Published: March 23, 2008The superfit walk among us. They saunter or strut, depending on whether they’re showcasing their magnificent agility or their oxlike strength. They ignore the chatter in the health media over treadmill technique and pedometer steps. They scoff even at seemingly rigorous practices like Mysore Ashtanga yoga and marathon training. They are America’s self-styled fitness elite, adherents of a punishing online exercise regime called CrossFit, which orders its followers to cultivate a distinctly martial — not to say paranoid — ideal of “physical preparedness.
CrossFit has 450 chapters in 43 states (and several other countries). The network has a message for the merely healthy: “Your workout is our warm-up.” Every day, its members consult Crossfit.com like a Book of Common Prayer, receiving instructions for their workout rites and periods of rest. Performing caveman feats like hauling, clambering, trudging, snatching, hurling and deadlifting, CrossFitters deliberately overwhelm and distress their bodies, executing near-impossible stunts with as much weight as they can bear. A Workout of the Day, or W.O.D., might include 50 kettlebell swings, 3 800-yard dashes in rapid succession and 10 pull-ups. Then repeat. No breaks. No weight machines. All you need is a body built for discipline and a mind that can justify so much apparent self-abuse.
The spare site is the foundation of the CrossFit ministry. It resembles not so much a gym as a system of alleys, a rough-hewn underground network designed to train a super-race that wouldn’t be out of place in Marvel Comics. On a typical day, some 200 people post responses to the workout. (This looks fun, if by fun I mean painful and heinous . . . cry from pain . . . my hands are toast . . . lightheaded and dizzy . . . whoop, whoop!) It’s an exercise phenomenon custom-made for this moment in Web history: CrossFit couldn’t exist without lots of speedy, uploadable video; social networking; and an expansive platform for international, demographically varied community interaction. Many of the official demo videos feature women, and even among the rank and file, women are everywhere. A scan of members’ posted ages shows that participants are between 20 and 60, with many in their 30s. (There’s also a kids’ program.)