I must preface this piece by saying that in all the years that I have been involved with any form of exercise science or fitness, I don’t think I have come across a more polarizing topic than Crossfit. When I tell other educators and professionals that I participate in Crossfit, it’s like I have told them I smoke or something. I do understand where they are coming from though, because Crossfit certainly comes with its share of concerns – just like every other form of sport or physical activity.
Looking back on my first year, I am going to focus on the positive reasons why I tried it in the first place. Although there were goals I set out to reach by the one year mark that I have not yet attained, there are several that I have been able to improve upon including improved vertical jump and reaction time, increased upper body strength (which was pretty much a given since I was about as weak as a bird when I started), and an improved 5K finishing time to name a few.
There are many other things that I have gained that are a little harder to measure. They include things like improved sleep quality and mood as well as better parking skills. For those of you who go to my gym, you know what I am talking about:
But, I have to say, the one that has surprised me the most is the fact that I notice that I have become a little more social than I was a year ago. Generally when I am in new places or around groups of people that I don’t know, I am very introverted and kind of shy. The fact that the gym I go to encourages its members to reach out and introduce themselves to other new people has left me doing this not only there but at other places as well. This is a new concept for me and it does not come naturally. We know that research has demonstrated that people who exercise are more social. I am the opposite. As a mom over the last several years, I have used my exercise time to withdraw and be alone. At the gym that I go to, that isn’t an option. I am still pretty quiet compared to most, but I have definitely changed in this regard.
It’s hard to believe that a year has gone by already. Time flies when you are having fun. I’m actually surprised that I even tried Crossfit in the first place. I am a bit of a skeptic and I still have the same concerns with it that I did a year ago. But to be honest, they are the same issues I have with all facets of fitness and sport that boil down to one thing: safety. I guess it’s the athletic trainer, or mom, in me that is always thinking, “safety first”. I know, that’s boring, but I can’t help it.
I set some goals when I started, some of which I have achieved and some not so much:
- Learn proper form in all movements: Silly me. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what Crossfit has to offer. There are plenty of movements that I still can’t even do, let alone do them properly. This is a testament to how little I knew about Crossfit when I started. It encourages you to be open and set new boundaries. Once something is achieved there is something else to set your sights on. I welcome that. I will readjust my goals for year 2.
- Increase motivation: I have been active my whole life and get bored very easily. Keeping up with 12 siblings, 7 of which were athletic, older brothers, I need variety. I can’t even begin to explain how much more inspired I have become thanks to the people that I see at the gym.
- Increase bone mineral density: I know, this just screams “old lady” but it’s true. I needed to do this and have made some headway.
- Improve immunity: Mission accomplished. I have been exposed to all kinds of things at work, from my kids, at the gym, and otherwise and I have been able to fend all of it off.
- Keep up with my beach volleyball teammates who are exactly half my age – literally: I am the weakest link. We managed to win the league so as long as I can keep up I am happy.
- Improve posture: Ugh. This one is probably the hardest one for me; especially with some of the coaches on me (you know who you are) but I am really working on it. I have pretty much eliminated sitting during the day and that has helped quite a bit as well.
- Increase strength: This is the most measurable of all of the goals that I set and it is the one I have made the least progress on. It’s largely because I have not pushed my weight over the last year. I am trying to learn proper form and I don’t allow myself to progress unless I have “earned” it with quality movement and/or completing a workout “unbroken” where I don’t have to stop what I’m doing and rest in the middle of it. So, there’s still LOTS of room for improvement here. When I started I believe I referred to myself as a “total weakling, severely struggling in the strength department”. I haven’t made much progress in that regard yet but again, there is always year 2.
- Improve mobility: My thoracic mobility has improved quite a bit largely due to the warm-up exercises we do. This also plays a part in my (kind of) improved posture.
- Complete 1 strict pull up: Yeah, this one isn’t even close.
So, reflecting on the last year of participating only 2 days a week in Crossfit classes, here is what I have learned after having only dipped my toe into the arena:
- All Crossfit gyms are not created equal. I have visited a few in the area and around the country. Some of them are like local, organic, baby spinach. Others are just packaged protein bars with a flashy wrapper. Do your homework. Check the ingredients.
- Crossfit makes me mad sometimes. This is a good thing and serves as a major motivator. Nothing gets me more annoyed than getting tangled up and whipped by double-unders. Just when I think I can comfortably crank out 30-40 at a time (which is good for me) I can’t string 2 together. That kind of challenge keeps me interested. I think this is where some people will walk away from Crossfit whereas I feel this is one of the things that makes Crossfit unique. It can challenge even the most skilled and athletic people, if they are looking to be challenged.
- Crossfit makes me happy, and this is more often the case both in terms of my mood and feeling of accomplishment. The workouts are hard and I feel like I’ve actually done something – not just moved through some motions. The coaches(at my gym anyway) are constantly cueing and reinforcing strict form which means you have to be thinking and doing at the same time.
- Crossfit gyms are built on being social and supporting others. This approach is right in line with many of the psychological behavior changes theories. People need the right environment and support systems to be successful. I am an introvert and this has been a struggle for me. I certainly agree with this philosophy for sure but I have only had exposure to this with athletic teams that I have been on where I already know my teammates and we are working towards a common goal. To reach out and do this with strangers has been a challenge that I did not anticipate. It is outside my comfort zone and I am still working on that. I remember my first actual class last December 7th, 2013 because I was literally getting ready to bolt for the door. It was a huge Saturday class (at the time I didn’t know that – I had no frame of reference) and right as I was about to split, another member asked if I needed a partner. This is what I keep in mind when I would prefer to be quiet and just keep to myself. It made the difference for me.
- Crossfit makes me think. I have to really concentrate when I am doing the workouts to make sure my form is right, otherwise I know I am going to hear from one of the coaches. I have passed Calculus, Discrete Math and Advanced Physics in college and yet struggle to keep track of my repetition count if it’s over 10 on a regular basis because I’m concentrating (and breathing heavy). I still question some of the movements and their purpose, but then again I realize, different people are there for different things. Just because I think hand stand push ups are pointless for me (and kind of dangerous for unstable shoulders or people with blood pressure issues), they are serving a purpose for someone.
- Doing Crossfit puts me in the role of student. This has allowed me to improve the way I teach exercise science courses. I consider myself a life-long learner and I much prefer the role of student. Crossfit has allowed me to return to a classroom – albeit a gym – as a student again.
I have been attending Crossfit classes at 8th Day Gym in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can see my other related pieces here:
Why You Don’t Want to Be the Fittest Person in the Room
My 10 Favorite Things About 8th Day Gym (So Far)
This video is old, but it’s still one of my favorites. I couldn’t find it without a 15 second ad but it’s worth the wait. It pretty much sums up what I feel and look like trying to complete workouts at the gym. Notice the hurdler checks his watch at the end of the race.