Stronger than you think: The world of CrossFit in Cooperstown, NY

“We are the machines.”

That’s the answer you’ll get if you walk into Cooperstown CrossFit (CCF) and ask about treadmills, ellipticals, or any other kind of motorized exercise equipment. Then, you’ll be asked to join in the warmup and WOD (workout of the day).

CCF logo

By stepping inside CCF’s one-room facility at the Maple Ridge Plaza on Route 28 in Hartwick Seminary, you’ve entered a community of exercisers who enjoy their time at the gym (or “box,” as CrossFitters call it) and look forward to every workout.

CCF members are there for themselves—to stay healthy and keep in shape—and they are there for each other: to encourage and challenge their fellow members to push farther, work harder.

Everyone follows the day’s workout, designed and written on a whiteboard by CCF founder and trainer, Dan Murdock. If you don’t understand the jargon, don’t worry. Murdock will explain and then direct you through the workout, making sure you use proper form and technique.

“People go to the gym and don’t have any form whatsoever and think they’re doing it great,” said CCF member Christopher Zeh. “Dan makes sure you’re doing it right.”

Murdock started CCF last summer—officially opening August 1, 2012—after doing CrossFit workouts on his own for about two years.

Before exploring the CrossFit regimen, Murdock followed a standard exercise prescription: three days of weight lifting with running on the days in between. His results didn’t please him:

“I was getting slower, fatter, weaker,” he said.

He started researching and ended up learning about compound movements where you move multiple joints at the same time, but he wasn’t sure how to build them into a workout.

“Then my wife Michelle notices that our friends in California were doing this thing called CrossFit that used compound movements,” Murdock said. “She tells me, ‘I think I’m going to try it out.’”

While Murdock continued pumping iron for two hours in the morning, his wife experimented with CrossFit.

“And she [was] getting leaner, stronger, faster,” Murdock said. “I’m like, ‘I’ve got to take the plunge and do it.’”

The first CrossFit workout Murdock tried was seven rounds of 15 box jumps, 15 kettleball swings, and 15 power cleans with light weight.

“I think, ‘Twelve minutes easy, I’ll be done,’” Murdock said. “Forty-seven minutes later, my CD had run out. I’m laying in a puddle of sweat on the floor, going, ‘What was that?’”

A year later, Murdock did the same workout in 21 minutes. It was the beginning of a revolution in his fitness world.

Murdock’s interest in growing stronger had come from a practical need:

“We heat our house with wood, and I cut and split the wood by hand.”

The year before Murdock started doing CrossFit, he began cutting a load of logs in July and finished near the end of September. The first year that he did CrossFit, the same amount of logs took him only a week to cut.

The first three months Murdock did CrossFit, the workouts were all indoor, bodyweight exercises. One day, the workout that came up was to run 10 kilometers.

“Five a.m. I head out. It’s the middle of February. It’s rainy, snowy, gross. Awful conditions. I run five kilometers out, five kilometers back. [At] 6:02, I’m back at my house.”

A year passes. The longest interval Murdock runs is a mile. On another ugly day in February, he’s again told to run 10 kilometers. He finishes at 5:52 a.m.

“In a year, I shaved 10 minutes off my 10K by not running.”

By then, Murdock was hooked.

He visited Albany CrossFit and read articles and studies on the fitness regimen. January 2012, he went to his first CrossFit seminar in Philadelphia and got level one training. When the trainers at Mohawk Valley CrossFit went to a seminar, he filled in for them and found that he liked helping others work out.

July 2012, he rented CCF’s space, set up the equipment—pullup rig, gymnastic rings, barbells, plyometric boxes—and hosted a few free days. On August 1, he officially opened his box.

What can you expect from a CrossFit workout?

Warmup, mobility, and strength or skill routines specifically designed to prepare you for the WOD. All of the movements Murdock coaches you through are comparable to movements from everyday life.

An example is G.I. Jane, a burpee-pullup WOD that sends CrossFitters from facedown on the floor in a pushup position to the pullup bar for as long as it takes them to do 100 reps.

“You need to be able to get yourself off the floor,” Murdock said, “and someday, you’re going to need to pull yourself up on something. That’s a functional movement.”

CrossFit workouts treat your whole body as a single muscle group, forcing your arms, shoulders, and back to work with your hips, thighs, and calves.

“You’re getting the technique down and building your body from the core out, so you have a more stable, reliable set of feet underneath you,” said CCF member Jeremy Croft, who’s had problems with compressed disks in his lower back for about five years. He’s been doing CrossFit for eight months.

“I used to get [back spasms] at least once every month and a half,” Croft said. “I’d really be popping the Alleave, trying to subside swelling and inflammation in my back. Since I’ve started [CrossFit], I’ve strengthened all of those core muscles that support your back and your spine and your hips.”

He hasn’t had a serious spasm since he started doing CrossFit.

If 100 burpees and pullups strike you as too intense, relax. The workout can be scaled down, or you may be underestimating yourself.

“Sometimes, people come in and go, ‘I don’t know if I want to do [the WOD],’” Murdock said. “Then they crush it. I ask, ‘So what do you think?’ ‘It was easy.’”

Having a specific goal helps.

“You have an objective that you’re trying to complete, which makes you a little more involved,” Croft said.

So does the CCF community: The first time Zeh came to CCF, he met and defeated the WOD.

“It was the hardest workout, and I felt so great at the end,” Zeh said. “Just being in here and the camaraderie with everybody trying to help out everybody else . . . Wow.”

“Everybody’s working toward a common goal here, which means everybody’s slapping hands by the end of it,” Croft said.

“I’ve never said this is how we roll. It just happens,” Murdock said. “People cheer each other on, congratulate each other, introduce each other. Somebody new comes in the door, everybody goes ‘hey! I’m so-and-so. Who are you?’”

When you surprise yourself—by doing one pullup or 100—you want to see what else you’re capable of.

“It’s not, ‘Aww man. I’ve got to put in a CrossFit routine,’” Croft said. “We never think of it that way. It’s ‘let’s see what we can do today.’”

“It’s fun,” Murdock said. “Not like doing the same thing every day. That becomes a job. This people look forward to.”

Cooperstown CrossFit is located at 4773 State Highway 28 in the Maple Ridge Plaza in Hartwick Seminary. Hours are Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m, and Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. to noon. Drop-ins are welcome. First time is free. Memberships are available. Reduced rates for active law enforcement, fire and emergency personnel, and active or retired military.

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