This week I started a two-week free trial of CrossFit. For those unfamiliar, CrossFit is a physical fitness program that takes place at a minimalist gym, often a stripped-out section of a converted warehouse. Coaches vary but always are fitness gods or goddesses who can do literally anything. In fact, that is the first major theme of CrossFit: to equip you to meet every physical challenge you might reasonably come upon in real life.
And indeed, most participants who stick with it can do anything. I have personally verified that many CrossFit members who descend from Mount Olympus at 5 or 6 a.m. can and do eat rocks for breakfast, but most limit themselves to doing this only when part of the scheduled workout.
I myself ate rocks only three days this week. I intended to go all five, but I’ve taken off the last two, due to my inability to climb a flight of stairs in less than two minutes, thanks to Day Three’s pistols and squats, following Day Two’s dead lifts, following Day One’s general torture.
But I love it, grisly rope burn above my left ankle notwithstanding. And a huge reason I’ll return is the people—who are the second major theme of CrossFit. After all, most of the exercises performed inside this gutted warehouse with its few imported ropes, PVC pipes, bars, racks, bands, and jump ropes, you could do on your own—but would you? Do you? Of course not.
No man is an island. You need a team—a team to whom you can’t really speak, because you are gasping for oxygen, but who can cheer and yell and scold you (in a good way) when you drift toward the light.
Specifically, you need these teammates, whom I am pretty sure you are guaranteed to find at a CrossFit gym near you:
5. Band of Squishy Brothers
These are the one or two other guys you bring with you who, like you, have been bamboozled into jumping into this regimen cold turkey. You need them, because although their form can’t possibly look worse than yours, you will assume it does, and that is encouraging.
4. Screaming Eagle
I admit that on our 17,000th lap around the building on Day One, I walked a bit. I waited until I turned a corner, and I slackened my pace. (Actually, I may have started walking faster than I had been running.) Well, that was folly. You don’t walk at CrossFit. If you do, Hermes with his winged sandals will spot you with his eagle eye, chase you, and bark at you: “COME ON. DIG DEEP. NOW. MOVE IT. COME ON.” It worked. Later, I thanked the man. Then he disappeared into the mist.
3. The Finisher
I’m pretty sure this is a cousin of the Screaming Eagle. As you draw near to your hour of plausible death, which conspicuously coincides with the end of your hour-long workout, you don’t need prayer. You need someone to scare you half to death. An oft-practiced method of The Finisher is sneaking up on your limp, quivering frame in the last two minutes, and reminding you that pain, like your life in this moment, is fiction: “DON’T FEEL THAT. YOU DON’T FEEL THAT. FEEL PAIN AFTER. YOU CAN HURT LATER. THAT ISN’T REAL. DON’T YOU DARE QUIT.” Sakes alive. But this also worked. I don’t recall whether I thanked this person, as my senses had begun to fail. But I did not fail, thanks to The Finisher.
2. Middle-aged Gumby
You’ve seen healthy old folk before, but not like this. Observe: this is one reason you came—so that in 20 or 30 years, your pipes will have a decent shot at being one-tenth as flexible, powerful, clean, and clear as this person’s, who, upon leaving CrossFit, will go to another gym and stretch for a half hour. Old Priam of Troy would be proud.
1. Fist-Bumping Coach
As a former teacher, I have to hand it to the coaches. They have the gift of coming alongside totally incompetent people who literally are unfamiliar with their own flesh and bones—people who need extra instruction and who often experience muscle failure halfway through a particular segment. Yet these coaches still manage to teach us noobs a great deal. That’s worth a fist-bump both ways.
We’ll see how next week goes, but at this rate, I hope to eat rocks in some form for the foreseeable future—with these people, if they can keep up.
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