Not sweating the sweat: How I learned to love Crossfit
Ceej Tantengco on Jul 10, 2016 02:29 PM
“I am able. I am capable. I am powerful.”
“Am I gonna die?” is what I ask the lady at the registration table. She has short hair and is wearing a no-nonsense sports bra and shorts. She smiles at the nerd in front of her wearing jeans and a baggy shirt, and hands me a plastic bag with adidas workout gear: “You’re not going to die.”
I’m not convinced. “Are you sure?”
When I think of Crossfit, I think of my friend Candice, who goes regularly and has legs that could knock over a small horse. When we went to Korea, I struggled to heave my luggage up a flight of stairs. She had already made it to the top with hers. She came back, still clutching her suitcase, grabbed mine and ran to the top.
Everyone I know who does Crossfit is strong—insanely strong. My worry is I might not be able to keep up. Despite working as an NCAA courtside reporter and sportswriter, I go to the gym just twice a year. I like workouts you can do alone, like jogging in my village, where nobody can see me huff and puff and stop for chips at the sari-sari store. I burp on the regular; burpees, not so much.
What if they make me do pullups and I just hang there? What if there are box jumps and I just fall ON the box? These are actual concerns— Ceej Tantengco (@ceejtheday) June 30, 2016
Look at this chicken.
Crossfit always seemed to me like the kind of thing where you need to be at least halfway fit before you begin. Our instructor, Rachelle Que-Love of Primal Ape Crossfit, clears things up: “With Crossfit, it’s infinitely scalable up or down depending on your fitness level,” she says. “Our youngest member is four years old, doing 12-inch box jumps at 10 reps. Kids can do this.”
So noobs are welcome. I begin writing down everything Rachelle says, as if complete notes will increase my endurance past child-level. “Crossfit is constantly varied functional movements at high intensity,” she explains. “It’s a mix of weightlifting, gymnastics, and metabolic training...the body doesn’t know how to do it yet, and that’s how it adapts.”
Rachelle “fell in love” with Crossfit four years ago and has been doing it ever since. “Change happens at high intensity. Sometimes you think your body is saying ‘no more,’ when it’s actually saying ‘a little more,’” she adds.
She splits us into groups and hands each team a whiteboard with our WOD (workout of the day):
100 box jumps
100 wall balls
400-meter rope run
100 ground to overheads
Each set corresponds to a certain number of points. We have thirty minutes to finish each set once, and any time left over can be used to repeat any exercise to earn more points. The team with the most points at the buzzer wins.
The idea is that Crossfit’s functional exercises carry over to the things we do in a normal day—sitting is squats, picking up kids is a deadlift. To teach us the correct form, instructor Trever Love walks us through each move and asks us to try it before we begin.
Sit-ups and burpees are easy enough, and box jumps can be modified to stepping up and down, but I’m nervous about the wall balls. We’re supposed to pick up a ten-pound medicine ball, squat, pop up and throw the ball to hit a line on the wall, catch it and in one fluid motion, drop down to another squat.
It seems like the sort of thing Jiovani Jalalon would do on a daily basis (have you seen his shoulders lately?) but I can barely throw the ball a foot in the air before it comes crashing down on me like a boulder. It falls to the floor, knocking me over in the process. I look up at Trever with my patented “sorry I have no muscles” face developed over years of almost failing PE class.
But unlike my PE teachers, Trever doesn’t seem to hold my noob status against me. “It’s okay,” he says, helping me up. He’s speaking to the group now. “That’s where teamwork comes in. As long as the group completes all 100 wall balls, it doesn’t matter whether you do 5 and the others split the 95. Or if you don’t do any wall balls, you can help the group by doing more burpees.”
And so we begin. Our adidas Fit Squad group of six has women of different fitness levels—Elaine is a dancer and former pep squad member, Chrissie is a fitness nut with her own line of superfood snacks—but all of us are trying Crossfit for the first time.
“We all have different fitness levels, different journeys. Just because she did it faster, doesn’t mean she has higher intensity,” Rachelle reminds us. “What matters is we maintain a high intensity according to our strength and capability.”
There’s a mix of comfort from knowing we have each other’s backs (ugh, thank goodness for everyone who’s good at wall balls), a sense of responsibility (don’t let the group down), and a low-level simmer of competition that comes with all group activities (I may be crap at wall balls, but I am going to freaking murder these burpees).
Wait, did I just think that? I realize how quickly I’m doing these burpees, the floor rushing up to meet my face, my arms pushing me off the ground, the room shifting as I jump in the air. Holy crap, I’m doing this. I’m really doing this. Wait, how am I doing this?
Elaine takes the lead, pacing us as we run. “When we were training for dance, jogging always drained us after. Save your energy for the next round,” she says, with all of us holding onto a rope so nobody gets left behind.
We complete one round of each exercise at the 17-minute mark. Thirteen minutes left to earn more points. Nobody wants to do wall balls. We go for box jumps, burpees, and ground-to-overheads. I’m surprised I can handle lifting a 15-pound plate to my chest and over my head, despite not being able to throw a ten-pound ball. I guess I’m more likely to be a bag porter than a basketball player.
The buzzer sounds as we finish another round of burpees. We lay there on the ground, rolling around in our own sweat, and crawl to the front of the room where Trever will announce the team rankings. My weakling self is creeping back in. “We need to Instagram this,” I whisper to Chrissie with my face smushed against her shoulder.
Our team gets the second highest number of points. The noob me is doing somersaults in my head, surprised and happy for once to not be in last place. The newly Crossfitted me is thinking, “I should have done more burpees.” Trever comes over with more high fives: “It’s okay guys, good job,” he says.
“It’s a fun community,” shares Rachelle. “Crossfit Games are the only competitions I’ve seen where the first person to finish comes back to cheer on the last. There’s a bond between people who struggle together.”
I remember all the times Candice used to come to work after Crossfit, pumped and happy about accomplishing the WOD. “Come on Ceej, try these squats,” she’d say, dragging me to a corner of open space in our crowded office. I couldn’t understand how anyone could be so excited about working out—I typically reserve that enthusiasm for new episodes of “Game of Thrones”—but I get it now.
Crossfit is a potent cocktail of encouragement and competition, and I’m feeling better about myself and my limited set of skills after that 30-minute session. Despite cooling down, I feel a growing soreness in my too-often-ignored-but-finally-used muscles that I know will hurt even more tomorrow. On our way out, we pass a group of regulars crowding over a board charting their WOD and results. Above the bullet points of motions is a sentence: “I am able. I am capable. I am powerful.”
Damn straight, whiteboard.