No, CrossFit isn’t for everyone.
It was about 15 minutes after I’d finished a workout at Amity CrossFit and I was on a mat in the back of the gym doing the day’s “accessory” work (some additional core exercises the coaches offer on top of the WOD) when the evening’s Elements class worked on learning the push press. It was a pretty taxing WOD by the way. It consisted of four sets of 7 stone-to-shoulder lifts, with a variety of other movements mixed in between (burpees, a farmer’s carry, box jumps and hand-stand pushups). It was one of those workouts that didn’t look that bad on paper, but if you were honest in going as heavy as possible with the stone weight, you got messed up pretty quickly.
At any rate, my very unscientific observations suggest that less than 50% of the people I’ve seen in Elements classes, or On-Ramp classes, ever last much longer than a few weeks. I once asked Coach Paul Estrada at CrossFit Elysium about that. The conversation came about when I mentioned to him that some of the Sunday community WODs—which were free and open to complete newcomers to CrossFit—were pretty rough. Like 20-minute AMRAPs of 20 burpees followed by 1/4-mile runs. Maybe it was 25 burpees. I had brought a few friends from work to try out CrossFit. They’d heard me babbling endlessly about it and decided to come try it. It was the burpees-and-runs AMRAP. They were scorched. You either love the scorching or you hate the scorching, I learned that day.
But Estrada explained to me why the community workout wasn’t a little bit more welcoming than something involving the always-disruptive burpee. The community workout, he said, was a form of honest advertising. It wouldn’t be overly complex by way of skill, but would also show what the form of training ultimately involved. It was honest enough that it weeded out those that didn’t have the right mindset or motivation.
It’s sort of like why you should find some way to see what it’s really like to be a cop before you go and become a cop. Or a lawyer.
The Elements classes are another way for someone to get a taste of the training. Typically one of the foundational movements is taught and students go through a scaled WOD to start getting the feel of how the workouts go. Again, it seems like a majority of those I’ve spotted at Elements classes don’t hang around to become regulars at whatever gym I’ve been at. But that’s OK. They came to see what it was about and it wasn’t for them.
I wonder too if the coaches see things early on and think, “This will probably be the last night I see this guy.” Maybe, but they’re in the business of trying to help newcomers not give up and get into the flow of it and enjoy the rewards of success, which is the point at which they make some friends they like seeing, and then of course comes the peer pressure and accountability stuff, and they feel supremely guilty if the don’t show up. So not only are they getting fit really fast, it is noticed if they miss a class. And they’ll hear about it from the others.
But you have to get to that point, and again, it requires equal measures of time to adapt to the intensity and time getting to know the others where you get enough momentum to produce the momentum to keep going back week after week and month after month. Which is where the big results are.
This is exactly why some of my favorite CrossFit stories are about the beginners who defy expectations. Like Travis Brumbaugh, who was 30 years old, had a 44-inch waist and weighed in at 315 pounds when he finally started to take action. He was able to get down to 285 but then got stuck. He joined CrossFit 428 in Tampa, Florida, and his coach, Hope Keddington, was very blunt in her advice to him. Too often she had seen new members start of gung-ho, but the energy fizzled in the few month and they started missing workouts and then disappeared altogether.
Not Travis. He steadily worked his way up to coming to the 5:30 a.m. class five times a week. He just made the decision to that not showing up was not an option. He started CrossFit at the beginning of this year. Travis now buys his jeans in a size 34.
So you never know. Tonight I saw a guy at the Elements class who was getting tired just holding up a lightweight training bar during the push press drills. I caught myself thinking, “This guy is doomed.” But if he has the discipline to just keep coming back, just getting himself to the door four or so times per week every week, then I will be writing another story about an improbable success in CrossFit.
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In Inside the Box, veteran journalist and marathoner T.J. Murphy goes all in to expose the gritty, high-intensity sport of CrossFit®. From staggering newcomer to evangelist, Murphy finds out how it feels, why it’s so popular, and whether CrossFit can fix his broken body.