Crossfit · fitness · fitness classes

Learning from CrossFit (Guest Post)

By Cassandra

CrossFit has always seemed like one of those ‘too intense for me’ things, even though I have been secretly envious of the limits to which the athletes can push themselves. Having got that out in the open, I’m in fact finally exploring CrossFit as a fitness option and finding it to be the psychological and physical challenge that I need in my life.

I am by no means a CrossFit athlete but I have been doing CrossFit workouts and challenges, such as pullups and powerlifting, for the past year. I take it at my own pace and I push myself when I feel like it. I don’t want this post to be specifically about CrossFit, rather I want to share the reimagining of fitness that it has allowed me.

Now 36 years old, I started going to the gym over a decade ago in an attempt to address body image and self-esteem issues. I got hooked and have been working out, weightlifting, and cross training, ever since. I have learned a lot from reading about different training techniques, mostly from fitness magazines, so-called ‘experts’, and blogs, but mostly I have based my workout routines on what my body is telling me any given day or week. Having followed different routines and 30-day workout programs, I feel like I’ve seen a lot.

Here is where CrossFit comes in. I first was exposed to CrossFit with a fellow gym-mom at a Goodlife gym in Orleans, Ontario last year. She had been doing CrossFit, in a serious way for over 5 years and persuaded me to try out a CrossFit gym for a free trial. I don’t like saying ‘no’ to a challenge so I went. The place was a warehouse that was outfitted with equipment and I did one regularly scheduled class with a crew of 10 other regulars. It kicked my butt, but I walked away with less of my tail between my legs than I expected.The take away was an enormous adrenaline high. This is nothing new to someone who knows the endorphin rush of a good pump or a muscle burning run. However, the difference here was the equalizing power of CrossFit in busting gender stereotypes of strength and endurance. The most impressive person in the class was a woman, easily ten years younger then me, and someone who was obviously able to crush the Workout Of the Day (aka WOD).

Here is what the workout looked like: 25 thrusters (80% maximum weight on a barbell, bring bar to your chin and push up, repeat), 100 pullups (with an assistance resistance band, but still horribly difficult), 50 wall balls (throw a 10-15lbs medicine ball to a point 10 metres up the wall, repeat), 200 double unders (skipping rope, spin the rope over your head twice in one jump- I could only do 15!). We had 20 minutes to finish and she finished in 14 minutes. Unbelievable.

The take away was an enormous adrenaline high. This is nothing new to someone who knows the endorphin rush of a good pump or a muscle burning run. However, the difference here was the equalizing power of CrossFit in busting gender stereotypes of strength and endurance. The most impressive person in the class was a woman, easily ten years younger then me, and someone who was obviously able to crush the Workout Of the Day (aka WOD).

Here is what the workout looked like: 25 thrusters (80% maximum weight on a barbell, bring bar to your chin and push up, repeat), 100 pullups (with an assistance resistance band, but still horribly difficult), 50 wall balls (throw a 10-15lbs medicine ball to a point 10 metres up the wall, repeat), 200 double unders (skipping rope, spin the rope over your head twice in one jump- I could only do 15!). We had 20 minutes to finish and she finished in 14 minutes. Unbelievable.

Returning to my workout routine at the gym after that exposure was strange. All the equipment that once gave me a sense of accomplishment felt boring, limited, and static. After that initial CrossFit workout I craved the full-body challenge and power I felt. I never signed up for the CrossFit membership, which is $100/month, hardly an affordable option for a working mom who doesn’t work out everyday. No, I took the lessons from CrossFit and started doing my research. I found workouts online and started making my own goals: learn how to do a CrossFit pull-up (aka kipping pull-up, look it up online), learn power cleans (also, look it up), and ultimately, do a single muscle-up (a pull-up where you bring your torse over the bar).

As I worked on slowly building my skill and strength to beat these new physical challenges, I found myself completely forgetting about my thoughts about body image. I was grunting and yanking my body around at the gym without a care for how silly I looked, how grossly contorted my face would get, or how loud I might sound. Not only had I discovered a workout style that pulled me further away from the image obsessed gym routine, but I felt more proud of my accomplishments then I ever had. I started thinking of my journey as an over-all athlete- getting stronger in a way that barbells and seated leg press machines had never given me.

Now, I should mention one of the major downsides to CrossFit style fitness- injury. My body is not a stranger to pain incurred during athletic activity but now that I’m a working mom, I can’t afford to lose my general physical abilities. I have been very cautious with how far I push myself to meet my CrossFit challenges and that is why when people ask if I do CrossFit I say, ‘I do CrossFit-lite,’ which suits me just fine. When I talk to other women about CrossFit I try to explain the way it has help me burst through the typical gym workout and the lessons it has taught me on functional fitness vs. image fitness. I don’t often use the much over-used term ‘empowerment,’ but CrossFit is part of my own journey towards greater physical and psychological resilience and strength.

Like so many other fitness blog posts, I would say I have learned a lot from CrossFit, but I can also say I have left a fair amount behind, only taking what seems to make sense to me, my body, and my lifestyle. I’m also not a particularly competitive person, so I don’t get much out of the official CrossFit workouts and culture, which are all about competing for ‘best times’. My CrossFit-lite is all about personal records and kicking my self-esteem issues to the curb, in the most sweaty, red-face, and grunt-y kind of a way!

Cassandra has been a feminist since she could remember – something about being raised by a political, feminist, engineer, single-mom. She studied environmental studies and wrote her Master’s on transnational muslim feminist organizing, and works in community engagement for non-profits. Though her dream was to become a chef and she worked many long-hours in fancy kitchens she prefers community building- oh, and maybe the macho kitchen culture didn’t help. Currently, she lives in Orleans, Ontario with her husband and two ridiculously busy toddlers.

One thought on “Learning from CrossFit (Guest Post)

  1. Thanks for sharing! I’ve never tried CrossFit, but I definitely see the appeal and have done some more intensive strength circuits at my gym with trainers in a class. Like you, I’ve been taking bits and pieces of what I’ve learned from various strength training philosophies and applying them to my own workouts, in part to avoid the boredom of doing the same things over and over.

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