Maybe you heard of it through a friend, or maybe you've driven past one of their "box" gyms. Maybe you caught the Crossfit Games on ESPN where competitors push their bodies to the limits of physical ability, through an insane combination of strength, speed and endurance.
Crossfit workouts utilize "functional" fitness routines rather than simple weight-lifting or treadmill jogging – Crossfit involves pull-ups, squats, dips, sprints, burpees and other explosive movements designed to work more than one muscle at a time.
At Crossfit Arlington, in Arlington, VA, the "box" (what they call their gyms) was a garage in the back of a mixed-martial arts training center. The equipment included kettlebells, pull-ups bars and a variety of barbells. "You won't find any treadmills or curl machines here," said Crossfit Arlington trainer Chris Malta. "The 'grunginess' is part of it," he remarked, "but everyone who tries it loves it."
But what draws someone into this unfamiliar world, different from the more traditional gyms most of us associate with fitness. For participant Katie Boiles, it was the natural extension of her college sports career. "I swam in college and I did some weight training with that, and I thought I was in pretty good shape – until I started doing Crossfit." She continued, "I missed the team aspect from my days as a college athlete."
Team aspect? Of working out at a gym? "After my college career ended, I tried the whole running thing, then tried an adult swim team – but nothing was the same as a team sport." Crossfit, on the other hand, had that same camaraderie, where the other people in the classes were "more invested in my success than I even was." The people around Boiles saw a lot more potential from her performance, and she said that motivated her to push herself. "Every workout you do, it’s with everyone else. People cheer for each other, everyone is helping each other. Every single workout is a team thing."
This, according to Boiles, was what got her hooked on Crossfit. That and the level of fitness she achieved. In telling her story of how she got involved in Crossfit, Boiles noted that a friend from college--who was "never the fittest guy I've known"--looked completely different after getting involved with Crossfit. After seeing similar results in her boyfriend, she dove in herself, and got in what she described as "insane" shape.
Watching some of the people do the workouts can be intimidating, admittedly. There's a daily WOD – workout of the day – which changes every day and can involve strength, speed or endurance exercises. Gym-goers never know what's coming, which keeps you on your toes. Workouts can include running, pull ups, kettlebell workouts and Olympic-style lifting, such as snatches, squats, power-cleans, etc.
But with that in mind, both Boiles and Malta were quick to point out the versatility of the workouts to complement the intensity. "Everything is scalable – you can do a pull-up with a band, or you can start lifting a broomstick on some of the Olympic lifting. You can start anywhere in this program," Boiles said. "You could come in here without ever having had worked out a day in your life and it isn't a big deal – everyone is modifying the workout in some way."
Malta echoed this sentiment, adding that newbies to the gym have to go through a "foundations" program and some physical tests to measure their individual skill level. "You don't just get thrown into the fire – we need to see who can do what first."
Added Boiles: "It's good for all ages, both men and women. It's great for women who need to lift more weights, including helping preserve muscle and bone mass with age. I love it. I want to do this forever.”