Before I started this blog, I had a pretty full Google Reader (I’ve now switched to Feedly if you were wondering), and I’m admittedly a pretty impressionable person. In the weeks before I re-started up the ol’ blog in 2013, I contemplated the fact that I had bought or tried a number of products almost exclusively because I had seen them on a blog (not counting recipes because, come on, doesn’t everyone get recipes from blogs?) and I emailed the list to my former roommate Kerry. We lamented the fact that neither us had a blog through which to share our brilliance. So without further ado, here is the first installment of Things I Bought Because People Blogged About Them: CrossFit Edition.
(Now, ok, I realize I didn’t technically buy CrossFit, but I bought a livingsocial deal for four CrossFit classes at my local box, and it’s the topic I most wanted to write about today, so let it be. I promise later installments will include items you can actually buy.)
So, back to my adventures in CrossFit. I first came across CrossFit through the facebook posts of a couple of girls from my high school cross-country team. (Yes, I’m breaking the rules of my own blog post series. I’ll tie it back to blogs eventually.) I was intrigued by the photos of their CrossFit competitions and workouts, partly because they looked super fit and strong and partly because it seemed like a way to join a healthy network/community. Since I first learned about the Reebok Crossfit Games, they have now graced my TV screen at least a few times. In case you haven’t see people talking about CrossFit on blogs/facebook/twitter/pinterest/wherever else people talk about these things, here is an explanation from CrossFit.com: What is CrossFit:
“CrossFit is the principal strength and conditioning program for many police academies and tactical operations teams, military special operations units, champion martial artists, and hundreds of other elite and professional athletes worldwide.
Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist.
The CrossFit program is designed for universal scalability making it the perfect application for any committed individual regardless of experience. We’ve used our same routines for elderly individuals with heart disease and cage fighters one month out from televised bouts. We scale load and intensity; we don’t change programs.”
As far as I can tell, the workouts (called WODs or Workout Of Day) are a combination of strength and endurance, and they’re done at a gym called a “box.” And as I first suspected from those facebook posts, people do develop pretty strong communities based on their box. I know that’s putting it all simply, so if you want more information from someone who knows what she’s talking about, check out Tina at Carrots ‘n’ Cake. Her blog is what actually finally pushed me to find a nearby box (CrossFit Durham) and purchase the livingsocial deal for four classes. This box also has free community workouts on Saturdays at 11am, which I’ve been to a few times and definitely recommend. Tina knows A LOT about CrossFit and blogs so honestly about how it has changed her fitness and about the mental and physical challenges that the WODs can bring.
As a preface to what you’re about to read, I have a little exposure to weightlifting from high school soccer, when in my junior year, our soccer coach left and the football coach became the soccer coach. Amazingly, we still won the state championship that year, but I think we can all agree that was due more to our local club programs than to our high school coach, though he tried hard and we really liked him. I also have gone to spin, yoga, or other classes at a number of different studios, so I am not totally new to group fitness classes. I consider myself pretty aerobically fit from running, but I don’t claim to have any upper body strength. CrossFit was quite different from any other class I’ve been to.
Instead of signing up for a class online like I’m used to with group classes, I emailed the owner with my livingsocial information, and he was friendly and really responsive. He offered me a few class times for that week, and I picked one and showed up. At the box, no one checks you in because anyone who is a real member has unlimited access. That threw me off – how was I supposed to know where to go or which group of people to awkwardly stand next to? If you couldn’t tell, I was a bit apprehensive going into my first class. My running list of concerns included: I don’t have strong arms, I don’t know how to do these moves, and everyone else knows what they’re doing except me. All of these thoughts were true. To join the box, a person has to complete a 6-class Foundations course where they learn the basic movements in a small group with an instructor to guide them. And here I was, just showing up and attempting to do lifts and weight amounts that I had no business doing, with no real way to know what was appropriate for me. I get that there is no shame in scaling down a workout to your current fitness level, but I was having to fly by the seat of my pants with every move because I just had no context. I’m sure I could’ve approached the coach, but I’ll admit I’m much more likely to just watch what other people are doing and try to emulate them than to bother the instructor and draw attention to myself. Plus, I’m not sure how cool they all would’ve been with the fact that I just dropped in because I had this deal. Everyone else just seemed so “legit” and I felt honestly uncomfortable even though all the other participants were totally polite and answered my questions when I asked. (Though another part of me says, “Hey they offered the deal. They should be ready to accommodate people who bought it.”) At times I worried about my safety (specifically how to not throw out my back), but that’s my responsibility and it all turned out fine.
