Exercise was always a massive struggle for me. I've tried all types from aerobics to Zumba and I've never stuck with anything because a feeling of utter dread would come over me before I'd even put on my trainers. The misery would only go away if I chose not to put on my trainers, so my life always seemed to be a whole lot better if I didn't.
I know, I know! It's lazy. But come on! Exercise is SO boring! I'd rather eat my trainers than join one more room full of women in leotards learning pointless dance moves. Occasionally I'd drum up enthusiasm for running or swimming for a few months but then the repetitive nature of the exercise would become unbearable and make me depressed. On the hierarchy of motivation chart, the need to end the boredom would win out over feeling righteous and healthy every time.
Then my friend Laura persuaded me to go to MaxOn CrossFit in Macclesfield. I'd never heard of CrossFit and I thought it would be more of the same boring repetitive stuff I'd never stick to. I was wrong. It was fantastic.
We arrived at the gym (or 'box' as CrossFitters call it) to find a coach and a small group of men and women of all shapes, sizes and levels of ability. Throughout the session we used what I thought of as old-fashioned types of equipment: medicine balls, kettlebells, skipping ropes and proper weightlifters' barbells and dumbbells. It was masculine and retro and a bit cool. It was hard work, too, but because the coaches, Sally and Łukasz, were so warm and helpful and the exercise changed just at the point I'd normally be getting bored, the time went so fast and by the end of the session I was like: "Wow! I actually enjoyed that!"
It took only a few sessions to decide that I loved CrossFit and my training shoes no longer triggered a feeling of dread. I'm still pinching myself about it all because I never thought I'd find an exercise I feel excited about. It's like a miracle.
The weird thing is, though, whenever I mention CrossFit I get the opposite reaction to the one I'd expect. I thought I'd get approval for finally conforming to all that endless pressure to stay fit and healthy, but, no, there's a sharp intake of breath, head shaking and comments such as:
"I've heard CrossFit is dangerous? You're setting yourself up for a serious injury there."
I'm like: "What?" Seriously? People reacted like I'd said I had taken up smoking crack.
So I asked Marc McCullagh (right), my coach at Lymm CrossFit in Cheshire, where I now live. He said:
"Don't listen to these people. Form a judgement from your own experience. CrossFit is based around movements that we all do every day. Take the deadlift, it's just the right way to pick up something heavy off the floor. And a squat is simply getting up out of a chair correctly without rounding your spine."
I agree with Marc. But when I Google CrossFit, I find I'm part of a 'cult' with inadequate warm ups, aggressive and competitive routines and 'Navy SEAL physical training taken to an extreme'.
This makes me laugh a bit because the CrossFit sessions I've attended are hard work but it's good fun and the only person you're competing against is yourself. There's the danger of injury, like there is with any exercise if you're stupid enough to overdo it and I've never felt under pressure to do more than I can do. I had a twinge of pain in my calf muscle once and I stopped working out, left the class and rested it. That was the sensible thing to do. Whose fault would it have been if I'd carried on and injured myself? CrossFit's or mine?
Maybe I'm just part of the cult and don't know what I'm saying. Maybe I've been brainwashed by Marc McCullagh when he says culty things such as:
"It's only when the coach is happy you're strong enough that we introduce some of the more skilful, taxing movements."
Maybe this has hypnotised me into spreading CrossFit's evil message. Marc also says brainwashy things like:
"What we do is based on strengthening the posterior chain (the rear of the body). This area is often weak due to the amount of time we spend sitting down. Strength training is crucial to bone and joint health as we age, particular in women who are prone to osteoporosis."
I'm, hopefully, not quite old enough for osteoporosis but I was starting to think about how I'll cope when I'm old after avoiding exercise for most of my life. The prospect of brittle bones and increasing weakness was something I tried not to think about but it was a dark shadow that grew bigger with every passing year. CrossFit has eradicated it and my increasing strength and muscle tone means I'm looking forward to a much better future.
And I've also made new friends because CrossFit is a community. Marc puts it like this:
"There's something about doing a tough workout alongside other people that builds camaraderie."
In my experience, everything Marc says is correct. I know without any doubt whatsoever that sitting around doing nothing is far more risky and dangerous than CrossFit.
I know I'm on my way to being fitter than I've ever been in my life. I'm stronger and more flexible, my joints feel fluid and my posture has improved. I feel wide awake all day. I drink more water, I eat better, I breathe better, I feel younger. I'm happier and more confident. Best of all, I'm excited about putting my trainers on. I can't believe that, but I am!