Woman in crossfit class

When I first stepped into CrossFit Alaska, I was intimidated by a sudden burst of noise. Participants in the class before mine were clapping and shouting, cheering somebody toward the finish of that day's workout.

 

CrossFit is life-changing exercise

I love hard, intense exercise, but wasn't terribly thrilled about the prospect of receiving that much attention. Part of me wanted to slink into the corner and start making excuses right away. I'm not as fit as I used to be, OK? And I have this bad knee …

Get over the CrossFit fear

I followed one of the coaches through some basic warm-ups, before the head coach rounded up the entire class for a quick demonstration of that day's workout. The music started and the workout began -- the first heart-lurching rush down a roller coaster or, in my case, 21 burpees followed by 22 pull-ups followed by 23 wall balls … you get the idea.

Twenty-two what?

OK, I admit it: I can't just crank out 22 pull-ups on my own. But there were plenty of scaling options, including elastic bands to assist each repetition. Once I got through that part of the workout the rest was manageable, in a jelly-legged, shaky-armed sort of way. I judge workout intensity by how long it takes me to hit the "I think I'm gonna puke" point -- and on that day, it only took three minutes.

Yes, you can do life stronger

Now that I've taken a few CrossFit classes around town, I've pushed the puke point back to 17 minutes, which is almost an entire 20-minute CrossFit workout. I've also practiced Olympic lifts; hefted giant, weighted balls; and run laps through a gym, hurdling weight benches along the way. In an informal survey of CrossFit ladies, the wide variety of exercises -- a chance to conquer activities you might not otherwise have tried -- was one of the most popular elements. As Dana Buonincontri, a New York CrossFitter, explains: "Not only do you get in sick shape, but it's a mental challenge."

CrossFit exercises might seem fairly random, but when I dropped in on Lance Howard, an Alaska-based CrossFit trainer and owner of MotivationWOD.com, he pointed out that CrossFit actually focuses on a set of normal, everyday human movements. You may never have squatted a 7-foot barbell before, but you've squatted down to pick up groceries or a box of books. CrossFit trains you for that same basic movement, just using different equipment and putting more emphasis on proper form.

Conquer your challenges

I needn't have worried about being "on stage" in that first class; everybody around me was focused on their own workout. But it doesn't take long for family-like bonds to develop in a CrossFit box -- another enormously popular element in my survey, which drew a flood of emails from women of all ages, including a few in their 70s. What's the glue that binds them all together? Mad results, from losing weight to rocking a bikini, or just rocking your very own mind and life. Jennifer T. Norton, a sports performance specialist with CrossFit 714, sums it up: "I love knowing that if I keep pushing myself, I can achieve those challenges."

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