Last month, I decided to give crossfit a whirl. I was finding my usual circuit training bootcamp class to be less and less challenging and wanted to step up the weightlifting a bit. Plus, the gym I was interested in had a groupon deal: $68 for one month of unlimited crossfit and yoga classes. In the Bay Area, where monthly crossfit memberships ring up as a cool $200 easy, this was definitely a steal for getting my feet wet. What I didn’t expect was to really friggin’ love it.
I’ve been cautioned not to strength train too hard in the weeks leading up to a big race because it can lead to excessive muscle fatigue and hating your life, etc. However, since I am a runner and not a racer, I didn’t see any harm in tipping the cardio-strength scale a bit more to the strength training side for a bit. My biggest worry, as I’ve said before when it comes to crossfit, is/was injuring myself via the dreaded but all too common too-much-too-soon scenario.
After one month of 4 days/week of crossfit*, here’s my take on my experience at San Jose Barbell in San Jose, California.
The coaches: 5/5
Perhaps I am biased, since I was friends with one of the coaches/founders to begin with, but they’re all awesome, knowledgeable, and encouraging. The ratio of coaches to classmates was 1:4 at the most, so I definitely felt like I was receiving personal attention and I never felt like I was in danger of injuring myself by performing a movement incorrectly. Most of the coaches were dudes, but the gym did hire at least one female intern, who led quite a few warm-ups and demos. Perhaps the coolest part of having these coaches as a resource is that they hear your problems and try to suggest a solution to personally help you. For example, I’ve complained a few times about my tight hips and how they can swell up during longer runs. I’ve tried all sorts of stretching and yoga to some effect, but they’re tight all the time. One of the coaches gave me some other exercises to do, like holding a low lunge and kind of rocking back and forth, and it has definitely made a world of difference. My hips don’t swell up anymore–huzzah!
The classes: 4.5/5
The classes are divided up into sections: warm-up, strength, and conditioning. The coaches go over all of the movements with the group before we even touch a barbell, and absolutely everything can be modified to anyone’s personal fitness level. The warm-up usually includes a jog and some cross-the-floors reminiscent of dance class to get the blood pumping.
During the strength section, we would usually single out a specific move, like strict/military press or front squats, and focus on getting in a few (~3-5) sets of low reps and high weight. Often, this would involve building up to a target weight, so sometimes you’d end up having done something like 8 sets. The down side to this approach is that there is limited time to complete the strength part, because the next part of the workout is conditioning, and that requires quite a bit of time itself. The advantage definitely goes to the person who has a clearer idea of what his or her target weight is–usually measured in reference to your one-rep max, the highest weight with which you can complete a single rep of that movement. If you don’t know your one-rep max, you have to guess and work up or down from there.
The final workout element is conditioning. This would vary from partner work, trading off static movements like wall sits with dynamics movements like bicep curls, to AMRAP (as many reps as possible) workouts, to a laundry list of movements (like a chipper, ugh) with a time cap. There is no room for complacency in crossfit.
I’m personally curious about the thought process behind designing the workouts. It’s different than other approaches to strength training, where you trade off targeting certain muscle groups, since not every person comes every day.
The atmosphere: 5/5
I’ve whined before about my fragility when it comes to talk of diets and weight loss. That kind of talk can become a slippery slope for me, so I try to avoid it altogether. What was great about SJBB was that there was a pretty even split between the genders, but I never heard any talk amongst the classmates about losing weight or Calorie counting. There was a transformation campaign going on gym-wide, but I chose to selectively interpret it as being focused on performance. Overall, everyone was super supportive and I felt like I could ask any one them for lifting advice.
Personal Improvement: The biggest challenge was fitting it all in (that’s what she said). I want to do and try everything, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day (that’s what she said, that’s what she said). It is certainly possible that doing so much crossfit detracted from my running time, although I was certainly making some headway in conditioning and it definitely gave my shins a break, so perhaps it all balances out.
One personal milestone I achieved during this month was my very first REAL (unmodified) push-up. Might not seem like a big deal to you, but if your nickname growing up was Scrawny Ronnie, you can probably empathize with my joy and pride.
All in all, I’m really glad and surprised at how much I enjoyed crossfit. If I am allowed to toot my horn a little bit, I am also somewhat impressed that I was able to do it at all. My biggest disappointment is that I cannot permanently join the SJBB family, as I’ll be moving. And now I feel like I’m ruined for other gyms. But the great thing about the gym is their free Saturday classes and inclusive monthly Fit Mob events! See you at the next one, guys!
* My weekly workout schedule consisted of one rest day, 4 days of crossfit, and 2 running days (one short, one long).