Breathe, just breathe. It’s going to be okay.
I try to listen to my own advice, breathing in and out as I stand in front of the door that will lead me to a new, unknown experience. Anxiety is curling in my stomach unpleasantly.
The fact that I am talking to myself already is not a good sign.
I hear the gravel crunch near me and turn in time to see a man slip past me and into the door, looking at me a little funny as he holds the door open. Well, it’s now or never. I think to myself as I smile at him and follow him through the door to enter my local Crossfit box.
He continues to walk straight down a small hallway, past a more open lounge area, and then through a glass door to another room that I suspect is the gym. I slowly make my way after him, past the bathrooms and into the lounge area. My stomach is in knots as I take everything in and try not to look completely out of place. Of course, that just makes me look more out of my element and awkward. Trying to peer through the doors into the gym is what looks like a weightlifting playground filled with extremely fit people. Breathe, just breathe. It’s going to be okay. Seems like a perfect time to calm myself using a Mantra.
In the lounge, there are couches and a TV on my right and a juice bar to my left with a row of stools. A girl is sitting at the far side of the bar facing a computer and talking to someone as I walk up. I’m not quite sure where to go so I sit down at one of the bar stools closest to the girl. Up ahead I see a few people milling about by the door to the gym, and I notice a kids play area. For some reason, this play area seems to calm me a little bit.
The girl finishes her conversation and smiles at me when she notices me. I smile back and explain that I am for the first time. She hands me a release form to fill out and tells me the trainer should be there soon.
My anxiety ratchets up a notch once I give her the form and go to stand by the other people milling about the door. I can see what is going on inside the next room through the glass. I’m not so sure what I’m capable of, but I doubtful that the running that I do in my normal gym has me equipped for what they are doing on the other side of the glass.
A man emerges from a back room and begins introducing himself to the few of us standing around. As he makes his way to the girl standing next to me, he stops and tells her that he thinks she’s ready to jump into the regular class. I had just been about to talk to her too, hoping to make a friend for my first session in this strange, new place. She quickly walks past me and enters the gym to join the class that is starting up.
“Alright Folks! I’m going to be your On-Ramp trainer today. Some of you have been here before and some are new. I’m terrible with names but I’ll do my best to remember yours. What are we all doing standing around out here?? Let’s get to work!”
If he thought he was bad with names, than I must be terrible because I didn’t even catch his.
He led the way to the far side of the gym, past the class that was beginning to assemble their barbells to start their workout. Again, I wonder how I’ll ever be able to do any of this. My lifting experience at this point was very limited and all of these people, including the girl that had been standing next to me, seemed to know exactly what they were supposed to do.
I remind myself of the reasons why I decided to try this out in the first place in an attempt to shake off my inner turmoil. I was bored of running on the treadmill. I was tired of the atmosphere at my regular gym. I saw the same people day in and day out and no one even talked to one another; a culture of repetition and anonmity. After hearing countless, zealous reviews from friends or Facebook posts about how remarkable Crossfit was, I finally had to stop thinking about it and just give it a try.
So here I am, anxiety aside, in the middle of stretching with the rest of the on-ramp class.
Pay more attention. I think and roll my eyes at myself as the instructor starts to introduce the movements we will cover in this session. He adds some levity to the situation by joking around here and there. Soon we are practicing simple body weight moves like push-ups and air squats, which I already knew how to do, more or less. I feel some relief that not everything in this place is foreign to me.
That moment of relief does not last very long, however, as he leads us over to what he refers to as a “rig” and demonstrates the different types of pull-ups we can do. Up until this point in my life, I thought there was only one way to do a pull-up. For Crossfit, that just isn’t so. He shows us a back and forth movement called Kipping that somehow is easier than doing a normal pull-up. He explains how you should move and that despite looking like a lot of swinging back and forth it should be controlled so you can stop in an instant. Then he shows us what is supposed to be the most efficient way to do many pull-up reps—a movement called butterfly. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it. It’s fluid and captivating and I doubt I’ll ever be able to do it.
After his demonstration, we all try our hand at Kipping. I’m not sure what the difference is between swinging and not swinging, but I try nonetheless. From there, he shows us the WOD (Workout Of the Day) we are to perform on the whiteboard. It looks straightforward; some running, push-ups, squats, and ring rows or pull-ups. He warns us that Crossfit WODs are meant to look easier than they are. He seems to be enjoying our nervousness and tells us that if we don’t believe him now, we’re about to find out.
We walk out of the back door of the gym to a spray painted line on the ground which signifies the start of the run. While walking out, he tells us that straight ahead there would be two parked old Volvos. I look ahead and see them in the distance. To the cars and back to the line is supposed to be 200-meters. The workout we are about to do calls for a 400-meter run, so we have to do it twice. He walks back inside and I can hear him starting up the timer and yelling to get ready. My anxiety has morphed itself into excitement as I hear the clock click down. I’m about to repeat my mantra when I hear, “3...2…1…GO!”
And we’re off towards the cars, dodging potholes, laughing and talking to each other in brief bursts as we go, I start to feel a little less nervous, and a little more focused. I get more serious as I run inside to start on the other movements. I see the rest of my class performing them around me as well, but I don’t pay any attention to how far along they might be. As I finish the movements in the 15-12-9 scheme, I run back to the door to complete the last 400-meter run. Running in the open air feels exhilarating. I can hear feet pounding the ground behind me, which causes me to speed up a bit. As I complete each lap of the run, I start passing people and we cheer each other on.
I run up the stairs, finishing my very first WOD, and realize that I’m the first one done. Pride washes over me at this realization, my breathing working its way back down to normal.
I love this! This is how you are supposed to feel. I want to feel this good every day. I think to myself with the biggest, goofiest smile on my face. As the rest of the class re-enters the gym, we begin writing our times on the whiteboard and congratulating each other.
We finish the class with some stretching before dispersing back out into the ‘real’ world. I know I’ll be coming back again; I was starting to understand what everyone was talking about. On my way out, I see the girl that had just completed her first regular class. She looks tired and sweaty, but has a look of joy on her face that I must mirror on my own. I am overjoyed to know that I can, in fact, do this.
I did it! This is the start of a new chapter for me.
More than six months later I walk into my Crossfit box with confidence. I say “Hi” to people that I pass on my way in; I know mostly everyone now. It is my home away from home, my community. Once in a while, I’ll pass new faces I’ve never seen before and I’ll smile encouragingly to them. They make me remember my first day; how it felt to be new and out of place.
I can’t be more thankful for the decision I made to try something new- something as different as Crossfit. All of the amazing people I have met through this feel more like family than friends.
I hope they find it to be everything that I did.