CrossFit

Is this muscle-building workout as intense as everyone says?

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Photograph: Tim Klein

Members of the Windy City CrossFit class do handstands.

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Photograph: Tim Klein

Members of the Windy City CrossFit class do handstands.

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Photograph: Tim Klein

Members of the Windy City CrossFit class do handstands.

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Photograph: Tim Klein

People stretch and get ready for their class at Windy City CrossFit.

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Photograph: Tim Klein

A woman lifts weights as part of her Windy City CrossFit class.

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Photograph: Tim Klein

A man lays in exhaustion after finishing a Windy City CrossFit morning class.

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Photograph: Tim Klein

Members of Windy City CrossFit try samples in the kitchen area of the gym.

I wasn’t just nervous about checking out Windy City CrossFit—I was scared as hell. A few of my Facebook friends do CrossFit, and here’s a typical post after a workout: “I haven’t been this sore in a looong time. I don’t know about others who participated, but those CrossFit sessions yesterday kicked my ass!” It’s not unheard of to throw up at the gym.

CrossFit works like this: It’s strength training and conditioning in a group setting, using varied, high-intensity repetitive workouts that last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and emphasize muscle building. Workouts of the day are called WODs, just one of many terms in a secret language spoken by CrossFitters (box means CrossFit gym, globo gym is a derisive term for a commercial gym, Oly is Olympic lifting…).

But lucky for newbies like me, you don’t dive headfirst into the lingo or the intense workouts. Windy City CrossFit—an industrial, no-frills space without even a front desk—requires new members to graduate from a four-week Foundations course, where you’ll learn the basic moves and techniques associated with the workouts while preparing your body for the intensity that will eventually take place. But these beginning classes aren’t for wimps. One of my sessions involved jumping rope, hanging on monkey bars, dead lifts and Russian swings (swinging a kettlebell with locked arms, using the momentum of your swaying core and hips) to a soundtrack of Lenny Kravitz and Bush.

Once you graduate to the regular CrossFit sessions, you’ll find yourself in a supportive, eager group that’s all about taking your workout to the next level. In my case, that meant sore hamstrings and shoulders the next day. But it also meant feeling stronger and having the urge to return. Most members (former college athletes, marathoners and other fitness enthusiasts) adopt nicknames, and many cheer each other on during especially tough reps. I can see myself being on this team—I just wonder what my nickname will be. 4043 N Ravenswood Ave (windycitycrossfit.com). Four-month Foundation memberships $275 for first month and $190/month for remainder. Continuing memberships $190/month.

CrossFit’s cult status
Breaking down the characteristics of a CrossFit follower.

Followers’ identifying characteristics
Chalk dust–covered hands; CrossFit T-shirts and hoodies; tendency to work out shirtless

Mantra
AMRAP (“as many reps/rounds as possible”)

Rituals
Discussing workout results on the WCCF message board; hanging out pre- and post-workout in the kitchen and sofa areas; eating paleo; checking the WCCF website at midnight for the WOD (workout of the day).

Evangelizing methods
Free intro workouts Sundays at 11am; keeping score and turning the workout into a game on Saturdays; naming an athlete of the month and posting his/her profile online

The allure of CrossFit
A devotee explains his addiction.

I started CrossFit in January 2008, about a month after Windy City CrossFit opened. I was bored with my gym routine and wanted to find an outlet that offered a competitive environment. I quickly learned that my notion of fitness was no match for CrossFit’s standards. After five years, I’m still seeing positive results. It’s great to be able to say I’m more fit at 32 than I was when I was 22. My wife, Jen, joined about a month after I started because she was sick of hearing how sore I was every night. She basically said, “You’re being a baby. It can’t be that bad,” and set out to prove my wussiness. She learned quickly that it was that bad. As for the nicknames, mine is a bit boring. It’s just Koltse, which is my last name. My wife, however, has a good one. She’s earned the title of Jeneral.—John Koltse, as told to Kevin Aeh

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