Learning to Breathe Fire: The Rise of CrossFit and the Primal Future of Fitness

Learning to Breathe Fire: The Rise of CrossFit and the Primal Future of Fitness

by J.C. Herz


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The absorbing, definitive account of CrossFit's origins, its explosive grassroots growth, and its emergence as a global phenomenon.
One of the most illuminating books ever on a sports subculture, Learning to Breathe Fire combines vivid sports writing with a thoughtful meditation on what it means to be human. In the book, veteran journalist J.C. Herz explains the science of maximum effort, why the modern gym fails an obese society, and the psychic rewards of ending up on the floor feeling as though you're about to die. 
The story traces CrossFit’s rise, from a single underground gym in Santa Cruz to its adoption as the workout of choice for elite special forces, firefighters and cops, to its popularity as the go-to fitness routine for regular Joes and Janes. Especially riveting is Herz’s description of The CrossFit Games, which begin as an informal throw-down on a California ranch and evolve into a televised global proving ground for the fittest men and women on Earth, as well as hundreds of thousands of lesser mortals. 
In her portrayal of the sport's star athletes, its passionate coaches and its “chief armorer,” Rogue Fitness, Herz powerfully evokes the uniqueness of a fitness culture that cultivates primal fierceness in average people. And in the shared ordeal of an all-consuming workout, she unearths the ritual intensity that's been with us since humans invented sports, showing us how, on a deep level, we're all tribal hunters and first responders, waiting for the signal to go all-out. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385348898
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 06/02/2015
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 186,750
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

J.C. Herz is a Harvard-educated former New York Times columnist as well as a former rock critic and tech writer for Rolling Stone and Wired. A two-time author and technology entrepreneur, she started doing CrossFit in a gym where white-collar professionals and new moms cranked through pull-ups and Olympic lifts next to active duty military and members of the presidential Secret Service detail.  Her favorite CrossFit workout is “Cindy.”

