Six Things I Love about CrossFit and Six Things I’m Not So Sure About

I started CrossFit in Dunedin, New Zealand at the end of the cycling season in March 2012. It was NZ autumn and days were starting to get cold-ish and wet. I didn’t want to join a traditional gym, running in Dunedin didn’t much appeal (hills, hills and more hills) and I’d been hearing the buzz about CrossFit for awhile.

Being the academic, geeky sort I did a lot of reading in advance and so psychologically at least I was ready for what they offered. I had fun moving from CrossFit women (my gateway program of choice) to regular CrossFit classes and then started at CrossFit London just a few days after my long flight across the ocean and a dateline. I thought I’d share here what I like most about this style of training and what I’m still unsure about.

Six Things I Love

1. Wow, Women, and Weights: I’ve been lifting weights–free weights, as some people say–since I took Fundamentals of Weight Training for academic credit at the University of Illinois in the 1st year of my PhD in 1988. I had a tuition waiver, so why not? I also took Intro to Sailing the next semester. The only small hitch was that I  got a B (my only grad school B) and it’s listed on my transcript as just “Fundamentals” so when I was on the academic job market I ended explaining to places that requested my transcript that it wasn’t logic or metaphysics.

I love lifting weights. I decided back then, in my mid twenties, that if I was going to be big I was also going to be strong. But I’ve never had much female company in the weight room. Don’t get me wrong. Those really muscly, very inked men in the weight room at the Y have been incredibly warm and welcoming and helpful through the years–they are some of the nicest and most gentle people at the gym– but I’ve always felt a bit of an oddball.

CrossFit is different. The gender ratio is about 50-50 most days and the women are strong and powerful. It’s so refreshing to see so many women lifting weights. Lots of them are lots stronger than me and that just makes me smile. I feel like I’ve found my people!

2. The Workouts: Intensity, Variety, Scalability

CrossFit workouts are intense. There’s nothing else like them. Burpees, box jumps, medicine ball throws, pull ups, sprinting, rowing, with some Olympic weight lifting thrown in for good measure. There’s also never a dull day. The workouts change every day and you just don’t know what to expect. Also, all of the efforts can be scaled to your ability. You might not be able to do pull ups (lots of people can’t) but you can do jumping pull ups or banded pull ups (with a big elastic band for assistance). So there is always a place to start and a place to move up to. That ability to measure, set targets, achieve goals really appeals to me.

They combine two things I’ve written about before as essential elements of good training programs, high intensity and heavy weights.

As Speedy joked at CrossFit Dunedin, “If you want to walk on a treadmill for hours and watch television there’s a Les Mills gym across the street with lots of that going on.”

3. The Teachers: Excellent careful instruction, nice ratio of instructors to students, and people who are really committed. Thanks Rachel, Grant and Speedy and Dave!

4. The Community: Yes, I own my own kettlebell and I could jump up on to my deck instead of doing  box jumps and I could do burpees and sprint out in front of my house. Would I? No. Certainly I’d never do them as fast. I love that the CrossFit participants cheer one another on. It’s an incredibly supportive and motivating workout environment.

5. It Works: My body has changed a lot since starting CrossFit. What most people want to know is whether I’ve lost weight and the answer is not very much. More than 5 lbs, fewer than 10. But I’m down a clothes size and I have all these brand new muscles in my core. I’ve had muscular arms and shoulders and legs for years but these muscles are new. I move more easily. I notice that it’s a lot easier to fall and get back up at Aikido. In fact, everything is easier, from running to picking up heavy things around the house.

6. I love kettlebells!

Six Things I’m Not So Sure About

1. The jargon: Again, I did my research so WOD didn’t throw me. It’s Workout of the Day. Rx is the recommended weight. AMRAP is as many reps as possible. And so on… It’s useful shorthand but the jargon can feel like it’s meant to exclude beginners from those in the know. There are lots of guides to CrossFit lingo out there but really, it shouldn’t be necessary.

2. Fitting it all in: I do CrossFit in the morning, three times a week in theory, and then lots of other stuff too (Aikido, rowing, bike riding, running, soccer) and sometimes the CrossFit weight workouts leave me too sore to do the other things I love to do. It’s a challenge for those of us who do CrossFit and something else to fit everything in. But that’s true I think for weight training in general.

3. Where are the older women? There are lots of women but not very many older women. Often I’m the only women not in her 20s! Most days there are women in the 30s as well but I’ve only met a few women in their 40s and 50s, both here and in NZ. No wonder the other women run faster than me. I read inspirational stories about CrossFitting grandmas but I haven’t met one yet. This is my favourite. I like her functional fitness goals.

Three years ago, Jean Stewart began to feel old. A proud woman, she realized she needed to make a change in her life to improve her long-term health.

“I see people who are stooped over and old, in their 60s and 70s,” Stewart says. “I don’t want to be that way. I was losing function for everyday living, stooped over and lifting things improperly. I just wanted to live my life (and be) healthy.”

As a retired physical education teacher, she’s always had a passion for fitness, but became bored in physical therapy-type exercise classes. Worst of all, she was tired of being treated like an old person who was incapable of physical activity. So, at the age of 83, Stewart decided to reinvent herself.

“She came walking into the gym with our newspaper ad folded under her arm and handed it to us,” remembers Cheryl Cohen, founder, owner and head trainer of Desert CrossFit in Palm Desert, Calif. “I asked her what she wanted from CrossFit and she said, ‘Well, I would like an easier time in the garden, getting down and getting back up again. I’d like to be able to move the 20-lb. bag of potting soil.’”

4. Paleo diets: I am a vegetarian, aspiring vegan, so not an ideal candidate for the caveman diet. I’m also not big fan of dietary dogma. I like the slogan over at Go Kaleo: “Eat real food. Move around a lot. Lift heavy things. And skip the kool-aid.” And besides there’s a fair bit of evidence our human ancestors were nearly all vegetarians.

5. I like to train hard while smiling and laughing as much as the next person but sometimes there’s a bit too much gallows humour around the CrossFit workouts that I worry puts off new people. At least, would put off new people who aren’t into pain and suffering. CrossFit tshirts exemplify this with slogans like the following: Embrace the Pain; Become the Machine; Your workout is my warmup; CrossFit on front, on back: “Hard. Fast. No Cuddling After”; Yes, you will pass out before you die.

This is my favourite though: On women’s shirts with image of weights–“I don’t cook, I clean.”

6. Why do the workouts get women’s names? Chelsea is 5 pull ups, 10 push ups, 15 squats, On The Minute Every Minute For 30 Minutes. There’s also Fran, Angie, Barbara etc.

If you’re in London and want to give CrossFit a try, there is a free ‘give it a try’ class every week. You can register here.

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