It’s funny what you can make yourself afraid of.
Trainer and CrossFit WV manager Caroline Price told me she posted the next day’s “workout of the day” (WOD) for the gym every evening.
“I try to have those posted by around 8 o’clock every night,” she said.
This was a preview of the pain to come. When I looked up what we were doing, I despaired. I just wasn’t ready.
A resolution revolution — sort of
Through the month of January, I’m spending time with area CrossFit gyms — particularly CrossFit WV, which serves as home base — to learn about the lifestyle, work out and, who knows, maybe drop a couple of pounds.
The month also kicked off my yearlong mission to get in better shape, a frequent New Year’s resolution for a lot of us.
A few weeks ago, I started CrossFit WV’s “On Ramp” program, met with Caroline and went through six short, intense workouts intended to introduce me to core CrossFit principles.
Every episode finished with me sitting behind the wheel of my car, stinking like week-old cat litter and feeling very, very humble.
Early on, Caroline and I had agreed that on a scale of one to 10, my fitness was around a three — on the low side of average or the high side of feeble — but after a couple of sessions, it felt more like a two, maybe only a 1.5.
The workouts were hard. I missed the reliable comfort of my YMCA mornings, which included checking Facebook and endlessly fiddling with the music selection on my phone to find the perfect song to bench-press to.
There was no checking Facebook during CrossFit, and you either learned to love the mainstream hard rock of the early 2000s blasting throughout the cavernous building or you learned to shut up.
A horrible realization
But On Ramp was just an introduction to CrossFit, a warmup to the real thing. Just as I was making peace with being horribly out of shape, I learned I’d only scratched the surface.
On New Year’s Day, my second full workout, I finished almost dead last among a crowd of about 30, some of whom looked a little bleary-eyed from the night before.
I was well-rested and in as good a condition as I ever was for a typical Tuesday.
I know somebody has to be last at everything, but I hated that it was me.
Looking at the workouts posted on CrossFit WV’s website, I thought it might help me prepare mentally for the task ahead and maybe improve my performance.
Caroline said some gym members liked that. It also gave them a choice. If someone was nursing an injury or just really hated an exercise, they could maybe go do something on their own for the day. Prospective gym members could also see what kind of CrossFit gym they were looking at, which might help them decide if CrossFit WV was right for them.
I checked the website before my third workout. The workout included deadlift, picking up a weighted barbell by mostly using your legs, HSPU — which I didn’t recognize — and a run.
The plan was to do 10 rounds in a sequence, beginning with 10 deadlifts and one HSPU, followed by nine deadlifts and two HSPUs, and so on and so forth with the deadlifts increasing and the HSPUs increasing until we finished all 10 rounds.
At the end of each round, we were to run 1,500 meters.
I was doing pretty well just to run a 400-meter lap around Valley Gardens without walking, but 1,500 meters sounded like the death of me.
I worried about it all afternoon. I began hoping something, anything, would give me an excuse to skip class, but nothing came up. I finished my work slightly ahead of schedule and arrived at the gym with time to spare.
Maybe noticing I seemed a little apprehensive, trainer Donnie Wehrle said hello and asked me how I was. I told him about the run and he shook his head.
“No, that’s 150 meters,” he corrected and pointed at the board.
I’d misread the instructions.
“If you did 1,500 meters after every round it would take you about seven hours.” Donnie laughed and added, “No, 150 meters is just around the building.”
All the worry was for nothing.
I got through the workout — HSPU means handstand pushups, by the way. When done properly, you basically flip and fling yourself up alongside a wall. Standing on your head, back braced, you push up into a handstand.
I can’t do those either — but the workout didn’t kill me. I finished toward the back of the pack, but not last, which felt encouraging.
On my way out, I asked a couple of people if anyone ever did two classes in a day. They laughed and said, “No. Well, maybe Nick, but he’s crazy.”
Nick O’Reilly is a trainer, and when he’s not overseeing a class, he always seems to be lifting something heavy.
Kristi Wheeler, one of the CrossFit WV regulars, said one of the secrets to the place was that they halfway tricked you into doing more than you thought you wanted.
“You hate to run, but then you run a mile during a workout,” she said. “They break it up, so you don’t know you’re doing it until after it’s over.”
It was time to check out some of the other CrossFit gyms, starting with CrossFit 304 on Charleston’s West Side.
I’d heard a lot about CrossFit 304. Jennifer Gardner, who sits across from me at the office, said her boyfriend goes to that gym and said he loved it.
CrossFit 304 is the newest CrossFit gym in the area. It opened last spring and is run by trainer Jackson Breeding, who practically lives there. Like CrossFit WV, the building looks like an old warehouse or machine shop and is roughly a third of the size of the other gym.
“A lot of CrossFits focus on different aspects of fitness,” he said. “We try to be as well-rounded as we can. We focus on the health of the individual.”
The equipment looked the same as what I’d seen elsewhere, except for the pingpong table.
“Fun is important to health,” Jackson said, smiling.
Jackson let me participate in a workout but kept it light for me. I’m still new to CrossFit, and while I’d been introduced to core movements, that didn’t mean I was proficient at them.
The workout of the day included two “short” segments. The first segment was a set of related barbell exercises that included power cleans, front squats and push jerks — three rounds with 10 of each exercise.
A power clean is an Olympic barbell lift where you use your legs to get the bar up to your upper thighs and then use your hips to push the weight up to your collarbone.
I am particularly bad at this and tend to try to lift with my arms.
With a front squat, you keep the bar at the collarbone and do a deep squat. With a push jerk, you start with the barbell already at about waist level, dip slightly and, using the momentum from your legs and hips, lift the barbell above your head.
“There are a lot of moving parts with Olympic lifting,” Jackson explained.
Following that, we were supposed to have a short break and then three rounds of power snatches, box jumps and wall balls.
A power snatch kind of looks like the power clean, the front squat and the push jerk mixed together. Box jumps are just jumping up on a 24-inch-tall wooden box and jumping (or stepping) down. A wall ball involves taking a weighted ball and tossing it 10 feet up against a wall, squatting to power the throw.
To focus on proper form, Jackson had me use a training bar with no weights, which was vastly easier than what the rest of the class was doing and helped me get ahead of everyone, but he said that was fine.
“You can watch what they do,” he said.
It was an easier workout, for sure, but still vigorous enough to get my heart rate up and make me smell like a bag of stale pork rinds. I was frustrated.
The takeaway for today
“The thing to remember is that you’re just getting started,” Jackson said. “It’s OK if you can’t do something yet or if you have six rounds and by round five, you’re done. This is about better health, not killing yourself.”
Choosing fitness is not supposed to be a death wish. I should really try to lighten up.