CrossFit: Best shape of your life

Ana D'Agrosa does kettlebell squats during warm-ups at her CrossFit class. Photo by Katharine Egli

CrossFit is a unique combination of collaboration and competition. But it is mostly about starting wherever you are and challenging yourself to do better and grow stronger. Although the workouts are the same for each person attending the class that day, everyone also customizes the exercises so that they are appropriate to their own level of fitness. The results are achieved through constant varying of the workouts and performing the exercises at a relatively high intensity.

CrossFit Freeworld of Taos opened last fall under the ownership of Emily Murphy- Darling and Ben Nichols. They purchased the business from Darling’s sister and moved the gym into a new space at the same complex in El Prado. As part of the move, they added and upgraded equipment so they could accommodate more participants, although the space is smaller. Nichols leads most of the classes.

Darling sees herself as support to him. “We are a team,” she said. “I do some of the accounting, scheduling and social media posting. We complement each other.”

When asked about getting started with CrossFit, she said, “We want everyone to know that you don’t have to be in shape to do CrossFit. People here are all different shapes and sizes. We think CrossFit can help everyone get in the best shape of their life. It has meant a lot of happiness and health for us.”

The space is cushioned with black foam flooring and to one side is a huge assortment of rowing machines, weights, bars, ropes, balls and other equipment, although there are no weightlifting machines or treadmills – like you might find at other gyms. Across the room, wooden boxes line the wall under the whiteboard that lists the activities for the day’s workout.

CrossFit Kids

At a recent CrossFit Kids class, seven participants ranging in age from 5 to 10 years old start off by running around the building on the sidewalk. According to Nichols, the run serves two purposes: It helps the kids warm up their muscles and also allows them to work off some energy that has built up while sitting in school during the day. The class moves through the set of warmups and learning about skills and techniques, culminating in a series of exercises developed just for that day. While the kids do donkey kicks against the wall, situps and squats to warm up, Nichols provides guidance and encouragement, helping them to stay focused. He points out, “There is an emphasis on moving properly – so the kids don’t develop injuries down the road.” The workout of the day, known as the “WOD,” involves each team member rowing while the others jump up on the wooden boxes and lift weights; then they trade off.

A timer on the wall with big red numbers counts down and Nichols lets the class know how much time remains. “One minute left, 30 seconds,” then the buzzer sounds. There is a check of the rowing machines to see who went the farthest.

Although there is usually a mix of both boys and girls, Bonnie Minter is the only girl in the class this particular day. Minter, a fourth-grader at Taos Charter School said,

“I like CrossFit Kids because the WODs and games are fun. The workouts help with gymnastics by making me stronger.”

Her mother, Maggie Minter, said that she herself is a huge fan of CrossFit and started working out at the gym from the first day it was open. Her daughter has been coming with her for three years, so it was natural for her to be interested in trying it.

“I’m a little addicted to CrossFit, and that is a good thing,” Minter said.

CrossFit Kids always includes a game and a little friendly competition between teams. At this class, two teams line up next to each other. Each team member must crawl through a tunnel pushing a ball and then throw the ball over two big wooden boxes. When they reach the wall, they throw the ball over a horizontal pole and then turn around to do it again. Being one of the smaller kids turns into an advantage when crawling through the tunnel, where the bigger kids get stuck, but not when jumping over the wooden boxes.

The kids encourage their team members. Each heat has a winner, although there is not a lot of emphasis placed on winning. “Good work,” said Nichols so that everyone feels appreciated.

Adult CrossFit

After the class for kids is done, the adults begin to arrive for the 5:15 p.m. session. First in is Steevie Bereiter, who is visiting from Arizona.

“Whenever I travel for work, I find a CrossFit gym,” she said. “I have always been welcomed like part of the family.”

She first became interested in CrossFit because she wanted to get in better shape so she could surf longer when she lived in Washington state. Another participant, Anna Dagrosa, heard of CrossFit when she moved to Taos about a year ago. She decided to try it out and has been with it ever since. The class begins as the participants arrive. Six people soon arrive – a mix of men and women – who follow Nichols’ instructions as they row, raise their knees and squat. Even though the warmup is challenging, the participants laugh, talk and offer encouragement to each other. Nichols demonstrates a new move: lifting an empty weight bar to different levels close to the body. Each person works at their own rate, focusing inward to find their personal strength and push just a little harder.

Nichols said that one of the things he finds most gratifying about coaching people in CrossFit is the joy of being with them when they make a breakthrough. “With CrossFit, there is always the next goal and the evolution to get there,” he said.

One motivator to stay consistent with the workouts is the

periodic competitions for CrossFit participants. At a recent event at the Albuquerque Rail Yards, CrossFit Freeworld teams placed third and eighth out of 42 teams. “A pretty good showing for our small gym,” said Nichols.

The next competition will take place at Duke City CrossFit at the end of June, also in Albuquerque. He said that the competitions are great things. “You are not going to miss a day when you have a competition coming up,” he added.

Both morning and evening classes are offered, with the 5 a.m. class being among the most popular. If you are interested in trying CrossFit, you can attend a free community class on Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. “Come to the free class,” Nichols said. “You will have a chance to partner with someone more experienced and try a workout that is not too hard or too intense.”

He recommends that people wear typical gym workout clothes and a good pair of running shoes. The first week after the initial community class is also free.

Olympic lifting classes are available on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 4 p.m. Nichols also offers personal training on an ongoing basis or until someone feels comfortable joining a class.

CrossFit FreeWorld is located at 1103 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For more information, class schedules and pricing, visit or call (575) 224-6398.

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