An out-of-shape university student walks into a CrossFit gym for a lesson. That sounds like the beginning of a joke, right? Normally, that’s something I’d laugh at, but I was that out-of-shape student.
Let’s just say, I felt every slice of pizza, every bag of chips and every day where my iPhone pedometer said I only walked two kilometres. It was like every poor health decision I’d made in the last couple of months had come to throw me a surprise party.
If you don’t know what CrossFit is, don’t beat yourself up — I only learned about it a couple days before my class. CrossFit is a core strength and conditioning program that has a reputation for being vigorously intense, as well as for its equally hardcore cult followers.
A Google image search of CrossFit will yield photos of Greek god people working out in franchised gyms dedicated to the practice and philosophy.
Prior to my CrossFit lesson, I wouldn’t describe myself as a prime specimen that radiates fitness. In fact, as my body trembles and I’m practically immobilized by soreness, I can confidently say that CrossFit didn’t transform me overnight.
Sure, I was intimidated by the Greek god people on the Internet, but what kept me committed was that everyone who’s ever done CrossFit had to try it for the first time. Maybe my first time wouldn’t be a graceful first time, but it was going to be a first time nevertheless.
I had my lesson at CrossFit Queen Street, which isn’t too far from campus — in case you thought the gym being too far was a valid excuse for not going yourself. The CrossFit gym itself is in the basement of what was once a church.
Before entering, I was beyond daunted by what I had probably gotten myself into. I didn’t want to be carried out on a stretcher after all.
But when I walked in, I realized that the CrossFit gym was a labor of love. A polaroid collage of every gym member grinning engulfed the wall. The space was decked out with equipment and chalkboards with gym members’ personal records.
I then met my instructor for the class, a merciful man named Matt. Merciful Matt probably had the most chiseled legs I’d ever seen on a human being, to the point I was beginning to wonder if Photoshop extended to reality. I happily signed the release form — in case I was actually carried out on a stretcher — and I was ready for my lesson.
A typical CrossFit lesson is comprised of three parts: a group warmup, a skills portion and the workout of the day, lovingly known as WOD by CrossFit goers. My lesson was a smaller class made up of around seven people, so there were less people to embarrass myself in front of.
For our warmup, half of us alternated between a rowing machine and the “inchworm”. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this gym term, the “inchworm” is an exercise where you begin standing with your hands flat on the ground, and then walk your body out into a plank position while keeping your legs straight. And finally, walking your legs back — again, while keeping them straight – into your original position.
You know you’re out of shape when the warm-up feels like the full workout.
I was so grateful that our Opinions Editor, Kate (who is an actual CrossFit practitioner), had accompanied me.
Now, my friends, I suppose I can only speak for myself, but the “inchworm” isn’t friendly to those who are normally sedentary.
Matt then called us into a circle for the skills portion of our lesson. We practiced with batons the proper technique for a push jerk — an exercise where you use the momentum from your hips to heave the barbell overhead.
Then when we graduated to actual barbells, Matt set me up with a barbell weighing a grand total of 15 lbs. I’m not joking when I say I have the upper body strength of a T. Rex.
I practiced at my own pace to perfect my push jerk, trying to keep good form as I clumsily tried to lift the weight of a small dog over my head. Matt was so patient with me, taking the time to make sure I was comfortable, pointing out where I needed improvement and praising me when I showed progress.
After getting the gist of the push jerk, I felt confident enough to throw on an extra 10 lbs on my barbell. I was now lifting the weight of an even bigger small dog.
When I’d performed a solid push jerk, for lack of better phrasing, I felt like a bad ass — almost as if I belonged in a DMX music video. Then there were times I would lose the rhythm of the execution and I would just flail around with the barbell.
After we got the technique down, it was time for the WOD. For my lesson, the WOD was to alternate, with a partner, between burning 50 calories on the rowing machines and doing 30 push jerks, and to do as many as we can in 15 minutes.
I’d be lying to you if I said there wasn’t a moment where I felt like I was going to puke during those 15 minutes. Kate and I would take turns on the rowing machine, then lift.
I would also be lying to you if I said I kept up with Kate. She ripped into the rowing machine and did her push jerks like a beast, while I feebly tried to keep up. Though, I do stand by the fact that I put in my best effort.
There was a point during those 15 minutes where my arms felt like deflated pool floaties. I was convinced I could no longer continue lifting 35 lbs. When I reached to take the extra weights off my barbell, Matt stopped me and yelled, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
I tried to defend myself, explaining that I was just simply too tired.
“We never remove weights. Never. We rest when we are tired until we are strong enough to keep lifting.”
At the end of the lesson, Matt called everyone around and scribbled down our best weights on the whiteboard. “MIKAYLA – 35”. The members of my class even gave me a small round of applause at the end of the lesson. At that point, I was more sweat than woman.
Though one lesson definitely left a mark — as my arms are failing me as I type — I understand you can’t fully appreciate CrossFit from one lesson. The program is about seeing yourself get stronger, as well as getting stronger with your CrossFit community.
As for myself, I realize that university isn’t an excuse to let your health habits slide. Whether you do CrossFit, go to the gym, eat carefully or try to get outside as much as you can, never take your body for granted — because I, myself, really wish I could move again.
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