By Tesalon Felicien
The panting begins just after 5 a.m., then the sweat forms. A middle-aged man powers through 10 bench press reps; the bar clangs as he returns it to its holster. Another jumps rope, the rope whistles as it beats the concrete floor. Music blares in the background drowning out the sound of an occasional scream or roar. At the center of this chaotic symphony is Geaux CrossFit co-owner and coach, Amber Leonard.
She manages a smile as the class of about 15 or so adults catches a break while heading to the next circuit of workouts. For Leonard, it’s another day of doing what she loves—just another day of coaching CrossFit.
To some, it is an intense workout fad. To others, it is a proven form of fitness. Call it what you may, but the CrossFit movement has sprouted rapidly, from its roots in California in 2000 to now 7,000 locations—or boxes as they’re called—nationwide. Geaux CrossFit located on American Way near Coursey Boulevard is one of seven affiliated gyms in Baton Rouge.
So what exactly does CrossFit entail?
According to their official website CrossFit aims “to forge a broad, general and inclusive fitness.”
“It just means we’re putting your body through ranges and motion like you do in your everyday life,” said Leonard, who has coached for a little over four years now. “All of our workouts are for time that’s what gives us the sport aspect. Your opponent is the clock and that gives us the competitive aspect.”
But the competitive aspect is not what attracted her to CrossFit. She, like so many other people, just wanted to look good in a pair of jeans.
“I went to go put on some jeans I had worn since high school and they were way too tight. And as a lady, I had a small meltdown and decided to get into shape.“
A friend suggested trying CrossFit, and, after some research, she found a gym in Baton Rouge. As a result she met Johnny Blount, co-owner and founder of Geaux CrossFit, and with a semester remaining at Southeastern, she left behind a scrawny figure for good.
Now four years later and sporting a physical build, it is evident that CrossFit has paid off for Leonard.
She said the hardest task for beginners is getting through the introductory work: a 500-meter row, 40 air -squats, 30 sit-ups, 20 pushups and 10 pullups. For Morgan Johnson who joined back in 2012, it was no small task.
“It took me almost 10 minutes and I almost passed out,” Johnson said.
He added that he started seeing benefits within two-four weeks of working out.
Outside of the physical gains, Leonard said one hidden benefit is helping to build mental health and toughness. There are many studies that show a correlation between working out and mental health. Among other benefits, exercise helps to reduce stress, boost memory and self-confidence. Leonard said there’s just a feel-good aspect about working out.
“It releases certain hormones that make us feel good. Though you may feel horrible while you’re working out, the after effect is much better. You face yourself with a challenge that you never thought possible, then you overcome it. Repeating that process over and over builds confidence, it builds courage, ” Leonard said. “It’s a stepping-stone to something greater and larger. You know at first you might start working out because you want to lose five pounds but then you’re working out because you felt better at work. And so you start to see that shift.”
She added exercise is a doctor-prescribed remedy for several of her gym members who do suffer from depression. For Leonard, most rewarding part of the job is seeing CrossFit transform a life.
“Seeing a person lose 100 pounds, I’ve seen it. Seeing a person with a degenerative hip do a full squat, I’ve seen it. That’s why I got into this,” she said.
But CrossFit isn’t without its challenges. Outside of an occasional ache or pain, she said the most difficult task is being personable and ready for any challenge that might walk into the gym on a given day. She’s coached the elderly, blind, and physically impaired.
Another obstacle is challenging the misconception that doing CrossFit will hurt you.
And as far as those competitions go, like the CrossFit games on ESPN, they are totally voluntary.
“In CrossFit we have people who use CrossFit to bring out that competitiveness in them, give them goals. That’s a bit different. Those or genetically gifted, cream of the crop athletes.”
She stresses that CrossFit isn’t the only answer when it comes to working fitness.
“It doesn’t have to be CrossFit, it just has to be something… But choose CrossFit because it’s giving you the most attention for your money without having to spend the astronomical cost of personal training. Is CrossFit isn’t for everybody? No, but anyone can do it.” Leonard said.
So if you ever step foot at Geaux, expect to workout, to sweat and to form friendships, with Leonard somewhere at the center of it all.