I Tried Crossfit (and didn’t die)

First published January 3rd, 2018.

It’s a hot and sticky Friday evening as I make my way to south Nashville. “Am I going to survive this?” I wonder as I wipe the anxious sweat off my palms. I’ve done some hellacious workouts in my time, but never this.  In the parking lot my muscles already begin to ache with anticipation. “Come on…you’ve got this,” I  tell myself nervously, reaching for the door to CrossFit Melrose

…but first a little backstory:

I’ve been a personal trainer and strength coach for nearly a decade. I got into strength training as a teenager, and as I got older I turned this passion for exercise and training into two degrees and several certifications. Through my journey, I’ve spent countless hours in a variety of gym settings working with clients who run the gamut from teenage athlete to retired CEO and everyone in between.

As a coach, I study my field like any other craftsman – by diving in and devouring as much as I can about training, nutrition, anatomy, and human physiology. But there was one arena I had yet to step foot into: CrossFit.

Here’s why:

Over the years, CrossFit has endured some controversy. And I, being much like a teenager in a different high school clique, joined in on the hate, because as much as it pains me to admit it, the fitness industry is full of cliques.

Just as they were in high school, the attitude and the antics of each clique are, well, juvenile.

But we all grow up someday. And with the passage of time, I broadened my worldview on training methods and ditched my narrow-minded attitude. I learned that there is a ton of value in a variety of training methods and that no one style fits everyone.

Whether your thing is bodybuilding, CrossFit, strongman, powerlifting, or Zumba, there’s an activity that suits everyone.

And while one way is great for you, it’s not always going to jibe well with the person next to you. Part of the fun is exploring new things, figuring out what works for you, and enjoying the journey.

But back to the story.

I swing open the doors to CrossFit Melrose half-expecting the same thing I see every day at the gym I train at: bright fluorescent lights, cardio equipment, TVs with the latest news story, and a blast of cool AC to take the edge off the heat.

I get none of that: there were no cardio machines, no TVs, no blaring speakers, no refreshing AC. What I got was a massive, albeit humid, room with barbells neatly stacked on one end, a rig of pull-up bars running along the wall, a few squat racks, and more floor space than I’d ever seen in a gym.

“So much room for activities!

It had none of the “modern day amenities” that I’ve grown accustomed to. Instead, it was paradise. Paradise wrapped up neatly in a CrossFit box.

There’s something beautiful about simplicity – a gym that has ample floor space and is equipped with only the essentials. It housed none of the distractions I’m used to in a commercial gym, which was surprisingly refreshing.

That’s when I was greeted by my personal coach for the evening, Lindsay, a former college soccer player and current all-around physical badass. She let me warm up and get my bearings while she wrapped up a squat workout with some clients.

Minutes later we had the entire space to ourselves, and she explained that I’d be doing a workout called “Cindy.”

“Cindy” is a 20-minute AMRAP (as many reps as possible in the allotted time) consisting of this simple, but incredibly intense, series of exercises:

  • 5 Kipping Pull-ups
  • 10 Push-ups
  • 15 Bodyweight Squats

The prescribed goal of the workout is straightforward: do as many rounds as possible. My goal? Survive.

I mutter a four-letter word I wouldn’t say in front of my mother, and with a sense of defeat, admit that I don’t know how to do a kipping pull-up.

Lindsay, a CrossFit Level 1 Certified coach, jumps at the opportunity to teach me, and while my technique won’t land me in the CrossFit Games, it’s passable for today’s WOD (workout of the day).

Cue the music and timer and we’re off to the races.

The first few rounds go well and I’m keeping pace with Lindsay, nevermind the fact that she has an extra 14 pounds strapped to her body. Of course, I’m carrying extra weight as well in the form of some winter belly fat. 

About 15 minutes into our workout I’m holding my own when the utterly predictable happens:

I get hurt. 

When the chalk dust settles and I have my bearings to observe the carnage, I look down and notice a torn blister in the palm of my hand.

That’s right: a measly blister.

All of those years of CrossFit hate had been validated! Crossfit surely is to blame for all these injuries!

I’m kidding, of course. Blisters are a common occurrence in any physical activity, and this workout was no different.

I modify my pull-ups and keep working. In the end, I’ve kept pace with my new CrossFit coach and friend. The timer buzzes and we celebrate with a hard-earned high five (with my not-bloody hand).

I survived my first CrossFit workout.

I even came away with my first CrossFit injury and wear it proudly.  I carefully clean and wrap my battle wound while Lindsay closes the gym. We celebrate our workout over a beer.

I’m a sweaty mess and my body aches, but the feeling is rather euphoric. There’s something strangely satisfying about 20 minutes of all-out exercise. And although there were only two of us, I get a sense of what only CrossFitters may understand: the camaraderie that accompanies “the suck.”

The workouts are hard, but they’re made more enjoyable knowing that regardless of the struggle, you’re not in it alone. It’s a team effort and everyone lifts each other up. There is no ego. Only heavy breathing, sweat, and possibly, a little blood.

CrossFit has a long list of positive features, and I admit that I let my own ego get in the way when falsely judging it in the past. While I’ve learned the error of my ways, unfortunately, there are many more coaches and trainees who still have yet to give it a chance.

The fitness industry is rife with egos and cliques. Just like politics and religion, fitness has its own righteous faithful. It’s unfortunate, because we as coaches, or even participants in fitness, training, and nutrition, should embrace unfamiliar methods and approaches. We have far more to lose by being so divided.

And just like politics and religion, we’d all be better served by listening more than talking.

Whether you’re a coach or fitness enthusiast, I encourage you to get outside your comfort zone and try something you’ve never done before. If your thing is Zumba, try bodybuilding. If you’re into step aerobics, get into CrossFit, and vice versa. In fact, I say throw caution to the wind, and do the one thing you thought you’d never do, not in a million years, like I did. I promise that it will do your body, and your mind, a great deal of good.

As for me, I’m happy to admit that I’ve thrown away my blinders and will now embrace CrossFit, as well as many other training approaches, in my own coaching practices. I can only hope for a bright future when others decide to do the same.

The fitness industry as a whole stands a better chance to survive, like I did, if it decides to embrace, accept, and encourage our differences.

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