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Staying Healthy While Traveling, the CrossFit Way

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Looking for a good way to stay in shape on the road? Then take a deep breath, lift with your legs, and let TPG Contributor Nick Ewen introduce you to the always-changing, never-boring CrossFit fitness model, which has gyms around the globe. 

It’s been likened to a cult, has its own language (members will talk your ear off about their “dubs,” “box,” and “WOD”), and is one of the fastest growing fitness trends on Earth. The worldwide CrossFit craze can help not only at home but when traveling, as well.

Don't be deceived by the minimalist style of the typical CrossFit gym. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Don’t be deceived by the minimalist style of the typical CrossFit gym. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

CrossFit doesn’t have a single date of inception, and there’s no “big bang” that kicked off the movement. Instead, founder Greg Glassman developed the CrossFit fitness model over many years of personal experience. After running a successful gym in Santa Cruz, California, the CrossFit company was incorporated in 2000, and today, just a decade and a half later, there are more than 4,500 licensed, affiliated gyms worldwide.

In 2007, the first CrossFit Games were held, and every summer since, the competition has sought to crown the “Fittest on Earth.” What started as a small operation has since evolved into a multi-day spectacle, with sponsorship by Reebok, television coverage on ESPN, and over $2 million in prize money for the 2015 iteration.

While you may never top Rich Froning, four-time winner of the CrossFit Games, you nevertheless can gain a lot from joining your local box. Image courtesy of crossfit.com.
While you may never top Rich Froning, four-time winner of the CrossFit Games, you nevertheless can gain a lot from joining your local box. Image courtesy of Crossfit.com.

CrossFit’s explosion in popularity is due to many factors. The variety of activities incorporated into each Workout of the Day (or “WOD”) appeals to a wide variety of athletes, and the certified trainers at each gym (or “box”) provide support for beginners, experts, and every level in between. There’s also no guesswork: each coach has extensive training in all of the movements, so you never feel like you need to puzzle it out on your own.

Joe Vaughn, owner of CrossFit MouseTrap (near Disneyworld, naturally), cites this guidance as a key factor in setting CrossFit apart from other workouts. “All you have to do is show up and try your best,” he says. “Coaches put a lot of time into optimizing the programming to give the general population the best result possible and teach you all the movements along the way.” His members range from 14 to 72 years old, but he says they share the common goal of “being the best they can be.”

Most importantly, in my opinion, your fellow CrossFitters become like a second family, united in the shared misery of the pursuit of fitness. This is what keeps me coming back almost every morning, whether I’m at home or out traveling. For instance, last week I checked out Joe’s gym while in Orlando for a conference, and while I’d never met any of my workout-mates, they were no longer strangers once the WOD began.

My 6am home for the last 2+ years
My 6am home for the last 2+ years: CrossFit Port St. Lucie.

I first fell into Crossfit by chance. Two years ago, my wife and I, sick of running and our usual gym workouts, were looking for a new outlet for our fitness endeavors. When a discount at a local CrossFit affiliate (CrossFit Port St. Lucie) popped up on my Groupon, we jumped on the offer—and have never looked back. My wife continued working out until she was 38 weeks pregnant (dialing down the intensity, of course), and she credits CrossFit with helping her enjoy a smooth pregnancy, labor and delivery.

My home box is owned and operated by Edson and Fortune Santos, a husband and wife duo firmly committed to the CrossFit way. “Less than 20% of people who sign up and pay for a long-term gym membership are actively and religiously still working out after the first two months,” says Fortune, who qualified for the 2013 CrossFit games. “With us,” says Edson, “you never train alone.” Proving that this group model works, the Santos’ box has almost no turnover.

Rope climbs and handstand pushups, not exactly my favorite parts of a WOD!
Rope climbs and handstand pushups—not exactly my favorite parts of a WOD!

Since joining CrossFit, I’ve seen an incredible increase in my physical fitness across many metrics. Two days before my very first CrossFit class, I ran a 5K in 28 minutes, 56 seconds. Last month, I set a new personal best: 19 minutes, 21 seconds. Two years ago, I couldn’t do a single pull-up, but now I can crank out 20 in a row. My initial attempt at jump rope double-unders (or “dubs”) would’ve been great fodder for YouTube, but last fall, I managed 76 in a row, mid-way through a workout. Most importantly, I feel better than I ever have in my life.

