THIS is not a glamour shoot.
But given that our subject is Michelle Madrigal, casual bystanders may be forgiven for thinking otherwise. After all, Madrigal has graced the cover of magazines and strutted on catwalks. She’s no stranger to designer clothes or sky-high heels. But today she’s in workout gear and cross-trainers, and instead of a catwalk, club, or studio, we’re in a box, which is what a Cross Fit gym is called. It’s hard and Spartan, with paint peeling off the walls and gymnastics rings hanging from the rafters almost calling out to you to grip them and pull yourself off the floor, if you even can.
At the farthest end of the gym, you’ll spot its gym goers assembling in front of a white board, also known as the leader board. It’s where Cross Fit members are commended for their ability to do some of the workouts. Members’ names are listed under different girls’ names, like Amanda and Cindy. This is because many Cross Fit Benchmark workouts are named after hurricanes, using the old system of naming typhoons used by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services (PAGASA) and other meteorological institutions around the world. Cross Fit founder Greg Glassman’s explanation for adopting this naming system has been quoted on several websites. “I thought that anything that left you flat on your back, looking up at the sky, asking, ‘What just happened to me?’ deserved a female’s name. Workouts are just like storms, they wreak havoc on towns.” There’s no question about it: people who do Cross Fit mean business when it comes to fitness and Madrigal has certainly embraced this fully.
As we begin snapping away, Madrigal clears a pair of weights off the padded floor. Although she was cheerful and chatty on the makeup chair, in the box, her face acquires a steely slackness, and she trains her eyes straight ahead as if she were tracking a stray gazelle.
Her toned figure tenses as she jerks the bar to her back and moves down into squats. But wait! There’s something off with the lighting — could we fix the spot a little? She laughs as she keeps the weight aloft. We wait for a bead of sweat to break, but even with this and all the other small delays, nothing breaks her cool composure.
But that’s until Madrigal eyes the leader board that’s hung high above the box and says she really wants to see her name on it again. She had her name there once, for a 140-pound Wall Ball workout called “Karen,” but she makes some qualifications about her achievement. “Nag Rx ako. So I only did 114 pounds.” (Rx is CrossFit shorthand for “recommended weight.”) Getting a high score is harder than you think. “Sometimes they want you to lift a 100, 110 for front squats and back,” she says, shaking her head. “Yesterday, we had a workout. It’s called a GI Jane — a 100-rep burpee pullup. It’s really intense.”
Burpees — the ROTC staple squat thrust finished off with a jump — are not Madrigal’s favorite routine. “Everyone hates them,” she says, which may explain why CrossFit seems to love them so much. Late for a session? Burpees (10 for every minute late). Break a rule? That’ll be 50 burpees. And it’s no wonder they’re such a box staple — wielded well and often, a burpee is a finely honed conditioning tool. And it’s just one of many at Cross Fit’s disposal. All of their workouts mix up high-intensity, high-rep circuit training in explosive bursts.
“I was dying,” Madrigal says, recalling her first time at CrossFit. “My trial was seven burpees, seven pullups, seven wall balls, and seven box jumps. It was AMRAP. AMRAP is ‘as many rounds as possible.’ I did six [rounds], and they told me that it’s not so bad for a first-timer. Kasi ‘yung iba raw, by the fourth, they stop na.”
CrossFit thrives on limits — or, rather, that nigh-unreachable space just beyond yours. While it trims workout times to just under half an hour, CrossFit training compensates by testing your body to see just how far it can go. “Pag nagsusuka ka sa CrossFit, it’s normal. I once had to step outside because I thought I was going to puke. I had to run outside, and I was like” — Madrigal makes a gagging sound. “Tapos babalik ka uli, di ka pa pala tapos sa workout!”
There is nothing quite so terrifying to an outsider or quite so satisfying to a Cross Fitter as the resonant clang of a weightlifting bar thrown to the floor after a vicious final rep. It’s all part of the program’s intimidating reputation. Ditto for the CrossFit Games, probably their most public event. Everything that scares you about CrossFit is in the Games: jacked athletes pumping Olympic-sized weights, a gauntlet of exercises, the overcharged throb of competition, and the whole X-Games-hits-the-gym vibe.
But if CrossFit were really that difficult and dangerous, Madrigal wouldn’t have lasted this long. “Before talaga, I was tamad, I was lazy. I boxed, I ran, I tried rugby, I did yoga. Every workout naman, you know if it’s for you or not.” Cross Fit’s big, wide-open secret is that for all the gut-wrenching pain, their workouts are inherently scaleable to skill, fitness level, and ability. In short, everyone can do it. It will push you to the vomiting point, but everyone can do it. It’s all a matter of attitude — something Madrigal has a hardy amount of.
Since joining the program last year, CrossFit has been very, very good to Madrigal. Pictorial evidence aside, the biggest benefit of the program is that it allows her to schedule into a busy life filled with tapings, tapings, and even more tapings. “I can’t afford to go to the gym for an hour or two, so I’m only here for 30 minutes at most.” Her assistant tells us that even during one- or two-hour taping breaks, she heads down to the CrossFit MNL gym in the Army Gymnasium. And it’s all paid off. “They push you talaga. They won’t force you to do heavier weights kung di mo kaya, but if they know you can, they will force you.”
As a result, her strength has built up to the point that she can heft 75 pounds in a nice, easy power clean or go 90 on a deadlift. On the kettlebells and pullups, she can hit up to 100 reps. She even met her current boyfriend in the box. Not bad at all. But, like all CrossFitters, she still feels there’s a ways to go. “To be able to do a pullup na walang band, that’s one of my goals.”
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