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The New Workout Phenomenon

Vertical leaps onto a raised surface, called 
box jumps, are just one of a seemingly endless array of CrossFit exercises that push people to their limits.

Vertical leaps onto a raised surface, called box jumps, are just one of a seemingly endless array of CrossFit exercises that push people to their limits.

photo by Eric Chin

Ask most people “in the know” in the fitness world about what the current phenomenon sweeping the nation is, and the word CrossFit likely enters into the conversation.

The specially designed workout regimen first developed by Greg Glassman in southern California – which packages elements of gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting, rowing, track and field, calisthenics and circuit training, in short, intense workouts – has exploded in popularity in recent years and has arrived in the mainstream. One can now watch the CrossFit Games on ESPN each year, and you don’t have to drive far to find a CrossFit gym – known in the industry as a “box” – in most cities.

Colorado Springs is no different, with roughly a dozen “boxes” popping up around town in recent years. The growth of the CrossFit presence in the Pikes Peak area is representative of the worldwide expansion, as there are now believed to be more than 1,700 CrossFit gyms and more than 3,000 organizations around the globe.

“The growth spurt has just been unbelievable,” says Gabriel Romero, a former collegiate wrestler who is now a certified CrossFit instructor in the process of buying CrossFit SoCo, which is located on West Las Vegas Street in south Colorado Springs. “Initially there was a thought that it was going to be a fad, but it certainly is not that anymore.”

CrossFit is a no-frills, brutally intense regimen that separates the most dedicated of people from casual fitness participants. You won’t find a bank of televisions, smoothie machines or hot tubs in a CrossFit box, but rather bare walls, non-logoed basic equipment and a lot of in-shape people breathing hard.

First used by firefighters, military units, martial artists and even police academies, CrossFit employs a muscle exhaustion-style regimen featuring high repetitions in a certain period of time that is set up by certified trainers. The workouts test people’s physical and mental limits, often leaving them in tears.

“We’ve had more people cry in this gym than I think any doctor’s seen in his life,” says Dru Cooper, a Colorado Springs firefighter who founded Pikes Peak CrossFit five years ago with his wife, Cybil. “CrossFit is so much more mental than it is physical. What it does is it forces you to confront all of the stereotypes you think about yourself – ‘I’m too fat. I’m too slow. I’m too lazy. ’ – all of the things that are negative.”

For costs similar to joining a regular gym, people can become CrossFit members at various boxes around town, and once there, they will all receive expert instruction on how to perform each exercise with the proper form so as to avoid injury and to maximize the movements’ effects.

A typical CrossFit workout begins with a warm-up session designed to actively stretch muscles and get them ready for the litany of exercises that may be on the docket for the day. Variety is a mainstay in the system, with exercises and movements ranging from Olympic-style clean-and-jerks, deadlifts and rope climbs, to pull-ups, push-ups and vertical leaps.

CrossFit can turn a longtime athlete into an elite

physical specimen, but it is not exclusionary in its reach or aim. People of all ages, from teenagers to senior citizens and people of all body styles and weights, can participate because there will always be a workout that trainers can tailor specifically to them and their needs.

“Whether you’re a (Navy) Seal or a housewife, you both can do CrossFit,” Cooper says. “Our oldest member is 70 years old. If you’re a high-end athlete, we’ll make you a higher-end athlete, and if you’re an average Joe who just fell off the couch, we’ll help you do things you were never able to do before.”

Regardless if a person’s goal is to lose 20 (or 50) pounds, lower their cholesterol, improve their mobility or even compete in the CrossFit Games, the five-day-a-week program is all encompassing. Conducted in a group setting, one of CrossFit’s strengths is the sense of family and camaraderie each box develops over time.

Bonded by sweat, tears and toiling, CrossFit members serve as an encouraging network for each other during the tough times.

“A lot of people come into it not sure about the group dynamic,” Romero says. “It’s a community, and all of my friends now are people I do CrossFit with. You form a camaraderie with all the people you see every day.”

For most CrossFit enthusiasts, the regimen is not just a workout program, but a lifestyle. Often coupled with the much-publicized Paleo Diet – which promotes natural foods, fruits, vegetables and nuts while eliminating wheat-based products, carbs and dairy – CrossFit can improve a person’s general outlook on life by transforming them physically.

“Four years of CrossFit has changed my life,” says Edward Gray, 54, after a sweat-inducing session at Pikes Peak CrossFit. “I was never an athlete or in good shape, and now I’m in the best shape of my life. It’s the best decision I ever made.”

CrossFit is not without its detractors – including mainstream gyms that have lost members to the CrossFit movement – who call it “barbaric,” claim it leads to injuries and is too intense for most people. Naturally, CrossFit instructors disagree.

“What translates into not getting hurt is strength,” Cooper says. “The stronger you are has always translated into longevity, health and wellness.”
The benefits, they say, are paramount.

“It’s definitely not for the light of heart, and it’s not an easy thing to do,” Romero says. “You definitely find out a lot about yourself, and you see people fight through barriers and keep going, and they benefit from it as a person. It’s an amazing thing to watch.”