CrossFit: An inside look

by Christian Kamkoff

Horizon Reporter

At the CrossFitX gym, located in Barkley Village, members of the 5:30 class lie in pools of sweat, chests heaving and completely out of breath. Meanwhile, Nick Mabe, the gym’s head trainer, dances to “Imma Be” by the Black Eyed Peas as it plays over the radio. Despite their exhaustion, no one in the gym can resist smiling at the 21-year-old trainer and his lighthearted dance.

Mabe, a tall redhead with a broad grin, can often be found at the gym where he teaches 13 classes a week, including the X-Camp for beginners. “Even when I’m not working, I’m here,” he says, looking around at the gym as if to say he were home.

CrossFitX is one of over 2,500 worldwide CrossFit affiliated gyms. The training program seeks to improve all areas of fitness through varied approaches.

As a trainer, Mabe teaches athletes exercises they are unfamiliar with, helps them improve and maintain good form, and pushes them to excel in their workouts.

“Keep your chest up and tighten your core,” he calls out for the third time as he observes the form of the 6:30 X-Camp members doing a set of deadlifts. But he doesn’t seem to mind repeating himself as long as it helps his athletes improve.

“I’ve always liked helping out with form,” he says. “I want to see people be able to do things and not get hurt.”

Proper form in CrossFit is vital, not only to develop the greatest improvements in fitness, but to avoid injury.

Most classes are structured to begin with a warm up followed by a strength set. While the strength set often involves heavy lifting, the real challenge arrives with the Workout of the Day, affectionately called the “WOD.”

WODs commonly consist of several rounds of exercise to be completed as quickly as possible. Other WODs are done with time limits in which the athletes try to finish as many rounds or repetitions as possible.

The X-Camp members, in their sixth and final week, prepare to follow the same WOD as the gym’s other athletes for the first time. Mabe pulls out five Concept2 rowing machines, the gym’s only cardio equipment, and explains the workout.

The athletes will complete three rounds for time, each round consisting of a 500 meter row and 20 box jumps, followed by two minutes of rest.

Once everyone has their own box in place, Mabe starts the timer and the workout begins.

After the first 500 meter row, the athletes jump onto their boxes and off again as fast and with as little rest as their bodies will allow. As the first round finishes, most of the X-Camp has their hands on their knees, panting and red faced. “Two more rounds to go,” Mabe says with a smile.

In the third round, most athletes stagger off their rowers to gaze in horror at their boxes, as if the boxes had grown taller during the workout. Mabe’s shouts of encouragement keep everyone going, and one by one the athletes each finish their final round.

The end product of the X-Camp is identical to that of the 5:30 class, gym members collapsed on the floor, breathless and pushed to their physical limits.

The scene captures the gym’s philosophy, given on the back of the official CrossFitX t-shirt Mabe wears. “All it takes is all you’ve got to give.”

With the WODs, the gym has a competitive atmosphere to it. The athletes, however, aren’t competing against one another so much as they are themselves.

No matter what level of skill and strength, the athletes at CrossFitX can be seen encouraging and supporting one another. When the last few people in the room are finishing their WOD, the room fills with noise as everyone else cheers them on.

This is part of why Mabe’s favorite part about the job is the people. “I think the community is great,” he says.

Mabe first got involved with the CrossFit community through his girlfriend. Her brother competed in the international CrossFit Games and was on the winning team. Watching the games got him really excited, he says. He started CrossFit right away. Four months later, he completed his Level 1 certification.

Since then, Mabe has added a CrossFit Endurance certification to expand his horizons and make himself an increasingly well rounded trainer. The gym’s owner, Travis HoGlin, says Mabe is “always looking to get better as a coach and an athlete.”

Mabe trains like other CrossFit athletes, following the workout of the day. Among his favorite WODs is Fight Gone Bad, which is done every year as a fundraiser for three charities: Livestrong, Wounded Warrior Project, and the CrossFit Foundation.

In Fight Gone Bad, athletes complete three rounds of five exercises done at one minute intervals to get as many repetitions as possible.

Mabe thoroughly enjoys his own training, which he says will always help him become a better trainer. On the flip side, his work as a trainer makes him a better athlete. He says he finds inspiration in seeing the people he works with improve.

But Mabe’s work as a CrossFit trainer and athlete has given him more than inspiration for his training.

“I look at life differently,” he says. “Now I know where my limits are and that we all have them. But I know I can go past them and I’m not gonna die.”

Mabe says that every workout he tries to push himself harder than he has before to achieve a new personal record (PR) for each of the WODs. “You don’t always get a PR,” he says, “but if do, you’ve gone farther than you knew you could go before.”

Mabe’s goals are to become a better coach and one day run a gym of his own. As an athlete he trains with the objective of becoming fit enough to make it to the CrossFit Games.

“I plan on trying my best to get to the games, either individually or on a team,” he says.    This past summer, Mabe qualified for and competed in the CrossFit Regionals. The top individuals and teams at the regionals move onto the games, which boast to find the “Fittest in the World.”

If anyone had any doubt as to whether or not Mabe is absolutely dedicated to CrossFit, his dog would make them reconsider. Frannie, his dog, is named after the infamous CrossFit WOD, Fran.

The workout consists of 45 repetitions of 95 pound “thrusters,” which are front squats with an overhead press, and body weight pull ups. The reps are broken up into three rounds following a 21-15-9 rep scheme. “It’s the CrossFit workout that everyone hates, but loves,” Mabe says.

But everyone loves Frannie. The little puppy enjoys attention from nearly everyone in Mabe’s X-Camp.

The X-Camp members themselves receive their share of praise and attention from Mabe, who tells them how proud he is of the improvement that they’ve made during their six weeks of training.

“Teaching the X-Camp is great,” he says. “I like that they’re all raw. What I teach them is what they know. It’s like I’m creating an army,” he adds with a laugh.

The smile on Mabe’s face, from the time the athletes arrive to the time they leave, shows that he is someone who truly loves his job. He says his plan is to remain a trainer for the rest of his life.

As the X-Camp begins to leave, everyone stops to say goodbye, first to Frannie and then to Mabe. He waves goodbye as they exit the gym while he dances and sings along to another song, as comfortable as anyone in their own home.

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