Outside the Box: Exercise scientist finds community in CrossFit

Aly W

Arsenal member Aly Williams has a masters degree in Exercise Science, and a PhD in Public Health, and when she first saw CrossFit, she thought:

“Good gracious that looks like a lot of work.”

That was four years ago when a group of her students did a 6 week study that compared CrossFit to a “traditional” workout program of weight lifting and aerobic exercise. She was surprised at the results, especially at the aerobic progress made by the students who did CrossFit.

“All of the research is moving towards suggesting that what you need to do to work out is high intensity interval training,” Aly told me over coffee at the Downtown Farm Stand. “No longer is it lift heavy weights over a slow period of time. It’s taxing every system you have as intensely as you can for as long as you can with some breaks in between.”

Waiting for CrossFit to come to Muncie

Aly played volleyball at Indiana Wesleyan University, but fell in and out of work out regimes after college and kids (she has 2 boys, ages 8 and 11).

After she learned about CrossFit from her students, she searched for a box and the nearest one was in Indianapolis. She had to wait four years for CrossFit to come to Muncie.

“The Arsenal is the first gym membership I’ve paid for,” she said.

Aly was hooked after two weeks. After three, she was ready to go every day. Now she goes five or six days a week. The only day you definitely won’t see her at the Arsenal is on Sunday. She grew up on a farm in Southern Illinois and her father was a firm believer in making Sunday a day of rest.

“Lots of girls do CrossFit for weight loss,” Aly said, “and I didn’t see that at all for the the first 5 or 6 weeks. I know physiologically that’s okay. I know that my muscle is building and that the fat is going away.”

But there’s a difference between knowing and doing, between preaching and practicing.

As a trainer Aly had directed athletes how to properly do squats for more than a decade, yet she admits that her first front squats with a PVC pipe at the Arsenal were “ugly.”

She knows how to make a workout program because she’s made them for others. But when she’s made them for herself she’s gotten bored with them after a few weeks.

“I knew what to do and I could do it,” she said,”but I’m a social person, so for me to pay for a typical gym where you’re still in isolation, you’re still by yourself, didn’t make sense. If you’re going to convince me to pay money, it’s for this: groups of people where you can converse. I like community a lot.”

Come for the squats, stay for the community

The first WOD I did with Aly consisted of four runs (1 mile, ¾ of a mile, ½ mile, and ¼ mile) interspersed with front squats. The front squats nearly did me in. After Aly finished, she came over and cheered on my last round of front squats.

I wanted to quit. Aly wouldn’t let me.Aly W group

She knows what it’s like to struggle with squats. But she also knows what it’s like to overcome that struggle. Recently she Rx-ed a WOD wtih squats and Coach Hill came up to her and said, “Six weeks ago you couldn’t have done that.”

She feels stronger now and is seeing other results, too.

“My arms look a little better, so I’ll start to wear a sleeveless shirt,” she said, wearing a sleeveless shirt.

Aly did a WOD at the opening day of the Arsenal and she had to modify the pull ups by jumping off of a box. Before the event she had tried using a thick band and couldn’t do it, but now she can do pull ups with the assistance of the thinnest bands.

“Things like that totally motivate me to keep going,” she said.

Aly first heard about CrossFit in her classroom, and now that she is working out at the Arsenal, she feels better equipped to deliver her lessons.

“Before part of me felt a tad hypocritical because I knew that I couldn’t do the things I was telling the students they needed to do,” she said. “Now I feel better about the job that I do because I feel like I’m modeling it more now than I was.”

Aly knew what to do to live a healthy lifestyle, but she needed a community to help motivate her.

If you need a community to motivate you, sign up for a free trial today.

If you do, Aly will totally cheer you on.

Trust me.

Kelsey Timmerman is an author and Arsenal member. He’s catching up with fellow members outside of the box to have conversations that don’t involve grunting and panting.