The thought of working out has, for most of my life, seemed awful and far-fetched. Not to mention sweaty and all around tragic. Plus, I am NOT a gym guy. The thought of running on a treadmill or laying down on a bench where the previous unknown weirdo just sweated their dank nasty weirdo sweat is NOT appealing. As a matter of fact, it gives me the heebie jeebies. So, traditional gyms are off the list. And Crossfit seems a little too intense and a touch too cult-like for me. I’m lazy, so running on my own is out. With nothing left to choose from, I guess that meant staying fat. Or so I thought. One day Sally hinted, like only a woman can, that I was becoming a boxy pile of useless man-blubber, without saying exactly those words. Actually, I think her exact words were “Why don’t you come workout with me. I think you’ll like it and it might help your knee feel better.” So I went as a guest and almost vomited. I signed up a few days later for a 9 week challenge and so it all began.
I joined a group called X-Team Fitness. It is an outdoor/indoor boot camp style workout program. I think it is best described as personal training in a group setting. While accurate, that description sometimes still feels too stiff for me. “Boot camp” makes me think of someone yelling in my face about how useless of a human being I am as I climb a rope up a wall. That’s not how this is at all. Well, there are ropes. And walls. But there are no disparaging comments. What X-Team is is a group of people, in all shapes and sizes, who get together for an hour in the morning or an hour at night (some people do both) to better themselves under the patient tutelage of knowledgeable instructors. But, for argument’s sake, let’s just call it the most rewarding hour of the day. We meet at different parks around the city for the outdoor sessions. Our new indoor facility is located in Scotts Addition and allows for a different exercise focus that wasn’t fully possible in the outdoor setting. It also will be handy when it’s 6 degrees out and snowing. That tends to make people complain (I, however, still wear shorts in the snow… like an adult… and a man. Because I am an adult man).
X-Team has several leaders, but the head honcho and founder is Bob Taylor. Bob started X-Team in 2007. To be a bit more exact, the very first workout was on May 24, 2007 at Forest Hill park. I wanted to know what motivated Bob to create X-Team Fitness. His idea originated when he was in high school. He told me, “As a track and football player I had an ‘athletic study hall’ where the athletes would gather at the field house the last period of each day, and the coaches would proceed to beat the crap out of us.” For Bob, that was the turning point in making fitness a lifetime passion. He went on to tell me, “I knew when I left school I wouldn’t have a program like that, so I decided to create it so other adults could have something similar. It’s still not exactly like the original vision, but with the acquisition of the indoor space we’re getting closer.” Years of hard work have seen Bob’s vision of just such a program become a reality. Part of his success is due to his ability to bring on other leaders who are knowledgeable and fun to workout with. They want to sweat just as badly as they are trying to make us sweat so they are not afraid to get right in the mix with everyone else. Part of the reason these workouts are so great is because of the team that leads them. For that, I thank you all.
For the most part, X-Team is an outdoor program. That means you get the opportunity to experience the change of seasons here in Richmond. I started my 6-week challenge in September, so I caught the end of summer/beginning of fall weather. Afternoon sessions were still warm with mornings being a touch chillier. I got in the habit of doing morning sessions because it is just easier in my life. Plus, it is a great way to start the day. Winter was a bit tough. I made a rule that I would only wear pants if it was below 20 degrees. Otherwise, I rocked shorts, gloves and 2 shirts. What can I say, I get hot. Winter brought new challenges to the workouts which I liked. Running through snow is like running on a beach. Except cold and with zero girls in bikinis. Also, I learned that metal pull-up bars will stick to bare hands below 32 degrees. Still, it was worth it. Usually winter is that span of time where people hunker down around heaters and eat pizzas to build up fat stores to get them through the harsh icy temperatures. I dropped weight. And a pant size. Now that we have moved back into warmer weather, workouts have been a bit more pleasant. It has also been fun to watch members resurface as the thermometer climbed. Apparently bears aren’t the only ones who hibernate.
Having great leaders and being outside are only part of what makes this program exceptionally effective for me. It’s also the people you work out with that make this a fun experience. There is every personality and attribute represented: serious, goofy, tall, short, dainty, jacked, husky, skinny, long arms, stumpy legs, big mouth, super quiet and everything else you can imagine. Regardless of how they look or act, these folks drag themselves out of bed at 6am every morning, or scurry over after working all day at 6pm, to workout. Not only do they workout, and hard, but they have fun doing it. I’ll be the first to say it, I may have one of the biggest mouths there and it runs like a finely tuned motor for an hour straight. But I’m not alone. These folks are awesome. The amount of support that pours out is insane. If you go 4 minutes without hearing “Good job” or “Keep it going. You got it” then you might actually need to go to the doctor as you have developed sudden deafness. Working out alongside folks that are there for the same right reasons is invaluable to me. I’m grateful every time I have the chance to workout with this group and hope to be here for a long time.