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 9

Martial Arts Sublets and the Forbidden
Pleasure of Dropping Barbells
With a few barbells, medicine balls, pull-up bars, boxes, and kettle bells, and a nominal fee to CrossFit HQ , any certified Cross- Fit coach could become the proprietor of a CrossFit affiliate. In the economic hangover from the dot-com crash, this meant guys like Jerry Hill could sublet space, often from martial arts dojos, before they had enough athletes to afford a dedicated space. From Glassman’s early years in Santa Cruz to today, there’s been a symbiosis between CrossFit and martial arts, especially jujitsu, mixed martial arts, and Krav Maga. Part of this compatability is cultural, and part of it is architectural. The cultural part is a fundamental embrace of functional fitness. In martial arts, it doesn’t matter how beautifully curved your biceps are, or if you have six-pack abs. If you can’t hit hard, or if you’re easily winded, someone’s going to mess you up. Any kind of conditioning that makes you hit harder or breathe better in the middle of a round makes it less likely you’ll get messed up. So people who do hard-core-combat martial arts (as opposed to the beauty-of-grace-and-form varieties) are serious about high-intensity training.
The time domain of a martial arts match, a single-digit  number of minutes of all-out  effort, is on the same order as a WOD. The type of effort required—violent bursts of explosive effort under fatigue and time pressure—is exactly what CrossFit cultivates. It’s competitive, high discipline, heavily male (along with a certain type of seriously kick-ass female). It demands the ability to suffer, and develops an athlete’s capacity to suffer and keep going—the quality of relentlessness.
CrossFit, in its early days, attracted MMA fighters with a geek streak. Guys like Josh Newman, who went to Yale, built and sold tech companies, and spent time getting his teeth knocked loose in Connecticut MMA arenas, invariably stumbled onto the CrossFit website and caught the bug. After winning  the state MMA championship in his weight class two years in a row, Newman was looking for an edge. As he says, “There’s nothing like getting the crap beat out of you to keep you honest at the gym.”1
When he checked out the CrossFit.com site, Josh thought the Workout of the Day was a joke: 400 meters of walking lunges. Then he tried it and, about 100 meters in, realized, “Oh yeah—I’m fucked.” The next day, he missed his stop on the subway because he literally could not stand up. He had to wait until the next stop, when a lady near the pole got off, so he could slide across the subway bench, grab the pole, pull himself to a standing position, and hobble onto the platform. If some- thing so simple and time efficient could incapacitate him, he thought, this was clearly the way to go.
Before long, he’d roped in a buddy who did Brazilian jujitsu (and later founded CrossFit Virtuosity in Brooklyn) to work out in Central Park. They showed up with medicine balls and kettle bells and did pull-ups on the playgrounds. People joined, and pretty soon ten of them were getting in trouble with the park police for doing box jumps on benches or stringing gymnastics rings up on the trees. This went on for six months, until it got cold. Then they moved into, and got kicked out of, six gyms in the space of two years. Because they did things like rig treadmills to see how fast they could run without shooting off the back. Or bang out so many pull-ups in a personal training gym that clients would simply abandon the hard body trainers who’d brought them there to Feel the Burn and maybe move the peg down one notch on the machine. At a Chinatown kickboxing gym, the manager saw Josh and his pals doing high-volume barbell WODs, marched over, and barked, “What you guys are doing looks really dangerous.”
Ten feet away guys were punching each other in the face, which was, apparently, not really dangerous.
The absurdity, and the hassle of it all, was just too much. So in 2007, Newman  rented a 1,000-square-foot  place in the Garment  District, “The Black Box,” which refers to CrossFit’s empirical discipline of measuring inputs (the workouts)  and outputs (athletic  performance)  from the training method. In a lovely stroke of irony, the term is also drama- world jargon for a small, bare-bones experimental theater.
Newman needed thirty  members to cover  the  rent,  and  he had twenty people. “There are not thirty people in New York City who are going to do this CrossFit thing,” he thought. “This is just going to be an expensive gym membership for me.” That year, the Black Box grew from thirty members to over a hundred. Newman got kicked out of his first Garment District space when, during a WOD, a barbell someone dropped from overhead crashed straight through the floor into the space below. It was after hours, but the landlord wasn’t so thrilled. When the Black Box decamped to a larger space, also in the Garment District, Newman and his people pulled up the mats to move. They had broken literally every tile.
