About 13 months ago, I arrived home for lunch and found that all three elevators were out in my building.
I was living on the 20th floor at the time, so this was not soul crushing news. I grabbed my Hello Kitty lunchbox and plodded up the stairs, thinking that if anything this was an opportunity to burn some calories before gorging myself with mid-day pancakes and jelly beans. What I didn't count on was months of lethargy and inactivity... I arrived at the front door soaked in sweat and ready to take a nap. I was only 28 years old.
I'm not sure when it happened, but at some point in my mid to late 20s I reached a state of general malaise. It was not a conscious decision, I didn't wake up one morning and decide it was time to stop moving around quickly or throwing things on a field. It was just the result of months and months of stagnation and apathetic decisions.
Without action, my health was only getting worse. I had a vision of my sweaty, overweight, and out of breath self trying to keep up with my future unborn children and it was disquieting. My vision of the future would be an enormous disappointment to my childhood self, who had always planned on wearing jean jackets with Michael Dudikoff and staring handsomely at the horizon.
My brother had joined "the CrossFit" a few months previously and seemed to be in pretty awesome shape, so I figured I'd start taking a look at what this newfangled fitness regimen was all about. I knew it had something to do with doing 100 pull ups and throwing up, which was a fancy stretch from my normal three-month stints of chest and tricep, back and bicep, and shoulders and legs. In the end, I signed up for an Intro course and jumped right in.
Now, I am by no means a trendsetter. I only just started wearing trucker hats; I have the musical taste of an impressionable 13-year-old girl; and I did not join CrossFit before it was cool (I don't even know what "cool" is anymore... Is "twerking" drugs?). Over the past year however, I've seen CrossFit mature into a much more mainstream fitness program. With that popularity, I'm starting to see more and more articles and resources popping up in crazy numbers on blogs, news sites, magazines, and newsfeeds. However, I'm also finding it harder and harder to distinguish between fact, opinion, and trolling when it comes to a lot of these pieces, especially when I consume most of my information in the madness that is the digital wild west.
I read articles with titles like "CrossF*cked" and "10 Reasons Why CrossFit Is Not a Sport" and I have trouble taking them seriously. I can't tell if the authors are confused on the meaning of "edgy" or if they're just replacing content with provocation. It seems as though the purpose of these articles is less to inform those that are trying to forge an opinion on the subject and more about driving as many shares, likes, and comments to the bathroom stall that is their comments section.
At times, the opposition seems no better... Both sides can tend to paint a very black and white portrait of the subject. The Internet is no place for a grey thought.
My greatest fear is that people who are truly concerned with their fitness would read these articles and let them dictate their outlook on CrossFit without ever being exposed to a milder perspective that might shed some light on its value.
I'm certainly no authority on the subject, but I'd love to address three of the more common issues and complaints brought up by some of these CrossFit articles and posts from a perspective of relative experience and critical thinking. Feel free to disagree in the stall below.
1. CrossFit Illuminati Serve Kool-Aid via Water Fountains
Let's get this one out of the way early... Yes, CrossFit can be a bit "culty" at times. Just like owning a Harley Davidson, being a car guy, or having babies can be "culty." It's an activity that has its own vocabulary, encourages commitment from its members, and becomes a neighborly gathering place for those with like mind. CrossFit can be a very social activity... And while some members can take it a bit far by revolving everything they do around it, it's up to you on how far you want to go down the rabbit hole.
My wife and I both do CrossFit, and we both enjoy it. We talk about WODs during dinner and have been known to be an annoying/overbearing CrossFit couple that posts too many workouts on Facebook (we're working on it, really). We have tons of friends we've made through they gym (far more than I made at the gym during my bench and tricep days) but we've still managed to make and keep friends from outside the gym and not drive them off with talk of Heroes and Girls. People get excited about CrossFit just like they get excited about camping, or drinking, or their pets. Anyone can be high-handed and overbearing regardless of the interest... Assholes in real life become assholes who like CrossFit, and awesome people in real life become awesome people who like CrossFit. Just be awesome. Always.
The word "cult" should not be used in place of a lack of understanding on why a large group of people are excited to workout together. A "cult" should really refer to a group of authority figures with no accountability, using subservience to force members to cut ties with family members to further their main goal of bringing in new members and money.
And on that note...
