odds and ends from a life under construction

wetting my CrossFit whistle

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A few months ago, in the midst of working twenty-bazillion jobs and going to school, my very good friend Gemma became an official, honest-to-goodness, certificated, professional, real life CrossFit coach. And since I’m trying to get in shape and all, I figured it was past time to let her put me through my paces. So on Sunday, we agreed on a time to meet at her box.

Don't let the smile fool you. She can rip you apart with her bare hands.

Don’t let the smile fool you. She can rip you apart with her bare hands.

Gemma is a coach at CrossFit Elevation here in Denver. She was client #1 when the box (what CrossFit calls their workout centers or gyms or whatever the non-CrossFit equivalent would be) opened, so she knows the box and the people who work out there in and out. Before getting to any tossing around of weights or exertion grunting, Gemma gave me a tour of the box and a high-level overview of the principles the CrossFit workouts are based on.

At the core of CrossFit is the idea of functional fitness – training that prepares you for how you actually use your body and muscles in your day-to-day life and activities. Using everything from Olympic weightlifting to gymnastics, CrossFit seeks to optimize performance is ten basic areas of fitness:

  • Cardiovascular and Respiratory endurance
  • Stamina
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Power
  • Speed
  • Coordination
  • Agility
  • Balance
  • Accuracy

Instead of focusing on the very specific training needs of someone who is an elite marathoner or professional baseball player, CrossFit is in the business of a more foundational fitness. Any athlete’s performance could improve through CrossFit training, but the ultimate goal is a breadth of competency across many disciplines.


I arrived in time for the tail end of the weekly meeting of the Barbell Club.

The CrossFit Elevation box is just that – a big rectangular box. There are bathrooms at one end and plans for a separate yoga room in the works, but most of the action happens in the large main room. Barbells and stacks of weights, medicine balls, kettlebells, AbMats, rowing machines… everything is neatly organized.

Scenes from the box

Scenes from the box

I was struck by the community feel imbued in the space. Everything from motivational quotes and a chalkboard wall where members could write down their goals, to the t-shirts from other boxes members have visited tacked to the wall, to the scribbled notes on the Workout of the Day (WOD, in CrossFit-speak) dry erase boards spoke of a tight-knit group of friends who just happened to do really intense workouts together.

The WOD wall, where a week's worth of workouts (say that five times fast) stretch half the length of the box.

The WOD wall, where a week’s worth of workouts (say that five times fast) stretch half the length of the box.

After covering the basics of the box and CrossFit, Gemma questioned me about my fitness goals and what “future me” might look like. Running performance is definitely a priority for me, so I shared my concern that the fatigue of intense and strenuous workouts might affect my running. But Gemma pointed out several members hanging around the box who were avid runners and dedicated CrossFitters, so it possible to find a balance between the two. Were I to continue with CrossFit, my ultimate goal would be the strength and toning that complement the cardio I’m already doing.

Not a bad goal.

Not a bad goal.

It would be more than a little nuts to jump into an Olympic weightlifting workout on my first day, so Gemma prepared me for a fit test  – a baseline assessment she could use to determine where I would start with other exercises, and a test I could complete at regular intervals during my training to gauge my progress. The test was an inverted pyramid of exercises, starting with 200m of rowing on the machine. Then I would complete 40 air squats, 30 sit-ups, 20 push-ups, and 10 pull-ups. Having never used a rowing machine before, Gemma gave me a quick demonstration of the proper form and movement to use. She also checked my form on the other exercises; I’m a great squatter, but I have no upper body strength so my knees would be down for push-ups and I’d use the gymnastic rings in a way similar to TRX straps to do pull-ups. The test is timed, and they cut people off after 20 minutes. And with a quick countdown, I was off!


Action shot! Grrr to my mommy belly, but my legs are looking pretty hot!

It took a few pulls – the rowing machine has uneven resistance depending on what point of the movement you’re at, which was an adjustment – but I settled into a good rhythm for my 200m. And then I blazed through my squats. The sit-ups, however…

This is what "grinding it out" looks like.

This is what “grinding it out” looks like.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a sit-up (vs. a plain ol’ crunch). And I’ve never done them CrossFit style, with my knees apart and using my momentum to get my hands from the floor over my head to touching my feet. The first 10 or so reps were okay, but I slowed dramatically and had trouble finishing. And I tweaked something in my back midway through; it bothered me the rest of the day and for a couple days afterward. When Gemma yelled “30!” I felt an overwhelming sense of relief.

"Only 20. Is it hot in here?"

“Only 20. Is it hot in here?”

The push-ups were tough but not overly so, and I was able to immediately move on to the rings. After all the other exercises, only doing 10 reps felt like cheating. And I ended up finishing the test in around 12 minutes. Nothing to write home about, but not terrible either. All told, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Then I asked Gemma to show me her rope climbing skills.


Yeah, she’s a badass. I’ve got a long way to go.

Since we now know where I stand, the next step is to do an actual CrossFit workout. Gemma teaches Level 1 classes, so I need to make some weekend time to check one out and learn the basics. CrossFit might not be for me in the long term, but there’s enough about it that interests me to try it out.


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