In shape for summer?

By MELISSA NELSON  |  July 25, 2012

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In a 2009 article the Navy Times called CrossFit a "fitness philosophy that's sweeping the military," and claimed that CrossFit "will turn you into a tougher, faster, hard-bodied freedom fighter." The raving certainly doesn't end there. In 2010, the US Army published a 69-page study evaluating the CrossFit program and its potential effects on combat fitness. The study, which trained, evaluated, and compared 14 military athletes over an eight-week period, found CrossFit to be a "successful method for increasing the level of physical fitness of U.S. Army Soldiers," going on to state that "the U.S. Army requires well balanced Soldier-athletes who can perform a variety of physical tasks at high intensity across varying time periods . . . the CrossFit program's approach produces this type of Soldier-athlete." This study opened the doors for CrossFit to be officially used as training for the military.

So where does all of this talk about soldier-athletes, hard-bodied freedom fighters, and combat readiness leave the college students and accountants sweating in a Portland gym before they head to their cubicles? Do they, like Internet fiends crouched in basements with tinfoil hats, see themselves training for some grand apocalypse? Not necessarily.

"Some people you definitely see get into [CrossFit] because they think it's like the movie 300 and they see themselves training to be a 'soldier' like that," says Crandall of CrossFit MF, "but most people are drawn in because they hear that it will get them in awesome shape. A lot of people really get sucked in by the community aspect."

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Indeed, away from the battlefields, perhaps what is most attractive about CrossFit is the feeling that this box is a community more than a gym — apparent in the back-patting at the end of the first workout I watched.

"One thing about CrossFit that I've never experienced at any other gym is that the people there are really a family," says member Coury McGlinn. This unique mindset is apparent the moment you walk into MF's box. "Reminder: It's Bill Ellis' birthday" is scrawled on one whiteboard, and when a certain attendee shows up for his workout everyone stops what they're doing to shout birthday greetings. The clear fridge holds Gatorade, cottage cheese, various fitness shakes, and a full shelf of beers. The gym hosts Christmas and Super Bowl parties, and members hang out together on the weekends. It was hard for me to stay inconspicuous while observing at the gym because everyone kept stopping their workouts to introduce themselves to me, assuming I was a potential new member, a phenomenon I never experienced at any gym I've actually joined. No one here is staring at the TV, headphones in, unaware of their surroundings.

"I got attached to it," says Kevin Sager, a Portland police officer who first participated in CrossFit at the police academy but is now deeply involved by his own initiative. And while it might seem strange to choose to continue to participate in the workouts that were used as your grueling physical tests in the academy, other people get attached to it too.

"Some nights when you finish the workouts you leave, shaking and sweating, and someone asks you 'how was the workout?'" says Clair Crandall, member of CrossFit MF, "and you drop some sort of swear word and say 'Ugh, it was awful! I loved it!'"

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