Many people have asked what I do to stay in shape. Not to say that I’m some sort of physical specimen, far from it. In fact, you may describe me as a washed up athlete that has lived his life experiencing more failure than success. I will say, however, that I’m not just some hump that revels in watching three NFL games straight on Sundays and, because of that, have aged better than some and worse than others. I am by definition, the average Joe. Honestly, I think a lot of it is genetic. I eat pretty much whatever I want, but I don’t typically eat a LOT of anything. I don’t like desserts; I prefer a second piece of prime rib over a chocolate mousse any day. I see some people at buffets and, to be honest, I understand why most look the way they do! Physical activity has always just been part of my routine. I play hockey, coach my kids’ sports team and was lifting “old guy” weights and hopping on the elliptical from time to time. Hell, I even ran a marathon last year. None of that stuff truly prepared me for the adventure I began undertaking 9 months ago.
While training for the one (and probably only) marathon I’ll ever run, I had a friend/co-worker named “Rod” (I’ll change all names here to protect the innocent, and actually, it will be fun for my sophomoric personality) relentlessly nag me about going to this thing called “CrossFit”. For a year. CrossFit this, CrossFit that, CrossFit will change your world. CrossFit is a lifestyle, a state of mind, a game changer he would say. Normally I take his advice with a grain of salt, but I finally gave in. And he was right.
The first step in my journey was an email to the “Box,” as CrossFit gyms are so creatively nicknamed. The email took somewhere around 6 months to compose yet was made up of only three sentences. Who I am, what I want to accomplish and my availability. These were the only three things covered. I have to admit part of me hoped the email would find its way to the cyber waste basket where unwarranted love letters and fantastic job offers disappear. Unfortunately, the worst thing that could have happened, did. I got a timely and professional response from the owner and lead coach, David Goodenberger. He welcomed me, made me feel relatively comfortable, and invited me in for a “trial workout.” Begrudgingly, I set up a time for the following week.
The next 5 days were spent worrying, dusting off my gym bag and attempting to find reasons to blow off our scheduled little “healthy rendezvous.” Finally, against all my better judgment, I arrived at the Box. The facility itself (it has since moved) was rather nondescript. Nestled in by a grocery store and other strip mall features, it was a plain storefront. I half expected fluorescent signage stating how to get huge, what supplements to take, specials on memberships and the like. There was none of that. I walked in and noticed pull-up racks, tires, ropes, kettlebells, and most of the other standard CrossFit wares. The walls were scuffed with feet and weight marks, there were buckets of chalk, Barbells and weights clanking around, and lots of music. It was smaller than I’d expected, and then realized that’s why most of these places probably refer to themselves as ‘Boxes’. I would learn in later months that you could do CrossFit anywhere.
I was greeted immediately by a woman I figured could kick my ass if ever I looked at her the wrong way, and introduced to David and a few others. I was expecting a bunch of muscle head Adonis types that would ask me how much I benched and giggle at my lack of physical prowess when I turned around. What I witnessed was a bunch of people that were clearly good athletes, not just good weightlifters, and others just like me. Then, to confuse me even more, they were all nice to me. Then it was time for me to stop making assumptions, go with the flow, and learn about the next 60 minutes. At this point I had gained a small sense of relief and figured that everything might just be okay after all. I still think they were giggling when I turned around, but it probably had less to do with my physical prowess and rather my wise ass demeanor and lack of inner monologue. I signed some paperwork promising I wouldn’t sue if I dropped dead on the floor, which at this point was apropos of my physical capability. The waiver, I’ll admit, made the color drain from my face as I briefly second-guessed my decision to try CrossFit. Moving quickly passed that moment of panic, I changed into my workout gear and jumped in to the first part of a regular class.
The first part was informational. A quick “here’s what we’re doing today”, and “don’t forget to introduce yourself to the new guy”. We then jumped into lines and started a ‘dynamic warm up’. Essentially a bunch of stretches and movements that get your heart rate up and get you ready for heavier, more strenuous, activities. The warm up included ‘Spidermans’, ‘Toy Soldiers’, ‘Leg Kicks’ and a few others I have to admit made me question parts of my masculinity. Once I realized everyone in the class was doing the same movements, and not snickering at me, I stopped being self conscious and had some fun.
The second part of the class was when all the ‘regulars’ (of whom I had met every one) engaged in skill work for the day, which is typically weight lifting. I think that day it was some sort of Clean skill. Since I had come from a background that did not include Olympic Weight Lifting, it pretty much looked like a bunch of powerful people tossing weights around. During the lifting, I was taught some fundamental movements that I would need in my workout for the day (Burpees and Wall Balls), and given a general run down on CrossFit and this particular gym. I liked everything I heard.
As our conversation was coming to an end, the rest of the class was putting away their weights and getting ready for their Workout of the Day, or “WOD.” Most everyone would be doing the WOD while I was to partake in the “trial workout.” The term “trial workout” is somewhat of a misnomer. It probably should be named something like “a workout we put the new people through to make sure that we’re not wasting time in coaching them because they either die or don’t come back”. I suppose trial workout is just easier to say. Anyway, my workout was a 7 minute AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible) of 7 wall balls and 7 burpees. I was about to start dropping my body to the floor and throwing around a ball, when I was told I had to wait for ‘the clock’. The whole class was looking up at this red stopwatch looking device getting ready to perform in the same manner as Pavlov’s dogs were looking for food after a bell. The tremendous clock counted down from 10, conveniently beeping for the last few seconds, and then at 3-2-1 GO we all started.
When I first began, I was mentally planning my afternoon at work. Then the first minute was over. I was gasping for air and wondering how I was going to get through another 6 minutes without passing out, soiling myself, or bursting into tears! I think I was successful in avoiding the first two scenarios, but I’d be willing to bet that I shed a tear or two. Fortunately, I was sweating so damn much no one would have noticed and the perception of my toughness was spared.
Finally, after the 7 minute eternity ended, I found myself smiling. I was literally happy. This was a sense of satisfaction that I found only after my LONG runs in marathon training. The rest of class had done more than double the amount of work I did, finished, and then continued to ‘high five’ each other (and me). I realized at that moment that these sadistic freaks were cut from the same cloth as I. This was a team environment where everyone was working as hard as they could, and they were HAPPY about it!
I had proven to myself, and to David, that I was a) Not going to die…quickly and b) That I actually liked this. The next step was to schedule my “On-Ramp” sessions where I’d actually learn most of the fundamental CrossFit movements and get moving in earnest. I couldn’t wait.
Stay tuned for Episode 2…
By: Chip Sudolnik