In case you’re wondering what a CrossFit class looks like, the basic structure for the four I attended was: Warm-Up, Strength, Skill and Conditioning. For better examples, CrossFit Durham posts each day’s workout on their website – and yes I looked at this every day before I went to class and usually had a mini panic attack. If I had written this post back when I attended these classes in January, I’d provide better detail of what we did, but to me, everything was new and varied, so I couldn’t have said what a typical warm-up consists of, for example. The Conditioning part is at the end of the class and because it often incorporates some element of endurance, it was my favorite! For Conditioning, you basically rotate through 3 or so exercises, and you either have to do a set number of each exercise as fast as you can, or you repeat a set number of each exercise as many times as you can in a certain about of time (also known as AMRAP – as many rounds as possible). Some of my favorite exercises to incorporate were box jumps and ball slams, probably because neither requires you to lift a 75 pound bar over your head (though honestly even 35 pounds got really heavy really quickly) but other exercises included pull-ups (really hard, but CrossFit people do this thing called a Kipping Pullup so they can do more without getting tired), kettlebell swings (also kind of fun), rowing, squats, and push-presses.
As for my thoughts on the whole experience, if you’ve been wanting to try CrossFit, you absolutely should (and seriously check out Tina’s blog for more information and inspiration). My tips for how to go about it are: 1) see if your local box offers a free class on the weekend – maybe a weekly group strength session is enough for you, and 2) see if your local box offers a bootcamp or other lower-pressure way to try it out. Signing up for the Foundations course, which also includes the month of unlimited access, is a pretty expensive investment if you haven’t tried it before and aren’t sure it’s the workout program for you. I wouldn’t recommend getting a livingsocial or Groupon-type deal unless you have a buddy to help you out with any questions or you don’t mind letting the instructor know at the beginning of class that you’re new and will need extra guidance. As I type that, it seems so simple, but that place was intimidating! I really liked the WODs that included moves I could do, probably because I got the chance to go all-out for just 7 minutes or 15 minutes lately, and it was a lot of fun to push myself like that.
In short, I can see how people get really into CrossFit if they have the time (and money and desire) to commit to making it their primary form of exercise, but I’ll stick with the free Saturday classes when I can make them and maybe consider an 8 week bootcamp at some point in between marathon training and triathlon training. I’ve also found a number of strength workouts from other sources that give me at least some of the same burn I got from CrossFit but for free and on my own time, so stay tuned!
I realized I left two key things out of this post that I would want to know if I were trying a CrossFit workout for the first time.
1. What to wear. I’d suggest spandex leggings/tights on bottom because you never know when you might have your legs wider than the inseam of your shorts might properly cover if you know what I mean. On top, just a sports bra and shirt are fine. Some workouts require more impact (such as running or box jumps) and therefore a bra with more support might be helpful. As for shoes, your normal running shoes are NOT the ideal shoe because of how cushion-y and supportive they are. That amount of support means your ankle isn’t stabilizing itself, and so your base isn’t stable during certain exercises. You’ll probably notice people at the box wearing Inov-8 brand shoes or other similarly “minimalist” shoes. I wore the closest thing I have to minimalist shoes – my Brooks ST Racers – and they were fine.
2. What a Community (also known as free) class is probably like. I know I above praised the Community classes without explaining how they were different from the normal workouts. All CrossFit workouts are scale-able to pretty much any fitness level, but the Community classes are great because they don’t require knowledge of any particular “skills.” So, no pull-ups. At least in the handful I’ve gone to. Instead, you do some sort of warm-up and polymetrics, then the coach demonstrates any moves that are in the workout (such as proper form for squats), and you practice them a bit, and then you do the workout. In the classes I’ve gone to, it’s always been an AMRAP one, so for 12 or 15 minutes you repeat the sequence of exercises as many times as you can. The first class I went to, the workout was run 200 meters, do 15 sit-ups, do 15 lunges on each side, then repeat all three carrying a disc weight, then repeat without the weight, then with, and so on. Another recent workout was 15 ball slams, 15 kettlebell swings and 15 push-ups followed by 30 seconds of rest. I may not remember the counts exactly, but you get the idea. They’re a fun workout without the stress of trying to figure out any complex skill or the pressure of using a certain weight that may be too heavy for you but you don’t know it. So try a Community class at your local box, and if you’re in Durham, let me know, and I’ll go with you to CrossFit Durham!