This weekend, the CrossFit Games East Regional will be held at the Times Union Center, which is a mere six miles away from my house. I plan on attending on Saturday, along with my wife. I’ve watched the CrossFit Games on ESPN, and I’m excited that I’ll have an opportunity to watch this event live and in-person at a location so close to my home.
Granted, a couple of years ago, I probably would’ve come across the CrossFit Games on TV and kept right on going flipping through channels. It seems that you don’t truly become interested in an event until you start participating in it yourself. Case in point: I have an uncle who enjoys watching golf on TV. I remember thinking to myself, “how can anyone watch golf on TV?” That was before I started playing golf myself, after which I said, “oh, that’s how you watch it on TV!” (I used to play softball when I was younger, and swinging a bat was one of my favorite parts of the game. I was able to hit the ball relatively well. I thought, “how difficult is it to hit a stationary ball?” As it turned out, the answer was, very!)
But, I digress. I’m here to tell you why I do CrossFit, and why it might be good for you too.
I’m a pretty big guy (always have been). I freely admit that I like to eat, and I tend to eat like crap. I have nothing against eating healthy; in fact, I’m all for it (and I try to eat healthy when I can). Mostly, it’s out of convenience (which, by the way, is article fodder in the back of my head; that’s another post for another day). As a result, I’m overweight (as is most of America). I’ve developed the classic symptoms of metabolic syndrome, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and adult Type 2 diabetes. (This latter admission might come as a surprise to many of my friends. I don’t make a secret of my condition, but I also don’t talk about it openly, either — this article post notwithstanding.)
However, I’d never felt compelled to do anything about it, even though I have a condition that could potentially kill me. Strange as it might seem, the prospect of my own early death has never been (and, in a way, still isn’t) enough of a motivator for me to get off my butt to do something about it.
Until one day, that is.
I’ve been taking medication to control, among other things, my hypertension. I’ve told people that I sometimes feel like a walking drugstore. For the most part, it had been (and today, still is) keeping my blood pressure in check. But there was a period where my pressure kept going up, uncontrolled even by my medications. I was aware that it was an issue, and I was trying — unsuccessfully, as it turned out — to get it under control.
It was an August day in 2014. I remember leaving work and I started driving home — and I realized that I was having trouble breathing. It wasn’t bad enough where I felt I had to find an emergency room, but it was enough for me to notice.
That turned out to be the wake-up call that I needed.
The first thing I did was drive to my nearest Target store to get a new blood pressure monitor (I had one, but it had died).
The next day, I walked into Albany CrossFit, where I first met owner/manager/coach Shye Evan. I told him about my condition. I also mentioned that I had tried other fitness programs before, but I was never able to maintain them (the proverbial “I’ll never give this up” and end up quitting after only a few months — if I even made it that long). I figured that what I really needed was something that was structured and included coaching. At that time, I knew absolutely nothing about CrossFit. In fact, when I walked in that day, I wasn’t even aware that it was a CrossFit gym. All I knew was that I’d drive by every once in a while and I saw athletes on a nice day working out in the parking lot and on the rig they had set up outside. I figured that they had some kind of program, and I’d check it out to see what it was about.
They had a free trial class that Saturday. I made it a point to go attend.
Their next (mandatory, for brand-new CrossFitters) introductory on-ramp class started that September. I signed up for it. After I finished On-Ramp, I was ready to CrossFit.
That was almost two years ago, as of this article.
I’m still going.
A few paragraphs ago, I’d mentioned that I had tried other fitness programs, and kept them going for, at the most, a few months. I started doing CrossFit in September of 2014. I’m writing this article in May of 2016 — and I am still going. That, in my mind and by itself, is enough of a selling point for me.
I even got my wife into CrossFit (she did her on-ramp class that following November). She still goes as well.
I tell people that I have a love-hate relationship with CrossFit. There are days when I look at the WOD (that’s “Workout Of the Day” — CrossFit is very big on acronyms) and say, “no way.” There are some WODs that push me to the point where I’ll be thinking to myself, “oh man, I’m gonna die!” Make no mistake: CrossFit is intense. I won’t kid you about that.
But there’s more to CrossFit than challenging WODs. First, there’s the coaching. That is an aspect that has been sorely lacking in all my previous attempts at fitness. I never played an organized sport (unless you count marching band as a sport — it’s for that reason why I’m capable of doing high-knees; I did try out for my baseball and tennis teams in high school, but never made either team), so I never had the experience of having someone (at least from a physical fitness perspective) tell me what I need to do and how I need to adjust.
(Side note: since I first met him that fateful August day, Shye has become a friend, in addition to one of my coaches. I’ve since discovered that we have something in common: we’re both Syracuse University alumni. We frequently talk about our alma mater, including and especially Orange sports.)
Second, there’s the camaraderie. Since joining Albany CrossFit, I have made many friends in the gym (some of whom I’m now connected through Facebook). I keep thinking about the Planet Fitness ads I see that talk about “lunk alarms” and “gymtimidation.” There are plenty of people in the gym who are in much better shape than I am. But I never feel as though I’m being judged or compared to them. These people push me, but they push me in a good way. You’re encouraged to push yourself. Everyone wants you to do well. It is not unusual to go into a gym where a WOD is in progress, everyone except one person has finished the WOD (usually, that person is me), and everyone else in the room is cheering on the last straggler to finish (or at least get in as many rounds or reps as possible). I remember watching the CrossFit Games where only one person was left on the field, and the crowd was cheering for that person to finish. The ESPN announcer said, “CrossFit is probably the only sport where the person who finishes last gets the loudest cheers.” Nobody judges you in CrossFit. The only person who judges you is yourself.
Third, CrossFit is scalable. Not everyone is capable of doing a hundred burpees in ten minutes. I know I sure can’t. I recently did a WOD where I managed forty burpees in eight minutes. But WODs are adjustable; they are adjusted to people’s abilities. They say that everyone can CrossFit, no matter your ability. I suppose I’m living proof of that.
Fourth, there are the strides and improvements that you make. Before I started doing CrossFit, I was unable to do an air-squat, a tripod, or a (hanging) knee tuck. I can now do all three, and more.
Granted, I still have a long way to go. I still look more like a couch potato than a CrossFitter (if you didn’t know me and saw me on the street, you’d probably never know — or even think — that I did CrossFit). I still need to work on my diet (that’s probably the one major vice where I still plead guilty). I still can’t do a pull-up, a handstand, or a rope climb to save my life (a couple of my gym-mates set a goal for me — to do at least one real pull-up by the end of the year). I have trouble with moves that tax my knees (I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis last November). I still can’t do double-unders (although I can do single-unders like nobody’s business). And I still cringe every time I have to run or do burpees.
Nevertheless, I’m physically much better off than I was a couple of years ago. I’ve made major strides. I’m doing things now that I never thought I’d be able to do. I’m seeing some nice definition in my arms (it’s pretty cool to get up in the morning, look at myself in the mirror, and be able to say, “holy s**t, I have muscles!”). And those health issues I’d mentioned earlier? My blood pressure is back under control. And the breathing issue I had? It hasn’t been an issue since.
Walking into the gym that day back in August 2014 changed my life — and, I suspect, likely saved it as well. I’d always had issues with maintaining fitness programs. This place actually makes me want to go and work out.
CrossFit is a journey, not a destination.
I’ll see you at the gym!
(A note to my local friends: if you’re interested in trying CrossFit, let me know; I’ll hook you up!)