“CHECK YOUR EGO”. It’s the first thing I see spray painted on the rubber mats as I walk through the garage door to this poorly insulated building that greenhouses heat making it 20 degrees hotter inside than outside. Luckily there are two industrialized fans circulating the summer heat. “Check your ego….” I say to myself and chuckle on the inside. These guys don’t even know. If anything they are about to get a reality check after I finish this workout. I’m a former professional athlete, I’ve been through the grind, I’ve done it all. In fact, I bet no one here can come close to the weight I push on any of my max lifts. There’s already a class going on, so I get a sneak peek into the workout I’m about to own. Guys shirts are off, women making ‘METAL FACE’ (what I call the face you make when the blood rushes to your head from straining, as if you were attending a heavy metal concert). Everyone is shimmering in a thick sweat, the rap music is blaring, and everyone’s heart is nearly beating out of their chest. I see the look on their faces as they glance at the timer. The clock winds down to under a minute and, and these people are giving it their all. I begin to get a little nervous. I know I haven’t made a metal face like they have in a long time. It’s something you may see 1 out of 50 gym members reach at your local air conditioned gym. If you haven’t guess yet, I’m in a Crossfit gym – A place where I never thought I would step foot.
I’ve sized this place up and have made my internal presumptions. I’m greeted by some of the other members waiting for the next class to start. Some of them look like your everyday average person, some are out of shape, and some of them are built with a physique that is what attracted me to Crossfit. “5:30!”, yells our instructor, and everyone rushes outside to the line spray painted ‘0 meters’. I’m hit with a flash back of my athletic days when we stretched as a team. We’ve got an 800 meter run that I am not excited about, but I finish first because I’ve promised myself I’m not losing anything today. We do a couple more stretches inside along with some light barbell movements. I make sure my form is perfect because no one will tell me how to lift. Of course, he comes over and instructs me to keep the weight closer to my body on the deadlift. I wanted to look at him and ask this man, “Can you deadlift 635lbs raw? Don’t tell me how to deadlift.” I do a couple more reps until he is pleased with my form before he calls us around the board to see today’s WOD, or, Work Out of the Day.
First thing you’ll learn in Crossfit is the language – AMRAP, HSPU, EMOM, DL, S2OH, etc. – I am not intimidated by this because I googled them all earlier that day. He reads the WOD off the white board to us, “Today’s strength is you have 20 minutes to find your 3RM C&J (3 Rep Max Clean and Jerk), and the WOD is a 15 minute AMRAP 20 DL, 10 BFB, 10 HSPU (As Many Rounds as Possible of 20 deadlifts, 10 bar facing burpees, 10 hand stand push-ups) here are your Prescribed Weights. Guys 185lb scaled 155, Women – errrr,I honestly didn’t pay attention to the women’s weight because: A. Not a woman B. Don’t care C. Still trying to figure out why he’s telling me to go so light on Deadlifts and prescriptions, bro.
Work out begins, and I am clearly the strongest in the class. The movements are not foreign to me. I Clean and Jerk 285 pounds, and I’m pretty smug with that number because I haven’t done a power clean since high school and it’s the most in my class. On to the AMRAP! We get about a 5 minute break to set up our weights, and I’m still pondering this prescribed weight of 185 lbs, so I walk over to the instructor and say I’m going to do 225 on the deadlifts. I load it up and everyone in the class kind of looks at me like I’m crazy, but they don’t know me. I’m an elite athlete, people. Prepare to feel my presence and alpha-ness. The rap music cranks up, and it’s Back to Back by Drake. I am about to crush these weights like Drake crushed Meek Mill. I rep out 20 deadlifts quickly, and start the bar facing burpees. I do four burpees, and that’s when I know that I have made a mistake. My weight is too heavy, and I’m not in as good of shape as I thought I was. These next 13 minutes and 30 seconds are going to be rough…..and they were.
The hand stand push-ups were tricky because I hadn’t figured out the kipping motion and, after one set of those, I determined that I should stop because the amount of blood rushing to my head was about to cause me to pass out. I found myself doing the alternative movement, The pike push up, with the other members who hadn’t mastered their HSPU either…they were mostly women… Okay. They were all women and me. I finally finish one round only to realize most the class had nearly finished their deadlifts for round 2. I’m trying to catch my breath and quinch my thirst as I’m being told to “get back to the bar” by my coach. When the timer struck zero and my 15 minutes AMRAP was over, I laid there motionless on the rubber mats staring at the fan above me while my heart tried to escape my chest. Crossfit was an eye opener, I realized I had become a lop sided athlete – Out of shape, out of sync, and not nearly as well rounded as I thought I was.
