EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a three-part series on accepting a challenge to tackle CrossFit exercise regimens for a month.
When you first walk into Outlander CrossFit, it isn’t the least bit impressive.
An aging glass entryway and a few stairs lead into a cramped lobby with that sort of abandoned-building vibe that wouldn’t feel out of place in a horror movie or a “Call of Duty” video game.
Aside from a pair of small glass fridges peddling bottled water and recovery drinks on a folding table, there are no signs of life. But as you walk through another doorway and around a corner, it hits you all at once — this is a place where people are serious about their fitness.
That doorway opens into a cavernous room where 25 or so people could work out at once. The decorations are sparse; a banner adorned with the Outlander CrossFit logo hangs on the southern wall.
A series of several bay doors are open on walls on both the north and south, a relic from when the gym was a shipping facility that now serves as a means of air flow as a half-dozen, 4-foot-tall, industrial fans move air across the gym.
Glute-ham developer (GHD) sit-up stations, vertical barbell stands, weight plates, dumbbells and a row of cardio equipment — each variation more diabolical than the last — line the perimeter of the gym.
In the middle rises up the focal point of a CrossFit gym, the rig. The rig is a towering metal structure where you can do pull-ups, muscle-ups, all sorts of barbell lifts and includes 15-foot-tall targets for wall balls at regular intervals around the 32-foot-long, 8-foot-wide structure.
And rubber flooring is everywhere. Just about every square inch of the gym is a spot where you’re capable of lifting heavy weights over your head and dropping them loudly to the floor. Six Coke-can-thick ropes hang from a ceiling about 25 feet in the air.
The gym offers no frills, no excuses, just hard work, sweat and loud music. Make no mistake, as a newcomer, I felt extremely welcomed every time I worked out, but you could tell that no matter what level of fitness, each member was very serious about working hard and improving.
If your idea of working out is a nice, quiet walk on a treadmill while listening to the latest John Grisham novel on audiobook, this would be the wrong place for you. This is a place where people try to explore the limits of their fitness.
And that’s what I tried to do during my month of CrossFit. Last week, we talked about the humble beginnings and the progress I made by the end of August, but the magic happened and my appreciation changed during the middle of the 21 or so workouts I completed that month.
Each workout at Outlander is class-based, so it has at least one coach leading a group of people doing the same workout with different levels of weight or different numbers of repetitions per exercise.
On top of that, I was impressed they had extra coaches around helping me acclimate to the environment as a newbie and giving me extra coaching on technique. They helped me select the right amount of weight, which was without fail a lower amount than I had picked.
After I didn’t require quite as much one-on-one time, all of the coaches were still very attentive, making sure to help break down technique and my failures in form, as well as helping me pick out the right amount of weight for a given workout.
CrossFit workouts have most of the same components as workouts at the gym I was used to doing, but they usually add a time constraint or simply ask you to do as many of a certain set of exercises you can do in a few minutes.
That’s where the difference is. I was used to doing a lift and resting, and CrossFit has you doing a lift and then going to do another exercise or some cardio, so forth and so on, until you’re soaked in sweat. The rest periods are few and far between, and never feel like enough. But that’s part of the CrossFit magic.
Speaking of being soaked in sweat, I don’t know if I’ve made it through a single workout with a shirt the same color as I started in. A sweat-inducing workout might be something as simple as 150 wall balls as fast as you can complete them.
Wall balls are a devilish exercise where you take a 12-20-pound padded medicine ball, squat as low as you can go, and throw the ball at a 10-feet or so tall target as you stand back up, catch the ball, rinse and repeat — devilish.
A workout also could look like you and a partner taking turns doing a set number of deadlifts, overhead presses and front squats, and you’re done when you’ve combined for the right number of repetitions.
It could be a mixture of cardio, like rowing or a stationary bike, mixed in with some heavy lifting and some body weight exercises.
The variety is part of the fun of CrossFit, where some of the workouts are shorter and focus on heavier weights, and these were always my favorites. Other workouts were longer with lighter weight or body weight movements, and I really didn’t like those as much, because I was even more behind on these workouts, as cardio is my biggest weakness.
But as the month went along, I was able to improve my conditioning by leaps and bounds from where it was at the start of the month. The benefit here is two-fold: I can go longer and stronger during workouts, but also recover better during the aforementioned brief rest periods.
I also got a lot stronger during the month on some Olympic lifts, a staple of CrossFit workouts. Olympic lifts are the big, full-body lifts using a barbell usually seen in Olympic weightlifting competitions. You know the ones, where the massively loaded barbells start on the floor and end up being thrown over the lifter’s head.
Well, where you start on those, at least for me, was usually with a piece of PVC pipe and a bunch of practice. I lack a little mobility and strength in my shoulders and chest to do some of the Olympic lifts properly, but I think I was making good progress by the end of the month.
I come from a background of metal weight plates that you don’t typically drop, but rather set down for fear of waking the dead. But CrossFit is outfitted with nothing but rubber plates, which are designed to be dropped onto the rubber flooring, even from overhead.
It took some getting used to, and the first time I tried it, I didn’t commit fully to dropping the weight and ended up throwing the bar into my shin (that was a gnarly scrape). But you feel really strong when you lift something heavy and just casually throw it on the ground.
The more I worked out with the other members in the 4:30 class at Outlander CrossFit, the more I appreciated the community support, the hard work and the progress that came hand-in-hand with that.
If you’ve come with me this far, next week I’ll have some final thoughts on the month and list a few pros and cons from my workouts.
DANIEL WILLIAMS is general manager of The Post-Intelligencer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.