Bodybuilder In A Box

5 things I learned from stepping out of my low-rep comfort zone.

Ashleigh Atkinson March 02, 2016

Competitive athletes are creatures of habit. We thrive on routine and have taken the time to calculate, schedule, and plan our day-to-day actions in order to succeed in our sport. We prioritize training sessions and meal prep over important things like work, school and socializing. Asking an athlete to step outside his or her comfort zone and into a totally different sporting arena can be stress-inducing — exciting and challenging, but still a little stressful.

I’ve spent the last four years living, training and eating as a competitive bodybuilder. I love training to build a physique, incorporating compound movements, but strictly working in the 8–12 rep range the majority of the time. My athletic background prior to bodybuilding is pretty broad — provincial level track runner, basketball player, international-level synchronized skater, high-intensity cardio fitness instruction — so while my direct experience with CrossFit was limited (as in, non-existent), I had a well-rounded past to draw from.

Walking into the box — Windsor’s WorkHorse Lifestyle (WHL) in Ontario, Canada — I was nervous and excited. How hard would it be? Would I be able to do it all? How would my competitive side stack up against other people? I was aware of the terms WOD and AMRAP, but had no idea how they were executed or what actually made up one of these workouts. My only true expectation was to be completely winded after, so I packed a packet of protein powder (Quest’s Banana Cream ones are amazing), a banana for carbs, and a Quest Bar for the ride home after.

The first thing I noticed was how open and spacious the gym was. There was plenty of equipment stacked along the walls and adjustable racks, but the open floor was vast — a marked difference from my typical weight room where machines are squeezed up against each other.

I arrived during an open floor times lot and the owner, Bobby, had a workout catered specific to me, one which incorporated a lot of moves I would most likely be familiar with. The board read: Movement Flow, Strider Complex, Hell Squats and Airdyne – it was a language I didn’t know. Thankfully, Bobby was able to explain everything and it made perfect sense. These were moves I knew how to do, just by different names, so I felt comfortable and reasonably confident that I was keeping up.

Then the AMRAP hit … the portion I’d been anxiously anticipating/fearing. Each round got progressively harder as the workloads increased and fatigue set in. Was I supposed to jog between exercises? Racing against the clock wasn’t part of my usual training, but athletes on TV did and I followed suit. The first few rounds were OK; I got the hang of the exercises and started to feel the burn settle into my legs (thanks to the strength segment just before). Once the 30-second warning was called, I was counting them down in my head. As I caught my breath, I did a physical inventory — my legs felt like cement and I was dripping sweat. It felt great!

For other first-timers, or those looking to give it a try, my advice would be to do your research on different boxes. Check out the coaching staff’s credentials and ask for reviews from other athletes. My first experience was so positive because of the staff at WHL, who never pushed a set amount of weight on me and watched my technique the whole time. Bobby was adamant that participants need to make the workout their own — challenging, yet safe.

My eyes have been opened to a whole new sport. I see the draw of the sport and definitely felt physically challenged in a fresh way. There are training principles and concepts from this routine, which I can see myself including in my own workouts — the movement flow was a great way to warm-up in an athletic style, and taking the time to stretch the targeted muscle groups before getting into heavy training was beneficial. These are both things I overlook, leading to limited mobility in a lot of my joints.

This butt-kicking morning reignited my desire to keep an athletic base in my training, because you never know when your passions may shift…

My Top 5 Takeaways From The Box:

1. Have an open mind! It’s easy to fear the unknown and not give it a chance, but you only grow when you challenge yourself. Be ready to try new things, which you might not be great at immediately — and that’s OK.

2. Dress the part. The “girl” side of my brain was worried about what to wear for the workout. Truly, any workout clothing in which you can move freely will work; I didn’t feel hindered by my lack of Crossfit-specific items, but shorts may have kept me cooler (I’m a sweaty mess with any form of cardio work).

3. Work at your own pace. I mean, make it hard, but don’t feel the need to load the bar up with the same amount of weight as the seasoned vet beside you.

4. Ask questions. If you’re unsure of a move or want to have someone check your form before diving into the workout — just ask! The coaches should be more than happy to spend some time walking you through the movement or just checking out your technique. Moving safely is a priority for everyone.

5. You’re all on the same team. The team atmosphere is real, and if you’re open to it, it’ll help in the long run. Encourage other athletes through the workout and it’ll be returned (and appreciated).

Bonus: Treat your body right afterwards. I spent some time with my foam roller that evening and indulged myself with Quest Banana protein powder, but I really wish I’d stocked up on Epsom salts for a soak… Next time I know better!


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About the Author

Ashleigh Atkinson

Ashleigh has worked her way up in competitive bodybuilding, from bikini to women's physique, and is currently prepping for Canadian Nationals. Away from the gym, she works full time as a Health Promotion Specialist with a focus on school-aged children, teaching group fitness classes, and writing for various fitness publications.