The tiles were broken because CrossFitters, left to their own devices, regularly dump heavily loaded barbells from overhead onto the ground. There is a legitimate reason for this: safety. If an athlete is going for maximum effort with a load he’s not sure he can propel all the way up to his shoulders, or all the way overhead, it’s essential that he be able to fail safely. And failing safely on a one-rep-max Olympic lift or overhead squat means dropping the bar. Also, it’s fun to drop barbells. The ability to instantly jettison a serious amount of weight gives strength workouts the quality of play, no matter how strenuous the effort. If you can’t do the lift, you can eject. And if you do manage to launch a heavily loaded barbell over your head, and your heart is pounding with the hot-damn-I-did-it victory beat of a personal record, it is sublime to simply release your fingers from the bar and have all those bumper plates suddenly not compress your body. The spine springs back to its full length. Muscles no longer brace. There, I did it—I’m free. That sense of victory and freedom, the sudden lightness of releasing a heavy burden, is like getting a cast taken off. It’s like getting a cast taken off your soul.
When it’s synchronized, the ritual of dropping barbells is even more intense and satisfying. So for instance, in an every-minute-on-the-minute set of heavy snatches, every sixty seconds a clock ticks down, and your coach bellows, “Three, two, one, GO!” The lightning of electrical impulse courses through each athlete’s nerves and muscles at the same moment. Every barbell flies toward the ceiling. There’s a slight variation in speed, depending on each athlete’s height and strength. Then, within a few seconds, all the barbells come crashing down, and the boom of dozens of twenty-five- and forty-five-pound rubber bumper plates hitting the ground is like war drums. Thunder. It’s beautiful. This is why every tile in the Black Box was broken. It’s also why CrossFit boxes outside industrial areas tend to have unhappy neighbors and grouchy landlords.
So Josh Newman was sent packing by his first Garment District landlord. He was also nearly arrested in Times Square for sprinting up
41st Street wearing a weight vest—the kind of vest that’s black nylon, with rows and rows of tiny pockets to hold one-pound lozenge-shaped weights,  and looks exactly  like a suicide bomber vest. Seconds into his full-speed dash into Times Square, Newman was being shouted down by ten police officers, two of them with guns drawn. “But then,” he recalls, “they realized I was too small and Jewy looking to be a threat. They just said, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing, but never do it here again.’ ”
Around the same time, a police car on Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria, Virginia, slowed to a stop, its red-and-blue lights flashing in the pre-dawn darkness. Jerry Hill lowered his wheelbarrow and raised his hands. The wheelbarrow was loaded with two hundred-pound dumb- bells and an engine block, and he’d been sprinting with it, to build grip strength, on his way to the jujitsu studio where he trained athletes. Grip strength is essential when you’re moving a lot of weight with a barbell, or stringing together dozens of pull-ups, and the best way to build grip strength for these activities is by holding on to something heavy for as long as possible, preferably while you’re also winded. Hence the wheel- barrow, the dumbbells, and the engine block.
“I’m a strength coach,” Jerry projected his voice to the police car. “These are weights.  It’s strength. And conditioning.”  The lights kept flashing. The cop got out of his car. “I’m a strength coach,” Jerry repeated with conviction. “These are weights. It’s strength. And. Conditioning.” The cop scrutinized him, calculating the odds that this wiry little white guy was telling the truth versus running down Eisenhower Avenue with a stolen engine block in a wheelbarrow.
“You look suspicious,” the cop growled, got back in his car, and drove away.
Jerry and his wheelbarrow trundled off to the dojo. Same as in Philly, here was a jujitsu gym whose owner was happy to earn some extra cash by time-sharing a facility with CrossFitters. Aside from the cultural kin- ship between CrossFit and martial  arts, they have similar real estate requirements. Both disciplines tend to occupy marginal space, often industrial space: warehouses, converted light-manufacturing buildings, former auto body workshops. Space needs to be cheap, open to accom- modate sparring, and easy to equip with basic training apparatus: mats, weights, punching bags, maybe a drinking fountain. Adding some kettle bells and medicine balls doesn’t screw up this kind of floor plan.
More important, the diurnal rhythms of martial arts and CrossFit were, at least initially, a perfect counterpoint. Martial arts athletes tend to work out in the evening. CrossFit’s early adherents were morning people, rising before dawn to hit an o’dark thirty WOD. Jerry’s classes started at 5:15 a.m. and ran every forty-five minutes through 8:15 a.m. Then it would be time for him to go home and be Mr. Mom. But for three hours in the morning, he was king of the Blue Room, so named for the color of the jujitsu mats. “It was on the second floor,” he remembers. “Everyone was asleep. It was like a speakeasy.”2 It wasn’t  ideal. Because the jujitsu studio was, in turn,  subletting space from a conventional gym downstairs, there were constraints on how Jerry’s gang could use the equipment. There weren’t fixed pull-up bars, only bars hung on chains from the ceiling. So people learned how to time the kipping motion of their hips, generating momentum in tandem with the pendulum swing of the bar, to get up and over. There was a knack to it, as with any acrobatic trick.
