June 4, 2009: Crossfit Day 1
"Dude hurry up," I yelled back over my shoulder to my brother, Brian. We were late already. We continued down Elm Street, Montclair, and took a right into the back alley of Guerrilla Fitness: Crossfit Montclair. This was Day 1.
In the front office, we met Gregg Arsenuk, the lead trainer, along with several other Crossfitters that we'd be working out with. The 6:00 Thursday crew seemed like an average bunch of gym faring guys until I met Mickey. Gregg introduced Mickey like she was a regular one of the dudes. A woman... was he kidding? Wasn't she just babysitting the kids while Daddy worked out? Granted, Mickey looked like she could kick some butt... for a 35 year-old mother of two, but come on. "And these are my daughters" Mickey announced proudly. "I wonder if they're in the class too," I muttered to Brian as we continued back into the gym. He snickered.
The floor was covered in the thick rubber surface you see at many high-intensity gyms where people drop weights. Awesome. The spacious warehouse-like setting was devoid of conventionality; no nautilus machines, treadmills, or ellipticals. Doubly awesome. 30+ barbells leaned up against the wall in the corner. Stacks of barbell weights lay close by. There were a few rowing machines, sledgehammers, pull up bars, rings, punching bags, and boxes all in my immediate view, but other than that: space. The potential for any sort of workout was endless. The set up allowed for complete flexibility and versatility. It was beautiful. I liked Guerrilla Fitness.
(Note to newbies: for those of you interested in the setup, click here for pics)
"Alright guys, here's what we've got today." Gregg announced as we entered the gym. While passing, he directed us to the white board which read:
3x Samson Stretch
3x 10 Sit-ups
3x 15 Walking Lunges
As many rounds/reps in 20 minutes of:
10 Wallballs 20 RX/14 lbs
10 Deadlifts 205 RX/135 lbs
The advanced Crossfitters did the "RX" higher weight options (the numbers before the slash). I took the RX recommended 20 lb Wallball, but Greg told me it would be best if I just did 135 on the deadlifts. Brian followed suit.
Before starting, Gregg made us well aware of safety precautions. "Proper form is key," he noted. We assured him we were familiar with many of the lifts, but he insisted and gave us a crash-course of what Guerrilla Fitness calls "foundation classes" anyway to make sure we were doing everything right. And truth be told, we needed it. Not only did I learn what a "wallball" was, but I found out I had been doing deadlifts completely incorrectly, which probably explains the chronic twinges I get in my back after lower body workouts.
For those of you who don't know, a wallball is essentially a very low front squat with a large med ball, followed by an explosive thrust in which you propel the ball up to a target around 15 feet high only to catch it again and repeat the exercise for 10 reps. Box jumps are simply jumping onto a 48 inch box, followed by a "hip extension" (a glorified term for humping the air in front of you at the top of the jump). Burpees are push-ups, followed by an explosive jump into the air with your hands above your head; think "star jump" turned meat-head.
Note to newbies: for those Guerrilla Fitness, Gregg typically mandates five introductory classes to make sure your form on lifts is perfect. Safety is a priority and the only way you can be injured at Crossfit Montclair is if your form is flawed. These are what I referred to as "foundation classes."
"Alright, you guys ready?" Gregg yelled. I smiled. Of course I was. "See if you can beat Mickey," Gregg said with a smirk on his face as he turned around to start the timer. I smirked back. Funny guy. My goal was at least to beat my Brother. I knew I'd beat Mickey. In fact, I felt pitied her for having to workout next to me. And if I didn't beat the rest of the guys, I'd beat them by the end of the month. That was my goal.
"GO!" Greg started the clock. It was game time. Here's an approximation of my thought progression throughout the workout:
19:51: I must admit; despite the calloused egotism I have about my physical fitness, I can tell after the first 10 wallballs that it was going to be a long 20 minutes.
19:39: Brian pulls ahead of me a little on the box jumps. Damn it. I'm right with everyone else, though. There's plenty of time.
19:20: Deadlifts are no problem. I'm back with Brian and have pulled ahead of most everyone... except Mickey.
18:35: Is this a joke? Mickey is four reps ahead of me. "Pace yourselves!" echoed Gregg's warning above crashing barbells and grunting Crossfitters. Yea, Gregg, pacing myself sounds fantastic. It really does. But pacing is not an option when it involves letting someone's Mom pull ahead of you.
16:19: The first time I put the hands on my knees. Mickey is ripping right through without a problem and is half a cycle in front of me. Bending over and re-gripping my barbell is all I can do to keep me from tackling her to slow her down.
14:25: I accidentally skip burpees and go right to wallballs. After getting set straight by Sean, another Crossfit trainer, I realize that the fatigue is starting to hit me.
13:53: Yells of encouragement echo between fellow Crossfitters and trainers alike. Cries of "Come on, Pete!" have me bang out 10 deadlifts quicker than I would have otherwise. I'm getting the feel of Guerrilla Fitness culture.
12:48: I'm half a cycle in front of Brian who's complaining about his feet. If I had air in my lungs I would have given him a big mocking "WAAAAHH."
10:00: We get the half way yell from Sean. I am dripping with sweat and have completely given up on Mickey who I've concluded is a direct descendant of Xena, warrior princess. She is a full round ahead of me.
9:20: Every muscle from shoulders to calves is burning and the deadlifts are complete agony. I feel like a decrepit old man as I collapse to the ground for another set of burpees.
8:17: I check my arms to see if they are still there. I lost feeling in them about thirty seconds ago.
7:00: I do the math and pledge to myself to get in two and a half more rounds. My god...
5:36: Misery loves company. There is a symphony of encouraging yells as the clock ticks down. I give out a big "COME ON!" I'm one of the crowd. The camaraderie in this gym is fantastic.
4:27: I lap Brian, but I've only finished one round of my 2.5 round goal. I push harder.
2:48: Just one more full round to go. I'm at six completed cycles. No one is close to me except Mickey, who is smoking me and has only just begun to show fatigue.
1:20: Exhausted, I miss the target with the wallball. It hits the bottom edge of the target, and shoots back, goes through my hands and smacks me directly in the face. Now I understand why one of Crossfit's fitness goals is "accuracy."
0:00: I needed 10 burpees more to make my quota. I am thoroughly exhausted. My arms are too tired to even prop me up on my knees. Once I have the energy to lift my head I glance up at the rest of the Crossfitters. A casual passerby would have likened Guerilla Fitness to the beaches of Normandy. Bodies are strewn out over the hard rubber: some are faced up, some down, some are able to stand, while others are too tired to release the grip on their barbells. The only difference between us and the heroes of WWII was that bullets are not the cause of our writhing in pain. I glance at the white board, still too tired to speak. I completed 6.75 cycles. Mickey completed 9.5. She's a fitness goddess. To say I am humbled would be a gross understatement. I collapse to the floor in an emasculated, exhausted, inoperative heap plagued by utter defeat.
In retrospect of today; Crossfit's is an interesting philosophy. They don't tell you how many cycles of the workout you have to get, they let you decide that. I respect that. No one's going to do it for you. You push yourself. You make your own progress. And if you can't compel yourself to push harder... well, then there's always Mickey.
Next workout: Monday
Goal of my Crossfit experience: Revenge