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Arrival of the Fittest

With workouts that are short, intense, and constantly changing, the exponential growth of CrossFit is transforming lives and creating a unique bond between its devotees that shows no sign of abating.

Article
Michele Chiappetta
Photos
Parker Slack
Posted
September 29, 2017

Have you jumped into the CrossFit craze yet? All over Green Country, this fever-pitched, no-nonsense workout trend is rising in popularity. And that’s not surprising when you understand how popular this exercise regimen has become across the country. According to CNBC, there are 13,000 CrossFit gyms worldwide, with 4 million members practicing the craft of running, jumping, lifting and stretching to stay fit.

Despite its ubiquity today, however, CrossFit has only been around for less than 20 years. Founded in 2000 by Greg Glassman, a former gymnast and gymnastics coach, CrossFit is a notoriously demanding, no-frills workout regimen that combines functional strength training exercises, gymnastics, circuit training and endurance exercises, along with a Paleo diet that encourages healthy eating habits.

Faithful devotees of the workout trumpet its effectiveness as a whole-body routine, as well as its egalitarian nature. There is no fancy equipment, no set routines, but there is a lot of individuality that appeals to many. On the flip side, detractors worry about the possibility of injuries and question whether it really is a workout for everyone.

Regardless of what you may have heard about CrossFit, the only way to truly get a feel for it is to test it out for yourself. The good news is, it’s surprisingly easy to get started, especially here in Green Country.

Facing difficult, new physical hurdles a few times a week — and finishing them all — is super empowering and confidence building for many people. (Photo: Parker Slack)
Facing difficult, new physical hurdles a few times a week — and finishing them all — is super empowering and confidence building for many people. (Photo: Parker Slack)

Zac Thompson, who trains at CrossFit T-Town, is a typical CrossFit aficionado. He started working out two and a half years ago, wanting a new exercise routine that would beat back the boredom of running on a treadmill, lifting weights, or doing yet another spin class at the same old gym.

“I saw the CrossFit Games on TV a few years ago and started to notice gyms opening up all around the area,” says Thompson. “It took me a while to finally go in, but I was bored with doing the same traditional workouts each week.”

Carla Townsend, an instructor at CrossFit Owasso, had a similar entry into the CrossFit world. After listening to her husband rave about it for months, she decided to try it for herself. Like many people who start a new fitness routine, Townsend wasn’t convinced that CrossFit would make much of a difference — and was happily surprised by the results.

“Before I started, I thought I was already in really good shape because I ran a little here and there,” Townsend explains. “At first, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but CrossFit allowed me to do things I never thought of before, and it was fun. After a few months, I noticed running became much easier, along with other changes in strength.”

Jake Crandall, owner of Okie CrossFit, goes even further, saying that he credits CrossFit as the workout routine that helped save his life. “I was 300 pounds six years ago and dying when I started CrossFit,” Crandall says. “This changed my life. I added it to my weightlifting, and it saved my life.”

The demands of a CrossFit workout can be daunting, especially for newbies who don’t realize that an ideal CrossFit gym (or “box” as they are called by many in the field) will gear your workout plan to your current level of health and fitness. Crandall, for example, says he walks everyone through a detailed conversation to figure out the best approach to their needs before they come in for their first workout.

“We meet you where you are,” he says. “We don’t expect you to be a great athlete or in great shape.”

The CrossFit approach, as its name suggests, is to cross-train participants in many forms of exercise to build overall strength, muscle mass, endurance and fitness. When you step into a CrossFit facility, you can expect to perform a mix of exercises that change daily, without a lot of fancy equipment.

Facing difficult, new physical hurdles a few times a week — and finishing them all — is super empowering and confidence building for many people. CrossFit workouts put you in a place where you either give in and quit or step up and push through.

Many of the exercises focus on basic weights such as kettlebells, box jumps, pullups and other exercises that rely on body weight to act as resistance. A typical session is 50 minutes to an hour, with participants aiming to accomplish as many repetitions as possible of each exercise in the day’s routine.

“We do strength and conditioning,” says Crandall. “Too many times, people just run to get in shape, but they’re not doing basic resistance exercises. They’re not doing anything to support their lean muscle tissue and their bone density, especially in women.”

Jake Crandall, owner of Okie CrossFit, credits CrossFit as the workout routine that helped save his life. (Photo: Parker Slack)
‍Jake Crandall, owner of Okie CrossFit, credits CrossFit as the workout routine that helped save his life. (Photo: Parker Slack)

Though CrossFit has earned some buzz as a workout that can lead to injuries, there are things you can do to make sure the workout is safe at all times. Just as with any other workout regimen, CrossFit is at its best when both trainers and participants are educated, aware and taking proper care not to overdo it.

“We teach new people the very basics first and go through proper progressions to ensure safety,” says CrossFit Owasso’s Townsend. “There is always a certified trainer available at every class to correct and monitor athletes. Our trainers are aware of the best ways to avoid injuries, and progressing steadily is best practice. As with any physical activity, injury is not always preventable, but being smart and listening to the trainers will greatly reduce risks.”

Crandall agrees. “We’ve been here over five years and had zero injuries, which is unheard of,” he says. “We’re very proud of that.”

And of course, CrossFit participants can help themselves avoid injuries simply by listening to their bodies. “I really enjoy working out and always feel better after,” says Thompson, “but I have learned to listen to my body. If I feel like I need to take the day off, then I will take a rest day. If I miss too many days in a row, I might catch a hard time, but it’s all in good fun. When I am tired, I might have a coffee before heading to the gym. Some days, showing up is the hard part.”

CrossFit’s ability to adapt to the needs of the individual has made it appealing to many who might otherwise balk at the group exercise environment. It accommodates those with physical challenges — Crandall has trained someone who is a wheelchair user, for example, adapting the day’s routines as needed.

And it’s not unusual to see a CrossFit facility where the majority of trainees are women. At Okie CrossFit, almost two-thirds of the participants are female, says Crandall.

“There are many benefits for women, and I could talk for hours about this subject,” says Townsend. “From increased strength, reduced body fat and better mobilization, to increased confidence and improved health markers, the benefits for women are endless.”

And while some workouts, like weightlifting, can turn off women who want to be fit without being overly muscled, CrossFit is different. “I’ve heard many women express concern about not wanting to get bulky,” says Townsend, “and that is the complete opposite of what happens when starting CrossFit.”

For folks who are intimidated about starting CrossFit, Townsend has a word of encouragement. “The hardest part is getting out and getting started,” she says. “Just like anything new, there is a learning process. Workouts are doable for any level of fitness, and progress comes, and it shows.”

Thompson agrees, pointing out that CrossFit is a great choice for anyone of any age and fitness level. “CrossFit really is for athletes of all ages, experiences, and levels,” he says. “People usually have a goal in mind when they decide to start a new workout regimen. Some want to join for the sense of community, some for the competitive spirit, others to build strength and improve technique, or some just to have a healthy lifestyle and meet good people. I think for me, it is a combination of them all.”

At the end of the day, Thompson says, he works out for the pride and pleasure that result from a successful day of training.

“Some days you walk into the gym and read the workout of the day [WOD] on the white board and think, ‘There’s no way I can do that.’ There is a big sense of accomplishment once the workout is over, and you have completed what just seemed nearly impossible.”

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