Have you ever heard of CrossFit? It’s an exercise program designed to build whole-body functional fitness and core strength. It encompasses ten different fitness domains: cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. It combines functional movements from the sports of gymnastics, Olympic Weightlifting, powerlifting, rowing and running.

Although the program that started in Santa Cruz is still in its teens, it’s gaining momentum worldwide, with over 3,000 affiliated gyms and its very own Reebok shoe. CrossFit affiliates stress that it isn’t body sculpting or body building, but fitness to prepare folks for real life, whether you’re a policeman, firefighter, couch-potato, professional athlete or stay-at-home mom. Workouts are short and intense, and are scaled accordingly to suit each individual’s fitness level.

I got hooked on CrossFit about a year ago. It was recommended by my chiropractor, who insisted that I needed to build muscular and core strength to support the healthy function of my spine. I was both intimidated and inspired after observing a WOD (Workout of the Day) at CrossFit Santa Rosa. Participants were alternately lifting weights and jumping up and down off of high boxes while loud, rhythmic rock music seemed to keep enthusiasm high during the workout. Although sweat was flowing freely, those who finished the required number of repetitions first cheered the others on. Part of me thought they were crazy. But the crazy part of me wanted in. A spunky, 60-year-old high school principal named Janet told me she’d started CrossFit after being extremely sedentary for the past 20 years, and felt great.

So I signed up for the month-long introductory class that’s designed to get you used to the repertoire of CrossFit movements (these include box-jumps, kettlebell swings, weightlifts, push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and squats, among others). The gym (or “box,” in CrossFit lingo) contained no mirrors, but whiteboards full of names and benchmarks. I quickly learned to find the right “feel” of each movement. There was no culture of judgment or competition here, just a bunch of folks of all ages and walks of life, bound together by the desire to better their athletic performance, spurring each other on with cheers and high-fives.

I couldn’t even do a pull-up when I started, now I can do 10. I know how to lift heavy stuff without hurting myself, and can support myself using my core. I’m working on mastering my handstand-pushup, and just like Janet, I feel great. My quality of life has improved. CrossFit Santa Rosa owner, Joanna Sapir, says, “we train for real life—lifting your kids, landscaping your yard, rescuing someone in need—whatever challenges your life might bring you. We do this to make our lives better, physically, mentally, and emotionally. And we do it for joy and fun as well!”

Benicia’s own box, CrossFit 707, is located on East Second Street. Owner Kara Werner openly invites everyone from the “senior citizen who wants to be able to live independently” to “the Olympic Athlete who wants to win the gold medal” to come by and try it out. She says people come to Crossfit 707 for the camaraderie. “Our box is one big family, and just like Cheers, it's where everyone knows your name. Our members come to achieve things they otherwise would never do on their own, and to be a part of a community that values fitness and each other.” Visit www.crossfit707.com for details about the program and workouts.