Five years ago, Frank Volpe, a Town of New Windsor K9 police officer, found it challenging to keep up with his 100-pound German Shepherd. Then a fellow officer invited him to a CrossFit class.
“That was it, I never went back to a regular gym again,” recalls Volpe. As he progressed with the program, Volpe reached a fitness level that matched his canine’s — and changed his game. Family and friends noticed and asked for guidance, leading him to get certified and open his own gym, CrossFit New Windsor, which has ballooned from a rented classroom to a 6,000-square-foot space. In fact, thousands of CrossFit affiliate gyms have opened all over the world since California trainer Greg Glassman founded the program in 2000 after finding success training celebrities and police departments.
So what is CrossFit? CrossFit workouts incorporate elements from high-intensity interval training, Olympic weight lifting, plyometrics, power lifting, gymnastics, girevoy sport, calisthenics, strongman, and other exercises in hour-long sessions. The moves are meant to prepare trainees for whatever unexpected physical circumstances come their way. Sessions use a variety of equipment, including barbells, dumbbells, gymnastics rings, pull-up bars, jump ropes, kettlebells, medicine balls, plyo boxes, resistance bands, rowers, and various mats. The workouts always vary and are always high intensity. “Most people do fall in love with CrossFit,” says Volpe. “It’s literally an education in fitness.” With the aim of developing a range of physical skills, CrossFit adapts to all levels. A typical Workout of the Day (WOD) might involve running 400 meters, followed by 10 deadlifts and 20 push-ups — all done three times. “For my grandmother, we’d shorten the run, or have her walk,” says Volpe. “For dead weights, maybe we’d have her use a piece of plastic pipe, and for push-ups she’d do a modified version scaled to her ability.”
A personal coach guides you through your first six sessions (the first of which is free) so you don’t push yourself either too much or too little. “We don’t just throw people into class. You need guidance,” says Volpe.
He has seen quite a few transformations, like a member who dropped more than 100 pounds in a year and passed a police physical. Volpe also speaks about clients who no longer take blood pressure and diabetes medication after starting CrossFit.
In a 2014 New York Times article entitled “CrossFit is a cult: Why so many of its defenders are so defensive,” columnist Heather Havrilesky observed a CrossFit session, and describes what she sees as a somewhat fruitless spectacle. “It looks exhausting, and more than a little dangerous,” she wrote. “Why not join a roofing crew for a few hours instead? Surely there’s a tunnel somewhere that needs digging.” But Havrilesky isn’t the only one who doubts this fitness phenomenon: Critics and online commentators have also called the program cult-like.
“The fact that people come to the gym and do the same workout and sweat and suffer and get better together makes it a community,” says Volpe, who chafes at naysayers who call it a cult. “We’ve had relationships form. No one’s gotten married yet, but I think we might have our first wedding soon.”