Fit to Be Tried

By Michael McCoy  |  Photography by Jamye Chrisman

Unless you’ve been living in a cave or on the Zumba dance floor, you’ve probably heard that CrossFit is the indoor group workout of the 2010s. Approximately 11,000 affiliates—often called “boxes,” or barebones gyms—are found worldwide, serving hundreds of thousands of devotees. In May 2015, the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes even aired a piece on CrossFit and its impetuous founder, Greg Glassman, who said through his exercise program he can “deliver you to your genetic potential.”

Certain aspects of CrossFit have stirred up controversy, such as its ties to the high-protein, low-carb Paleo diet; reports that the risk of injury is high due to the intense, often competitive nature of the workouts; and the minimal training required of its instructors. No doubt these are among the reasons that, as he told 60 Minutes, in addition to his legal staff of twelve, Glassman has hired another eighty outside law firms to defend CrossFit’s reputation and trademark.

In view of the above, Las Vegas-based blogger and CrossFit practitioner Max Jacobson-Fried offers this advice at his blog, Awkward Athlete:

One of the major foundations of CrossFit is “intensity,” the idea of doing “more work in less time (without overdoing it).” The competitive nature of CrossFit is where I can find myself getting into trouble, losing sight of the real goal of “fitness” and replacing it with “winning.” … If something’s too heavy, no one should know that faster than me. Your ego will get you injured quicker than CrossFit will. [And] not all CrossFit affiliates are created equal, so make sure to spend at least as long deciding on which gym is right for you as you do deciding on the right shampoo for your hair type.

I wanted to see it for myself, so early last fall I sat—and I do mean sat—in on a class at our local affiliate, Targhee CrossFit. Their facility is located behind the Best Western Teton West at the north end of Driggs. (The local Blue Ox Box merged with Targhee CrossFit late last summer.)

I walked through the big garage-door opening and into the warehouse-like structure to see a rubber-matted floor, beefy training ropes and gymnastic rings hanging from above, and an abundance of free weights, pull-up bars, plyo boxes, and resistance bands. What I didn’t see were stationary bikes, treadmills, or ellipticals. Obviously not your daddy or mama’s fitness center.

A big digital countdown clock hung high on one wall, and low-volume rock music emanated from somewhere. White boards lining the walls contained scribbles in a rainbow of dry-erase marker colors. One included around forty-five names, with a matrix of jottings that had to do with the individuals’ progress and accomplishments. Another listed three-month goals, which ranged from “Lose 10 lbs.” to “Dead lift 160 lbs.” to “Pierre’s Hole 50-mile SS.” The final I interpreted to mean racing the 50-mile mountain bike race at Grand Targhee Resort on a single-speed bike.

This Wednesday 5:30 p.m. class would be coached by Targhee CrossFit co-owner Joshua Rempel, with aid from fellow coach and co-owner Dayne Toney. A warm-up of ten to fifteen minutes would lead into several minutes of strength and skill moves, followed by the big one: the WOD, or Workout of the Day. This would include intensity, Joshua assured me, but not at the expense of form, or proper technique.
A dozen class members, about half of them female and half male, milled about before the workout began, chatting. Most wore T-shirts with the Targhee CrossFit logo on the front; and, on the back, at just above butt level, one of two slogans in caps: either STRONGER BETTER or LEGS FEED THE WOLF.

Plenty of moaning and groaning came from the crowd during the warm-up period of squats, stretches, and core-crunching clamshells and bear crawls. I got sweaty just watching (but it was pretty warm in the room); I could only imagine how much pain the WOD would dish out. All the while, the coaches provided tips and guidance:

“Don’t let hips get out to your side!”

“Baby steps!”

“Maintain that athletic stance!”

After the twelve-minute strength/skills session, the volume of the music cranked up, and so did the intensity of the workout. The WOD consisted of two moves—“hang squat cleans” with barbell and weights (with poundage appropriate to the athlete) and “toes to bar” on the chin-up bar—in a descending series of 15–12–9–6. Each except the fourth and final was capped by a 400-meter run outside. Throughout, the coaches continued to give technique instruction, while jotting down what I assumed were the athletes’ “scores,” or X number of moves accomplished in X amount of time.

It looked intense, alright, with plenty of grimacing and grunting. Yet from what little I’ve seen of CrossFit, I wouldn’t hesitate to tiptoe into those waters. As Jacobson-Fried writes at Awkward Athlete:

Crossfitters’ goals and accomplishments are recorded on white boards in the gym.

… while CrossFit may not be right for everyone it may very well be right for you. … be wary of creating an opinion based solely on the belligerent works of Internet trolls and squabble peddlers. Find a qualified affiliate close to home and give it a shot.

The monthly fee for unlimited classes at Targhee CrossFit ranges from $137 for one month to $117 if you sign up for six months. Fundamentals, a four-week introductory course, costs $155. More info: targheecrossfit.com.