CrossFit trainers do their best to keep you feeling motivated. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
CrossFit trainers do their best to keep you motivated. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Of course, this fantastically supportive environment with incredibly knowledgeable coaches doesn’t come cheap. Each affiliate sets its own membership options and rates; some allow you to pay-per-visit, while others have punch cards. Some even offer free week- or month-long trials. Just about all have some type of unlimited monthly membership that typically costs $100 or more, though many provide discounts for spouses, military, and/or first responders. While this is definitely more expensive than regular gyms like Planet Fitness and Gold’s, it’s much cheaper than personal training sessions, and I would argue that the community atmosphere of CrossFit makes it the best of both worlds.

Some CrossFit boxes will let visitors work out for the purchase of a t-shirt. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Some CrossFit boxes will let visitors work out for the purchase of a t-shirt.

Your CrossFit regimen doesn’t need to stop when you hit the road. Most boxes allow visitors to come in for a workout, charging a drop-in fee or allowing them to workout for free with the purchase of a shirt (as my gym does). Traveling can wreak havoc on your body, and regular road warriors know how lonely it can be. Finding a local affiliate and meeting like-minded fitness-obsessed CrossFitters can erase both of those concerns with one fell swoop.

While most CrossFit locations are found in the US, there are hundreds more in various countries around the world.
While most CrossFit locations are found in the US, there are hundreds more in countries around the world.

Locating a CrossFit is incredibly easy with the online locator map, which allows you to search by city, state or ZIP code, or even browse affiliates in out-of-the-way spots. Visiting Iceland (as my wife and I are in May)? You have 10 gyms from which to choose. Fancy a visit to the Canary Islands? There are 15 CrossFits there. Heck, even visitors to the Cook Islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean can stay in shape—Tumuora CrossFit has you covered.

My home box has regular visitors and drop-ins, including one guy from Canada who’s been working out there every year since it opened in 2008. While CrossFit MouseTrap has a large cadre of members who work at Disney, they also have a huge number of visitors: 3,077 last year alone (or roughly 8 per day). “CrossFitters don’t like to miss their workouts,” says Fortune. “It’s too much fun.”

Remember that visiting a box when traveling should only be done after you have joined a local CrossFit and are familiar with the various exercises. When you do visit, here are a few recommendations to ensure things go smoothly:

  1. Contact the gym ahead of time. Make sure you’re aware of their schedule, drop-in policies and any fees associated with a visit. Some affiliates post this information on their websites.
  2. Arrive at least 15 minutes early. Give yourself plenty of time to find the gym. Many facilities are relatively small and tucked away in warehouses or industrial complexes, and you’ll want to meet the coach and discuss your experience level prior to the start time. You’ll also likely need to sign a waiver, though some (like CrossFit MouseTrap) allow you to sign one online before arrival.
  3. Respect the local members and the equipment. Don’t infringe on anyone’s space, and be sure to wipe down and put away any weights or equipment you use.
You don't necessarily need equipment to keep up with CrossFit. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
You don’t necessarily need equipment to keep up with CrossFit. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

If all of this sounds like too much hassle, there are many other resources to help maintain the CrossFit ethos without seeking out an affiliate gym:

  • The Traveling WOD: A great collection of CrossFit-inspired workouts that require little to no equipment, perfect for a hotel room with a small or non-existent fitness center. They even mention doing one workout on a plane, though I’d only recommend this when flying in first class on the Emirates A380—given the easy access to a shower afterwards!
  • Tabata Times: This popular CrossFit blog has a great section on working out while traveling, with many great resources linked right on the page.
  • Travel WODs App: Available for both iPhone and Android devices, this app includes over 120 workouts you can do when you have no equipment handy.
  • In addition to the camraderie of teamwork, CrossFit membership offers a points-and-miles angle. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
    In addition to the camaraderie of teamwork, CrossFit membership offers a points-and-miles angle. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Finally, in case you were wondering, yes—there’s a points-and-miles angle to play here! Once you sign up and pay for your first class or month, check your online statement to see how your gym is classified. Mine falls under “Entertainment – Sports & Recreation” as far as Visa is concerned, which means that I could earn double points on the Citi ThankYou Premier or Citi ThankYou Preferred. However, I prefer putting the monthly membership fee on my Citi Hilton Reserve card, as it puts me well on my way towards the free weekend-night certificate I earn after spending $10,000 on the card.

My experience with CrossFit has been nothing but positive, and my friends who have tried it say the same thing. Sure, it’s a great way to get in shape (and stay on track with those New Year’s resolutions!), but it’s so much more than that. When you join a CrossFit gym, you become part of a community that motivates you, pushes you, and supports you in digging deep and finding in yourself a level of success and confidence you never knew was possible.

So check it out! The cult gym is waiting…
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