You’ve seen the photos. Or maybe, if you’re one of the (un)lucky ones, you’ve seen the videos, too.
You know, the ones of Adonises and Amazons bucking junkyard equipment around like you would dirty laundry into a moldy hamper?
From a safe, cyber distance, that’s what the fitness phenomenon known as CrossFit looks like — angrily hurling truck tires and awkwardly contorting limbs around metal trusses. Well, a little secret: That’s basically what it looks like close up, too. If you’re really curious, go watch an elementary school recess — that’s a pretty good visual summary.
For those Internet-inept, fax machine huggers without social media accounts, CrossFit is a relatively short, high-intensity exercise model that is essentially a junkyard blend of a whole bunch of fat-burning techniques. Power lifting, plyometrics, gymnastics, calisthenics and a slew of other practices all go into the regimen (it prefers to bill itself as a “philosophy”), which also doubles as a competitive sport. Leave ESPN 2 on for long enough any given Saturday and you’ll see what that puzzlingly entails.
The ultra lo-fi, uber high-intensity workout has taken the U.S. by storm since its inception in southern California in 2000, now with over 10,000 CrossFit affiliated gyms in the world and those ESPN 2-broadcast regional competitions held regularly. Based on a quick Google Maps search, there are at least 50 “boxes” (the cool-kid term for a CrossFit spot) in the metro-area. And seeing as you can start a CrossFit gym just about anywhere with a roof — in Aurora there are classes offered in an old airplane hanger and a long-abandoned gas station — that number could very likely continue to balloon. Or the whole bubble will burst and we’ll all go back to banging out reps on our ThighMasters.
So, that’s the wikipedia-y background. But the whole reason I’m writing this is because I recently did my first CrossFit workout at Aurora’s own Lowry CrossFit right across from Aurora Community College on Dayton Street, and it was something. To say I was a fish out of water doesn’t begin to cover how I felt and even more so looked in this cell of a gym. I think I would have blended in better at Ryker’s Island. And as a 175-pound, six-foot-five white dude from Connecticut, that’s saying something.
The box at Lowry (it’s the re-purposed gas station vaguely referenced before) is pretty sparse, but that seems to be the norm with plots in the ‘fitsphere. A few metal trusses make-up the bulk of the equipment, which is rounded out by a few weight plates, bars and ab mats. Save for a handful of boxes tucked in the front of space, there’s not much distinguishing Lowry from a prison yard — and the strange thing is I think that’s a compliment.
Christian Sobremesana, the co-owner of the Lowry spot with his wife, Maura, welcomed me with a smile, a couple arms of tattoos and surely some skeptical hesitation upon seeing my pipe cleaner physique. “No, I did not lose a bet,” was the phrase frozen on a screen in mind like a scratched DVD. A former advertising salesman in Salt Lake City, Christian started Lowry just about two years following some nudging from his brother, who owns, according to Christian, “a really serious box” in Southern California, a.k.a. x-fit’s fertile crescent.
After handing me a PVC pipe and a few quick directives on how to appropriately spin it to warm up, Christian informed me that today’s workout of the day, (WOD — x-fitters love acronyms more than the NYSE) was going to be pretty intense, but that he would devise an abbreviated version for me — I think the fact that my T-shirt had a hamburger on it tipped him off that maybe I shouldn’t be lifting much more than bottles of condiments. He gave me what he dubbed “The Quincy,” which was thankfully in some form of English. Reading the gym’s actual WOD, displayed on a white board in the front of the room, was like hitting control + U and reading the raw, HTML source code for a webpage. And the fact that I just used the term “source code” in an article supposedly about fitness should tell a bit or two about my fitness background. To those that can’t read between the bony, pasty lines that are my pointer and ring fingers — I’m not exactly a workout junkie, and not the typical person you might find in a box. A Jack In The Box at 2 a.m.? Definitely, but that’s a quick about face from Christian’s spot in Lowry.
My alienation aside, my fate, as determined by Christian — who looks like a goddamn fire hydrant — was to be a set of 10 body weight squats, 10 lunges, 10 Birpees and 10 sit-ups for AMRAP, or as many reps as possible in 10 minutes.
Sheesh. Squat, lunge, fall, explode, crawl, sit-up. Repeat, repeat, and repeat.
In a little over 10 minutes, I got through four reps of “The Quincy,” and, I’ll be damned, it wasn’t half bad. Sure, my knees were wobbling like a Jenga tower during my lunges and my back made Quasi Motto’s look like a taut two-by-four by the end, but it didn’t live up to my fire-and-brimstone expectations. I didn’t feel an incessant desire to post photos of my entire workout to any and all social media channels, but hey, I didn’t mind it and could sorta, kinda start to see the appeal of the whole thing. And quick caveat to the photo-sharing dig: as strange as perma-sharing may seem to outsiders (see: me) I can get why someone would want to do it. When you’re slowly and methodically turning your body into a chiseled slab of granite, it’s not unworthy of showing off. When you look like Gumby (again, see: me) that whole notion is a lot less attractive. But as I watched the rest of the gym grunt and suffer during the second half of their WOD (using that acronym will just never get old) I realized that CrossFit is, first and foremost, just a big party for anal-retentive, semi-sadistic blokes and sheilas. Maybe it’s reliving high school or college sports glory days or just being innately and somewhat neurotically competitive, but adding a competitive edge (results of who can get the most reps are kept and tallied on the all-knowing white board) to regular weight lifting is an understandably appealing concept. With people encouraging (i.e. yelling at) you the whole time, it seems to be a big hit with people who can’t go an hour a day without structure — more or less the poor man/woman’s quasi-personal trainer.
So, yeah: all in all, (abbreviated) CrossFit isn’t a terrible time. A nice, albeit high-strung, little excuse to sweat for a few minutes in a vain attempt to unleash those sweet, sweet little buggers known as endorphins. But would I do it again? Eh, I think I’ll stick to my introverted slogs along the Platte — pipe cleaner biceps are a bit more suited for that kind of environment.