The CrossFit Perseverance gym in Carlisle doesn’t fit the stereotype — no complex, intimidating exercise machines or hulking bodybuilders grunting their way to unfathomable feats of fitness.
You’re more likely to find people trying to get into shape with barbells, jump ropes, and other seemingly simple fitness techniques.
“You have people who are new to fitness, you have people who are overweight and are trying to get fit, and everybody’s there to support each other,” said Nicole Young, a member of CrossFit Pneuma in Upper Allen Township.
Still, there’s no doubt CrossFit is becoming a ubiquitous part of the fitness landscape, with more than 9,000 affiliated gyms worldwide.
When CrossFit Perseverance Coach Ryan Alichwer began his involvement in CrossFit three years ago, he had to drive to Hanover for the closest gym. Now, a search of CrossFit’s online affiliate finder reveals at least five in Cumberland County, including CrossFit Perserverance, CrossFit Pneuma, CrossFit Condor in Hampden Township, CrossFit 717 in Lemoyne, and CrossFit classes at the Carlisle Family YMCA. CrossFit Pneuma has garnered 150 members already since opening last year, said General Manager Justin Bowers.
“They’re just springing up all over the place,” Alichwer said.
CrossFit is many things — a workout routine, a competitive sport culminating in the nationally televised CrossFit Games, and even a philosophy toward life that includes a commitment to fitness, according to Bowers.
The research-based workout consists of three basic components, Alichwer said: muscle training with barbells and weights; body weight movements such as pull-ups and pistol thrusts; and cardiovascular exercise like running, jump roping and using rowing machines. Rather than using fancy machines, it focuses on improving simple, practical motions like dead lifts — something people do every day when picking up the trash, Bowers said. It also emphasizes exercising each part of the body every day rather than focusing on a single muscle for an entire workout, he said.
When asked what they like about CrossFit, most participants come back to the “CrossFit community.” CrossFit Pnuema’s community goes beyond the gym to participate as a group in community fitness causes like Special Olympics and Barbells for Boobs, Bowers said.
Within the gym, members feel a sense of camaraderie as they participate in workouts. “You can look to the person to the left and the right of you and say, ‘I know what you’re going through,’” Bowers said.
CrossFit Perseverance member James Hamblin said he was struggling to summon up the motivation to push himself harder during his workouts at the gym, but the CrossFit community encourages him to complete the work out.
“We’re all in this together — we all have to do that workout. Come hell or high water, that’s getting done,” he said.
Member Cindy Yerkes agreed.
“I guess it’s sort of ‘misery loves company,’ but in a good way,” she said.
Some critics of CrossFit have expressed concern about this aspect of the program, arguing that peer pressure can cause people to push beyond their ability to the point of injury.
However, coaches insist that CrossFit is for everyone, despite its reputation as an intense workout and televised CrossFit competitions featuring athletes with almost superhuman strength.
“They’re amazing to watch, but your local gym is just your Average Joe — there’s nobody that’s insanely good. And even if there is, it doesn’t matter, because you’re not competing against them, you’re competing against yourself,” Alichwer said.
At CrossFit Perseverance, you’ll likely find people like Hamblin, who said he was always the “fat kid” growing up, but now wants to get in shape. Kristina Jumper never participated in a competitive sport in her life, but wants to set a good example of staying fit for her two young children. Yerkes, who just turned 50 and said she did not come to CrossFit in top physical shape, started participating as a way of focusing on fitness.
“I’ve been through a lot of things in my life, and I thought it was time to be as strong on the outside as life had made me on the inside,” Yerkes said.
Young said that the coaches at CrossFit Pneuma make sure everyone is progressing appropriately with movements so they don’t get hurt. The events are adjusted based on ability, participants said, and they even have equipment to help people to do modified push-ups if they can’t complete the traditional kind.
Still, Crossfit is for athletes, too, Alichwer said. It can provide an opportunity for them to regain the motivation of a team competition from their younger days, he said.
Runner and CrossFit Perseverance member Lera Beussenk said it’s produced results despite her initial skepticism about the value of weight training for a runner. She gained motivation from it, and has cut 22 minutes off of her half-marathon time since she began participating in CrossFit, she said.
Bowers isn’t surprised that CrossFit’s popularity continues to rise. His gym has been affiliated with many different workouts over the years, he said, but no other program has produced this level of enthusiasm and success.
“I’ve never seen results like this since we started doing CrossFit full time,” he said.