CrossFit Carroll seeks to
remove 'drudgery' from workouts
October 4, 2013
Brian Bellinghausen teaches a CrossFit deadlift class Thursday morning.
A grueling introduction to CrossFit
Working out has never been my strong point.
My traumatic days as an uncoordinated child and teenager who fumbled her way through a summer of softball and several years of ballet (all my friends were doing it!) naturally translated into a tendency for me, as an adult, to choose a couch, a bag of gummy worms and a video recording of a Josh Groban concert more often than a trip to the gym.
Hey, these life decisions are important.
But I've tried to remedy that habit more recently, partly because I'm pretty sure metabolism stops at age 23, by joining a gym and learning my way around the machines it offers.
I was proud of myself - this was responsible adulthood at its finest. So when the opportunity arose for me to try CrossFit, which I've been hearing about for months, I jumped on it.
Little did I know that after the half-hour workout, jumping would no longer be something my legs could do.
I started off as easily as possible - by observing. This particular class had clients performing deadlift reps, working their way up to whatever weight each of them was able to handle.
OK, I thought, as I watched from the sidelines. Picking things up off the floor. I can handle that.
Today's class was different, though. When I showed up at 6 a.m. sporting bed head and fueled by caffeine, I saw what the 5:30 a.m. class was doing and I started to question my decision.
After I stretched and chatted with the other members of the upcoming class, CrossFit Carroll instructor Brian Bellinghausen outlined our task for the day.
Running. Rowing. One-legged lunges. Crawling on your hands and feet - rear end in the air - across the room. Pulling up your body by holding on to overhead rings.
Then, repeat. Over and over again. For 20 minutes.
Twenty minutes doesn't sound very long, you say. I can do anything for 20 minutes, you say.
Go to this class, I say.
I made it through the exercises, although by the end of 20 minutes, I had to look down and make sure my arms and legs were still attached. I was only able to get through four-and-a-half rounds of the exercises, compared to up to seven from the other members of the class, but I was still vertical at the class's end (collapsing on the floor when I got home didn't count), so I called it a victory.
Hours later, I still feel twinges from that workout, but I enjoyed it much more than my fearful self thought I would. Having the other members cheering me on, even as they sweated through their reps, was especially helpful during those last few minutes.
Bellinghausen had warned me that his goal is for CrossFit classes to be the hardest part of his client's day, and after trying it for myself, I'd be hard-pressed to disagree. But my aching muscles tell me that the workout was effective, and the class's friendly and encouraging atmosphere won me over.
I don't know if there's more CrossFit in my future, but it didn't quite scare me away, and I can now truthfully recommend it to others.
At the very least, I might start making one-legged lunges a part of my daily routine. You can do those on a couch, right?
Smile ... It could be harder tomorrow.
The words, painted above a glass door, salute Brian Bellinghausen's customers as they leave his CrossFit classes. More, though, they represent what he hopes they get from those classes.
He wants the workouts to be the hardest thing clients do each day - but he also wants them to be fun.
"I don't want to make coming to the gym and working out a drudgery," he said.
CrossFit classes emphasize variety and offer intensive workouts in short amounts of time. Their goal is to teach people how to move their bodies correctly. For instance, Bellinghausen said, learning to properly lift a barbell from the floor can translate into picking up a child, box of books or pile of firewood later in the day without pain or a pulled muscle.
Bellinghausen's classes last a half hour, and clients never know what they'll be doing on any given day until they walk into the gym and check the board Bellinghausen updates daily. One day, they might be doing deadlifts, with weights ranging from less than 50 pounds to more than 200, and the next, they're walking on their hands, doing one-legged squats and pulling their bodies up on sets of rings.
"People come in and know they're going to do something different than yesterday," he said.
It's not uncommon for clients entering the room to crane their necks and read the board to discover the day's exercises before they greet their peers.
The variety makes it easier to attend daily classes - and making the exercises a surprise each day keeps clients from shying away from classes they think will be more difficult. It also allows clients to do multiple types of training in one class, including cardiovascular, strength training and flexibility.
Bellinghausen's lighthearted approach in his classes carries over to his business approach. The only advertising Bellinghausen uses is word-of-mouth, and his CrossFit Carroll T-shirts - and clients only get one of those after surviving three months of classes. So far, that method has filled his classes.
Payment for classes is due during the first week of each month, and rather than charging late-paying clients a fee, Bellinghausen requires them to do 20 burpees - drop into a squat, kick back your feet, return to a squat, stand, repeat.
It's the exercise everyone loves to hate, he said. In the last few years, he's had to enforce the policy only twice.
"The guy handed me the check and dropped down and did the burpees," Bellinghausen said. "He knew it was coming."
Bellinghausen's clients vary widely; an experienced college athlete could be working out next to a 72-year-old grandfather. And they do the same workouts, with time and intensity adjusted as needed for each person.
Bellinghausen has exercise science and wellness and physical therapist assistant degrees and has been teaching CrossFit-style classes for several years. His physical-therapy experience colors his recommendations for clients and helps him better tailor their workouts.
During one class, a woman remarked her knee pain had lessened.
"See?" Bellinghausen said with a laugh. "It fixes everything."
Clients work hard during the classes, but they're not competitive. They encourage each other, joke and spend time together outside the gym, Bellinghausen said.
Information about Bellinghausen's classes is available at www.crossfitcarroll.com. Half-hour classes are offered at various times throughout each day. Access to unlimited small-group classes is $50 per month, and one-on-one training offerings start at $189 for 10 half-hour sessions. Members have 24/7 access to the gym and can use the equipment or try the exercises outlined on the board on their own.
CrossFit Carroll, on Adams Street downtown, periodically offers free Saturday classes; the next one is at 8 a.m. this Saturday. Bellinghausen said anyone is welcome, and he is available to answer questions about the program before and after the class.
"I enjoy having fun with my workout," he said. "I let people be as (disciplined) or as lighthearted as they want in the classes."
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