Monday morning I walk into a gym on an Army base in southern Arizona. I know exactly what I want to do. I have a plan. Do they have the right equipment? Surely they do, since all I want to do is front squat heavy and then hit a quick conditioning WOD that involves bodyweight and a 50# dumbbell. No gym worth it’s salt would be without a squat rack and some heavy iron. As I move through my warm-up and into the front squats, I’m curious about my gym-mates. What are they doing? What are they trying to accomplish? And why is that lady jumping up and down on the baseplate of the GHD (about 6 inches) while holding onto the handles?

Pull ups > Curls

It’s about what I expected. I haven’t set foot in a “regular” gym in about 3 years but it appears as if nothing’s changed. A lot of bench pressing by bird-legged dudes whose forearms are bigger than their calves. A few dumbbell flys and some type of lateral/front raises to finish out the shoulders. And of course curls. Lots of curls. Straight bar, curved bar, preacher, dumbbell. Take your pick. It’s all going on.

As I finish my last set of front squats for a 3 RM at 235#, my eyes bulging and face red, I remember something, “That used to be me.”

I would wander into the YMCA gym in Corsicana with three things on my mind- chest, biceps, and abs. I was consumed by the idea that I needed to cycle through- chest and triceps, back and biceps, and legs (rarely done and always on a hack-squat sled, leg curl/extension machine and calf raises). Abs could be fair game at any workout (mostly crunches) and I’d occasionally run afterwards to “get in some cardio.” After that I’d hit up my favorite Chinese food place and eat beef and broccoli with tons of rice. I was clueless.

My arms got really big and I felt OK about what I was up to. I didn’t want to be HUGE like the guys in Muscle & Fitness. I just wanted to be fit.

Toes to bar = Abs of steel.

This pattern continued through college and into my early days at The Lord’s Gym in Waxahachie (except for a brief stint where I thought I was a marathoner and ran 3 in about a year and a half to find out that it just wasn’t the case). Then it happened, I started training with Daniel. Daniel Ortiz is one of the top trainers in Waxahachie and has a long list of clients and their accomplishments. He took what I was doing and turned it up to 11. I was now at his mercy and he added pull ups to my workload. Lots of pull ups. When I couldn’t do any more (normally after 8-12) he would shove me from behind to the top of the bar and bark at me to stay there! I got better at pull ups. More importantly, I got stronger. I vaguely remember him trying to teach me dumbbell cleans and I think I looked more like a fish flopping around on land than anything athletic. While the workouts were challenging and I was improving in a lot of areas, I still didn’t have a good balance. At the time, I was also doing a lot of mountain biking and a lot of my workouts (especially heavy leg days) left me feeling too spent to enjoy the trails. On one particular trip down to a south Texas hotspot called Comfort MTB Ranch, my legs were useless to me on the first day of the trip. After being unable to chase down the pack for 5 miles, I called it a day and headed back to camp. I was pretty bummed. I was working hard in the gym but it was interfering with something that I loved. I had to find that balance.

Enter CrossFit

Quick. Powerful. Explosive. And nothing like how I used to train.

I tried one workout and it crushed me. Then I tried another one. Crushed. I was intrigued. I was motivated. I was having fun (except for getting crushed). I was learning a ton about exercise and fitness. I was devouring everything I could get my hands on- vids on technique and prominent CFers blasting through the same WODs that were annihilating me, the CrossFit Journal, and of course the comments section on .com. It was so exciting! I would wait each night to find out what tomorrow would bring. Many times getting my butt handed to me by the workouts that I thought looked kinda doable. I kept at it. I signed up for my Level 1 Cert. I was hooked.

This was 2007.

I wasn’t mountain biking much at this time. I had moved on to doing a couple of sprint triathlons and running a handful of 5Ks, half marathon and even a 25K. I was enjoying my time on the bike and as my fitness improved with the CrossFit workouts. I found that even though I was working out less, I was having an easier time at almost every effort or distance. I was spending less time in the gym and more time just enjoying the benefits of fitness. I’ve put the training to the test in the last few years by running a half marathon without building up the usual training miles and riding 365 miles from Waxahachie to Lubbock with my brother without a lot of long distance riding.  The latter kinda bit me in the backside, literally, but my fitness was up enough to easily take on both tasks.

Where have I been going with all of this? This long history of my workout career. I’m not even sure if anyone will make it this far into my diatribe. But if you have, the moral is this- you’ve got to know what you want. And then you have to go get it.

I love talking all things fitness.

For a lot of years, I didn’t. I thought I was doing the things I needed to get fit. I’ve found more fitness in the last 5 years than I ever did in my previous 33. I’ve found what I’ve been looking for. I love the broad, general and inclusive fitness that CrossFit builds. I like to know that at the drop of a hat I can do just about anything. Pull ups by the bucketloads have replaced curls, heavy squats and presses are constants and Olympic lifting gives me something to continue to refine. I feel good about where I am now. I’m enjoying the competitiveness of our workouts and couldn’t be happier with the friends I’ve made over the last few years.

I’m not clueless any more.  And Daniel, I can do 33 pull ups without coming off the bar (kipping of course).