So, what is a “typical workout” like you ask? Let me tell you. Well, let me first say there isn’t a “typical workout.” Each day is different. Still, I can tell you how our recent workout at Dogwood Dell went. I did the afternoon session, so the crowd was a little smaller than the morning. We had about 25 people, so not a bad turn out. We began with a nice warm-up run, which was just about a mile. If you were in the front, you may have gone just over a mile. We always run “back to last” in X-Team. That way we make sure we always know where people are. It also allows us the opportunity to encourage each other on. After the run we went right into the amphitheater and worked on our abs. We did flutter kicks, leg levers, crunches, sit-ups and knee pull-ins. Each set of exercises brought us down to the next level of seating. Once you reach the bottom there is only one way to go: up. Step-ups and box jumps brought us back to the top. Once there, we jogged over to the lawn in front of the Carilion. Here we sprinted to the far side of the lawn and back. Then we lined up from fastest sprinter to slowest and broke into teams of 6. Each team grabbed a rope. Team 1 raced Team 2 in a sprint. Then Teams 3 & 4, finishing with 5 & 6. We sprinted just enough times to put me on the cusp of puking. I have never been a sprinter (I won’t say I am one now), but I love the days we do sprints. It’s one of those areas you can really see a change in yourself. I’m faster than I was, with plenty of room to improve. After sprints, we broke up into teams of 5 according to weight. One person laid down and the other 4 grabbed their limbs and carried them to some cones. Then we had to bring their heavy asses back. The 5-man carry is tough and probably one of my least favorite exercises. It kills my wrists, but I do what it takes to get stronger. We ended the workout with a bit of fun, as Bob is known to do. We broke into 2 teams and played tug of war. After all the work we did, it is amazing to me that we still had the strength. People found it (specifically the other team who beat us twice) and we had a great time. To say by the end that I was a little sweaty is to say the James River is a moderate stream.
What about the indoors sessions? I can hear the inquiring minds from here. So, let me share our latest indoor venture. We pretty much ran a circuit of exercises with high weight meant to exhaust your muscles. Mission accomplished. After all 55 or so of us warmed up with a series of simple exercises (arm circles, jumping jacks, windmills and push ups) we partnered up. I have developed a small group of folks that I partner up with. I know them, they push me and I trust them to not let me kill myself. On this day my partner was Russ, a former football player. That means Russ is a lot bigger than my 5’9″/228 lbs frame. This also means any weight we were going to do would not be light… yay. Almost all the weight exercises were 3 sets of 8 reps. We started with overhead triceps extensions laying on the bench. Fully curl the weight down and then fully extend it up over the head with straight arms. We moved onto hammer curls. I will say that curls with 30 lbs weights gets to you fairly quickly. Our next stop was bench press. This is an exercise I seriously want to improve on. I know I can eventually do my body weight, but that’s a little ways away. Right now I had to settle for 135 lbs. Once we did our sets it was on to military press. We should have just hung out here another round because next was ab roll-outs. Talk about an exercise you will feel for days after. We then hit up jump rope, lunges, leg throw downs and partner sit-ups with a medicine ball. We finished up with dumbbell bear crawls. With some time left over, we went back to bench press. It was an excellent session and left me feeling completely wiped.
Bob also offers a Saturday run option and a stretch class. The runs are always good. Getting out there with some other folks to just run for an hour is incredibly therapeutic. You really get a chance to clear your mind. You will usually put away 4 to 6 miles on any given weekend. Starting your Saturday off with a 6 mile run really helps boost the rest of your day. The stretch class is also a huge help. While we do some stretching at the end of workouts, it’s really never enough. I’m guilty of not stretching when I get home either. The hour on Saturdays always leaves me feeling loose. I could use a 2 hour class, but I’ll take what I can get. Or I could just be an adult and stretch after working out…
In a moment of brutally serious honesty, I truly was the worst parts of all of us. I ate like garbage. If cheese or rice or pasta was not part of a meal, I felt it wasn’t worth eating. I love beer and drank probably more often than I should. I’d sit home rather than go for a jog. I suffered from terrible knee pain. I constantly complained about it, and used it as an excuse to get out of physical activities sometimes. I struggled with body image for years and years. My family has always been big like most Americans are, but that doesn’t mean people don’t tease. I tried very hard to convince myself that it didn’t bother me. I used self-deprecating humor to hide how uncomfortable I was in my own skin. I bought clothes that were big so that my gut didn’t hang out. I NEVER wore anything that said “fitted” or “slim.” I hated me, but it was worse because I acted like I didn’t. In a nutshell, I wasn’t ok with who I was and had zero confidence that others could be ok with me.
X-Team helped change so much of that for me. I still eat what I want, but I attempt to not stuff my gullet full, and I also try to eat food that is marginally better for me. I have cut back my drinking. I don’t have a beer 5 nights a week. I try to save it for the weekends or big social events. My knee feels the best it has in years. Sure, it still has bad days, and it probably always will. I just have bad days less often now. The biggest thing is I’m not ashamed of who I am so much anymore. Do I still have work to do to get where I want to be? Yeah, but that motivates me to work harder. I’m not embarrassed to do simple things, like take my shirt off at the beach. I haven’t done that since I was a kid. I’m 30!! We are talking well over 15 years. This summer, I’m not getting just that farmers tan. Once I really committed to X-Team I not only lost weight, but I lost inches. My belly and my waist dropped. Buying smaller pants is one of those little joys that can make your whole week shine. I put a shirt on that I hadn’t worn in 3 years because I was too big. And I looked good. I honestly have never felt this good inside and outside in… well, ever I guess.
I know this whole thing has sounded like a sales pitch. It’s not. I know that group workouts aren’t for everyone. It’s something that works for me. If, by chance, what I have said here does interest you then look into it. Try the 6-week intro course and see how you feel after. I promise you it gets easier, and you will feel better. I can tell you I did, it does and I do. Tell Bob I sent you. On second thought, you may not want to do that. He still regards me as “that woods-vomiting kid” and he has tried to get me to stick my tongue to frozen pull-up bars on several occasions (for the glorious silence that would ensue I assume). You’re better off just joining, working hard and getting jacked without admiting it was because of me.