A fairly apt summary of the Crossfit workout ethos come from what they say of themselves: “Our specialty is not specializing.” Borrowing activities from disciplines such as Olympic weightlifting and yoga, CrossFit serves as a fusion of movement with fitness as the ultimate goal. Viewing a routine can feel frenetic. “It looks like they’re doing gymnastics… no, wait, now they’re powerlifting… okay, now that chiseled fellow is repeatedly slamming a medicine ball into the pavement.”
Workouts begin with a mobility routine. These are a combination of movements designed to loosen up participants while also giving coaches an opportunity to observe any possible risk factors: aches, pains, tightness, and other conditions that may limit mobility. After warming up, the Workout of the Day (WOD) is up next. WODs are developed by the trainers, but Crossfit.com posts a WOD that is occasionally used instead. The goal is to run through these circuit-style as many times as possible. What activities make up a WOD can seem entirely random to an outside observer.
The CrossFit phenomenon has exploded throughout the country, with over 6,000 official CrossFit gyms. Corvallis has three options for those seeking a CrossFit home.
The Shop, located centrally in northwest Corvallis, is owned by head coach Drew Skaggs. He and the facility are new to Corvallis. Skaggs originally started The Shop as a garage gym in 2007 in Texas. He began CrossFit in 2009. Once he moved here with his wife, they decided to focus more heavily on The Shop and expanded it into its current state.
“CrossFit prepares you for the unknown and the unknowable by giving you a broad foundation in fitness,” Skaggs explained while sitting in the very modern, sleek-looking area of The Shop. “You have endurance, speed, power, strength, every fitness quality. If you have a properly structured program, you’ll hit them all.”
Skaggs, an infielder on the 2003 NCAA Baseball National Championship team for Rice University, played baseball for his entire life prior to getting into CrossFit. He certainly looks the part of a trainer and exudes a quiet confidence. “I had a more traditional strength and conditioning regimen, working for a very specific focus,” said Skaggs. “What I seek, and those that come into here seek, is a broad foundation of fitness.”
CrossFit Train, located in southeast Corvallis, is headed by 21-year-old Derek Eason. He speaks at length with intense exuberance when asked about the grungy, garage-like aesthetic of Crossfit Train. “One of our members made this,” he said, pointing to a misting unit consisting of PVC pipes and joints forming a seven-foot-high rectangle. “He felt like it would help out our members while they’re running outside. It’s pretty freakin’ sweet.” Much of the equipment used at Train is constructed by members and coaches, giving it a unique feel. “I used to f*ckin’ duct tape weights together in my garage. That’s the kind of vibe I want here.”
Eason, like every trainer, underwent the Level 1 Certificate course through CrossFit. This allows trainers to be recognized by CrossFit Incorporated, based in Washington, D.C. The cost for the course and test is $1,000. Overall, CrossFit offers 21 training seminars and tests for trainers seeking to pad their resumes. Each of the three CrossFit locations in town pays a $3,000 annual affiliate fee to CrossFit Incorporated in exchange for using the CrossFit name for marketing purposes.
CrossFit Ubiquity, located at the northeast edge of Corvallis, is the smallest and least expensive option of the three locations in town. A dozen members just finishing a workout hung around afterward, clearly not ready to leave. An older couple was among the ranks, who would likely have appeared out of place in a traditional gym setting. Pamela French is Ubiquity’s head trainer as well as a former collegiate rugby player at OSU. She speaks with a calm demeanor after class, sitting on a stack of dumbbell plates while discussing CrossFit.
“One of the things that makes my job so rewarding is seeing concrete progression from our members,” said French. “One member couldn’t hang from the pull-up bar when she first started, but today, she was able to hang and lift her knees.” French is distracted, watching Sarah Larson, G3’s general manager, staying after class with a trainer to work on a handstand push-up. French explained that while competition helps drive those in her classes, it is personal goals that make up the foundation of motivation for most. Cheering abruptly breaks out from the far corner of the space. “Sarah just did her first press-up,” French explained. “She has been working on that for months.”
For people who are not physically fit, CrossFit seems to provide a program through which they can attain their goals. As with any workout regimen, injuries are always a risk. Scholarly articles indicate that much of the risk often associated with CrossFit revolves around shoulder and lower back injuries. The rate of injury decreases significantly with trainer involvement, however.
John Hammett, a physical therapist with nearly a decade of experience around the country, including the Oregon Coast, says that the stigma surrounding CrossFit’s injury risk is undeserved. “The injury rate is around 2.4 to 3.1 per 1,000 training hours,” (confirmed by two peer-reviewed studies) said Hammett. “That is about the exact same for any strength and conditioning training.” Hammett echoed the sentiment of CrossFit trainers around Corvallis in suggesting that a solid understanding of one’s body is crucial as well as modifying the workout to adjust for injuries or other risk factors. “My poor ankle range of motion prevents me from keeping good form during a heavy overhead squat,” he explained. “I modify and stay light to strive for good form.” All three gyms in Corvallis emphasize injury prevention through modification and proper scaling of movement and intensity.
Nutrition is certainly an aspect of the CrossFit movement. The trendy Paleo diet (short for Paleolithic era) eschews dairy and grain, as well as processed foods. If a hunter-gatherer couldn’t forage it, it is unlikely to be considered Paleo. Skaggs, who is preparing for a members-only nutrition seminar, explained his eating philosophy in a simple manner. “You can pick anybody off of the street and have them give you a list of healthy foods,” said Skaggs. “Where change happens is when an individual pays attention to what they eat in a meaningful way.” French echoed the importance of diet and nutrition at Ubiquity and addressed some of the criticism the Paleo diet receives. “Critics in the nutrition field will say that it’s bad for your body, you’re starving yourself,” said French. “What is wrong with eating food as close to its natural source as possible while avoiding sugar and processed foods? That’s Paleo. Anytime you have a revolution, there is resistance to that change, and that’s where criticism comes from.”
“It’s good to shop around for CrossFit gyms,” French said. “Are they a good fit for you? It is a community, you have to get along with your trainers and your fellow members. Some trainers are really mellow, others are going to get in your face, and it’s up to you to decide what fits your personality and your goals.”
THE SHOP: $159 to $179 a month. Cheaper for longer commitments. Student discount: $119 for full-time students.
TRAIN: $130 a month. Couples: $100 each a month. Students: $115 a month.
UBIQUITY: Individual 3x/Week CrossFit Training $89
Individual Unlimited CrossFit Training $104
By Matt Walton