Alternative fitness gyms and studios are all the rage. Gone are the days of gyms being only made up of bulky men lifting weights and trying to pass that off as the apex of fitness. Today, being a well rounded weekend warrior takes more than bodybuilding or running a few miles.
Jackson is home to several traditional gyms but also a few places that may not be on your radar. Lucky for you, I tried out three of these establishments and did my best to survive them. As a thirty-seven-year-old man who is firmly straddling the line between being in decent shape and having it all fall apart, I feel like I was a good test subject for the workouts in these locally owned fitness establishments. I visited and participated in workouts at The Fight Shop, CrossFit, and Pure Barre for a look at what they offer a first time participant.
I remember being in the locker room as a seventh grade basketball player at Tigrett Junior High School and coming to the realization that I was going to have a hard time keeping up with most of the guys on the court. I had some normal feelings of insecurity and nervousness, but nothing out of the ordinary for a prepubescent boy in 1992. Fast forward twenty-five years and those feelings came back in a hurry as soon as I walked into the CrossFit Jackson gym. There were guys who resembled Navy Seals and women whose muscle definition made me ashamed to look in the mirror.
However, as soon as those feelings had rushed back, the owner, Jayson Keel, put them to rest. Jayson met me as soon as I came in the door and began to explain CrossFit and the way the gym and workouts were organized. A consistent theme that kept coming up repeatedly was the communal or “tribal” aspect of CrossFit. At its core, CrossFit is a gym where members encourage and help each other meet their personal goals while developing a bond through exercise.
After Jayson had explained the mysteries of CrossFit, we all gathered in a group and waited to see what the workout of the day (W.O.D.) was going to be. This is one aspect of CrossFit that I love: new workouts are posted daily, so you never know what types of workouts you’ll be doing until you get there (unless you check the website before you go). That day’s workout consisted of a 1,000-meter row, fifty thrusters, and thirty pull-ups. Once again, before we go any further, let me break it down:
- 1,000-meter row: There’s a machine with a horizontal handle attached to what appears to be a bicycle chain, and the person sitting in the seat pulls the handle like they would a two-sided oar; the seat retreats at the same time. The meters are calculated digitally by the machine. 1,000 is a lot.
- Thruster: This exercise involves the participant holding a forty-five-pound bar and resting it in their hands just at the top of their chest with their elbows to their sides, ready to press up. The difference in a thruster and press, however, is the squat that occurs before the press. The participant squats to a low position, and as they are rising, they also press the bar over their head and extend their arms all the way. This is a thruster. We were supposed to do this fifty times?!
- Pull-ups: The important focus of a CrossFit pull-up is to make sure your arms are all the way extended before you begin to pull yourself up. You should also finish with your chin above the bar. How you get from point A to point B is up to you.
Since I was a CrossFit rookie, I was partnered with someone else. This “someone else” happened to be taller, stronger, younger, and better looking than me. I would like to say that he was the twenty-six-year-old version of me, but even that would’ve been a lie. My seventh grade self was on my shoulder, whispering, “Get the heck out—now!” Once again, however, the familial element of CrossFit pulled me back.
My partner was very helpful and patient with me as I asked a variety of questions and stood awkwardly while he set up all of our equipment. One of the CrossFit coaches informed me that since this was my first time, my workout would be modified. Instead of rowing for 1,000 meters, I would row for 750; instead of doing fifty thrusters, I would do thirty with a thirty-five-pound bar instead of the forty-five; and instead of doing thirty pull-ups, I would do twenty. At first, I was a little offended. Could she not see the physical specimen standing in front of her? I mean, did I look like I needed a modification? The first question was not verbalized, the second was and the answer was an emphatic yes.
The 750-meter row wasn’t too bad. It started out smooth, and a coach came over and gave me some tips and modifications to enhance the exercise. As I approached 600 meters, I could tell the exercise was working. I made it to 750 and had a good sweat going as I headed to do my thrusters.
I had thirty thrusters to complete, and I was no longer complaining about my modifications. I began the squat-and-thrust exercise and was complimented on my good form. That positive encouragement gave me motivation to want to go even harder. That’s one of the aspects of CrossFit that makes it so appealing: there’s real time coaching and competition. As a former athlete, I had forgotten how much I had enjoyed training to do something a certain way and then getting it right.
I had to take a couple of breaks while doing my thrusters, but I made it through and headed to the pull-up bar. I realized that my shoulders and upper back were feeling a little tight and fatigued. So I grabbed the bar and hung there hoping to stretch some muscles and loosen them up a bit. It seemed to help. I knocked out six pull-ups right away. I dropped to the ground, rested a few seconds, then did five more. I took another break and then realized that there probably wasn’t any way I was going to make it to twenty. It was time for another modification. A coach brought me a strap, which I looped around a bar and then leaned back until my back was almost parallel to the ground.
As I finished my inaugural CrossFit workout, I was more than pleased. It was challenging, and the coaches were extremely helpful in providing one-on-one suggestions that helped me along the way. I could also tell the group aspect of CrossFit was integral in reaching the maximum potential of each workout. CrossFit is the place that reminds me the most of my history with competitive sports. There was coaching, competition, and goal-oriented results for each exercise. I would highly recommend CrossFit for anyone who has become bored with their current mundane gym exercises.
Gabe Hart is an English and Language Arts teacher at Northeast Middle School. He was born and raised in Jackson, graduating from Jackson Central-Merry in 1997 and Union University in 2001. Gabe enjoys spending time and traveling with his daughter, Jordan, who is eight years old. His hobbies include reading, writing, and playing sports . . . even though he’s getting too old for the last one. Gabe lives in Midtown Jackson and has a desire to see all of Jackson grow together.
Kristi Woody is a photographer and storyteller for our Hello Jackson features about locally owned retail stores and restaurants. She also works as the university photographer for Union University and owns her own wedding photography business, Woody & Pearl Photography. In her free time, Kristi enjoys spending time with her husband and rambunctious beagle, Rhett and Chipper respectively. If you can't find Kristi in Jackson, you'll find her in her second favorite place: Disney World!