CrossFit takes fitness back to our rootsWritten by Joel Sensenig | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Modern exercise routines, equipment, apps and trends abound. CrossFit only dates to the beginning of the 21st century, but its philosophy of fitness and diet goes back to our roots. Like, back to our hunter and gatherer roots.
Todd Ovall got into CrossFit before most people had heard of it.
The former YMCA trainer opened CrossFit LifeSport, now at 3128 Douglas Road, in 2008. His “box” (CrossFit gym) was the 986th in the world. Today, there are more than 10,000 across the globe, including at least four in the Toledo area.
“CrossFit is part of the ancestral fitness movement,” said Ovall, 42. “It’s the convergence of a bunch of different sciences — exercise science, biochemistry, anthropology and all kinds of other things — shooting toward the same conclusion, which is if we emulate our hunter/gatherer forebears the best that we can realistically and the closer we get to most of what they did, the healthier things seem to get for us.”
At its core, the CrossFit lifestyle combines a Paleo (think natural, non-processed, sugar-free foods) diet and an exercise regimen of three to four one-hour WODs (“workout of the day”) a week. WODs may consist of deadlifts, squats, pushups, pullups, flipping tractor tires, rowing machines or more.
Another Toledo-area box, Black Swamp CrossFit, 7335 W. Sylvania Ave., Sylvania, got its start in 2012 when husband-wife duo Abbey Mortemore and Michael Sachs, who had been into CrossFit for a couple of years, decided it was time for a career change.
Mortemore had been working for the Ohio Attorney General when she decided they should open up a box — their “happy place,” as she called it.
“It’s a subculture more than just a fitness regimen,” Mortemore said. “It creates some sort of odd community. I think it’s because of the difficulty of it, and people go through it together.”
She does not regret the career shift.
“Every day I go to work, I work with people who want to be where I’m at,” Mortemore said. “People are there for such positive reasons.”
The CrossFit box aesthetic is a rather stark one. Exposed plywood and cement blocks are common.
“It’s not going to be posh because the business model demands we get a garage or warehouse space essentially and keep the overhead relatively low so that we don’t price ourselves out of existence,” Ovall said.
Ovall eats about 80 percent Paleo, a high but manageable level for many people, he figures.
“I ask people to try it for a month,” he said. “It’s always a game-changer. … They find out they have reactions to food they never realized they had. They have toxic reactions to some things that we’ve all grown up as thinking of food and it’s really not food. It’s nothing that a human is genetically predisposed to. It was never in our environment until 50 years ago.
“We’re fighting against the scourge of the modern food culture in the West,” he said. “Paleo is totally doable if you have a grill and you make good choices at the store. If you grab the cheese puffs at the store, you’re probably going to eat them. If you don’t, you’re probably not.”
The diversity of members was evident in one trip to the box. Jarvis Gamble and Doug Doherty were the sole members of a recent 7:30 a.m. class at CrossFit Lifesport. They did six rounds of rowing 250 meters, followed by 20 pushups.
Gamble is 69. Doherty is 76.
“I liked the concept of CrossFit,” Gamble said. “It challenges you, works on a lot of different things. It’s not just aerobic. … I have better balance, more endurance and more strength.”
Doherty is into Paleo — about 85 percent, he said. He’s lost 38 pounds in the four years he’s been doing CrossFit. Many are surprised to learn someone born in the 1930s goes to a box.
“They say, ‘CrossFit? I understand that’s a real butt-kicker.’”
CrossFit isn’t the cheapest fitness plan. Ovall says more traditional gyms keep costs low because they know many memberships will go completely unused. CrossFit boxes want people to show up, he said.
In Toledo, memberships generally run between $100-200 a month, depending on the length of membership.
“But with that, you get workout buddies,” Ovall said. “If you don’t have a workout buddy, your likelihood of achieving your goals is significantly reduced from what I’ve seen in my 25 years of training.”
“CrossFit cannot be devalued,” Mortemore said. “It’s group personal training. We program for people, we coach them, we train them.”
Tracy Plumb-Ruiz, 36, of Toledo got started in CrossFit two years ago.
“I was looking for something different and more challenging than the standard gym. I had plateaued with diet and exercise and was having trouble finding the motivation to go.”
Six years ago, she lost 150 pounds. She’s kept it all off, using CrossFit to improve her physique.
“It requires so much more of my body and I had to work so much harder than the standard machines,” she said. “I had been doing cardio for an hour, working certain muscles at each workout. In CrossFit we work everything, every workout. A lot of times, in a much shorter time period.”
At the end of the day, CrossFit’s mantra is essentially “Just show up.”
“All you’ve got to do is get to the door,” Ovall said. “Get that far and we’ll make it happen. You’re not going to get in amongst a group of your peers and say, ‘Eh, I just don’t feel like it today.’”
Mortemore said of CrossFit, “It may not be for everyone, but anyone who wants to do it, we can make it for them.”