In early fall 2013, my husband, Andrew, and I joined a popular CrossFit gym in Toronto’s east end. Our first class consisted of an intensive hour of non-stop sit-ups, push-ups and squats. It left me riding an adrenalin high. Andrew threw up as soon as we got home. When he staggered out of the bathroom, I danced around him, bouncing on the balls of my feet. He had barely finished telling me he felt a little better before I said, “We’re still going back, though, right?”
Like thousands of Canadians, I was hooked. Of all the trendy workouts, from boot camps to hot yoga, CrossFit is the one that fulfills extreme get-fit dreams best-not a slow progression toward moderate health and average bodies but a breakneck pace to the exceptional. To an outsider, a CrossFit workout can look nuts. Participants heave 27-kilogram kettlebells high over their heads in repetitions of 50, slam medicine balls at a three-metre-high target on the wall, pull themselves in a swinging arc above the bar of the CrossFit rig-a metal structure that resembles a jungle gym on steroids. Then there are the Olympic-style weightlifting movements. Oh, and intervals of intense running. The regimen is designed to make everything your body does better, from stamina to strength to flexibility. If there is ever a zombie apocalypse, CrossFitters will be the ones who survive.
Andrew and I reorganized our lives around CrossFit. Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6:50 a.m., we’d arrive at our utilitarian gym, or “box” in CrossFit parlance, swathed in layers of sweats and spandex. The hour’s agenda would be scrawled on a whiteboard near a set of rowing machines. It always included a warm-up, stretching and skills improvement, then the Workout of the Day, or WOD, ending with a cool-down and the posting of your numbers (times, weights, reps) on another board. Guided by the coach, everyone followed the same workout-whether you were a 250-pound tank, like one intimidating class member, or a 165-pound, five-foot-eight woman (me).
As a newbie, I wasn’t strong or skilled enough to do everything the agenda prescribed. In my teens, I’d competed in kick-boxing fights but slowed down after I popped ligaments in my left knee. I was wary of reinjuring that same knee in CrossFit and had to remember not to push myself too hard. Some coaches were great; others seemed unsure of how much weight I should be lifting. At times, the workouts made no sense to me, more a random testament to machismo than a targeted program.
My love affair with CrossFit ended on January 6. That day, we had one minute to do 12 burpees. Next came 12 box jumps-launching yourself onto a wooden box from a two-footed stance, no running starts allowed-also in one minute. We had to do both sets six times. I’d waffled over what box to use and was unhelpfully instructed to try “whatever felt comfortable.” I chose one about 60 centimetres high-slightly smaller than everyone else’s. Midway into the workout, my left knee began to feel wobbly. When I told the instructor, he swapped the box for another that was 10 centimetres lower. I should have stopped-but that was unthinkable. Two sloppy jumps later, my left knee gave out. I could hear my leg bones shattering-it sounded like gunfire.