How I got hooked on CrossFit at 53

Mike Bruce hit a ‘fitness mid-life crisis’ – so he took up one of the most punishing workouts going.

“The first rule of CrossFit,” a friend and CrossFit disciple told me, “is always talk about CrossFit”.

So I started CrossFit. And then I, too, talked about it every chance I got.

Why? It challenged me and pushed me, which lit this fire of enthusiasm that I wanted to share with others.

I guess I’d hit a kind of fitness mid-life crisis – pump, boxing, circuits, F45 became dull, repetitive and socially isolated.

I needed something more.

So, at 53, I embarked on one of the most punishing, most challenging, most controversial exercise regimens around.

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit workouts are based on functional movements combining elements of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing, skipping and more.

A workout begins with a structured warm-up targeting the muscles being worked that day.

The next phase is a weights-based session, usually involving three complementary exercises, with anything from a simple squat to a complex snatch, from a plank to pull-up.

The next phase is the workout that combines exercises done either against the clock or a set number of rounds. It. Can. Be. Hell.

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What’s so great about CrossFit?

The results. CrossFit has made me stronger, fitter, straighter and unquestionably changed my body for the better – I have muscles where I never knew muscles resided.

CrossFit also quickly exposed the (many) weaknesses in my body, and enabled me to address them.

It is never boring as workouts are never the same and, while I haven’t bought into the ‘cult’ of CrossFit, I do love its community and sociability.

As a TIME magazine piece noted: “There is a primal magic in going physically all-out with a dozen people.”

I have loved the challenge of learning to lift weights (properly), climb a rope or double-skipping, and am relishing the slivers of progress made with doing pull-ups or a handstand push-up – tasks I’d never tackle in another setting.

Yes, CrossFit is intense, but it is entirely scalable, so you simply do what you can and “respect the process” of becoming stronger and fitter.

That said, it isn’t for everyone. But if you’re bored with your current routine or program, why not give it a whirl?

An expert’s view: The benefits and drawbacks of CrossFit

Accredited exercise physiologist and senior lecturer in exercise rehabilitation at Victoria University Yujin Lim says the benefits of CrossFit include the social aspect or “tribe mentality”, which can help people with motivation and adherence.

It is also good at introducing people to different training methods such as gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting, body weight training or kettlebells.

And because it is generally packed into a one-hour session, combining high-intensity cardio, resistance training and mobility, it’s highly efficient.

Its deficits are that because it can involve complex movements, quality of instruction is vital.

Its workout structures, technical complexity and the environment can lead to overtraining if athletes and coaches aren’t careful, which can cause injury. (Yujin notes, though, that research shows the injury rates in CrossFit are comparable to commonly played sports.)

It doesn’t have the one-on-one approach you might have with an exercise physiologist or personal trainer, he says.

And while it can make you better “at many aspects of fitness”, it won’t make you good at one specific thing, such as running or weightlifting.

“But by very definition, none of these is the aim of CrossFit either,” he says.