CrossFit – 18 Minutes and 48 Seconds of Hell

Yesterday, with the encouragement of my buddy Jordan and recent interviewees Brandi and Adam, I went to the Peachtree CrossFit Gym here in Atlanta for my first ass-kicking.  For those of you who don’t know, CrossFit is a type of gym/crazy lifestyle where you have a specific exercise routine every day that you try to finish (with perfect form) as quickly as possible.  Each day the routine is different, mixing in different exercises, building different muscles, and pushing your body to its limit in practically every way.

crossfit-kittensAlthough I have been weight training for quite a while, I know my endurance was crap before even getting there. Considering my routine was going to be a mixture of strength building, running, and endurance, I knew I was in trouble.  Oh well, everybody likes a challenge, right?

Yesterday afternoon I showed up at the CrossFit gym: a big open room in the basement of a large warehouse type building.  I walked in and immediately saw people drenched in sweat, curled over, and some were even lying on the floor.  Yikes.   I then met Liz, my trainer for the afternoon.  With a big smile, she told me that I need to sign a waiver in case I die during the workout.   The dying part was a joke, the waiver was not.  This is serious stuff we’re talking here.  After a light 400M jog, 10 sit ups, 10 push ups, and some stretching, I’m given my assignment for the day.  I have to do three rounds as quickly as possible of the following

  • 400M run
  • 21 kettlebell swings (with a 35 pound weight, although the routine actually calls for a 55 pound weight)
  • 12 pull ups (from a dead hang)

It sounded tough, but nothing I couldn’t handle.  I hadn’t done kettle bell swings before, but I can do pull ups and I can run, so I figured I’d be okay.  I’m going to give you a rough estimate of the minute by minute breakdown of how things went:

00:00 – And I’m off!  I start a light  jog down the road behind the gym to a red G painted on the ground which is exactly 200M away from the gym.

01:30 – I finish my first 400M in around 90 seconds, and I’m already winded.  Ruh roh Shaggy.

02:30 – I crank out my 21 reps of kettle bell swings, which are surprisingly difficult.  I make a mental note to go home and learn how to utilize my hips more.  I also make a mental note that I’m only on the 2nd part of the first round of this damn routine.

02:40 – Time to crank out some pull ups.  I actually felt good about the pull ups going into this because I can generally do a lot of them.  However, after running 400M and doing 21 swings I’m already gassed.  Apparently Crossfit preaches a specific type of pull up called a kip up which uses momentum, but I don’t know how to do it, so I stick with my dead hang and chug through my first set of 12.

4:00 – 10:00 – I get through round 2 somehow.  I don’t remember much of it, except for the puddle of sweat underneath me and the beginning of some delirium.  I’ve been exercising for only 10 minutes and I’m already ready to pass out.  Endurance fail.

10:01 – I begin round 3 with my 400M “run.”  I use the term “run” loosely, because I’m pretty sure at this point I’m doing that run/jog thing that is actually slower than walking.  I’m an idiot and I’m clearly not thinking straight, but I start to ask myself what Buzz Lightyear would do in this situation.  “Never give up, never surrender.”  Yup, I start thinking about Pixar movies.  That’s normal.

11:00 – As I hit the halfway point on my jog, I’m so exhausted and delirious that I see Jesus.

11:01 – Turns out “Jesus” was just a bearded homeless man peeing in the bushes.  My bad.

12:20 – I have no concept of time anymore.  I feel like I’ve been exercising for an hour.  My legs are exhausted, my head hurts, I’m kind of hungry, sweaty, tired, but damnit I’m gonna finish this thing.

15:00 – I j lust finished my last set of kettle bell swings and I’m dying.  OH GOD still 12 more pull ups.

15:15 – Liz looks at me and goes “It’s okay to swear, if that helps.”  I smile politely, and continue cursing to my cursing to myself on the inside.  At this point, Ramstein’s “Du Hast” comes over the speakers (slightly different than the god-awful techno that plays at my current gym).

15:30 – The first 5 pull ups come easy.  My arms decide to stop working on the 6th.   F*** you arms!

