While families and tourists flocked to Sixth Avenue waiting for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to begin, a block to the east, at Fifth Avenue and 37th Street, a different pack was forming. A faithful few decided to use their early morning to get a spot in the 8 a.m. class at the Reebok CrossFit gym.
CrossFit is a fitness regimen that has been rapidly growing in popularity since it was introduced about a decade ago, gaining a loyal and expanding following in the years since. Reebok is the official sponsor of the CrossFit Games: a competition open to the public taking place over four and a half months with the winners claiming the title of fittest man and woman on the planet.
All workouts are comprised of multiple total-body movements, as opposed to compartmentalized focus on muscle groups. This means that a single workout will incorporate techniques from Olympic lifting to cardiovascular training and gymnastic movements. According to the CrossFit Fifth Avenue website, “you’re a better runner than the best weightlifter, a better lifter than the best marathoner, and generally physically prepared for anything in your everyday life.”
To Ryan McCarthy, 24, a coach for New York University’s club rowing team, the total body approach is one of the most appealing parts of CrossFit. “I like that it’s constantly varied because I’m easily bored,” said McCarthy.
But due to a problem with the timing system, the lights in the basement gym could not be turned for the 8 a.m. class on Thanksgiving. Undeterred, 20 athletes continued warming up in the dark, to the whirring of jump ropes that cut through the air and sharply slapped the ground at a fast tempo. To help each other out, some members used cell phones as flashlights.
The mutual assistance did not come as a surprise to McCarthy. “I like the competitive aspect and feeling like I’m on a team,” she said, “It pushes me to do things I haven’t done”
After about 25 minutes of darkness and anticipation, the lights finally came on and were greeted with applause. With that, coach Bobby Kiernan, 26, originally from Long Island, took the reins and began to assign the day’s workout.
Michel Hugentobler, 25, of Zurich, Switzerland, opted for the morning workout while visiting his sister in New York City, where she attends English language school. “I like being fit and staying in shape,” said Hugentobler, “I like seeing the progress.”
Unlike a weight room, with various machines set at deliberate angles throughout the space, the center of the gym is open. The floor is covered with rubber matting so that weights can be lifted and dropped explosively, without causing damage to the floor. Climbing ropes were attached to the ceiling, but tied up and out of the way to keep the floor usable.
Pull-up bars run the length of the rectangular room, and about 10 rowing machines neatly line the back of the facility. Along another wall is a rack full of differently colored kettle bells, a favorite instrument of CrossFitters — an iron ball, sized according to how much it weighs, with a handle at the top providing enough space for one hand to grab it.
The Thanksgiving Day workout required participants to partner up to complete the exercises. Although many members did not know each other, everyone quickly made a new friend and prepared to sweat.
Over a period ranging from 17 to 21 minutes, depending on the abilities of the individual teams, participants completed 2,000 meters of rowing, about 400 body weight squats, 20 medicine balls slams, 40 clapping push-ups, and several other explosive movements. After a two-minute rest ,everyone continued another exercise until they collapsed on the rubber matting.
Under the encouragement of the coaches, the participants congratulated each other on a job well done, shook hands and exchanged wishes for a happy holiday.
“The community is amazing, regardless of age or fitness. I think CrossFit makes you a better person,” said Kiernan as he watched over a new class of 24 members about to begin the next session.
McCarthy was preparing to head to her grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving festivities. “I do what I want nutritionally,” said McCarthy, and then added, “I have a wicked sweet tooth.”
Hugentobler was not concerned about potentially gaining weight from overindulging in food, and believes CrossFitting helps him to eat as he likes. The consequences of the pending feast? “CrossFit takes care of it,” he said.