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Divine (Cross) Fits

CrossFit — the Cross-Training Exercise Program — Kicks You
Photos by Todd Cooper.
Photos by Todd Cooper.

Robin Runyan is a four-year CrossFit veteran and coach. She came to CrossFit because other workout and conditioning programs didn’t hold her attention; CrossFit’s quick pace, varying routines, close-knit community and friendly competition appealed to her.

Runyan is with me at Eugene CrossFit, near Valley River Center, to guide and coach me through my first workout. I’m far from an exercise enthusiast, so I’m going to need all the help I can get.

“CrossFit is awesome for many reasons,” Runyan says. “I hardly worked out before it. When I started, I did the same workouts as the ‘real’ athletes, but scaled to my ability. And I got stronger and learned more skills as time went by.”

CrossFit.com, the fitness company’s website, says: “CrossFit is a core strength and conditioning program,” developed to be a broad fitness regimen that “optimizes fitness (constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity).” In the past few years, CrossFit’s popularity has skyrocketed.

I set a few goals for my first CrossFit class:

Get some exercise.

Have fun.

Don’t cry and/or beg for mercy.

Don’t puke.

“My name is Luke,” says the class instructor, a handsome, broad-shouldered man with a friendly smile, offering me a firm handshake.

“I’m William. I watch Downton Abbey.”

I don’t really say that.

First off we “warm-up” with a 400-meter run outside the gym. I normally don’t run unless I’m chased, and I quickly lag behind. But I push through, and soon we’re back inside. Next, we lap the gym doing high knees, “butt kickers” (heel to glute, heel to glute) and a sort of combination crab-walk and squat.

At this point, I’m checking off goal one on my list; I’m still having fun — but I’m growing uncertain about accomplishing goal three and four by the end of the hour-long workout. 

There’s definitely an element of competition in the CrossFit experience. Daily personal workout stats are recorded on a large white board. The CrossFit Games, founded in 2007, pits athletes against each other in workouts they only learn hours beforehand. This year, 138,000 people entered the games. 

But those intimidated by competition shouldn’t be dismayed — CrossFit is a friendly and welcoming environment. Luke gave plenty of personal attention and help learning the ropes.

The remainder of the workout consists of box jumps, push-ups and basic weightlifting technique (the kind of weightlifting oversized men and women do in the Olympics). “Let’s put some weight on now,” Runyan says after I show some progress learning the form with an empty bar. “Put some weight on it?” I think to myself incredulously. 

We also practice with a kettlebell — kind of a shot put with a handle. We lift it over our heads in a core-strengthening exercise. Next is an 800-meter run. “A half-mile,” Runyan whispers to me. I give it a shot, but at this point I’m walking a large portion of the route.

After the workout, Runyan tells me why she thinks CrossFit works for her when so many other exercise programs did not: “We hold each other accountable,” Runyan says. “I saw immediate results.” 

 “I like going to the gym,” Runyan continues, “and I never thought I’d say that. I feel better physically, mentally, emotionally — it’s a game changer.”

“Think you’ll do it again?” Luke asks me, likely noticing my flushed complexion and the fact I’m breathing heavily on the floor of the gym. I consider my checklist; I definitely got some exercise, had tons of fun and managed to avoid crying or losing my breakfast.

Four out of four ain’t bad.