I will not drink the Kool-aid. I am runner, hear me roar.
The unrelenting reminder scrolled through my mind like an ESPN sports ticker, even as I stood surrounded by rigs, ropes, weights and whiteboards scribbled with code I couldn’t read. I could translate the strength workout, but was lost at MetCon: 5 RFT, DB S2OH (35/25, 30/20) x 10, DL (185/125, 135/95) x 10. The only one I recognized — run x 400m — was precisely why I’d stepped into a CrossFit box.
Hindered by a nagging injury that I desperately wanted to fix, I read “Unbreakable Runner” by CrossFit Endurance founder Brian Mackenzie and journalist T.J. Murphy. Not entirely convinced, but curious how CrossFit Endurance was different, I reluctantly traded miles on the mountain for gumption in the gym.
I quickly learned that unlike Starbucks, where you get exactly what you expect regardless of location, CrossFit affiliates vary significantly. Ultimately, whether the goal is simply getting back into shape or upping the ante as a formidable endurance athlete, success depends on choosing the right one for you.
The Challenge of Change
Apparently, you’re never too old for that knot-in-the-gut, first-day-of-school feeling because it arrived about the same time I did on Day One. That, and copious questions daring my self-esteem to waiver: What if I can’t lift much weight? What if I’m too slow? What if the program doesn’t work? What if it does … and my legs become thick tree trunks that will never fit into my favorite jeans again?Of all the stigmas associated with this fitness craze, the one I feared most was lifting more weight than I felt comfortable attempting in a room filled with bodybuilders. I wasted no time sharing my concerns to Chris Shewmaker, owner of CrossFit Kennesaw and co-owner of CrossFit Alpharetta.
“Each gym has a different personality and a different clientele, so the mentality inside is going to be different too,” he said We’ve got a vast array of people, ranging [in age] from 16 to 68, all with various goals, body shapes and experience levels.”
“What we are really big on is teaching people to move the right way so they don’t get hurt with anything they’re doing, whether it’s a competition, cycling, running or lifting a bag of dog food,” added Shewmaker, a former financial planner, who turned to CrossFit in 2009 and now helps clients invest in their health.
A methodology that combines constantly varied, high intensity and functional training, CrossFit has 10 fitness domains that coaches emphasize weekly: cardiovascular respiratory endurance, strength, stamina and flexibility, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination and accuracy.
Jason Sobczak, who co-owns CrossFit East Cobb with fellow Army friend Chris Sims, explained, “Out of those 10, strength is the most general skill and the most important one. Whether you’re an East Cobb soccer mom, military guy, high school athlete, endurance athlete or senior citizen, when you are strong, whatever you are doing in life becomes easier.”
The thought of giving up my running shoes, even temporarily, was not well received, but the notion of stronger equals easier certainly was. And so began my love-hate relationship with CrossFit.
Fast and Strong
I started with a trial class at CrossFit East Cobb, then took the Fundamentals Course at CrossFit Kennesaw (CFK). For newbies, the fundamental classes are a welcomed bonus; the classes are typically small, which means more one-on-one time to learn the names and proper form for each move.
Every class has a warm-up specific to the daily strength exercise as well as the “W.O.D.” (workout of the day). “MetCon,” I soon learned, stands for metabolic conditioning. “Functional training — multi-joint, multi-muscle movements that are natural to the body — is really the basis of CrossFit,” Sobczak said. “We don’t do any bodybuilding movements like triceps kick-backs or calf extensions. They will help you put muscle on, and they look good, but they don’t help if you’re running 100 miles or mountain climbing.”
Between their military backgrounds and numerous athletic endeavors like 100-mile trail races and Ironman competitions, Sobczak and Sims pride themselves as endurance-minded coaches with the programming to back it up. “CrossFit is definitely associated with the fast 10-minute workout, where we do hour-long workout sessions,” Sobczak said. “During these workouts, your lung capacity is up in the 80 to 90 percent range.”
Certified for CrossFit Endurance, coaches implementing this program create training plans for members with specific goals.
“Communication between you and the coaches is very important, so that we can figure out how to help you modify the workout to reach your goals more effectively,” Shewmaker stated.
“Our [philosophy] is more general physical preparedness. We’re going to do a little bit of everything — some short and some long, some heavy, some light — but at the end of the day, I believe the intensity of the movement is going to trump the longevity of it,” he added. Shewmaker explained that for endurance athletes already doing the distance training, weights and mobility are para- mount and typically the missing pieces in their plan.
“[We’re going] to make sure every- thing is moving properly. That’s where our program is very beneficial to a lot of folks because you can tailor-make it and it’s not going to beat down an already beaten-down body.”
“I think we do a better job than most of coaching and scaling. What’s written on the board is a guideline — we modify whatever we need to for a good workout and ultimately, the response members are looking for,” he added.
Will my next race be the best yet? Might depend on how often I repeat what Jerry Collett, one of my CFK coaches, said: “The difference between [great athletes and potentially great athletes], is those that are great, let people see them fail … cause when they do succeed, everyone knows they worked their butt off to get there.”
Maybe a little Kool-aid can “fix” me after all.
GENERAL CROSSFIT TIPS
• Check out three or four CF affliates in your driving radius to decide the best fit.
• Find coaches that take time to correct your form and slowly work you up to a healthy weight instead of pushing your limits before you are ready, either physically or mentally.
• CrossFit is not sport specifi c. CrossFit Endurance (CFE) is, so if endurance for a particular sport or event is what you’re after, find a CFE coach certified to train you.