Some background: CrossFit is basically regimented, group High Intensity Interval Training with barbell lifts, kettlebells, medicine balls, box jumps, etc. Every day is different, and you don’t really know what you’re getting into until you get there (or look online, which I tried but it was too early and they hadn’t updated the site).
It stresses short, high impact workouts (according to Seneca, the guy at CrossFit 1809, as few as five minutes and as many as fifty), with a short warm-up.
The place is set up like the kind of Russian lifting barn you see shirtless, bullet-headed muscle milling about whenever Stallone, Schwarzenegger, or Van Damme need to discuss something with a Croatian crime lord in the back office. There were no hissing pipes, and the lighting was flourescent track rather than one single, yellow bulb hanging from an exposed wire (natch) but because I’m me and always have to pee, I used the restroom before I started and the facilities looked like a kill room, all white tile with a drain in the middle of the floor. I’m not sure what business occupied the building before CrossFit did, but I’m glad I didn’t work there.
So far so good. This is what I wanted. No bullshit, no nautilus, no step machines, just a group of us and some mother-effing iron to throw around.
Except, it turned out to just be me. ”Slow morning,” Seneca said. I never caught his last name. I think it’s on the site. I wanted to ask if he was named after the famous Stoic essayist, but it didn’t seem to be the time or place.
We started right at eight with the warmup and some instruction. Big surprise: I wasn’t doing squats correctly. Another big surprise: I wasn’t doing kettlebell swings correctly either. I was bending my back and using too much arm and shoulder. Apparently, a true kettlebell swing relies on your hips and ass a lot more. You hike it through your legs and then, rather than arcing the weight back up, you clench your ass and basically fuck it forward.
That’s three years and thousands of reps (in gym parlance) down the toilet. It’s not like I was completely off base, like swinging the kettlebell with my wiener or something, but it did make me realize why my lower back was always sore. He said the new form will “utilize my quad power train” which sounds badass except he really means my hips, ass, and hamstrings.
The warmup was four exercises: jumping jacks, body-weight squats, mountain climber stretch, and jump squats. Fifteen seconds of each, four times, no breaks.
I entertained the idea, driving to CrossFit, that I was basically going to slam dunk the whole workout, throw it down like a pizza crust and ask for more. The trainer would ask me to train him. I would start my new career as a CrossFit ambassador, a fitness savant.
My wife calls this self-inflated egomania. I call it a healthy growth-mindset.
I can run eight miles, sprint up hills, bench 200 lbs, and do twenty pull-ups (not in a row, which soon became the problem). The warm-up, while not grueling, left me short-of-breath and sweating, and the jump-squats–now that I was actually bending my knees like I was supposed to and dropping my ass as low as required–made my legs burn. Not a good sign.
Next was planks. No problem. I began, settling onto my elbows but Seneca told me to get on my hands because it works on “shoulder stabilization.” These are harder, and I had to really concentrate on the side planks lest I should roll over and lay on his feet like a shot dog.
OK. Warmup over. Bring on the meat.
The main workout consisted of three exercises, performed as a circuit, three times, with no breaks. I was to run 400 meters, swing a 35 lb. kettle bell 50 times, then do something called “wall balls”.
Let’s talk about wall balls. I hate when you read about or see someone do an exercise, either in a magazine or online, and it looks easy, and you think to yourself “I can do a hundred of those.” Then you try it and it sucks. Sucks with the strength of ten-thousand Dysons. That is a wall ball.
It’s very simple. You hold a large, twenty pound medicine ball in front of you, do a squat, then explode up and try to push/throw the ball up past a demarcated line (orange) on the wall in front of you. You stand about a foot away from the wall. No problem. Except you don’t have to do it once. You have to do it twenty times, and the ball comes back down and in one fluid motion you have to catch it, go into your squat, load up, and throw it again. It’s basically a plyometric thruster, like I do with dumbbells, except I’m not throwing the dumbbells in the air because I work out in my basement and my wife would kill me if I dented the drywall.
I squatted and hurled the ball five times while he watched. He nodded, told me good work and asked if I was ready.
The first 400 meter run was easy. The fifty kettle bell swings kind of kicked my ass, and the wall balls sucked.
“One down,” Seneca said. Good time so far. And it was, only three minutes and fifty seconds for the first round.
The second 400 meters was kind of hairy, as I usually rested a minute or two between hard runs. Not today. However, as I rounded the corner to come back into the gym, Seneca was there, cheering me on. It was sweet. I am a thirty-six year-old man, alone except for a giant named Seneca who I’ve met exactly zero times before roughly fifteen minutes ago, and at that point his praise suddenly meant more to me than anything my wife has ever said. I remember his exact words: “Keep it up. Doing good.”
After the kettle bell, the second time, I set the weight down and watched the clock for fifteen seconds. No way I was running over to that wall again before I got two or three good breaths in. At this point, once I made it over and had four or five reps behind me, the orange line was a pipe dream. Now it was just about getting through the twenty reps.
As I stepped out of the gym for the third and last time, I looked behind me and realized I was looking to see if Seneca was following me. Why? Because I knew if he wasn’t, there was a good chance I was going to run to my car and drive home. But, there he was, so I ran the 400 again, and if I managed it in 1:40 the first time, this time I was lucky to get there and back in three minutes.
Kettle bells again. My ass clenching and unclenching, humping it forward.
And, finally, wall balls. I stopped at seven and fifteen to breathe, but got through it.
14:40 total. The whole thing took less than 15 minutes. I was sweating like I’d run five miles.
Seneca was complimentary, and I was the second best time of the day (it’s Tuesday, at 8AM, so I didn’t break my arm patting myself on the back). I noticed that the guy in front of me had an “RX” by his name. I asked what it meant.
“It means he did all of it with good form, and managed to make the prescribed distance on the wall ball every time.” I nodded, and waited for him to put the letters by my names two. He capped the marker and put it back on the table.
We talked for a few minutes afterwards. He’s training for the CrossFit Games and hopes to make regionals. He showed me his “WOD” (workout of the day), which was ungodly. One exercise said “weighted sled.” Another said “walk on hands.”
He mentioned that he’d been doing this for a few years and started at 260 lbs., completely out-of-shape, but the teamwork and regimented approach was really a great motivator. I couldn’t tell if that was part of the pitch; a success story is always a nice personal touch, but he didn’t give me any reason to doubt him and he seemed to legitimately enjoy what he does.
So I’m still alive, and because the whole week is free, I’m taking my wife on Thursday. Is this for me? I like that it’s only an hour. I like the intensity. The price is a bit steep, and will be the deciding factor. Truth is, I like working out in my basement. My son plays Wii and my daughter makes fun of me while I exercise. It’s not CrossFit, but it’s something.