There weren’t boxes to jump on, so they stacked mats to 24 or 30 inches, to jump on. Shoes weren’t allowed on the mats, so when it was time to run outside, people had to quickly lace up their shoes, run down- stairs, do their sprints, then run upstairs and kick off their shoes for the next WOD.
Worst of all, they couldn’t drop weights on the floor, which meant that heavy Olympic lifting WODs were out. For a powerlifter like Jerry, this made every barbell WOD into an unconsummated love affair. Bars would be loaded with less weight than he knew his athletes could handle with their mightiest one-time efforts. They’d string together barbell movements from the floor to hips, from hips to shoulders to overhead, and then, in a controlled sequence, back down to the ground. They never got to throw their whole selves into one skilled and mighty pull from the ground.
But there are different ways to build strength, and the early core of Hill’s CrossFit Oldtown gang built their strength with pull-ups, push- ups, and tons and tons of air squats. They did muscle-ups on gymnastic rings. Dan Wilson had trained with Greg Glassman in Santa Cruz and with the Marines in Pendleton, but he got his first muscle-up in the Blue Room. “Get up there and fight it, Dan,” Jerry hollered as Wilson swung from a pull-up to the transition. “You’re there, brother!!!” From the top of the rings, Wilson, graying, buzz-cut, whooped for joy. “Was that good? ” he asked.
“Yeah,” Jerry laughed, “that was awesome.” They got it on video. It’s one of the best middle-aged “still got it, baby” moments ever recorded.3
The Blue Room gang did a lot of air-sucking metabolic conditioning, or metcons, alternating  strength  efforts with  the cardio stress of box jumps, wall balls, or sprints in the stifling humidity of northern Virginia. Before long, men’s shirts were off, and the habit of ripping shirts off during a WOD was well ingrained.
A statistician named Harold Doran was the chief instigator  of the shirt-taker-offers. Perhaps it was the heat and sweat, or the high intensity, or a touch of OCD, but when Jerry yelled “Three, two, one, GO!” to kick off a heavy metcon, Harold’s shirt had only moments to serve its intended purpose before it was jettisoned to the floor. It became an inside joke that leavened the heaving intensity of summer WODs. Harold had a way of making deadpan remarks about his shirt removal that made it okay for everyone else to laugh—he deftly controlled the joke. He began to spin a thread of self-deprecating humor that pervades CrossFit Oldtown to this day—a mixture of absolute seriousness about physical effort and mock seriousness about yourself. It’s the sensibility of absolute commitment to a fast 800-meter sprint or a set of unbroken pull-ups, then making yourself ridiculous with a put-on remark. Yeah, I’m a serious athlete, check out these abs.
After his morning stint as class clown, Harold would hit the showers, change into a suit, and drive north over the bridge into Georgetown as an absolutely different, stone-faced, stressful grown-up.  He’s a psy- chometrician, which means he analyzes student test data: all the stan- dardized tests that Congress mandated in No Child Left Behind, that teachers complain about, that teachers’ unions scream should never be used in teacher evaluations. State commissioners of education pay guys like Harold to churn those data into statistical  results that show em- barrassing long-term differences between great teachers and the ones who stunt students’ learning for years. These statistics invariably trigger political attacks, from local school boards all the way up to Capitol Hill. Managing these projects and their blowback is all serious, all the time.
“When I go into the office,” Harold says, “I’m swamped. Swamped. There are real grown-up issues. They’re complicated. They’re stressful. They’re hard, and they’re taxing.  But guess what? CrossFit is every- thing that my real world is not. I get to walk into the gym, and I get to be silly and crack jokes and be friendly and not be stressed out. I don’t think about work when I’m in the middle of ‘Fran.’ I don’t think about a client deliverable when I’m in the middle of a back squat. It is pure complete absolute absence of all that other stuff in my life. It’s so amazingly therapeutic, because all of that stuff is set aside. CrossFit people don’t know anything about my real world, about my work world. They know my family. They know my back squat, and they know my deadlift. But they don’t know my nine to five, and I love that.”4
In the Blue Room, the proverbial “What do you do? ” was displaced by “What can you do? ” It was a question everyone asked themselves as they walked through the door to discover what crazy challenge Jerry was going to throw at them on any given day. No one knew in advance. If they had, they might have stayed home. It was always a surprise and a test of mettle and aplomb to discover that today’s WOD was something you were particularly bad at, or hated.
It was competitive—you can’t put a bunch of type A personalities, athletes, in a room with a physical challenge, a whiteboard, and a stop- watch and not get competition. By definition, every movement in a CrossFit workout is measurable, repeatable, observable, and timed. The results are all benchmarked. There are thresholds for intermediate and elite performance, or “Pro” and “Pack,” as Jerry differentiated scale lev- els for a WOD. For anyone hitting a WOD after the dawn brigade, there was the implicit gauntlet  of whiteboard  results, scrawled in dry-erase marker, to be scrutinized by near-peers. That’s my time to beat.
