After spending a day on the couch avoiding the Memphis heat, I headed over to my friend Apolloswabbie’s house. Apolloswabbie is the owner and coach of CrossFit Fire of the Gods and a career Naval officer. Apolloswabbie and I worked together at a church camp in college; we couldn’t quite figure out exactly when we’d last seen each other, but we think it was something like ten years ago.
A couple years ago Apolloswabbie and I had an electronic conversation that convinced me to join Crossfit Knoxville. Crossfit is an exercise regimen based on Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, and sprinting. None of these are things that I’d associated with in the past. In fact, I hadn’t been in a gym class since 7th grade and had never touched an Olympic bar bell. Much to my surprise, I really liked it. The Olympic lifts (e.g., clean and jerk, where you lift the bar from the floor to your shoulders, and then overhead) were surprisingly fun and I liked the way that they were based on the notion of using your legs as the primary source of energy. It seemed like a neat trick. I did Crossfit for a while and even got a couple friends to join. I subscribed to Crossfit Journal. I bought a book about weightlifting (Starting Strength). I even kept notes about my workouts and sometimes posted them to twitter. Somehow, though, I fell off of the bandwagon. The whole house burning down thing didn’t really help either.
Earlier in the day, when I’d lamented that I’d not been exercising and was not in the best shape of my life, he told me “My friend the good news is that you are never more than six weeks away from being fit.”
After I arrived at Apolloswabbie’s, got a cursory tour, and met his family, Apolloswabbie started planning my workout. He asked rude questions like “When was the last time you worked out?” I think I told him it’d been a couple of weeks, but now that I think about it, it must have been at least a month, since I think it was in Pawley’s Island. I know that I didn’t exercise while I was at 10,000 feet in Ecuador, unless you count getting winded from climbing a flight of stairs.
After a little warm-up, he planned a Tabata of push-ups and box-jumps. In a Tabata Workoutyou work as hard was possible for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds and then start again, for a total of four minutes. For this first day back in the saddle, however, Apolloswabbie cut it down to two minutes. That’s right, a two-minute workout. I managed 11 box jumps the first round and 10, the second. I got 8 push-ups the first round, switching to knee push-ups after the first few. I can manage a few more than that, but not at the pace you’re supposed to keep up for metabolic conditioning. The good thing about switching between the box jumps and push-ups is that your legs or arms can rest while you’re doing the other exercise. I lived through that pretty well, so Apolloswabbie had me push a sled up the drive way a few times. After the first three trips, he put his daughter on the sled. That made it harder. If I’d been able to breath, I’d have said something about how it’d have been better to start with it being harder rather than after I was already tired, but I wasn’t really able to talk.
The next day, I did Cindy. Crossfit has a bunch of workouts with women’s names. Cindy is as many rounds as possible (AMRAP, in CrossFit parlance) of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 squats. You’re supposed to do it for 20 minutes. Apolloswabbie thought that 5 minutes was more my speed. Since I can do only one pull-up, I used a big rubber band to help me get over the bar. Five minutes seemed rather short, but given that I had done just two minutes, the day before, this was a big jump.
I was one box-jump short of four rounds in 5 minutes. Apolloswabbie, ever complimentary, said that four rounds was really good, as 1 round per minute is a “benchmark.” He didn’t mention that if I’d gone on for a couple more minutes (never mind the prescribed twenty) I would have died or that I was doing knee push-ups and was getting lots of help from that big rubber band. And, as much as I’d like to give Apolloswabbie credit for being unduly kind, really, that’s one of the cool things about CrossFit. Though there’s a lot of talk about “elite fitness,” in my experience, if you’re working hard, people are impressed and supportive, even if you have to scale everything. As it turns out, most people can’t do a pull-up.
The next day, I managed to distract Apolloswabbie with other activities during the day and time ran out before I got a workout in. Almost. After dinner, Apolloswabbie took me back to the gym/garage, gave me a piece of PVC pipe and made me pick it up a bunch of times. It might not sound like much, but what I tried to learn again was the Burgener Warm-up. This is a series of barbell exercises that are good practice for doing Olympic lifts. They’d be pretty easy to remember, I suppose, if I didn’t have to think really, really, hard about what any one of the movements was. And now that I look at the Burgener Warm-up from the Crossfit site, I see that Apolloswabbie’s version includes three extra balance moves. He shot video of me doing the stuff, which I’d thought I might post, but editing the video will kill me and I’m already days behind in my adventure reporting.
At about 7:20 AM, Apolloswabbie bid me farewell and headed off to work, but not before planning another workout for me. I, whining about the pain in my quads and gluts when I went down stairs, went back to bed. I did eventually get up, though, and I did do The Apolloswabbie/Burgener warm-up with a PVC pipe. And I did sets of three Power Cleans, starting with an empty 45 pound bar, and working up in 5-10 pound jumps up to 135. (A Power Clean is when you pick the bar up off the floor, as in a dead lift, but then you jump up explosively, causing the bar to fly up, and you catch it on your shoulders.) My first attempt at 135 was a fail; I don’t think I got it up past my waist. The second attempt I got it. I tried again, but failed again and decided to call it quits. Since I’m pretty sure I’ve never really done power cleans before, I can call that a Personal Best.
Then I did Apolloswabbie’s planned workout: one minute each of Tabata Pullups (14, 4), sit ups (7, 8), kpu (14, 15), squat (14, 14). I probably should have rotated all of the exercises as I did the first day. If I had I’d have made more than 4 pull-ups on the second round. After that, I pushed a sled up and down the drive way four times, waiting 10 heaving breaths before turning around.
And here ends my first CrossFit Gym review. I’m thinking that stopping in at CrossFit gyms could be an interesting thing. The gyms are affiliates, not franchises, so they can be pretty different. Each coach brings his or her own background and each gym has its own community standards.
Apolloswabbie also has me limiting my carbs. His kid asked if he could order pancakes for breakfast, to which Apolloswabbie replied, “Would you like that with a side of neurotoxins?”
The poor kid said, “Uh, I was thinking of bacon,” which was met with approval.
I let the waitress bring potatoes with my ham and eggs, I didn’t eat many of them.