Black ink on a dry-erase board outlined the workout of the day. Sally Rodgers stood still with glazed eyes. She exhaled, waiting for the pain to begin again. “Ready, and go!” shouted Damian Hirtz, owner of CrossFit Minnesota, an Eden Prairie, Minn., gym.
Wind tore through an open garage door. Rock music pumped from a radio. Rodgers was jumping on and off a two-foot-tall wooden box, her face red, laboring to blast through eight rounds of prescribed pain. It was 6p.m., a Wednesday evening last year. I’d come to try a workout with Rodgers and a dozen other exercisers, each one a committed follower to CrossFit’s frantic regimen of getting strong and staying in shape.
As fitness fads go, CrossFit is something of a wonder. Invented in the 1980s, the discipline’s intense and oddball regimens remained underground for years. Participants did hundreds of pull-ups a week and ran sprints followed by power lifting. They heaved tractor tires to develop explosive strength.
Experimentation, intensity, and a disregard for conventional exercise wisdom were touted hallmarks of the CrossFit crowd, which grew inside police forces and military squads. Since 2005, the discipline has caught fire with everyday exercisers, and CrossFit Inc., based in Washington D.C., now touts more than 1,000 affiliated gyms across the country.
“There is a proven method behind the madness,” said Hirtz, who opened CrossFit Minnesota in 2007. A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, Hirtz creates a custom workout of the day — “WOD” in CrossFit parlance — six times a week. The workouts range from 15-minute barbell frenzies to endurance days where participants go for 45 minutes in search of their physiological limits.
Each workout gets a name — “Fran” or “Murph,” for example. They mix strength and aerobic regimens in sets that may involve pull-ups, box jumps, running, medicine ball throws, sit-ups, and squats. Some days feature laps around a parking lot with a PVC pipe held overhead. “You can’t do this stuff at a regular health club without getting weird looks,” said Sally Rodgers, who quit a large franchise gym to join CrossFit.
During the day, Rodgers is an office manager. But up to five times per week she heads to Eden Prairie for a regimen that has let her lose 30 pounds of weight in a year. “Fifteen or 20 minutes doing CrossFit is more effective than an hour of regular exercise,” she said.
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