Cross Fit was invented for guys like me, former team-sport athletes who now need a little more motivation to hit the gym as hard as we used to. None of the exercises are all that foreign to me, they don’t require years of running or cycling to train for and the body type needed for it is much vaguer than the ideal shape of a runner. When I started writing these stories on fitness classes I did it with the intention of putting myself in unusual situations, workouts where I otherwise wouldn’t feel comfortable. I always wanted to try something new.
I must admit, Cross Fit was much more in my wheelhouse. Someone like me writing a story on Cross Fit would be the equivalent of a cyclist writing about a spin class. While things aren’t completely the same, the bulk of the knowledge is already there. To fill in the blanks, I had one last card up my sleeve. A secret weapon of sorts that would bring a much different angle to a story like this one. Like all kids in trouble, I called my mother.
To be fair, my mom isn’t exactly a couch potato. She was the one who first taught me the importance of endurance training and was as staunch a supporter of my athletic “career” as anyone could ask for. She started taking introductory Cross Fit classes around the same time I first started this fitness class venture in October. From that point on she started pressuring me to join her for a class at CrossFit Posted in west-suburban Brookfield. By the time we were able to set something up she was done with the intro classes, what they call “on-ramp” classes and was now a full-fledged Cross Fit participant.
I took one of the on-ramp classes. Typically, each student would need to take 12 on-ramp classes before becoming a full member. My Thursday evening class was comprised of 7 people including myself and for the first time, in all the of the classes I’ve taken, it was made up mostly of men. There was only one woman in the group, who appeared to be a girlfriend of another participant who was talked into giving it a shot. The hour long class was great, the perfect mixture of teaching and training. Each class has a specific lesson plan for the day and everyone needs to complete all 12 lessons before moving past the on-ramp. Luckily for me, we covered squats on my day.
I hate squats, I always have. However, I’ve always had a strong lower body and been able to excel in lower body workouts. The first half of the class was made up of active stretching and a strength exercise walk-through. After we were taught the correct form of each workout and got to practice, we were given our workout of the day (WOD) challenge for the day. We started on a rowing machine where we had to row for 1000 meters, followed by 50 “wall balls” where each person took a medicine ball into full squat before shooting up and bouncing it off the wall about 10 feet high. Now that the legs were fully shot, we finished with everyone’s favorite, burpees. In just an hour my legs were as tired and I had the best leg workout I had had in quite some time. What separated this from other classes for me was that not only were we challenged to finish, but we were timed and racing against each other. I finished third of the group, although the competitive nature in me must make note that the first person to finish was a former minor league baseball player. As I stated to start this story, Cross Fit is right up my alley. However, just like the classes I had taken before this, these workouts aren’t gender specific, and I have proof.
My mom, Jeannette, started running roughly 22 years ago when my sister was born. For as long as I can remember she was pushing herself to be the best runner she could be. We would run the La Grange Park Run for the Roses or the Western Springs Tower Trot as a family and she would compete in the occasional half marathon. I say this not to champion the physical fitness of my family; I say this purely to show her background. While in her heart of hearts she will always consider herself a team sport athlete, growing up playing softball, volleyball and an occasional football game with her brothers, she had become an endurance athlete over the last two decades.
She threw herself into training for each race she ran. However, as is the case for so many, injuries and health problems derailed her. A few years ago she felt a twinge in her back and was told by the doctor she needed to slow down her training. Needless to say, she didn’t listen and was soon there-after on the injury shelf with a herniated disc. This, coupled with a circulation problem that required her to layer up to the Nth degree in any kind of chilly weather all but prevented her from getting those spring and fall runs in. She tried various other workouts and fitness classes, but nothing provided her with the challenge and camaraderie found in the running world.
“A friend took me to a class that was a mix between Pilates and yoga,” my mom said. “It was tough, but on my way out I heard a woman say •I love this class, it’s exercise for old broads.’ Needless to say, that was my first and last day.”
Don’t call my mom an old broad, it just ends badly for all involved. The last time I remember another woman challenging her athletic ability at her age she ended up racing up a flight of stairs while the other woman ran up an escalator. A knee was blown out. It was not my mom’s.
Still searching for a new way to workout she saw the Cross Fit games on ESPN in the fall of 2013. Watching these 25 year olds who are in the prime of their physical life compete in various taxing exercises like hand-stand pushups she thought what my whole family knew she would think, “I can do that.”
No, Mom. No you can’t. But what she could do, and did, was find a Cross Fit gym and put that competitive drive back to work.
She found Cross Fit Posted online and signed up for their on-ramp classes. They are located just a few miles from my parents’ house and in a converted ambulance garage that is now equipped with all the Cross Fit essentials. The owners, Matt, Jason and Mike are in their 20’s and have diverse athletic backgrounds. Matt and Jason met during a charity walk and learned they both had an interest in Cross Fit. Jason was a former multisport high school athlete and college baseball player while Matt had a much stronger running background. Jason’s brother-in-law Mike soon joined the group and they started working out in Jason’s basement.
As their interest grew so did their following. Soon enough they had a big enough group of people to open their own space and introduced Cross Fit Posted to the area. Three times a week my mom shows up at 5 in the morning for her regular class. Usually the class is made up of her and 4 or 5 men, although occasionally another woman joins in. The Saturday class, however, does see a good number of women who show up on a regular basis, although most aren’t in my mom’s age group.
“It didn’t take me long to get over the fact that I’ll never be able to lift the same weight as the men or younger women,” she said. “I concentrate on what I can do, which is upping my rounds or increasing the weight on my bar. I’m finding there’s a similar community of encouragement and camaraderie like I found with runners. I can even do a pull-up now.”
As with any new fitness class, there was an intimidation factor involved. It took a few classes, she said, before she felt truly comfortable and a part of the Posted team. There was also the matter of stepping out of the “mom” role and letting the instructors who are roughly her kids age take control. But all of that happened fairly seamlessly mostly because of the comfort level of the three men in charge and their ability to communicate. My mom’s biggest problems in learning Cross Fit is getting out of her own way, with careful instruction she said they are teaching her the difference between Cross Fit and just weight lifting.
Working with specific personalities is a clear strength for Posted. Throughout the week day classes class sizes are often smaller, specifically the 5am class my mom attends. The same group tends to go to their regularly timed class, giving a strong social group for everyone there and opportunities for the trainers to work hands on. Saturday classes are often much more crowded but also more competitive. Larger groups work together to compete against the other groups in the WOD.
Each class she completes a new WOD and has her time posted on the gym’s big board where it is compared against everyone else who participates throughout the day. Each day the trainers teach that “old broad” the correct form of each exercise and then challenge her to show what she can do. There is always a twinge of disappointment when my mom talks about the lack of women of all ages, but specifically in her age range that participate in Cross Fit. The same way I feel that more men could benefit from yoga or WERQ, more women in my mom’s age group should be introduced to Cross Fit. The women who compete in it now can speak more to the point on why the diversity of workouts is so beneficial. On the obvious end, it’s well known that taxing the body in different and varied ways only improves the overall fitness level. But more to the point, it just keeps the body youthful.
“I enjoy Cross Fit,” my mom said. “It’s challenging and varied in an encouraging atmosphere. I know that if I keep it up my chances of osteoporosis will decrease. After Kyle’s visit, I hope he sees just how tough his mom can be.”