I Was a Crossfit Skeptic Until I Went To Class by Gabrielle Kassel

I love working out, trying new fitness regimes, being part of a team, and feeling (and seeing) my body becoming increasingly capable and strong. Yet, I’ve always been a CrossFit-skeptic. Perhaps it was the fact that the gyms are called “boxes”, the workouts are called “WODs”, no mirrors line the walls, and a membership can be upward of $150 per month…

But despite my skepticism, I couldn’t deny that if building muscle was what I wanted to do (and it is), CrossFit is effective as hell. As the person who runs the Women’s Health Magazine Instagram page (@womenshealthmag) and is obsessed with becoming increasingly fit and physically capable, both my personal IG feed (@gk.fitness) and the IG feed of Women’s Health is filled by #fitspo of CrossFit athletes who prove time and time again, in their videos and photos, that their bodies and minds are incredibly capable.

After living in New York for almost six months, and only making a handful of friends, I knew that I either needed to find a way to make more friends, or a pre-established community to become a part of. I also knew that I wanted to pursue a community where I could find a lifting-buddy, swolemate, and person to geek out over flex-pictures with. Now was as good of a time as ever to give CrossFit a whirl.

My introduction to ICE NYC was unique; I had a friend who had been part of the community there since she moved to New York in July, but it wasn’t until I began applying and interviewing for a job at the box that I was convinced to try a class. My first interview with the box took place directly following a class, having arrived super early I caught the tail end of the workout and watched as the athletes congratulatory tapped each other on their backs and butts, and then brought it in (“right hand, closest to your heart”) for a cheer. The ethos of the group reminded me so wildly of my time playing rugby in college: the coach (@lizadams21) was treated with respect, the team was determined and focused, and the athletes followed an implicit No Man Left Behind policy.

While my friend’s glowing recommendation of CrossFit could not convince my stubborn, happy-with-weightlifting-alone self to try it, watching a workout could.

Last Saturday I gave it a try. In preparation for my first class I washed my favorite workout outfit: a green tank that emphasizes my traps and soccer short- nothing too flashy, but something I would feel comfortable moving (and moving in new ways) in- registered myself as a drop-in on their online portal, and bought a protein bar I could eat on the subway-ride the morning of.

Prior to signing up of the 9am class, I was told by current CrossFitters that the WOD we would be doing was one of the hardest workouts they could remember. The dread in their voices was apparent, and their tales of the last time they did that very workout scared me.

What was it? This (see below) three times:

  • 10 pushups
10 two-handed Russian kettlebell swings
  • 10 pushups
10 kettlebell swings switch-arm
  • 10 pushups
10 two-handed kettlebell swings
  • 10 pushups
10 single-arm kettlebell snatch
  • 10 pushups
10 double-arm kettlebell clean

When I learned it was a partner workout I was nervous, but before I even had time to look around Lost Puppy Style, a girl came right up and asked to be my partner. After the workout I learned that she too had just moved to the city for a job and was having a hard-time making friends post-college, but finally found a community when she became a member of ICE. Whether she asked to be my partner because we looked to be about the same fitness level, seemed the same age, or because she remembers being the new kid in class, I don’t know, but I was truly grateful not to have been the odd (wo)man out.

Typically, CrossFit goes in different levels so that the new members go to a beginner’s level introductory class to learn the basic moves. However, due to my experience with bodybuilder style weightlifting and the fact that the owner wanted to get me right into the mix as part of the application process, my first CrossFit class with with the alumni athletes. This didn’t mean that I didn’t get any instruction on how to do the moves correctly. Before every workout, the coach demonstrates each movement of the workout and walks around correcting everyone’s form as they warm-up, that way by the time the timed WOD starts, the athletes have all practiced and honed the the correct form for each move.

I was surprised by, impressed by, and grateful for the level of feedback the coach was able to give every person in the class. Only when every person in the class could execute the moves successfully, did the clock start.

After the warmup, but before the clock dinged, I wondered, “how hard can a 20-30 minute workout really be?” I had done 2 to 2.5 hour rugby practices! I had run a marathon! I completed a tough mudder! Don’t get me wrong, the workout was hard.

The workout was really hard. But my partner and I finished in 23 minutes. While during the 23 minutes thoughts like, “fuck, this is harder than I expected”, “come on, Gabby, don’t be a wimp”, “oh shit, this kettlebell stuff takes A LOT of coordination”, and “please don’t puke. PLEASE PLEASE don’t puke”, when we finished the workout I was covered in sweat, smiling wildly, and proud as hell. That workout was the most fulfilling 23 minutes I can remember since my final collegiate rugby game.

I love that my first WOD was a partner workout, I got to experience the true community element of the sport. When we finished we dropped the kettlebells to the ground and fist bumped.

When I talk about my time in New York City I also comment on how difficult it is to transition from an environment, college, where I succeeded and received daily, if not hourly, positive reinforcement about my ideas, work-ethic, and contribution, to a new environment, work, where positive reinforcement, feedback, or advice is rare to come by. When at the end of my workout I was giddy and my body was pumping with adrenaline, the coach came up to my partner and I to congratulate us on a workout well-done and compliment our strength (mine had been hidden by a blazer during my previous interviews), I knew that this CrossFit thing was something I could get addicted to: the community, the energy, the hard work, the positive reinforcement, the guidance.

While after only one class it would be inaccurate to say that I am officially a CrossFitter, I’m looking forward to continuing to learn what CrossFit is all about, memorizing the lingo, making friends, and learning more about incorporating kettlebells into a workout.

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