“It’s not a cult…”
I started going to CrossFit in 2016 when I moved to Melbourne. I’d been thinking about it for a while after doing a lot of small group exercise training when I lived in Sydney, which appealed to my liking of mixing strenuous exercise with banter and going to the pub sometimes after workouts. Joining a CrossFit gym was a huge priority for me so I could get fitter and meet some new people along the way. The social aspect of working out in a group combined with having your own individual targets really appeals to me. It’s also a great way to blow off some pent up stress at the end of the day in a productive way.
CrossFit describes its strength and conditioning program as “constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity across broad time and modal domains“. I was pretty nervous before starting, I’d investigated CrossFit Instagrams and seen elite athletes doing things like handstand push ups, ring muscle ups, double unders, olympic lifts and squats that weighed more than me. I thought everyone who does CrossFit can do all those things. In reality, the lots of people who do CrossFit can’t do all of these things, and the scaling of the workouts make them a challenge that can be achieved by all of the members across the spectrum of strengths and abilities. Realistically, if I was given a workout like this:
I wouldn’t be able to clean 61kg (even when scaled to 42kg for women) 45 times. At my fittest right now, I could probably lift 42kg once and then collapse into a heap on the floor. The beauty of CrossFit is that everything can be modified to accommodate any fitness or skill level. By scaling the movements so the workouts become challenging but manageable. In this workout I’d scale the Clean to 25-30kg (depending on how motivated I’m feeling), and instead of ring dips, I’d do box dips.
CrossFit is very adaptable if you have injuries. In February 2017 I was taking a box of recycling out to the bins in my apartment block, missed a step, and broke my ankle. I was devastated. Not only was it f*cking painful, horribly inconvenient (I couldn’t walk or drive), but I thought I was going to have to quit CrossFit for a couple of months – definitely no jumping, running, climbing ropes (ha, like I can climb a rope). I messaged the head coach and told them about my ankle situation and amazingly they said to come in once I felt like I could get there ok (be it on crutches or a slow walk), and they’d adjust every workout for me. Lets just say I did a LOT of upper body work, my squats weren’t happening, and there was no way I was jumping onto a box, but it was worth it and I recovered from the injury at the same time as keeping my fitness and a lot of my strength. And gradually, I started to get faster and stronger and progressed again.
One negative connotation is that CrossFit is risky and you can badly injure yourself. I’m not going to lie, you might injure yourself doing any exercise, in the same way that you might hurt yourself walking down stairs. Any physical activity can be dangerous if done incorrectly. However, if you have an experienced and highly trained coach working with you, he or she will make sure you are doing the movements safely and correctly. Learning how to lift with appropriate technique is is vital for progressing to heavier weights.
The routine of working out and sticking with it is important for reaching all fitness goals. There is basically no end point here. You just have to keep at it. I’m quite good at forming habits (both good and bad), but if you take a break from CrossFit for too long you ache when you get back into it. However, going travelling doesn’t necessarily mean no exercise, that’s where visiting other CrossFit boxes while you are travelling comes into play. I’ve worked out in Toronto, Sydney and Montreal, and its an enjoyable experience to see how other CrossFit establishments do basically the same thing, only slightly different.
The bigger picture
I’m probably at the fittest and strongest that I’ve ever been in my life, except when I was a little kid, but that doesn’t count because now I’m legally allowed to drink beer and eat cheese as much as I want. I can happily run a few kilometers and lift some heavy weights without breaking into a sweaty heap on the floor. The immediate satisfaction from a hard workout, knowing I’ve pushed myself really hard, and tracking my improvement is immensely satisfying. Its also in stark contrast to my job doing research where things move so slowly sometimes it’s nearly impossible to derive any satisfaction from daily tasks.
I’ve met some amazing people along the way and getting a session in often closes the book for me mentally at the end of a busy day. CrossFit is a great way to meet people who are passionate about fitness and health, and the people at the box are sociable and driven in other aspects of their lives too. I love having a diverse community of people to interact with who are united in self improvement. Bring on the 2018 CrossFit Open!