Fans of CrossFit Training Brag About Extra Bulk

The Struggle is Real! CrossFit may have made it easier for you to walk up those extra flight of stairs or carry all your groceries in one trip; what it hasn't made easier is fitting into your clothes. Big butts and gigantic quads make squeezing into a pair a jeans a WOD in and of itself. And if you're lucky enough to get in the jeans they're so tight you start to lose feeling in your lower body. The Wall Street Journal takes a look at some of the obstacles we crossfitters face once our bodies begin to change, and what some entrepreneurial spirits within our community have done to end the struggle.

Claire Koch is proud of her hard-earned physique. So she wasn’t bothered when her jeans went up a size or when a seam split on her pencil skirt.

But when the 27-year-old student weighed herself after a recent shower, she lost it.

“I wrapped myself in a towel, walked outside and threw the scale away,” Ms. Koch said.

Ms. Koch is a disciple of CrossFit, a fast-growing fitness trend that emphasizes quick spurts of heavy weightlifting. And her exasperation is becoming increasingly common as the movement goes mainstream.

There are no ifs, ands or “butts” about it: CrossFit athletes, as all participants are called, are finding that their bodies morph in unusual—and sometimes inconvenient—ways.

“I’ve gotten re-proportioned,” said Rachael Ashton, 24, a former college cheerleader turned CrossFit enthusiast in Houston. In a twist on the conventional pre-wedding diet, Ms. Ashton, a construction project engineer, cut back on her workouts last spring to slim down for her walk down the aisle.

Crossfitters of both genders alternatively complain, and brag, about broad shoulders that won’t fit into jackets or long-sleeved shirts. Some who live in cold climates wear shorts year-round because they can’t find long pants that will contain their buttocks.

A typical CrossFit hourlong session mixes pull-ups, squats, overhead lifts and a brutal pushup/jumping-jack combination known as a “burpee.” Many of the more intense sequences are aimed to be completed in 10 minutes or less.

Traditional stand-alone cardiovascular activities, like running and biking, are largely verboten. The reason: CrossFit is among several fitness upstarts, like Barry’s Bootcamp, which pitch themselves as more effective because their constantly-changing workouts provide both cardio and strength training, while preventing the body from becoming static.

CrossFit is owned by privately-held CrossFit Inc., which licenses its name to CrossFit “boxes”—the term “gym” would be too gauche. The spaces clang with the sound of falling weights, and are usually set up in an open warehouse with no mirrors.

After a few months, recruits often have to learn to embrace a new body type, too.

“You start building this passion for squatting and cleaning and suddenly you can’t fit into your clothes anymore,” said Troy Monroe, 33, of West Hartford, Conn. Cleaning, for the uninitiated, doesn’t refer to scrubbing the tub. Rather, it is a move that involves lifting a weight off the floor and onto one’s shoulders in one quick motion.

Company spokesman Russell Berger said the program was designed to improve overall fitness among its participants, rather than lead to any specific body shape.

“We’re not in the business of telling people what to think about their bodies,” Mr. Berger said.

Indeed, to some, the resulting bulk can be a badge of honor. Mr. Monroe recalled a recent physical examination, during which his doctor solemnly delivered the news that he’d gained 10 pounds in one year.

“I said, ‘awesome!’ ”

The former graphic designer decided to help start a fashion business to solve some of the sport’s resulting sartorial problems. His company, Relentless Jeans, sells pants for CrossFit members whose existing pairs are “so tight on your legs you can’t get them up.” The jeans are a blend of denim and spandex, the stretchy material helped made infamous by Richard Simmons’ fluorescent duds in his 1980s workout videos.

The first order, of roughly 2,000 jeans, sold out online in six weeks, said Mr. Monroe.

Relentless is marketing to CrossFitters like Kaitlyn Viola, a 28-year-old physician’s assistant who said pulling up her medical scrubs had become a difficult task.

Last year, she was custom fit for pants. “The woman measuring me put the tape around my thigh and said ‘whoa,’ and then put it around my calf and said ‘wow.’ I was like ‘OK, I get it—that’s why we’re here.’ ”

Ms. Koch, the Denver resident who threw away her scale, co-hosts a CrossFit-themed podcast. She recently became certified as an introductory-level CrossFit trainer. Her new muscle tone, she said, gave her the confidence to wear more tank tops.

And then there is her bottom half.

“You say ‘oh wow, is that where my butt is supposed to go?’ ” said Ms. Koch. “It is its own category.”

The CrossFit movement has attracted plenty of detractors, who say many of the high-repetition exercises lead to injury in untrained athletes and frown upon the de-emphasis on cardiovascular activity. CrossFit Inc., based in Santa Cruz, Calif. , went so far as to sue the National Strength and Conditioning Association last May for publishing an otherwise positive study that included information on injury rates. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Southern California, asked for the study to be recalled, among other demands. NSCA has denied the allegations as “frivolous” and asked for a jury trial. The litigation is ongoing.

Meanwhile, Crossfit’s popularity continues to boom. It now counts more than 11,000 affiliate gyms, up from around 1,000 in 2009. This month, hundreds of thousands of people world-wide are expected to take part in Crossfit’s annual “Open,” a month-long competition of rapid-fire, punishing workouts. Participants submit their best times and are judged against the larger pool.

Trace Tackett, a 42-year-old amateur drag racer, said a year ago she was an “empty bag of skin”—the aftermath of a 113-pound weight loss from a new diet and a membership at a more traditional gym.

After a few months of consistent CrossFit, she started putting on new weight in unexpected places, like a ball inside of her knee. She calls it her “soccer muscle” because of the shape.

“I went from wearing men’s jeans—and they were tight—to finally wearing women’s jeans and now I can’t wear them anymore,” said Ms. Tackett, a private security officer in West Portsmouth, Ohio.

The upshot is that Ms. Tackett can now dead lift 300 pounds and is less fixated on her weight.

“I used to think skinny was what I wanted to be,” said Ms. Tackett. “If someone calls me skinny now, I want to punch ’em in the throat.”

About the Author:

Rob Copeland is a reporter for The Wall Street Journal in New York which published this article on 2/17/15. 

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