(Cross)Fit & Femme


CrossFit is an intense, constantly varied fitness regimen with a mix of cardio, gymnastics, body weight movements and Olympic weight lifting that was developed in 2000. While it’s a growing trend, many women remain hesitant to take that first step because there’s a misconception about the program and its suitability for the fairer sex.

Jessica Kuist, a coach at Atlas CrossFit, credits the weight lifting component for the misconception. “Everyone thinks strength means bulk – but if you get muscles, you’ll get lean,” she explains. “You’re going to tighten up and burn more fat.” And the CrossFit Games – a yearly grueling test for the world’s toughest athletes – does much to perpetuate the misconception, as most female participants are all muscle.

“Our programming is geared toward everyone, not just people who want to go to the CrossFit Games,” stresses Katie Werchek, owner/operator of River North CrossFit. “People see the Games or watch CrossFit videos and think, ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I don’t want to look like that.’ We show people that CrossFit is about what you want to accomplish and what you want to look like.”
Often, many women are overwhelmed by the idea of barbell work – usually because they don’t know how to use the equipment.

“[Weightlifting] is the intimidating part, but once they’ve taken classes at CrossFit and learn how to use the weights, it’s empowering,” says Ms. Kuist. Ms. Werchek adds that River North CrossFit even offers SkinnyFit, which is essentially the same protocol without the ‘Olympic’ lifting.

Newcomers to the program begin the same way, with mandatory participation in the CrossFit Elements Program (sometimes called Personal Basics or Foundations), where students learn to properly execute the basic movements. During these classes, instructors emphasize proper form, technique and range of motion and familiarize students with the intensity that CrossFit entails. Once these movements have been mastered, participants may join in the group classes and/or open gym sessions.

Hour-long classes center around a workout of the day, strength portion and metabolic conditioning. Performance on each activity is scored, which encourages friendly competition as well as a means to track individual performance. “Whether or not you’re trying to be competitive, it’s a nice way to tell if you’re making progress,” explains Ms. Kuist. “Are you getting faster? Are you getting stronger?”

The standard CrossFit regimen is three days on, one day off, but CrossFit is by no means one-size-fits-all. “You learn to listen to your body,” observes Ms. Kuist. “Sometimes it’s one day on/one day off, depending on how intense your workout is.”

About 98 percent of women who go into Atlas CrossFit gym for the first time can’t even do an unassisted pull-up but soon find themselves surpassing even their wildest fitness expectations. “You’re doing these things that you never thought you could,” explains Ms. Kuist. “As adults, it’s not often that we’re proud of ourselves – and CrossFit provides that.”

Brendan Ziegler Photograph


About Michelle Phelan

A graduate of Columbia College, Michelle Phelan spent a year as an intern at TCW. She's contributed to a variety of articles in dining, fashion, health and more.