The CrossFit project: 'Star-News' journalist vs. training regimen

By Vaughn Hagerty
Local News Editor Star news online

Published: Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Another one?

I'm on the sixth of eight sets of push-ups, the fourth of five exercises in this workout. On each set, I do as many push-ups as I can in 20 seconds. I nailed 18 on the first set. So far, a few seconds from the end of No. 6, I have three. Trainer Ezekiel Martinez wants another one.

"C'mon, c'mon, one more," Martinez, shouts. "One more." Somehow, from somewhere, one more push-up squeezes out. This is my first official class in CrossFit, an interval training program combining exercises from gymnastics and Olympic weightlifting with cardio workouts such as running and jumping rope.

During the past couple of weeks, I've been doing CrossFit-like workouts on my own, combining three to fiveof the program's basic exercises in interval fashion.

On Monday I began a full-blown CrossFit test drive. Over the next six weeks or so, I'll be training with Martinezand CrossFit Coastal's 30 or so members, who range in age from 8 to 52. I'm recording my experiences on a blog (, so you can follow along. I'll return with another story to tell you what happened.

Hammers and crawls

From its start on the Web a few years ago, CrossFit has attracted thousands of followers worldwide and spawned dozens of affiliate gyms, including two in Wilmington.

Martinez, 26, co-owns of one of those, CrossFit Coastal. He opened his gym in Gordon Road Station earlier this spring with business partner Hunter Frizzelle, a fellow CrossFitter and 41-year-old pilot for US Airways. My introduction to CrossFit came during scaled-down sessions Martinezoffers on Saturdays. I had been working out fairly regularly for the past 12 years. Nothing special, just some weights, some cardio, occasional yoga.

During my first Saturday session, I joined about a half-dozen others in HughMacRaePark, swinging sledge hammers, crawling like bears and jumping on 20-inch boxes. It was ... fun. Really.

The true difference hit me the next day. I woke up sore. And every time I tried a little CrossFit after that, I was sore.

In part, it's the intensity of the workouts, which typically are timed and often last a half-hour or less. But it's also the variety. You rarely know what's coming: maybe some weights, perhaps a run, push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups. In multiple sets and rounds of sets. Usually as quickly as you can.

It can be a little intimidating but never boring.

Is it safe? "It is dangerous," Martinezsaid. "It can kill you if you're not organized and coached by a professional."

Soldiers and SWAT

CrossFit has attracted a following, drawing praise from people whose jobs demand the most of their bodies: Navy SEALs, soldiers, SWAT members.

Wilmingtonpolice Capt. Barry Key, head of the department's detective division, said some members of the Special Enforcement Response Team use CrossFit to stay in shape. SERT is WPD's SWAT-like unit.

"Any exercise is going to be beneficial to prolong your life. Interval training is one of the best types available. They've gotten good results from it," said Key, who also oversees physical fitness training and testing for WPD's recruits. CrossFit also features a camaraderie offered by few other exercise programs outside organized sports. You can't stop yourself from cheering on others straining to complete sets or closing in on new personal records. Compared with the typical lone workout that most people, including myself, have become used to, training with a group can be incredibly motivating.

That sense of community has hooked folks like Shaun McMahon, 23, and his 22-year-old wife, Sara. They started CrossFit about a month ago.

"All I can say is, I love it," said Shaun McMahon, a youth pastor at WrightsvilleBeachBaptistChurch. "The group really motivates you."

About Vaughn Hagerty

Age: 46

Weight: 154 pounds

Height: 5-foot-10

Job: A local news editor at the Star-News

Measuring progress

CrossFit Coastal co-owner Ezekiel Martinez helped pick the benchmark by which I'll measure my progress: Tabata intervals. Mine consists of unweighted squats, rowing, pull-ups, push-ups and sit-ups. For each exercise, I do as many as I can in 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, then repeat, for a total of eight sets per exercise. The set with the lowest number of reps is my score. Calories burned are substituted for reps for rowing.

My first score: 16, 5, 1, 4 and 11. I'll record performance on future Tabata intervals and other workouts on the blog.