2. CrossFit Wants All Your Lunch Money
In a world of 99 cent apps and Walmart discounts, CrossFit can seem outright swanky. Relative to the price of a monthly membership at your local 24 Hour Fitness, we could be looking at a difference of eight fold or more. So yes, CrossFit costs more than a membership at your local gym. My wife and I pay just short of a combined $300 a month for our current memberships and I find it extremely reasonable for the amount of value we get. On average I'll spend anywhere from 8-10 hours in the gym per week and not only do I get instruction from highly qualified olympic lifting and strength and conditioning coaches, but I also get to train alongside former college level athletes, games athletes, and a wide array of friends and cohorts that are willing to push me during the workouts far harder than I'd push myself. All for less than $5 per hour.
You can spend $20 a month on a gym membership and if you're getting the results you want, awesome (I enjoyed this for years). If you'd prefer to build a garage gym and train by yourself or with a partner and that works for you, fantastic. Personal trainer? Great. I happen to prefer working in a social setting with the oversight and personalized training of my coaches. I don't mind paying them the equivalent of a couple of fast food tacos per hour for that service either.
Only you can make a decision about what your personal finances can handle and how you'd like to prioritize your expenses.
Just remember that your health functions like any other investment, the earlier you start contributing, the more value and benefit you'll be able to enjoy later. Siphoning your money into weekend binges or daily dinners is awesome and I'm certainly not one to tell you how to live your life. Just don't convince yourself that your health is a financial priority that falls well below your cable bill and coffee allowance.
Speaking of health...
3. CrossFit Wants to Rip Out Your Knees and Break Your Back With Them
Before CrossFit, aches and pains were usually the result of "sleeping wrong" or turning my head too quickly. It's easy to avoid injury when "intense activity" means yelling at 12 year olds when they end my killstreak.
Yes, you can get injured doing CrossFit. You can also get injured jogging, rock climbing, surfing, skiing, walking, or any other activity in the present progressive tense. While I have yet to have a serious injury, there are certainly days where something is aching abnormally, or I have a pain in a place I normally don't. I consider this a side effect of being active and pushing myself physically. I take those days as indicators to slow down and let my body rest.
One of the major foundations of CrossFit is "intensity", the idea of doing "more work in less time (without overdoing it)". The competitive nature of CrossFit is where I can find myself getting into trouble, losing sight of the real goal of "fitness" and replacing it with "winning." I'm fortunate to have incredible coaches that know how to teach the movements, but they can't be by my side every second of every lift. I have to take some personal responsibility and understand my own physical boundaries and limits. If something's too heavy, no one should know that faster than me. Your ego will get you injured quicker than CrossFit will.
On that same note however, each gym operates completely independently with very flexible standards of quality and training. Like any purchase, there needs to be a certain amount of research done on the background and qualifications of the gym you're interested in joining. Not all CrossFit affiliates are created equal, so make sure to spend at least as long deciding on which gym is right for you as you do deciding on the right shampoo for your hair type.
Injury is a pretty broad subject, so my take is: Make sure your coaches know what they're talking about. From there, make sure you understand what they're talking about. Then, make sure you follow through and don't let your ego get in the way of performing what they're talking about. And if you're doing it right, you'll still get aches and pains.
But what does it all mean?
I've found that CrossFit is not for everyone. Just like basketball is not for everyone. Just like skiing is not for everyone. Just like black licorice is the worst candy ever created.
For me, my CrossFit gym is a social gathering place. It's a venue to enjoy the company of some seriously hilarious and ridiculous folks that I may have never met through any other means. In a world of work relationships and Facebook acquaintances it's nice to find that kind of opportunity in a common interest.
It's also a place I go to play around. "Play" is a thing so many of us have lost touch with that we forget how much fun it was when we were kids. Monkey bars are much more difficult than you remember. So is jumping rope, dodgeball, tag, and all the other physical activities we used to do in gym class. And while they're much more labored than you recall, they're equally as awesome.
It's also a challenging environment. It's a place I go to push myself mentally and physically, to limits I would never choose to go in any other comfortable setting. You quickly find out if you've gotten enough sleep or have been paying attention to your nutrition. I never truly understood the value of a good night's sleep or a well-balanced meal until I started recording my performance and quantifying what a weekend of drinking looks like during a workout.
And while CrossFit may not be right for everyone, it may very well be right for you. You'll never find out if you try and experience it through the twisted pages of the Interweb, so be wary of creating an opinion based solely on the belligerent works of Internet trolls and squabble peddlers. Find a qualified affiliate close to home and give it a shot. If in the end, you're not a fan and dislike the approach, just make sure to write a combative and venomous post about it (I'd suggest a misleading title like the above). I'll see you in the comments section.
This post originally appeared on Max's blog, Awkward Athlete.
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