How Six Months of Weekly Workouts Made Me Stronger
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
I pride myself on efficiency, but getting the most out of the least possible effort often just looks like laziness. Nowhere is that more the case than with my exercise “regime”: Why spend hours at the gym every week to look slightly thinner when I could sweat much less on occasional walks, hikes, runs, and bikes to achieve a slightly pudgier but personally acceptable result?
So I was nothing short of pessimistic when I walked into CrossFit Pacific Coast (CPC) last December to begin what's probably the toughest physical fitness program ever invented. The mandatory baseline workout of rowing, squats, push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups only took me about six minutes, but when I threw up all over the street afterward, I was immediately in awe of how powerfully my body reacted to such a short interval of intense exertion. Had I stumbled upon the most efficient exercise program on the planet?
After about six months of pretty regular visits to this CrossFit gym on lower Anacapa Street, I dropped nearly 20 pounds, found muscles I never knew existed, discovered that I enjoyed weightlifting, and developed core strength that made picking up my baby and going through the daily walk of life a cinch. Sure, it was tougher than tough—some days I would make it home just in time to collapse on my floor for a half-hour of motionless recovery; other days I would be too sore to open the car door—but I was seeing real results with even just one hour-long visit per week. Sixty minutes of hell for a week's worth of treadmill results? Even the laziest should be enticed.
Of course, CrossFitters are the furthest thing from lazy, and most of them are hitting the gym at least three times a week. Take CPC's owners Traver Boehm, a former mixed-martial-arts fighter, and Eric Malzone, the star water polo player at my high school. Like other lifelong athletes who hit a fitness wall, they found no upper limit to CrossFit—when you're working different muscles all the time, and pushing them harder each time, there's just no way to plateau. No wonder it's become the program of choice for Olympians and elite military units.
“Our goal is to be in the best shape of our lives, every single day,” said Boehm. “At 35, I’m in better shape than when I was 25 and training four hours a day, six days a week. This doesn’t happen by doing moderately hard workouts every once in a while. It comes from doing very challenging workouts on a near-daily basis.”
But is CrossFit too much for some people? Other than dealing with the dread of anticipating tomorrow's workout and the painful soreness that followed, my exercise-averse body did a decent job of enduring and quickly got stronger. Plus, explained Malzone, “It’s 110-percent scalable. This means that we can make it work for anybody. Those advanced in age, with disabilities, and with injuries can make CrossFit work for them.”
The best results might be mental, though, as there's a tremendous sense of accomplishment after completing each workout. “At some point in this sport, you’re going to be on top after a workout, and I guarantee you that at some point you’ll be dead last, too,” said Boehm. “A world full of people who willingly accept that kind of challenge and an even-playing-field approach would be a better place, in my humble opinion.”