Fifteen minutes of hell on earth. One of the most challenging and effective workouts you’ll ever try. A real risk of serious injury. These are but a few of the thoughts that come immediately to mind when I recall my foray into CrossFit, the nation’s newest– and some say most controversial– workout craze.
When I say “craze,” I don’t mean that in a belittling way. CrossFit will get you into incredible shape if you keep at it. And its 15-minute-at-a-time format is a brilliant way of maximizing pain and gain while minimizing monotony and the duration of your suffering.
But there’s no denying that CrossFit is something of a craze, much the way P90X was a few years back. But what a craze! I got involved with CrossFit as a long-distance runner looking to turbocharge my return to the road after a long absence. As I approached middle age, my knees weren’t holding up as well as they once did, and I figured trying a CrossFit program would diversify my workouts while allowing me to ease back into running with minimal joint impact.
Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of my foray into CrossFit training:
For starters, anyone in a CrossFit program will tell you that the sense of comraderie you’ll experience is truly touching and inspiring. We were all in what seemed an awfully lot like military bootcamp together, and we all encouraged each other through what inevitably turned into nigh upon impossible workouts by about the third or fourth cycle. Having your program buddies cheering and pushing you through the most grueling cycles was definitely a big boost.
Then there’s the 15 minute format. No matter how hard things get during a CrossFit workout, you always know it will be over soon. Not soon enough much of the time, but as a runner who measures races– and sometimes workouts– in terms of hours, the short CrossFit format was a welcome change.
The intensity of CrossFit workouts guarantees an amazing workout every time, and this is probably the strongest argument in favor of signing up at your local CrossFit gym. There are no short cuts and you will push yourself to– and beyond– the limits of what you thought your body could accomplish. And every time you do, you’re that much stronger. Results are guaranteed if you stick with it.
The old cliché “no pain, no gain” is completely applicable here, and I avoid clichés like I avoid fitness fads. When I say pain, I mean not being able to walk right for days pain. I mean pain in muscles you didn’t even realize you had. I mean the kind of pain that will have you cursing your instructor and thinking about quitting more times than there are beats in the electronic music pumping from the gym speakers.
There’s also the issue of whether CrossFit is actually a sound fitness training regimen. There are plenty of fitness experts out there who decry its unorthodox programs and warn of its potential for serious injury. Which brings us to…
Encouraging every day people, many of them out of shape, to blast through grueling exercises that include Olympic-style weightlifting with very heavy weights, is a recipe for injury. Just ask Kevin Ogar, who was performing a barbell snatch at a professional CrossFit competition in California, when a horrific accident left him paralyzed.
Ogar is a professional CrossFit athlete. Chances are, you are not. And neither was I when I, who can barely bench press 100 pounds, attempted a similar move during one of my classes. The strain in my back caused me to not only miss weeks of training, but it also made it difficult to do my day job, freelance writing.
You should be extremely cautious and do a realistic self-assessment when considering CrossFit. If you’re completely out of shape, you may want to spend a few months building up a basic level of fitness before diving into CrossFit. But once you do, chances are you’ll experience great gains that will build your confidence and your mood along with your fitness level. And you’ll definitely meet new friends while participating in what was the most socially rewarding gym workout program I’ve ever tried.