Competition was fierce but ephemeral, the way it is in rugby. Mike Hart, a Catholic high school wrestler, had majored in philosophy at Wheeling Jesuit University and minored in rugby. Or maybe it was the other way around. But he understood this: when the clock is tick- ing, your whole purpose in life is to crush your opponents, and the minute the game is over, you go drinking together. In his college days, Mike played a rugby tournament in Ohio, called Sevens in the Snow because the fields were so blanketed with  snow that  it was hard to know where the bounds were or if you were over the line to score. Hurtling through the snow with the ball, he got hit by an opposing player and kept going. He got hit by a second guy and kept running. A third player slammed into him, and he pushed the whole straining pack of three guys five yards to touch the ball down. The drama of knowing it was all up to him, outnumbered in a last-ditch effort that required all-in berzerker commitment, left him completely unaware that he was only midfield.
Mike was to CrossFit Oldtown’s competitive spirit what Harold was to its sense of humor. It was all fight and scrum and claw in the brief interval of a WOD, then kudos and respect. It was rugby.
In a gym, there are members and instructors. In fitness boot camps, there are clients and trainers. People sweat, disassemble, and go home strangers. The Blue Room gang was something else. There was an Us: a team and a coach. It wasn’t just a team because people were sacrificing all the energy they had. It was a team because that outlay had a purpose: progress. Measurable progress, real achievement, more power, more speed, more skill. For everyone. Beating a PR, a personal record, wasn’t just a source of personal satisfaction. It made the group better. It made the pack stronger.
Every time someone beat their record, or got their first muscle-up, or pull-up, or joined the “20 pull-up club” or the “30 pull-up club,” there was an attaboy on Jerry’s Blue Room blog, with pictures of people on the bars, or laid out on the floor, or grinning with ripped calluses held up like badges of honor. There were videos of regular people with the kind of voice-over expert performance analysis most people hear only when they see Olympic diving events broadcast on TV. Every day, there was a picture of the whiteboard results with postgame commentary. “I’d always rather watch a Winner than hear one talk,” Jerry would write above a set of posted results. “Saw 16 of them in action today.”5
On a day where athletes chose one of six WODs listed under the rubric “Epic Pain,” Jerry noted that a newcomer had “left one of the biggest pools of sweat I’ve ever seen. I think we’ll keep  Aaron around! Welcome to the Team, brother.”6
On a day when nobody in the Blue Room could do the “Nasty Girls” workout as prescribed, Jerry pointed out that many had tackled heavier power cleans than they’d ever attempted before. How many, he wondered, would be doing the WOD as prescribed in three months, six months, or a year? Two years? “Yes, you will stumble; yes, you will occasionally fall short of personal expectations you placed on yourself.
Strive on. Pick yourself up. It’s failing that leads to success. CrossFit
Oldtown is a tough lot, a rare breed. “Now, who’s ready for ‘Murph’? ”7
“Murph” may be the hardest workout in CrossFit’s cornucopia of ordeals. It’s a Hero WOD, named after Michael Murphy, a twenty-nine- year-old Navy SEAL who died in Afghanistan. As recounted in Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor and elsewhere, Murph’s four-man reconnaissance team helicoptered into the mountains to capture or kill a Taliban leader. Once there, they were discovered by a group of local goat herders and had to decide whether to kill them. Murphy had been nicknamed “The Protector”  as a teenager  for defending a homeless man who’d been attacked while collecting cans, and for defending a special-needs kid who’d been shoved into school lockers. Murph looked at the goat herders and determined that there was nothing especially hostile about them, so he left them alive. Before long, the SEAL team was surrounded by armed Taliban, possibly alerted by the goat herders they’d let pass. The Chinook helicopter Murphy called in for reinforcements was shot down with a shoulder-fired missile, killing all sixteen people aboard. With no radio reception to send another distress call, Murphy left his protected position to relay his team’s location back to base, scrambled back to cover, and kept fighting until he died from his wounds.
He had a favorite CrossFit workout: a 1-mile run, then 100 pull-ups,
200 push-ups, and 300 squats, then another 1-mile run, all in a ballis- tic vest. He called it “Body Armor.” That’s “Murph,” with a 20-pound weight vest substituting for combat Kevlar. A month after he died, CrossFit.com posted the workout on the main page as a Hero WOD.
Hero WODs are ten times harder than regular CrossFit workouts. They’re fallen soldiers’ favorite workouts, a sacrifice of human energy to the glorious fallen dead. What some battle-trained soldier did, to get tougher, to test himself, is re-enacted push-up by push-up, power clean by power clean, sprint by sprint. What a fallen warrior did, at the peak of his physical powers, regular people do, or struggle to do, in his memory. Hero WODs are meant to take an athlete outside himself. They’re supposed to put you in the Hurt Locker. They put you on the ground.
You feel like you’re about to die. Then you get up, and remember some incredibly strong, brave young guy who didn’t.
