What Really Happens Inside a CrossFit Gym

Courtesy: Lynda Shenkman

An excavator sits outside the ashen structure awaiting the command. A welcome sign still hangs above the door. The garage, once home to our local CrossFit gym, now a cement cavity of memories will soon be demolished, replaced by apartments.

On the last day of class, each attending member took a minute to reminisce during an icebreaker. I was absent, but watched the video on Instagram. The stories shared never highlighted the achievements of self. Members wanted to talk about their classmates; who made them smile, who broke through barriers, whose shirtless chest turned heads.

I replayed it a few times. With every rerun, my heart swelled. Change is bittersweet.

Nonmembers sometimes ask, What goes on inside those CrossFit gyms? I hear it’s a cult. I can assure the skeptics no one is fixing alters from barbells or sacrificing protein shakes to the fitness gods. Not yet, anyway. But a lot does happen.

Dreams happen

A man in his twenties left a budding corporate job to pursue a passion for training. He opened a CrossFit gym. Honed his skills. Built a team. Expanded a business. Stayed humble and kind. And in doing so, inspired clients to achieve little goals and big dreams.

Millennials quit secure careers to do what they loved. Young athletes competed alongside elites. A determined high schooler proved to her soccer coach she was good enough to make the team and an unsure peer found himself wrestling and winning. Many embraced healthy choices and most found their voice.

Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers learned to squat, clean and jerk. They climbed ropes for the first time, stood on their heads and jumped up on a box. They completed races, joined rock bands, sported bikinis, founded companies, sat for tattoos and concluded that age doesn’t define ability and intimidating does not mean impossible.

Love happens

As a new member, my friend was surprised at how fast she warmed up to people from the gym. “Is this normal?” she asked.

“Pretty much,” I told her.

Amid the pull up rigs, weight racks and wall balls, there’s no time to fear vulnerability. When the clock counts down, social norms go out the window. Strangers are thrown into a mental and physical predicament with a common goal; get it done and support a neighbor.

It started with fist pumps and cheers. Small talk came easy; CrossFit’s a built in conversation starter. Together, we rehashed workouts, movements, personal bests and rough spots until the non CrossFitting community told us to shut up.

In time, we stopped squawking about fitness, opened up and asked about a sick parent, a new job or a cranky toddler. And it didn’t take long before we were offering hugs, helping a teen find an internship, editing a college essay, buying from a buddy’s local business, sharing professional expertise, moving boxes, supporting a cause, hosting a dinner, celebrating a milestone or lending an ear.

We met for 4 years in the same space, during the same hour, several days a week. Friendships developed, spouses connected, siblings bonded, relationships bloomed, babies grew and grandchildren were born.

Fun happens

In an interview at Harvard Divinity School, CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman explained how CrossFit gyms emphasize camaraderie, which was once described to him as “agony coupled with laughter.”

I am inherently lazy. The first four decades of my life were spent avoiding exercise. But even when I’m feeling uninspired, CrossFit keeps me coming back because the people make it fun.

Beyond the crazy tights, silly tanks and occasional costume, our gym is a safe, happy escape. I can let curse words loose, chuckle at a double-entendre, lip sync to my heart’s content, whip out dance moves and laugh alongside friends who brighten my mood and let me be me.

Struggle happens

We failed lifts, lost to a workout, questioned our strength and ran out of gas. We agonized through divorce, mourned death, endured surgery and disease, emptied our nests and fought mental illness. But we did so side by side.

Perspective happens

We learned. To teach, coach and manage. About different cultural and spiritual traditions. To leave political divides at the door. To be students again. We learned about decency, respect and gratitude. That we are better as a team.

We strived. To find balance. To do our best. To try and to not be too tough on ourselves.

We recognized. The benefit of breathe, pace and letting it out of the tank. The value of stretching, the stupidity of sugar (even though we may indulge) and how, when done right, food is fuel.

We grew. To rethink Beauty, Age and Limits. To ignore scales and diets. To complain less and smile more. We grew to believe in ourselves. To know our bodies can generate power, that we can do anything for a minute and what it means to be a champion.

The closing doors were not a goodbye. The owner moved us into new, spiffy digs. Right up the block. With an open floor plan. Natural light. Fresh paint. Even showers. Just in time for the New Year.

The parking’s different. The entrance is different. The setup is different. But the faces gathered around the white board to receive the daily challenge are the same.

It’s during this accepted routine our surroundings seem to fade. As the coach speaks and we listen, one thing is clear – family happened.

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Why CrossFit Is The Right Fit (Right Now) For My Tween

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Not every child takes to traditional team sports. Our son, Bubbe is one of them.

Despite growing to have a strong arm, solid shot and height, our now 11 year old prefers to play a tennis match over a baseball or basketball game.

My husband, Mac and I have mixed feelings. While we’re happy to see him connect with a game, the man to man style of tennis doesn’t encourage the socialization, camaraderie and team work to the extent we feel young people need.

Since Bubbe was a little guy, we insisted he dabble in a variety of sports, fantasizing that by the time he got to middle school, he would’ve embraced one which fosters self esteem, teaches assertiveness, tests limits and encourages community.

Well, Bubbe made it to middle school. He’s concluded the sports tweens are supposed to love are “not his thing.” And Mac and I are coming to conclusion during this temperamental time when boyhood and adolescence cross, our parental push has done more damage than good.