Lifting has always been a large part of my life. It’s something I’ve done for a long time, and I wouldn’t call myself a professional or a strength coach, but I like to think I know a lot more about it than most. I’ve done similar things to crossfit during my days as a high school football player, junior college baseball player, and division 1 baseball athlete at Ole Miss, but I found myself a year removed from baseball, and I realized that I hadn’t really pushed myself at the things I WAS NOT good at. If there’s anything you should take away from this article it’s this phrase right here,
“Be comfortable being uncomfortable”
It’s a phrase we used a lot at Ole Miss, and if you really sit and think about it, we are all guilty of avoiding things that make us uncomfortable. Working out is just one of them. Sure, I pushed myself at the things I was good at (Squat, Deadlift, Bench, your typical beach body gym movements) because I was comfortable there. I was in my comfort zone of being the ‘strong guy’ at the gym, but basically everything else was lacking and after only a couple minutes of Crossfit, I was extremely uncomfortable.
I wasn’t necessarily a fat and out of shape guy, and you definitely wouldn’t say I had a ‘dad-bod’, but I didn’t like the way I looked. I hovered around 13% body fat at 225 pounds. I would turn on the tv and flip through the channels and catch the crossfit games, and see these guys with their shirts off (NO HOMO!) and on the outside I’d make fun of crossfit, but if you cut me open, I wish I looked like those guys. Big, strong, athletic, under 10% body fat, and a well-rounded athlete. I’ve used the term well rounded a couple times. Let me explain what I mean. I can back squat around 550 pounds raw, but struggled to front squat 300 lbs. or overhead squat even 135 pounds. Why is that? Well there are several reasons, it wasn’t lack of strength really, but more technique and flexibility. Basically, I had become stiff and inflexible from being a meat head in the gym and not running or sprinting. I had turned into a guy I didn’t like very much. I was ready for a change in my routine to start reaching physique goals I had for myself, and for me, Crossfit was the answer to these problems.
The biggest knock on Crossfit is the injuries. If you googled “Crossfit not safe”, you’d find tons of articles knocking the sport. There are plenty of Youtube videos and memes mocking it, and it’s easy to come to the conclusion because of outside pressure that you will get hurt in Crossfit. But here’s the thing, if you ask any lifter who demands a lot out of his body and pushes him or herself to a limit of physical exhaustion, you will probably get hurt at any activity eventually. I’ve hurt myself in the gym, on the baseball field, on the football field, and if I continue to push my body to the limits at Crossfit, I’ll probably add it to the list too. If you are a newbie to lifting and are considering Crossfit, here’s my advice – learn the core movements. The things you will be doing every day such as: squats, front squats, power cleans, hang cleans, jerks, push press, deadlift, and snatches. If a person who had never lifted before tried these movements in any gym, you’d risk injury. That’s why the instructors at my gym hand you a PVC pipe if your technique just isn’t there yet.
Another one of the reasons that I was so attracted to the Crossfit gym is the group environment. Once you get your first Crossfit workout under your belt, you’ll realize that you can’t duplicate the environment in other gyms. Maybe some can, but I can’t push myself to the same intensity alone as I do at my box (lingo for Crossfit gym). It brings me back to my college days running stadiums, pulling sleds, and running sprints with the team. We pulled together, and we all finished together. We made each other better, and you get this same feeling in a Crossfit gym. Because of the intensity and others pushing you past the limits you thought were physically possible for yourself, you’ll see quicker results in the gym. With Crossfit along with a clean diet, I was able to reach my physique goals that I could have never obtained alone in my gym. There’s something therapeutic about getting your ass kicked in a gym with your muscles aching after you just finished a workout that you didn’t even think was possible for yourself.
A year ago, if someone asked me about Crossfit, I would have told them to not even think about it. Now, I would recommend anyone to going full Crossfit. For the newbs looking to get into a gym, give Crossfit a try. Yes it’s hard, but it’s rewarding. No one’s expecting you to be ready for the Crossfit games after a couple classes. If you’re an experienced lifter like me but have never been able to reach those goals you’ve wanted, I go to my box 2-3 times a week and get my butt kicked. The other days I hit up my local gym to fill the gaps on other lifting I enjoy. After a couple months of Crossfit, my maxes in the gym actually jumped after I thought I had plateaued. Along with stronger lifts, I was also in better shape and could workout longer and harder than before. Whoever you are, just remember to CHECK YOUR EGO at the door, or the WOD will do it for you.
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