The first Hero WODs were posted as a gesture of respect to armed forces doing CrossFit in the field. But they were less of an invention than a haphazard archaeological discovery, as if some fitness freaks in Santa Cruz had gone out to drill a well and cracked into some long-forgotten temple. This kind of ritual barely exists in modern society, aside from prayer and Civil War re-enactment. Hero WODs are physical action as a form of remembrance. They commemorate special days: the anniversary of a fallen soldier’s birthday, or an athlete’s own birthday. September 11. “Murph” has become a Memorial Day fund-raiser for military charities. Jerry put it on the whiteboard the week after Michael Murphy was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Josh Newman was doing “Murph” when he was forced to a halt by New York’s finest with guns drawn.
Two of the Blue Room boys finished “Murph”  in under an hour, an impressive accomplishment considering that a minute was lost every time they had to lace up their shoes and run downstairs, or run back upstairs to do pull-ups, push-ups, and squats. Chriss Smith, an actual Navy SEAL working out at the Blue Room, did not break an hour and finished only four minutes ahead of a petite woman named Andrea, who roasted beans at a local coffeehouse and later became his wife.
After three hundred crushing WODs, Monday through Saturday, Jerry posted a chokey reflection on the Blue Room’s first year,  his pride in the the pack, and hopes for the future. “I’m sorry,” he wrote, “but I gotta share a story about my 5 year old Anna. Several months ago I bought a climbing rope and hung it in our basement (right next to the rings). Now Anna is pretty talented. She excels at a lot of things and has done so since an early age. . . . She is also pretty tough on her- self, tougher than I’ll ever be on her. With her tough self-expectations I’ve also seen a tendency for her to shy away  from things she can’t initially do, to get frustrated. I want her to experience the unknown, not to fear the possibility of defeat and then be paralyzed by it—to persevere through adverse situations, to feel the victory of picking her-
self up off the mat after a fall and have at it one more time. So what’s a dad to do? ”8
In Jerry’s case, it was hang a rope next to his desk, and never suggest that his daughter climb it, or ask her to climb it. There were a few rules: no swinging on the rope—it was there to climb. No jumping from stacked-up boxes so she could get near the ceiling rafters and quickly reach the top (the first thing she’d figured out).  While he was doing grown-up “computer work,” she took a few attempts, got frustrated, and wanted nothing to do with the rope for a month. That was okay, he re- assured her. It was good to have a challenge. Then something changed. She stopped saying “I can’t”  and “I’ll never be able to do this.” She started having fun tackling a lofty but do-able challenge, trying different things, keeping at it, until she climbed the rope.
“What a look of pure joy on her face. It’s all a Dad or a Coach can ever hope for.”
And this was the difference between the Blue Room and “fitness boot camp”: there was a Marine in charge, for sure. But no one was getting yelled at, or bossed through one more set or three more reps. That sort of drill sergeant behavior is considered unseemly in CrossFit. It implies that the person doing the work is too weak-spirited and lazy to push themselves, that they are so resigned to their own lack of drive that they pay someone to intimidate or herd them through their discomfort. Most CrossFit athletes would be insulted if a coach implied they needed to be bossed through a WOD. Most of them, like Anna, push themselves harder than their coach ever would. It’s part of the ethos. The challenge is there—everyone has to seize it for themselves.
It would have been understood without Jerry telling stories like this on the blog. But by telling these stories, by always commenting on team performance, not just individual milestones, by articulating  his philosophy, he gave the pack an identity and a leader. The blog defined a set of shared values about what to strive for. It also defined the pack as a pocket of resistance against a big, dominant, malign Enemy: the fitness industry itself.
Today’s culture, Jerry argued in the wake of major league baseball’s steroid scandal, encourages us to pursue fantasy  ideals. “We can ask each other if the bar is set too high for our professional athletes, but a better question might be if the fitness image set for you and me is even more unrealistic.  A main villain  in perpetuating  these much sought after images is the health and fitness industry. Everyone is led to believe there is an easy way to get fit. . . . So, is it news that baseball players are looking for the ultimate quick fix, or is it more shocking that we are? ”
For all this passion, Jerry was still struggling to build a following large enough to leave the jujitsu studio and move into a space of his own. CrossFit Old Town was a precarious small business with only a couple of dozen paying members. So when one of his athletes stopped showing up regularly, Jerry started to worry. Trying to sound more concerned than nervous, Jerry called the guy up. “I’ve noticed you haven’t been showing up lately. Is something wrong? ” he asked.
“Actually,” replied the truant athlete, “I’m the chief of the fire department here in Alexandria. I’ve been scouting your program. I want us to start doing this.”