As the children in our town age, their sports are shifting from recreational to competitive play. More is expected: time, skill and understanding of the game. Our son has been fortunate to have kind and balanced coaches who’ve helped him to improve over the years. Nonetheless, he’s had a tough time keeping up with the pack.

Bubbe is the child who steered clear of rebounds because he didn’t want to get or hurt others, became overwhelmed by the pace of play and felt slighted when teammates didn’t pass the ball. He’s the boy who struggled to stay baseball ready for lengths of time and who, despite finding a glimmer of glory when the coach gave him the chance to pitch, felt defeated when he wasn’t put on the mound more than a few innings. Game after tournament after season our son was the one who came home repeating, “I’m not good enough.”

What’s a parent to do? Sign him up for between season clinics? Tell him to suck it up, practice and pay attention? Make him play?

Mac and I confess we tried a tough love approach. But our son’s tween ego is fragile; the current cracks are deep and require more than a little filler. In an effort to support him, we turned to the material we know from experience can restore structural integrity from the inside out: CrossFit.

Our CrossFit box is not a new environment. Bubbe’s taken plenty of kids’ classes. CrossFit Teens however, is a different animal. The sessions are structured like adult classes. The coach works these young people hard.

Three weeks in, the CrossFit compound is already starting to stick.

Week 1

Bubbe knows what Olympic weightlifting looks like but never touched a barbell; until his first class when the power clean was the movement of the day. Picking up a weighted bar from the floor, flipping it onto one’s shoulder blades and returning it down in a fluid motion requires focus, coordination and guts.

When I came for pick up, I found Bubbe with crimson cheeks and in the zone, cycling through a series of power cleans, burpees and push-ups. At the buzzer, I heard the teacher say to him, “You’re very coachable. Great job.”

On our way out I asked, “What was the best part?”

With his breath caught, the post WOD endorphin inspired chatter commenced. “The barbell. I liked learning the power clean. How much can you lift? What about Dad? What about the coach with all the tattoos?”

That afternoon, Bubbe wasn’t worried about getting hurt, willingly went out of his comfort zone, followed complex directions and after only 45 minutes, felt empowered, strong and connected to a community.

Week 2  

The air was moist and still; the gym hotter inside then out. Bubbe and I read the white board where the coach had outlined the day’s program: medicine ball clean, burpee box jump, slam ball, farmers’ walk and plank holds. I kissed his forehead and left, excited for him and thrilled it wasn’t me.

This time around, Bubbe was in a full blown brow to toe sweat when I showed up. His clothes were drenched, skin caked in chalk and rubber.

“It was really hard, Mom,” he threw his glasses my way and grabbed a water bottle. “So hard I wanted to cry.”

“Did you?” I asked.

“A little.”

“Did you stop?”

He looked up from his drink. “No, I kept going.”

A boy with a sensitive soul who can harness mental strength is one who holds a big heart.

Week 3

I heard Justin Timberlake blaring on the radio before I could see Bubbe. When I made my way to the workout space, he was on the rowing machine pulling like a mad man.

After class, his coach approached me. “I told him to row 350 meters in 2 minutes. This kid went and rowed 400 meters,” he boasted.

Bubbe beamed.

“When Coach said row 350, did you try to beat it on purpose?” I later asked.

“Yeah, Mom. I always try to get to a number and then do more.”

Sometimes, digging deep, beating personal goals and competing against yourself is just as rewarding as getting the rebound or throwing a strike.

Right now, the team sport route isn’t working for our son. Mac and I are grateful CrossFit Teens is there to help mold Bubbe’s character and fuel his confidence.

In time, we hope he‘ll apply the work at the box to the tennis court, classroom, friendships and maybe even the ball field. But more than anything, we hope Bubbe comes to realize he is without a doubt, more than good enough.

My ABCs of CrossFit

Photo cred: Lynda Shenkman Curtis

Photo credit: Lynda Shenkman Curtis

School’s out but this teacher is still thinking about her ABCs; of CrossFit.

Yes, I’m one of those folk who sit in the dentist’s chair visualizing toes to bar to distract me from the grind of the drill, rehash snatch progressions while stuck at a red light, and strategize the following day’s work out when I really should be writing.

Here’s my take on an experience that leaves me plotzed in a puddle of sweat on the floor of a place I consider my 60 minute respite and second home; not from the perspective of Trainer or a Games Athlete, but as a forty something, part-time working wife, writer, teacher and mother of two trying to stay strong, sane, fight mid-life sag, and eat food deemed unhealthy with but a fraction of guilt.

My ABCs of CrossFit

Attitude. Leave it at the door

Builds a badunkadonk booty

Community is key. Cliquey is sticky

Diet, much to my dismay does wonders

Each movement can be modified

Form. Learn proper technique

Give progress time

Hello. Say it. Especially to someone new

Intimidating-yes. Impossible-no

Jokes and jargon are best kept dirty

Keep consistently coming

Lifetime personal records can erase a lifetime of insecurity

Mental toughness changes the game

No rep yourself

Oly shoes and fitted jump ropes make a difference

Potty breaks, strategically timed do too

Quality coaches warm up, watch carefully and address woes

Rest. Roll out. Retest

Strict before kip

Tatas in tanks sometimes fall out

Underestimate ability; undermine potential

Variety is the spice of life

Write down results

X-tra practice when possible

You are the machine

Zealots who bond at the box become family beyond fitness

Ready to give it a go? Already a Crossfitting, fire jumping, power lifting cobra posing, soul cycling, triathloning, marathoning, coccyx curling enthusiast?

Then what keeps you coming back for more?