16:00 – I break the rest of it into 3 sets of 2 pull ups and one final pull up.  I briefly consider letting out a war cry but I figure nothing would actually come out.

18:48 – I’m done.  “18 minutes and 48 seconds. Not bad!  A lot of people don’t even get through the workout on their first try,” says Liz.  This makes me feel better.  “This is the wall of records here at the gym.  The fastest guy to complete this workout was 8 minutes and 37 seconds, with a 55lb kettle bell.”  This makes me feel worse.

At this point, I noticed a “Pukie List” for all the people who have lost their lunch from pushing themselves too hard. I laugh and say, “Well I didn’t set any records, but at least I stayed off the Pukie List!”  Like clockwork, my stomach decided that this was a jackass comment and wanted to make me pay for it.  Fearing the worst, I politely excused myself to go wander around outside the gym, trying to take deep breaths and not puke while simultaneously looking for a nice bush to puke on in case it does happen.  After one near-reversal I regain composure, drink the rest of my water, and stumble back into the gym.

After thanking Liz for pushing me to my limits, I vow to never exercise again.  I remember getting in my car and thinking that was the worst thing ever and one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever had.  And then I got home…and suddenly I wanted to know what the next workout would be, and if I could get through that one too without puking.  And then I wanted to know how fast I’d have to complete it to end up on the Wall of Records.  Suddenly the concept of putting myself through hell again sounded like a fantastic idea.  What happened to me!?

Let me set the record straight: Crossfit members are nuts. There’s no doubt about it.  Anybody who puts themselves so that level of torture, on purpose, on a daily basis has to be crazy.  And yet, I totally get it.  These people push themselves way outside of their comfort zone, past any self-imposed limit, and then show up and do it all over again the next day.  They do it because they know they can, because they have a group of people going through Hell with them, because they want to know how strong and fast they can be.  It’s awesome.

Now, Crossfit isn’t for everybody.  I bet a lot of people walk out of that gym after a free trial session and say “never again,” and then they go back to the way things were, which is fine.   I’m sure the other limiting factor is the cost of the membership (which is quite expensive).  I understand the reason for the price, but my funds are so tight right now that I just can’t afford it.  Luckily lists all of its daily routines and challenges on their site, so I can continue to train on my own at my gym (without the competition and positive encouragement from my peers).  I guess I’ll see how much I can push myself on my own.

Crossfit and Liz – thanks for kicking my ass.  I hated it the entire time, and I can’t wait to do it all over again soon.

NF Readers – If you’re looking for a challenge, find a CrossFit gym in your area and go for your 1st time free.  Find out what you’re made of, and see if it’s right for you.  If you’re a member of one, or you’ve tried out a Crossfit workout, I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.


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  • Mike Choi

    Nice work Steve,

    This is WOD is known as “Cindy” as great WOD to show you what CF is all about.

    I hope you had a chance to hit CF more often.


  • loveKenorafitness!

    So true! !0 months in from a 2-year dead-stop in sports and fitness, and it never gets easier! Faster, yes. Heavier, yes, Easier, never! I love it!
    PS: Only felt the pre-heave after a 10k 3-person rowing race, with burpies added in between for good measure, and points to win…you guessed it…bragging rights!

  • Cf

    This wod is actually “Helen” fyi 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I belong to a crossfit box and did that exact workout yesterday. My time was 12:21 with a 45lb kettelbell.

    I am 51 years old. And made of awesome!

  • Rowan

    Your body does get used to the entensity, but If you’re doing it properly the better you get the harder you push yourself. You should almost always feel like vomiting after a good wod. Moral of the story, don’t eat for three hpurs before a wod 🙂

  • Been Crossfitting for over 2 years now in Cody, Wyoming.  I’m in my late 40’s….Love it!  It does kill me every day, doesn’t get easier, but the results, sculpting and trimming of my body, are truly amazing for the short time length we workout every day!  Make it an addiction…well worth it Steve!

