If you’ve been following my foray into the Crossfit world at all, you certainly noticed that my reporting on this brutal but effective workout regime pretty much dropped off the map about a month ago. That’s not because the torture of the training finally got to me — if anything, the workouts actually started becoming a bit more tolerable after two months of toil.
The reason is much more depressing than that: Since about March 5, my family’s been plagued with a series of sicknesses, starting with a 10-day flu that lingered even longer and then morphed into a nasty head cold that’s still got my ear plugged and throat a bit sore today, nearly one month later. If my count is correct, I’ve only been to Crossfit once in the entire month of March during a very brief window of near total wellness about 10 days ago. My intent is to get well and get back on the Crossfit horse for the months of April and May, and deliver a final, look-how-fit-I-became report early this summer.
In the meantime, I’ll be interviewing some of the coaches who lead the grueling rounds of exercise every day. The first profile is of Jeff Baker, who teaches one-hour classes on Tuesday (6 a.m. and noon), Wednesday (6 and 7 a.m.), Thursday (5, 6, and 7 p.m.), and Friday (5 and 6 p.m.) as well as a special mobility class at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, which involves deep stretching that reportedly makes even the buffest and the most yoga-trained Crossfitters cringe. Baker, who is 30 and originally from San Ramon in the East Bay Area, recently answered a few of my serious and not-so-serious questions.
What brought you to Santa Barbara?
I moved to Santa Barbara after graduating from film school at San Francisco State in 2005. At the time, I moved here for a job at a location scouting company and a girl, not necessarily in that order, neither of which I have any more.
How did you learn about Crossfit?
I read about Crossfit back in 2006 in a magazine article. I knew back then that Crossfit was something I really wanted to do but the closest gym at the time was in L.A. I had no idea about Crossfit’s open source format and that the workouts were being posted online. But even if I had, I don’t know how much it would have benefited me because it’s the group atmosphere that has been a hugely influential part of my training. I love how close you become with the other members of your gym. For me, it’s like being on a sports team again, with the friendship, shared experiences, and understanding of what each of you has done to test yourselves both mentally and physically.
What about Crossfit appeals to you?
All aspects of Crossfit appeal to me. It’s the incorporation of all these different facets that drew me to Crossfit in the first place. However, in the years that I’ve been a Crossfit athlete and coach, I’ve developed a special affinity for flexibility and mobility. Out of the Crossfit “10 General Physical Skills,” it’s arguably the most important, in my opinion, and often the most neglected.
Flexibility isn’t given much attention in Crossfit because it isn’t “sexy” — it’s boring, painful, and hard. Nobody sits around comparing clean-and-jerk numbers to hip mobility, although one is crucial to having any success at the other. I’ve become our resident mobility specialist and developed a mobility class that I coach on Saturday mornings, using material developed by Kelly Starrett. It’s a great class that addresses flexibility from a Crossfitters perspective and, during the class, I detail why we’re doing these stretches and how it will impact our performance as Crossfitters, along with how it’ll change our daily lives. It brings everyone together and creates a fun environment for people to do what is normally a solitary activity and not a lot of fun.
What do you do when not Crossfitting?
I’ve been a scuba diver for 10 years and I managed the local dive shop in Santa Barbara for about five years. I love anything that gets me outdoors, from hiking to taking a walk on the beach and I think it’s a shame that more people don’t take the time to get outside and connect with something other than their computer. I’m an avid reader and I’m always looking for a new subject to study or a skill to master. One of my personal rules is that you have to train the mind and body with the same amount of dedication — the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
My favorite color is blue, although green really brings out my eyes.
Favorite sports teams?
I don’t have a favorite sports team, but since I’m from the Bay Area, I’ve always cheered for the Niners. My two favorite sports to watch have always been soccer and rugby.
What do you get out of being a Crossfit coach?
For me, the best part of teaching Crossfit is the feeling someone gets when they’ve done something they previously thought was impossible. I’m talking about the little stuff, watching someone get a sub three-minute “Fran” time is great and they deserve a lot of props for the work it took to get to that point. But when someone does a pull-up for the first time, without using a band, or completes a 400-meter run without stopping to walk, those are the accomplishments that matter to me, as a coach. The guy who came in and set a new gym record for the Deadlift or time on the 500-meter row, he’s already strong and was probably strong before he became a Crossfitter. The person who, until now, couldn’t put more than 25 pounds over their head or touch their toes and can now press 95 pounds and can touch their head to their knees is the person whose life has now been dramatically altered because life itself has gotten easier.
I’ve been told that I don’t give a lot of slack to my athletes when they workout, regardless of their skill level. I feel I’d be doing them a huge disservice if I didn’t ask them to give their best every time they came through that door. Helping someone to achieve the satisfaction and confidence that comes with setting a goal and putting in the hard work and time it takes to really accomplish that goal are what I see as my job, as a Crossfit coach.
Anything else to say?
I was an easy sell, as far as Crossfit went — the first time I read what it was about it just made sense to me. Not everyone is that ready to jump in with both feet but I encourage anyone who hasn’t tried it to go to your local Crossfit gym and give it a shot. Most gyms will offer a free intro or workout, to let people get a grasp on what it is we do. It’s not for everyone and, despite its growing popularity, it’ll probably never be mainstream because it’s harder than what a lot of people are willing to do.
Plus there are a lot of misconceptions regarding fitness in mainstream society that make Crossfit seem unsafe. However, with the right coaching and attention to skill level, it’s just as safe and will work better than anything else that’s out there, hands down.
Crossfit changed, forever, the way I view nutrition, fitness, community, and what one person can accomplish.
Jeff Baker coaches at Crossfit Pacific Coast on lower Anacapa Street. Learn more at crossfitpacificcoast.com.
CROSSFIT FOR KIDS: A recent addition to the coaching team at Crossfit Pacific Coast is Christina Luciano, who teaches at Kellogg Elementary and is now running the gym’s CPC Kids and CPC Teens program for ages 6 to 17. The new youth programs are designed to fight the ongoing obesity problem facing American kids, but there’s also evidence that one of the best times to study is after a workout, so each session ends with some time to focus on each child’s most challenging school work. CPC Kids (ages 6-12) classes are Wednesday-Friday (4-4:30 p.m.) and Saturday (11-11:30a.m). CPC Teens (ages 13-17) classes are Wednesday-Friday (4:30-5:15 p.m.) and Saturday (11:30-12:15p.m.)
Read more of Matt Kettmann’s continuing Crossfit travails at independent.com/crossfit.