colon is a crafty foe.)
I digress. Crossfit isn’t perfect. Coach really has a jones for pull-ups, to the point that (if you work out gloveless, like me) you will get crazy calluses on your hands that will sometimes tear off and bleed and heal and tear off again. Also, there are perhaps too many of the exercises that require gymnastics rings and climbing ropes, and not enough of the strange asymmetrical ones that can be done with normal gym equipment. (Examples include “Virtual Shovelling,” which involves putting a 45 lb plate on only one side of a standard bench press bar and lifting it back and forth over a barrier, and “The Turkish Get-up, which involves lying on your back with a loaded bench press bar held in front of your chest with one arm, then getting up and standing while keeping the bar above you at all times—which, it turns out, is a great conversation starter.) You will have to learn the meaning of the word “pood.” (OK, I’ll save you time on that one. Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with meeting Poopey; it’s a unit of weight approximately equal to 34 lbs that’s apparently only been used in Imperial Russia and on the kettlebells in the Crossfit gym.) And, perhaps most importantly, if you don’t dial back some of the W.O.D.s that have specific weight requirements the first time you do them, you may tear something—I did something to my right inner thigh while front-squatting months ago, and it still doesn’t feel quite right.
Still, I’m not looking for any other fitness routine any time soon. Crossfit gets results, and you don’t plateau as quickly as you do with other routines, so the results keep coming. I feel like I’m on the verge of being able to do the vaunted handstand pushup, for instance. Also, my time on the dreaded “Filthy Fifty” has dropped by over four minutes since I last did it, even though this time I was still sore from doing 120 pullups and 120 dips two days before. And even though I’ve only been at it for six months, if some sequel-crazed Hollywood-type decides to make 301 any time soon, I’ll at least have an outside shot—if I cut out the milkshakes and deep-dish pizza—at being the crazy ripped Spartan staring out at you from the movie poster.
I’m ready for my close-up, Coach.
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