CrossFit: Getting you ready for A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G

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I am the first one to admit I’ve gotten soft in the past 12 months. 

I went from competing in two to three sprint triathlons a year, to a single one in 2012.

The reason: my workout got stale and I was bored.

When I heard a certified CrossFit gym was moving into the Roy Continental Mill complex, I was intrigued.

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I knew there were similar workout programs out there — like WHIPPED and TabataPlus at The Gym and X-Train Interval at St. Mary’s HealthSteps — but I had yet to try them.

Would CrossFit, which now has facilities in 13 Maine locations, be too hard for me? 

Would the class atmosphere work for someone who rarely does exercise classes, but instead takes to the road, biking and running alone?

I had to find out.

Bobby Morissette, the co-owner of CrossFit Lewiston, said the program’s mantra is “constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement.”

The program was started by Greg Glassman when he began experimenting with the core principals of CrossFit in the mid-1970s as a way to determine what true fitness is, according to Tony Budding, director of Media and Web Content at CrossFit.

Glassman, a gymnast, started incorporating weightlifting and exercise movements that people had been doing for decades, such as the squat, the dead-lift, running, jumping, etc., and performing them at a high intensity. CrossFit was born.

Knowing it would be an intense experience, I showed up at a fundamentals class with a few friends with whom I could commiserate.

The class started with a skill-building portion, with instructors explaining the correct form for things such as a kettlebell swing (using hip and arm muscles to thrust a weighted kettlebell overhead) and a handstand push-up. Yep, a push-up while doing a handstand. 

I thought that when we got to the proper form for an air squat, I had that under control. I can’t count the number of repetitions I’ve done at the gym, squatting more than 100 pounds.

Nope.

Laura Copp, a CrossFit level 1 trainer, was quickly at my side telling me to stick my butt out farther.

“Pretend like you’re sitting in a chair and keeping that nice lumbar curve,” she encouraged. (Great. I had just been bragging to my friend how I knew this skill.)

Then came the box jump, which is exactly what it sounds like. You jump onto a box.

The problem arose when they placed a knee-high box in front of me.

I turned to my friend and did the one-eyebrow-up incredulous look.

“They want my uncoordinated *bleep* to jump up there. Nut-uh,” I muttered.

The roving trainers assured me it was all a mind-over-matter thing.

I gave them the one-eyebrow-up.

I attempted a few jumps, but fell short of actually making it onto the box.

Finally, they took pity on me and gave me a lower box.

Now this I can do.

Next thing was a push-up.

I can do bicep curls with 20 pounds, tricep extensions on the multi-use machine with more weight than some men, and generally can do ab work till the cows come home (yes, I am from Iowa).

Putting it all together and using those deltoids in the back; not so much. In my second class I was able to get in five, maybe six girlie-style on-the-knees push-ups before collapsing into a sniveling mess.

But everyone was very encouraging and understood I was just a beginner at CrossFit Lewiston.

The instructors, all certified through CrossFit New England, show variations of the movements so beginners can work their way up to the more advanced motions.

“Our goal is to get you ready for anything. So if someone pulled out a deck of cards with workouts printed on them, you could do any of the workouts, whether it be run a marathon or do 100 burpees,” said Morissette. (A burpee? Think squat-thrust, push-up, into a stand-and-jump.)

Each class — the fundamentals or the full-on CrossFit class — features a workout of the day (WOD) that is either time or task oriented.

Our WOD for my first time was three rounds — done as quickly as possible in 15 minutes — of 40 air squats, 30 sit-ups, 20 hand-release push-ups (normal push-up, but you have to rest your chest on the floor and raise your hands slightly off the floor at the bottom of each movement) and 10 box jumps.

The trainers explained to each of us newbies that we should look at the clock as soon as we were finished and make note of the time. By logging it into a journal, we could measure our progress.

So began my journey into CrossFit.

Squat, repeat. Squat, repeat. Try to keep count. Done, and move onto the next movement.

My total humiliation was when the 4- or 5-year-old daughter of one of the trainers came in during the WOD and started doing box jumps with me.

On the same box. 

Faster than I was and giggling the entire time.

Showoff.

“Incremental improvement is the single biggest thing,” said L. Luke Poussard, a CrossFit level 1 trainer at CrossFit Lewiston. “You add them all up and then look back to a year and are like, ‘Whoa!'”

“This becomes addicting,” added Morissette. “I’m in better shape now than when I was 25. Everyone has a different goal. Some people are looking for weight loss, and others are looking to become faster and stronger. CrossFit is for everyone. I want everyone to know they are an athlete.”

Doing CrossFit is an intense experience, giving this beginner a feeling of vomiting in the same instance of exhilaration.

Sweat pours off your face and by the time you hit your 50th kettlebell swing or 100th burpee, you look at the instructor with a feeling of pure, unadulterated hatred.

But the next day, when you crawl out of bed and feel the strength coursing through your muscles, you start looking forward to the next WOD.

You become proud of your accomplishments and soon start dragging all of your friends to the free Saturday morning WOD.

The muscles in your arms, legs and core are more defined and you find your endurance on the treadmill has increased.

After weeks of training with fellow devotees, you find that everyday tasks like climbing stairs or cleaning the house become easier.

Not to mention the friends you make along the way.

“We are trying to build not just a gym, but a community. We’re all accepting and celebrating each others’ goals,” said Morissette.

Never having really worked out in a group, I am finding that you push yourself harder and farther than you would if you were alone.

“When you work out by yourself, you only do about 70 percent of what your body can do,” said Morissette.

In the months I have been doing CrossFit, I have become an addict and am loving exercise again.

Running is becoming easier, and I can’t wait to start biking and swimming again.

I have even started looking into triathlons I want to do in 2013.

Plus, I can now do more than 20 on-the-knees push-ups at a time and am hoping to someday be able to do the impressive handstand push-up.

Imagine pulling that move out at a cocktail party!

Get moving

CrossFit is a certified program, with its own specific exercises and methods of training. There are other programs that are, more or less, similar to CrossFit. For those, check your local YMCA, fitness club or health facility. For more on CrossFit and its other Maine locations, go to crossfit.com.

CrossFit Lewiston class schedule:

Monday-Thursday 5-6 p.m. and 6-7 p.m.

Tuesday and Thursday 6:30-7:30 a.m.

Friday 5:30-6:30 p.m.

Saturday 8-9 a.m. and 9-10 a.m.*

* The 9-10 a.m. class is free and open to the community to try CrossFit; no need to sign up.

Call 207-577-0312 or email crossfitlewiston@gmail.com to sign up for classes or for more information. The class schedule is ever evolving and the owners have plans to add mid-morning classes in February.

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