"CrossFit is like a cult," I've heard non-CrossFitters say.
Except we worship a dumbbell instead of a deity. We pay homage to a porcelain God every time Uncle Pukie pays a visit. We don't just raise the dead; we clean it, squat it, snatch it and press it. Gym deviants. Bicep curl outcasts. Muscled-up meatheads who push themselves so hard with their "go big or go home mentality" that only the strong survive.
The rest get cremated so that survivors can use their ashes to chalk their hands for the next round of kipping pull-ups. CrossFitters eat their young – for time.
As a CrossFit coach, I must warn the general public of some intense cult-like devotion that I experienced first-hand last Friday. Ya know, in case it's contagious and shit … The task at hand was Filthy 50. Do 50 reps of every CrossFit movement imaginable until you pass out or die or even worse - don't finish. I put a 45-minute time cap on the workout because I didn't want to be there all night. Hell, I wouldn't be there at all were it not for a broken hip I accidentally earned three years ago.
No, it wasn't a CrossFit battle wound like the incurable calluses on my hand. I broke my hip while watching a football game. Not playing - watching. I was standing on the sidelines taking pictures when a cult of kids in full pads inadvertently tackled me. I joined CrossFit exactly one year later because I was tired of being handicapped at the age of 29. I've lunged a long way since my surgery, as I'm now in better shape than I was before my fall. On Filthy Fifty Friday, I surveyed the room to see others who have also come a long way, as well as others who still have a long way to go. Let's go then. 3 ...2 ... 1 ... Go! After 40 minutes of box jumps and kettlebell swings and wall balls and so much more - 50 reps per movement - most had finished the workout and were huddled around box fans sucking wind.
Why would anyone put themselves through that? I glanced at Shell, the chick who finished first in just under 20 minutes. Shell lost her sister a few years ago in a freak motorcycle accident. She once told me that sometimes she thinks of her sister to help her get through painful workouts, just like getting through those workouts sometimes helps her through the pain of losing her sister. Husband and wife Maggie and Corey were hogging another box fan across the room, sharing their Filthy Fifty survival stories from slumped over positions. They CrossFit together because finding strength within themselves also helps them bring it out in each other. It makes their relationship stronger in the process. Sprawled out next to them in the “CrossFit Recovery Position” were two sisters who are relatively new to the sport that isn't really a sport because we aren't really athletes. Kayla finished a scaled version of the workout, while Heather called it quits early so she could live to WOD another day. They were chatting about burpees and how much burpees truly suck.
And then I looked over to see Jessie, a recent boot camp graduate who was very literally the only one still standing, staring down the clock with her hands on her head. "How many do you have left?" I asked her as she tried to tackle her final movement of 50 burpees. "Forty," she half-heartedly laughed. "Fifteen more to halfway," was my response with a grin. "See if you can get to 25 before the cap." Jessie soldiered on, one burpee at a time, throwing herself on the floor for each rep just so she could push up, jump up and clap in the air - a solo celebration at the end of each movement. Fellow CrossFitters started to summon what was left of their own oxygen supply to cheer her on. The clock finally sounded as Jessie completed her 25th rep, and class was officially over for all those who had something better to do on a Friday night. I dismissed the group, and then glanced back at Jessie, who looked like she wanted to tend to some unfinished business.
"Tell ya what, chick. You have two choices," I said to her. "You can go home and be proud of how awesome you just did or I can set the timer on my phone and you can finish. Up to you." Three words from Jessie spoke volumes about the ATHLETE standing in front of me: "Do you mind?" I smiled, one proud coach, and shouted, "3 ... 2 ... 1 ... Go again!" We flopped on the floor together, as burpees always seem a little easier to tackle when someone is willing to tackle them with you. When we jumped out of our first burpee to clap, I looked up to see Linzy, the last person to finish Filthy Fifty a few minutes earlier. She was throwing herself back on the floor for more.
In that moment, I fought back tears. Linzy, who just spent the last 43 minutes and nine seconds suffering for her own personal reasons, decided to suffer alongside a boot camp graduate she barely even knows. “Four more to 30,” I announced at the end of our clap. Then suddenly, exhausted CrossFitters started falling like dominoes. No, it wasn’t from Rhabdo, a condition that people get from working out too much. If you ask CrossFit critics, Rhabdo endangers far more lives than the diseases people get from not working out enough, like diabetes and obesity and heart disease. Then again, CrossFit critics tend to suck at math. No, what I saw was something that CrossFit tends to bring out in the human spirit - a belief that no one should have to suffer alone.
I looked up to see a mother and her son both bounce off the floor to do Jessie’s burpees with us. Then I saw the two sisters hit the floor, as well, including the one who didn’t finish her own WOD. She somehow found a new strength to lend to someone else who needed to borrow it. Synchronized burpees. “Thirty,” I screamed. “Five more to 35.” We took a 20 second break together, then began again. “Thirty-five burpees,” I shouted as I clapped again. “Five more to 40.” By the time we made it through that final rep, the celebratory clap as we all jumped off that floor sounded louder than any score written on the board that day. It wasn’t the celebration of a cult that I saw in that moment; it was the celebration of a community – people who understand that life is tough, but we’re all in this together. Just knowing that makes everything in life easier.
Yes, that includes burpees, which force you to fall down just so you can get back up again. No one in that room even knew Jessie’s reason for joining CrossFit in the first place. They didn’t know that a few years ago, she moved 700 miles away from her friends and family and gained 55 pounds in the process. No one knew that when she looked up from her burpees that day, she started to see new friends. She started to see new family. In that moment, Jessie no longer felt alone. She was no longer 700 miles from home. She was home.
So to the critics out there who say CrossFitters are in some sort of cult, I’d like to admit that we do find strength in numbers. And to those who say CrossFit is dangerous, I’d like to admit that I’ve seen my share of bruised shins from box jumps and torn hands from “death by pull-ups”.
Know what else is dangerous? Standing on the sidelines.