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It’s becoming ubiquitous in Facebook News Feeds and across the country. What is CrossFit, exactly?
We expect to see certain things in U.S. communities. A beloved old-time diner, a Chinese take-out restaurant, a pizza place with at least one delivery vehicle, and a video store (although these are becoming decidedly less common).
Now, there’s a new piece of Americana to add to the list: a CrossFit gym.
What the heck is CrossFit? If you peek in the windows, you’ll quickly spot the weights and kettlebells. And that just might trigger flashbacks from that one 24-hour fitness place, where you ran yourself ragged on the elliptical machine and studiously avoided that whole mat-covered area near the mirrors.
You’re probably thinking that this is not a pursuit for regular humans. It must be for gym rats and bodybuilding fanatics.
The thing is, it’s not true.
Founded in 2000, CrossFit Inc. is a fitness company that now has more than 10,000 affiliated gyms, and it’s more than a competitive sport. It’s also an exercise philosophy, one that applies to people of all ages and from all walks of life.
And, like boot camp, you’re likely to find CrossFit instructors at resort wellness facilities as well as in your hometown, so you can fully integrate your pursuit of health and wellness into your travel plans.
Mike Vogl discovered CrossFit in middle age, when he considered himself 100-percent disabled. The son of a Milwaukee, Wisconsin,
police officer, Vogl served for nearly 30 years in the U.S. Army; after decades of brutal physical punishment, his body gave out. He has endured 17 surgeries and two full hip replacements.
“I tried every exercise routine and regimen out there,” he said. “I still walked, moved and looked like an old man. The defining moment was when I couldn’t get to the floor to play with my little girl.”
A friend recommended CrossFit, and Vogl’s transformation began. Because he could make each workout as intense as he felt able to handle, he gradually increased his strength and mobility.
“I talked to a surgeon who couldn’t believe that my hips weren’t showing any wear and tear,” Vogl said. “What’s likely is that I strengthened the muscles around the joints so much, the muscles held them in place. I’m likely to get better than the predicted 15- to 20-year life span for those joints.
“The method we use strengthened me beyond everything else I tried,” he continued. “CrossFit gave me my life back.”
With CrossFit, your goal is to increase work capacity across broad time and modal domains. What does that mean? Quite simply, it means that you’ll become healthier, stronger and fitter, with a greater capacity to do what you need to do each day.
How do you get there? Through constantly varied, relatively high-intensity, functional movements.
In a typical class, you’ll likely have a couple of minutes to warm up on your own, and you’ll have time to warm up the day’s target areas. Then you’ll move into your workout of the day, or WOD. You might be rowing, combining burpees and jumping over a box, doing push-ups or pull-ups, or trying your hand at deadlifts — each day is different to ensure muscle confusion (i.e. no frustrating plateaus), and your coach is there to provide guidance.
Vogl is now a certified trainer and coach, and four and a half years ago, he founded CrossFit Evergreen in an idyllic mountain community outside Denver. He provides seven classes each day, Monday through Friday, and he typically welcomes 10 to 12 students to each class.
“It’s interesting, because there tend to be more women than men in CrossFit,” Vogl noted. “Everyone says they’re a little bit afraid at first, but you won’t be asked to do anything beyond what you’re capable of.”
That means you can leave your intimidation at the door. The best thing about CrossFit is that everyone is doing the WOD together, but each is doing it at his or her own pace.
“You could have 15 people and 15 variations on that WOD,” Vogl explained. “We modify to each person’s capability, which is called scaling. Everyone is working at capacity. We want to push your range while also encouraging you to listen to your body.
“You can pick your weight, or I can advise you if I think you’re going too light,” he continued. “People are always surprised to discover that they can do things they never thought were possible.”
Vogl has coached people from age 10 to age 75, from collegiate athletes to grandparents. After all, he explained, everyone moves the same way. It’s the weights and intensities that change.
“I hear people say they’re too old, but you’re never too old,” he said. “As you age, you need that weight-bearing pressure more than ever. It helps you stay younger longer.”
Another great pleasure with CrossFit is the camaraderie.
“Everyone has a first class, and everyone understands that,” Vogl said. “CrossFit is competitive, but the greatest cheers are always for that person coming in last.
“We stress pushing yourself, but the clock and the numbers aren’t the end-all, be-all,” he added. “I may be ex-military, but I’ll never be in your face. I believe in positive reinforcement. It’s not about what we can do — it’s about what you can do, and how we can help you advance.”
SO YOU WANT TO TRY CROSSFIT?
5 Tips from Certified Coach Mike Vogl
- Go observe at least one class, and talk to the coach. See if how it feels, and if it’s a good fit for you.
- Believe in yourself. Acknowledge your ability to do more than you think you can.
- Be open to learning new skills, and embrace things you probably haven’t done since you were 10 years old — jumping rope and jumping jacks, for starters!
- Don’t worry about bulking up (a common misconception). Weight training will only make that happen if it’s your specific goal.
- Take steps to venture outside your comfort zone. Tell yourself that you can do it, and that nothing is impossible. Recognize your limitations, get proficient there, and then go beyond. That’s success.
Mike Vogl is a certified trainer and coach, and he is the owner of CrossFit Evergreen in Colorado, which offers basic to advanced classes in functional exercise and athletic conditioning. He and other instructors utilize plyometrics, kettlebells, Olympic weightlifting, medicine balls, dumbbells, power-lifting, gymnastics, rowing, running and jumping rope; CrossFit is the facility’s primary training method. Students focus on optimizing physical competence in 10 fitness domains (cardio-respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy). To learn more, visit crossfitevergreen.com.