Table of Contents

Preface xi

Under the Bridge 1

Into the Red Zone: The Science Behind Maximum Effort 9

The Monkey Bars: CrossFit's Genesis 19

Rise of the Machines: The Gym Circuit and Junk Fitness 35

The Original Firebreather 45

Nasty Girls 63

Christmas in Iraq 77

Fallujah, for Time: Sprinting Wars and the Next Generation of Combat Training 91

The Blue Room: Martial Arts Sublets and the Forbidden Pleasure of Dropping Barbells 101

The Firefighter Challenge: Five-Alarm Fitness 115

The Hopper: Trial by Lottery in the 2007 CrossFit Games 131

Chris Spealler: A Lamborghini Among Diesels 135

The Amazon and the Engineer: Rogue Gears Up 145

Dark Horses: The 2008 CrossFit Games 157

A Clydesdale Learns to Race 169

Globo-Gym: The Spandex Juice-Bar Business Model 175

Caveman Kosher: Post-WOD Potlucks and the Paleo Diet 197

Crucible: The 2009 CrossFit Games 205

A Good Cult 229

Faith and the Finish Line 239

The Fittest Man on Earth 249

Corporate Kool-Aid: Reebok Gets Religion 255

Forging Elite Gear: Rogue Up-Armors the Box 267

Regional Competition: Nailing Colors to the Mast 275

The Ballad of Jerry Hill 287

The Man in the Arena: Carson, California, AD 2012 295

Fight for Mike: A Box Takes Care of Its Own 301

Old School: The Original Firebreather Goes Back to Basics 309

Acknowledgments 317

Glossary 319

Recommended Reading 323

Notes 325

Index 343

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Learning to Breathe Fire: The Rise of CrossFit and the Primal Future of Fitness 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
robtennant More than 1 year ago
Learning to Breathe Fire is the story of the work-out phenomenon known as “Crossfit.”  It is written by J.C. Hertz, a writer for Rolling Stone and a crossfit devotee.  Hertz offers the reader a history of the movement that is designed to celebrate all that crossfit is. My sense of this book is that if one is already favorable to crossfit, then he will love the book.  If one if predisposed to disinterest regarding crossfit, he probably won’t be swayed toward the fitness movement.  In order to promote the benefits of crossfit, the author has to denigrate other fitness practices (treadmills, weightlifting, yoga).  Her argument for crossfit is convincing.  I read her enthusiastic promotion and find myself wondering if I ought to try it.  Her dismissal of other techniques is off base.  I know people who have in fact gotten in shape on Stairmasters, who benefit from doing yoga, and whose bodies have dramatically improved through weightlifting plans.   The simple truth is there are a lot of different effective work-outs and fitness plans.  Crossfit can be great, but it is not the only thing that can be great.  If you are not interested in crossfit, I don’t think this book will change your mind.  After a while the stories begin running together and the further into the book the reader goes, the more it sounds like an agenda and less like a story.  If you are already interested in crossfit, you might love the book.  But, you’re already going to boxes, so do you really need to read it? I do not recommend this book.  It is not terrible.  The writing is fine.  My low-grade is undoubtedly tied to my own lack of enthusiasm.  This is not because crossfit is bad.  It just is not for me.   Disclaimer - I received this book for free from WaterBrookMultnomah Publishing Group for this review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Crossfit - rest is not a part of the program. Ignore the part of the brain that tells them it's impossible to keep moving. Stopping is not an option, no finish line but to finish what you started. Combination of weightlifting, sprints and gymnastic movements and pull-ups, pushups and unweighted squats as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes. Do you believe that? 20 minutes! Wall ball shots, sumo dead lift high pull, 20-inch box jumps, 75 lbs push press, rowing machines, high intensity regime, Crossfit obvious way to train, duh:) Boy, can you not move so fast! Don't forget the Russian Kettle Bell and those crazy boxes. This book talks about fuel for the body ATP, muscle cell, molecule, phosphates, plus metabolic pathways, fuel production system, etc. Examples for different men in different groups. Crossfit became a hit, helped people achieve what they thought was unachievable. Crossfit overcame the part in your mind when you are physically exhausted, a flash of aggression (as stated) gives you a strange dignity in this last moment, last moment to finish. A fitness cult, yeah... When you see 20% of body weight disappear, change in health habits for the better. Even employers encourages Crossfit because it's a win-win situation. Employees are healthier less burden on health insurance cost for them. What a wonderful read, it's intensity describing the workout was my favorite part. Won this book on Goodreads, First Read Giveaway. Thank you, Darlene Cruz