Two weeks ago, my brother Jesse, the founder of Active ATX and a coach at Westlake Crossfit, decided it was time for me to get back into Crossfit. I had just returned from a two-month trek through Central America and hadn’t done a Crossfitworkout since the day before my departure. Although I stayed active during my trip by hiking volcanoes, riding bikes up mountains, and surfing the Pacific, I had a feeling that my muscles had shrunk substantially and that I was no longer in Crossfit shape. My stomach turned flips as I drove to the 4 PM class at Westlake Crossfit that Thursday.
When I arrived at the warehouse-like gym on Cuernavaca Drive, Jesse began leading me and 10 others through warm-up drills. By the time we finished punter kicks, medicine ball squats, and 10 other strange exercises such as the “duck walk” — a movement in which you lower your butt to your calves and waddle around the gym — we were out of breath and sweating profusely. And that was only the warm-up.
Next, we moved on to the strength-building component of the class, performing three sets of 10 on the bench press. At each round, we added weight to our bars in an attempt to reach our maximums. On my final set, I was only able to make it to 50 pounds with the encouragement of Amanda, my partner on the bench press. I became convinced that I had lost all muscle mass in Central America.
While we took a quick water break, Jesse explained the metabolic conditioning workout of the day —15 Deadlifts, 20 box jumps, and a 400-meter sprint five times in a row. As always, we would do the workout for time.
“Try not to stop or take any water breaks,” Jesse said. “You are trying to finish this as fast as possible.”
Jesse instructed Amanda and me to set up 85-pound Deadlift bars and 18-inch boxes. Seeing the look of fear on my face, he told me I could start out by doing sets of 10 Deadlifts, 15 box jumps, and a 200-meter sprint since I hadn’t worked out in so long. He told two others — a football player with an injured shoulder and a tennis player who was new to Westlake Crossfit — that they could also do the shortened workout as long as they used heavier weights and taller boxes. This workout customization is called “scaling” in the Crossfit community. With scaling, anyone from an Ironman finisher to a 70-year-old woman can safely do Crossfit while still pushing themselves to reach personal bests.
With his stopwatch raised in the air, Jesse counted down from 10. We all lowered our hips, tightened our backs, and scooted the bars against our ankles. My knees shook as I looked at Jesse’s stopwatch. Ever since my days as a cross-country runner for West Ridge Middle School, I have been terrified of timers. I hate how they make me feel like I am once again crouched at the starting line of a two-mile race with my coach in the stands expecting me to get first or second out of hundreds.
“Three. Two. One. Go!” Jesse yelled.
Everyone started lifting their bars up and down at a rapid pace. Next, we hurried over to our boxes and started jumping on and off of them, making sure to “fully extend our hips” on the way down so Jesse wouldn’t make us redo the jump. Perhaps because I was so nervous, I finished the first round much faster than the two others who were doing the shortened workout. As I ran back into the gym after my 200-meter sprint, Jesse yelled, “Owen, I’m switching you to the regular workout.”
The thought of doing five extra Deadlifts, five extra box jumps, and 200 extra meters for four more rounds made me cringe, but I hustled to my bar to for my second round of Deadlifts anyway. Jesse always knows when we are capable of more weight or more repetitions and adjusts our workouts accordingly. He and the other Westlake Crossfit coaches always want us to “push ourselves past our mental limits” and realize that we are tougher than we think.
On the third sprint, I felt like I couldn’t run anymore. I vowed I would not be coming back to Crossfit. My legs were trembling, the summer heat was making me feel faint, and my asthma was preventing me from getting enough air. I started singing the song “Sunday Morning” in my head and almost succeeded in convincing myself I was on a relaxing Sunday morning jog instead of a scorching, breathless sprint. In the distance, I heard Jesse yell, “Come on guys! You can do it! Beat the person next to you!”
I dragged myself through the next two rounds, running on only willpower and the encouragement of the people who had already finished. After completing my fifth sprint, I stumbled into the gym.
“Sixteen minutes, two seconds! Not bad,” Jesse said.
I nodded and positioned myself in front of the fan. Jesse saw me gasping for air and told me to lie down. I collapsed on the floor. My whole body was burning up, and I could feel my heart beat in my face. Sam, the Marketing Director for Active ATX, brought me a bottle of water. He had finished the workout in 13 minutes.
After a minute or two, I had recovered enough to stand up and the football player, Sam, and I cheered on the six people who were still pushing through their fifth rounds. We clapped energetically as each one yelled “done!” We cooled down with a variety of stretches and joked about how sore we would be the next day. Although we were covered in dirt and sweat, everyone was smiling. We had finished, and we had finished together.
As I drove home that day, feeling exhausted and euphoric all at once, I already knew I would return to Westlake Crossfit soon. Even though Crossfit forces me to face the timer, it feels more like soccer practice with my buddies than the every-man-for-himself cross-country races. We quickly become friends with newcomers, no matter their fitness levels, and we always cheer each other on. That’s why I am willing to face the stopwatch. That’s why I am willing to endure the heat. That’s why I push through the pain. We are a team.
The next Thursday, I returned to Westlake Crossfit. This time, I attended the much cooler, 6 AM class. After a light workout designed to stretch our sore muscles and improve flexibility, Jesse gave us a half hour to work on anything we wanted. I practiced my hand stands as the sun climbed up over the West Austin hills.
Westlake Crossfit holds four classes a day, ranging in time from the 6 AM to 6:30 PM. To find a class that works with your schedule or to get more information on introductory classes and personal training, go to the Westlake Crossfit website or email email@example.com. There are several other Crossfit gyms in Austin. See the Active ATX directory to find a location near you.