Before most people have even hit snooze on their alarms, Brett Thompson has already checked off an impressive to-do list.
The long-time York University web developer, currently housed in the School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design, is up and out the door before the sun rises to join a 5 a.m. WOD – or “workout of the day” as it’s called in the world of CrossFit – where he and a group of like-minded athletes are led by a trained CrossFit coach.
At his gym in Brampton, Heart & Hustle Fitness, he cranks out a different exercise program each day that includes components in strength, mobility and functional fitness. His morning might consist of more common exercises like squats and burpees or other complex movements using barbells, like the Olympic weightlifting movement “the power snatch.” Or, it might be a grueling test of endurance on the rower or working through a series of gymnastics movements to achieve a strict muscle-up.
Every day the workout is different, and it’s part of his attraction to the sport.
But, at 6 a.m. when class is over, he’s not done yet. Thompson keeps his shoes on, but changes “hats,” making the transition from gym member to coach, and prepares to lead a group of athletes of all skill levels through the WOD. It’s only after this that he gets ready to start his day at York.
Thompson, who has worked at York University since 2008 and in AMPD since 2015, hasn’t always been a CrossFitter; in fact, he says jokingly, he was “happy just sitting on the couch,” but decided to give the sport a try after his wife, Jennifer, had been doing CrossFit for about a year.
“The first time I was in CrossFit gym I did a partner WOD with my wife, and I didn’t make it through the work out. I ended up curled up and lying on the floor, and she was still going,” he laughed. “That’s when something clicked though, and I knew I wanted to get better at this.”
That was six years ago.
This year, Thompson took the leap from member to coach with support and encouragement from the owner and head coach of his gym. He enrolled in a four-day training session with his gym where he learned more about the sport, as well as the values instilled by the gym’s leadership team. He began to shadow other coaches, and went on to earn his CrossFit Level 1 coaching certificate – an intense two-day course that requires passing a test at the end – allowing him to be able to teach and train others.
About 10 hours of his week are earmarked for CrossFit, split between his own workout time and coaching.
Although the current COVID-19 shut-down of non-essential services has forced him to hit the pause button on his coaching, Thompson continues to train at home and online with his gym community. Some days that means logging on for a virtual class, other days it means setting up equipment in his garage and doing a partner WOD with his wife, with their toddler son and infant daughter cheering them on.
“What I love about CrossFit is that it feels like a sport. It doesn’t feel like I’m working out,” he says. “There’s a competition feel to it, whether you are being timed or you have to lift a certain amount of weight. I’ve done other types of workouts just with weights at a gym – there’s nothing there that feels fun.”
The community, however, is just as important as the workouts in a CrossFit gym. “I’ve never worked out in another gym where, if you are new, people are encouraging you – like going back to me being on the floor during my first class. No one was saying ‘This guy doesn’t belong here,’ it was more welcoming and everyone was like ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get it next time.’”
One specific recent event at his local CrossFit gym embodied that community spirit, when they hosted a “pregnancy” WOD for his wife who was weeks away from having their second child. The gym encouraged members to wear medicine balls (affixed to their stomachs with plastic wrap) during the workout – and they did.
“With CrossFit you also have that community, there are all kinds of people of different levels working out with you and you are all sweating together.”
Coaches are trained to provide scalable solutions to all movements in a WOD for any skill level. This piece can also be one of the more challenging aspects of being a coach, he says, where he has to think on the spot of appropriate modifications for those with different skill levels or injuries. For instance, someone with a knee injury may not be able to perform burpees, so he will have to instantly come up with another suitable exercise that uses those same muscle groups with the same intensity, without risk to the knee.
There’s a lot of science backing CrossFit as well, which is often described as high intensity workouts that support functional fitness – exercises designed to train the body for real-life movements. This is also a draw for Thompson, who feels the sport’s benefits – such as goal-setting and improvements in overall health – carry over into other aspects of his life.
And he’s definitely not shy about telling anyone who will listen about his adventures in CrossFit – even his toddler son reminds him of the bloody nose he once got during a class.
Thompson continues to work on his own fitness goals, like those strict ring muscle-ups, and says there will always be another goal, no matter what list of accomplishments are behind him. But now he’s also a voice of encouragement for people like him, who want to get up off the gym floor and try again.
By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, deputy editor, YFile
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