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  • Ian

    Just started crossfit, been in for a month, and all I can think when I’m there are these people are crazy… But for some reason I keep going back, so that means I must be crazy too. My first wod was brutal; 5 hanging rows, 10 burpie, 15 situps. When Rich (owner/trainer) told me I only had to do half the time of everyone else (8 vs. 15 min) I was like “this will be easy”. Let me tell you by the end of those 8 minutes I was pretty certain an upchuck was going to happen, but held it down. Then for the next 3 days I couldn’t sit up when my alarm clock would go off. Good times!

  • Awesome article Steve…and the part about hating it the whole time but wanting to go back is so true! I think they told me after my first workout at my box that their motto is: “I hate this shit…see you tomorrow” 🙂

  • Sobamushi

    I’ve been following your blog for quite sometime, and finally got my husband to get on board and hop on the Rebel train! But only today did I stumble upon your crossfit article and I had quite a chuckle.  

    I’ve been going to crossfit 5-6 times a week for the past 8 months now, and not a day passes where I’m not sore either somewhere or EVERYWHERE. Your experience was WAY better than my first time, I literally thought I was going to melt into the ground and cease to exist…but it’s changed my life drastically in the most positive way possible. The cost can be staggering, however if you look hard enough there are new/growing boxes that do offer discounts, and the 120$ a month spent on crossfit means 120$ not spent on junk food, so I’m game! 

    It’s hilarious to see you call crossfit people crazy, since I’ve been told this by practically everyone I know! 

  • Rena

    That was freagen fantastic! Thanks for the enlightened story. Currently seeking some crazy ass cross-fitters myself. Makes me want it even more! lol

  • JoshuaKnight

    I’ve been doing it for a year and I’m doing my first competition in two weeks. While at college I caught some flak for being a CF coach and I’m happy that you gave it a fair shot. Thanks bud

  • TeeJay

    I gotta tell ya, even at 350+ lbs, I absolutely LOVE CrossFit. I guess it’s one of those things where you either love it or you hate it. I love the challenge, I love the community, and I love surprising myself doing things I think my body can’t do. Workouts are never boring and ALWAYS kick my ass (I’m happy to say I’ve only gotten to the near-puking point once so far). The main thing I love about CrossFit is that the movements are highly modifiable. I’ve been blessed with really good trainers who, if I’m not able to do a particular movement as prescribed, can come up with a great modification that I *can* do so I don’t feel “singled out” and it still gives me the same amount of challenge. I always walk out of a workout feeling just a little bit more powerful. CrossFit rocks! 🙂

  • mkysml

    The regular CrossFitter isn’t having the same experience as yourself, for a number of reasons. First, they’re working at a lower percentage of their maximum for the movements. If someone can complete 40 or so unbroken pullups, then 12 isn’t so demanding, even with the metabolic treppe from the previous rounds. Furthermore, most CrossFitters are practiced with these movements. As you realized, KB Swings require a high degree of force irradiation so that force production at the hips can move weight at the arms. So there is a large skill component that gives regular CrossFitters superior movement economy, again making the movements less demanding. And then there’s plain ole’ fitness, as the demands of CrossFit and unique to metabolic pathways that is not addressed in most modern fitness paradigms (which avoid sustained energy production during fatigue).

    So one could argue that what you did makes the average CrossFitter look like a panzy! Simply because you had to work at a greater relative intensity to do the same amount of work in twice the time it takes them (average Helen time is ~9:30; see Look at Froning’s double grace from the finale of this year’s games… He’s hardly breathing when he finishes. It’s all specificity of training: you train this way for a certain amount of time and you’ll accrue the adaptations that make this type of work easier. So unless do train this way, its going to seem virtually impossible.

    PS this is part of what gives CrossFit the potential to be dangerous. A casual golfer will have a shitty card, but that person can still enjoy a nice walk and some beers. CrossFit does not accommodate casual exercisers, but CrossFit gyms and coaches too readily take these people’s money and then ask them to make very skilled movements under conditions of high tension and high fatigue. If someone asks me “should I try CrossFit,” my answer is usually “no,” because I know that if they have to ask then it’s quite likely they possess neither the movement efficacy nor the baseline fitness to handle the demands.

  • Alisha

    Really enjoyed reading this article. Enjoying the whole website. It’s informative and the above is very funny. Thank you.

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