The Royal Heffernans

Quite possibly the best family ever

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Year With CrossFit

Prior to the kids being born, I was pretty active on the exercise front. I was playing competitive soccer several times a week, year round. I was running in the mornings and hitting the gym after work. Since the kids burst (literally) onto the scene 5 years ago priorities shifted and my time was a premium. So the working out thing was pretty much dropped. I joined a gym after the boy was born, but broke my elbow in a soccer game a month after joining and that was pretty much that. A little over a year ago I decided that it was time to at least try to recover a modicum of previous fitness level. I knew I couldn't commit to another Gold's Gym type of place because I'd get bored and couldn't motivate. I had heard about this new routine called CrossFit through, of all places, a tv blogger that I follow. It entails varying short workouts at high intensity utilizing functional movements along with Olympic style lifting and gymnastics elements. I was drawn to it by the idea of short, constantly changing workouts as those would, hopefully, keep me interested and work with my schedule. I also liked the fact that the workouts regularly forced you to compete against other people, which drives my competitive nature (although, this does have some negative consequences which I'll discuss later).

I've now been doing CrossFit for 1 year (Steph too!) and have managed to maintain a pretty consistent 3-day/week schedule and wanted to document my thoughts. CrossFit has been referred to as a cult by many, and I can definitely see why. People get into it. Really into it. I've managed to keep an open mind about things. Overall, I really enjoy it, but there are definitely some negatives. Here are my thoughts:


  • Timing: Workouts vary in length from 5 to 30 minutes, with most taking me 10-15 minutes to complete. So I'm able to finish a workout, door-to-door, in an hour. This allows me to attend a 6:30a class every morning without having to get up at an insane hour like dad does for his runs and still be home in time to get the kids ready for school.
  • Intensity: Those 10-15 minutes that I spend working out are non-stop hell. Lifting, running, jumping - whatever it is, you go non-stop. So while it's not the greatest if you're focused on cardio, it's a helluva full-body workout and you feel those 10-15 minutes for days.
  • Variety: Whenever I would go to the gym gym, I had a pretty varied workout for differing days, but I'd also get really bored with it. I would occasionally try to pull in a couple exercises from Men's Health or some bullshit magazine like that, but I always came back to the same old exercises. With CrossFit, there are definitely movements that are prominently featured, by your day to day workouts are never the same. So it keeps things fresh. Added bonus, they usually schedule things so you don't overwork a single muscle group so you can recover adequately.
  • Competition: Almost every workout is either based on number of reps you perform in a given time or how quickly you can complete a fixed number of reps. With class sizes typically between 6-18 you're racing against everyone else. That competitive element pushes me harder than I would ever push myself.
  • Camaraderie: At the gym gym I went out of my way to not talk to other people. I would always make sure I used weights where I didn't need a spotter. With CrossFit (and maybe this is just our affiliate) almost everyone seems really cool. People talk and laugh about how shitty an upcoming workout is or a just-finished workout was. The really cool thing is how people pull for you. When people are lagging beyond, folks who have finished will start cheering them on. I did my first muscle up (turn your volume down) a couple weeks back and, after two failed attempts I nailed it. Literally everyone in the gym (about 2 dozen people) dropped what they were doing to come over and give me high fives. Either they had been there before and knew from experience what it felt like to do that the first time or it's something they're working towards and could appreciate it. Either way, it was a great feeling.
  • Competition: I know what you're thinking - dumbass already listed this as a pro! Here's the thing, I'm a competitive person. I hate to lose. At anything. I don't let the girl beat me at Connect Four. So I may, on occasion, attempt to do things that I'm really not ready to do. And that leads to...
  • Risk of Injury: I haven't had any serious injuries since starting CrossFit, but I have had a constant series of niggling ones - wrist, left elbow, right elbow, achilles, and, currently, knee. Particularly with the Olympic lifts (and box jumps) technique is very, very important. If you try to go heavy before you have the technique down, you're going to get hurt. If you try to keep up with the 18 year old next to you (my nemesis, Jacob), you're probably going to get hurt. If you listen to the instructors, practice the movements before and/or after the actual workout, and only move up in weight as you're ready, you'll be fine. But the pressure to try to advance too quickly is definitely there.
Whenever I've told people that I've been doing CrossFit I've found that the, much like Notre Dame football, opinions on it mainly sit at opposite ends of the spectrum - people either thing it's the only workout you should do or people thing it's the worst thing you can possibly do. I guess I lean more towards the former. It's definitely not the end-all-be-all. As I said early, if you main focus is cardio, it's probably not the best routine. If you like to workout on your own, at any time, it's probably not going to work for you based on the class-based approach. But if you're looking to stay fit, not get bored, and your time is a premium I definitely recommend checking it out. Most CrossFit affiliates (and they are everywhere) offer 1 or 2 free introductory classes to see if it works for you.

After a year of CrossFit, I certainly feel as physically fit as I have since college. Because there are benchmark workouts that pop up every few months I can also quantitatively gauge my progress. So I know it's working. Maybe I'm not dropping pant sizes like Ted (I still like to eat), but there are definitely exercises and movements I can do now that seemed impossible to me when I started one year ago. For me, right now, it's the ideal workout routine.

Now for some obligatory bragging - I deadlifted 400lbs the other day. Feel free to call me "Muscles".


Teddy said...

Jason Heikenfeld's wife Jessie is a CRAZY CROSSFIT FANATIC!!! She is pretty ripped, so it must be working for her. She actually loved it so much she took training courses and is now a certified instructor.

Aside from the whole schedule issue (I have to work out super early like Dad), I think CrossFit is probably really fun and clearly it gets you in shape.

The main problem for me is definitely what Ian has experienced. There is no way I let anyone beat me in any activity after the first week of getting my feet wet. I am 100% certain I would hurt myself. If speed or maxing weight is a performance indicator, then I would overdo it.

I still love the old P90X. It takes dedication, but I can't imagine a more complete workout without a personal trainer. Biggest downside is that it's tough to sustain. Not a "year round" program. After finishing 90 days, you just need a break. Then it's fun to mix in the workouts with other activities like running or biking.

On that note, marathons are out. Anyone interested in running a triathlon with me next year? I was planning on doing an Olympic distance one right here in Cincy - featuring a swim in the Ohio and transition zones at Sawyer Point. It's in July, so bring the kids to cheer us on!

Teddy said...

By the way, I would be down for a Crossfit tryout around Thanksgiving, just for fun.

Colin and Liz said...

Heffernan competitiveness 101: Last week I went water-skiing for the first time. I made up my mind before getting in the water that I was going to stand-up on my first attempt. Thus, after the boat started I refused to let go after initially falling. I was dragged for a bit, but eventually stood up. The ramifications of not letting go, pain. It hurt, a lot, but I got up. Everyone was impressed. I sprained both ankles, lost a portion of thumb-skin, and have bruises in places bruises aren't supposed to be. In hindsight would I change my approach? No, I'm a Heffernan dammit.

ian said...

Ted -
I'll hit a local affiliate with you over Thanksgiving. Find out where Jessie goes and we'll give it a whirl...

Teddy said...

Nice. I'll hit the P90X pull-up bar to get ready to "muscle up" in less than 3 tries ;)

ian said...

We do muscle ups primarily on gymnastics rings. It's a whole different animal than a straight pull-up bar.