A few weeks ago, I went into an athletic clothing store to buy a new sports bra. The woman working there asked me what I was looking for and how I mainly exercise. “I CrossFit,” I replied.
"Wait, did I just use 'CrossFit' as a verb?" I thought.
It was then I realized that I had become addicted to the workout phenomenon founded by Greg Glassman and trademarked in 2000. Currently, more than 7,000 CrossFit-affiliated gyms exist nationwide, with many still experiencing strong membership growth despite the fact that the workout method has been around for a while now.
I first came across CrossFit while scrolling through Instagram. What caught my eye about the CrossFit women was that they were fit and doing things many men I know cannot—performing back-to-back strict muscle-ups or deadlifting 250 pounds. Whoa.
CrossFit is not the first “trendy” workout method I’ve tried. I’ve done kickboxing, yoga, pilates, “ab” classes, Zumba, HIIT training, Olympic weightlifting, you name it. But none of those classes were as “all-inclusive” as I would’ve liked. As a former swimmer, I wanted to find something that would maintain my endurance, strength, and flexibility while also challenging me to maintain my dedication. CrossFit just seemed different from what I'd seen before.
I was hesitant after being warned about the serious injuries that can occur from the workouts’ combination of functional movements from weight-lifting, running, gymnastics, rowing, and more. I was extremely nervous when I went to my first “box” to do my first “WOD” (that's CrossFit speak for what equates to the gym and a workout of the day.)
However, since I’ve tried so many different styles of exercise and have swum thousands of laps, I have learned that anything can cause injury or discomfort. But having knowledgeable coaches who teach proper technique, stretching and warming up my body prior to workouts, and making sure I allow my body to recover properly has kept me from experiencing any injuries from CrossFit.
I have been going to CrossFit for a few months now, and I think it's safe to say I've been converted. People say CrossFit has a cult following, but those who've never experienced it don't always understand the hype. I know; that used to be me. But here's why I'm now a bonafide follower.
The Environment is Intentionally Designed to Motivate You.
One of the biggest struggles we all face with exercise is sticking with it. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck in a gym staring at myself in a mirror doing bicep curls. I needed something with a fun competition aspect, which I never found in any of the other classes I’ve taken.
"CrossFit is a competitive sport for grown-ups,” says Annie Thorisdottir in Box Life Magazine. In CrossFit, your workout is timed. After completing the WOD, my gym uses an app where you can input your time and compare it with the rest of your fellow CrossFitter’s results. It’s sometimes extremely difficult to push yourself when you are by yourself. In one study, researchers found that participants biked an average of 87 percent more if they did it with a partner rather than by themselves. I do enjoy going for solo runs, but I find myself pushing harder and striving for better performance when I’m working out at my CrossFit gym.
The People There Become Your Friends.
Every day that I go to the CrossFit gym, I know 95 percent of the people in there (that other five percent accounts for the newcomers we encounter every day). Unlike my experiences at “normal” gyms, I never walk in and feel intimidated by the sight of super bulky dudes in tank tops pounding away at the bench press, or feel annoyed when two perfectly sculpted creatures next to me on the treadmill won’t stop chit-chatting over the noise. CrossFitters are normal people. In fact, I like them and am now a part of their lives. I know where they work, how old their kids are, and what they did on the weekends. We’ve even planned a gym barbeque just to spend time together!
“The community that spontaneously arises when people do these workouts together is a key component of why CrossFit is so effective,” notes CrossFit.com. We all do the same crazy difficult workouts (albeit, at different times and paces), which has bonded us into more than fellow gym-goers.
You Gain Muscle, But That Doesn't Mean You Won't Look Feminine.
I hear women say it all the time. “I don’t lift weights because I don’t want to get ‘big.’” While I have gotten stronger and my quads have gotten bigger, I certainly still look like a woman.
While CrossFit is designed to help you lose fat and gain lean muscle, you shouldn’t anticipate looking like Annie Thorisdottir any time soon. Many elite fitness women are on strict diets and supplement regimens that help develop those bodies. Thorisdottir, who is the 2011 and 2012 CrossFit Games winner and co-owner of CrossFit Reykjavik, believes in the empowering effects CrossFit can have on a woman's body. “I’m not preaching that everyone should try to become a CrossFit champion,” she tells Vogue. “But I want to show them...that being strong is beautiful.”
You'll Be Able to Do Things You Thought Were Impossible.
While jumping rope as a kid, I used to do double-unders (bringing the rope around twice on one jump) as a “trick.” I thought it was really something. But while doing CrossFit, I learned that double-unders are a normal part of many workouts (unless you’re like me, and they actually seem like the most difficult move possible).
At CrossFit I've found that many things I previously thought were impossible are now part of my regular workouts. I can do multiple pull-ups on my own after weeks of doing them with assistance from a band. I have also been able to lift more weight than ever before. I’m not tooting my own horn; I'm tooting CrossFit’s horn. I never would’ve attempted these without the professional support and communal motivation of my gym, which gave me the knowledge and confidence to try them.
You Have the Freedom to Adjust the WOD to Your Needs.
One of the greatest things I have learned through all the workouts I’ve done is that all of our bodies are so different. Everyone's body is better at different things. It’s important to remember this when you feel like you need to modify a workout to what you know your body can handle. If you need to cut out dead lifts, lower or add weight, use a band on pull-ups, etc., do so based on your knowledge of your body, and without shame or guilt. Scaling the workout is encouraged by my CrossFit coaches so that we don’t hurt ourselves, but rather get the most out of our workouts.
My assumptions about this trend melted away when I walked in the door and saw 60-year-old women, city workers, teenagers, and moms with their babies in tow doing the workouts together in a communal space, something I had never experienced in any other class I’ve taken or gym I’ve attended. Everyone is different, and while CrossFit may not be for everyone, it's proven to be a great system for a lot of us. And now maybe you understand why.
Photo Credit: Jordan Voth