The right fit
Park City has its share of athletic people, but Chris Spealler might just be the fittest man in town.
Spealler was among the world’s elite finishers at the 2010 CrossFit Games earlier this month, taking third place and landing his first podium spot in four years of attending the event. Held July 16-18 at the Home Depot Sports Complex in Carson, Calif., the annual sweatfest brought competitors from all over the globe to showcase a growing fitness trend that started in the mid-1990s in response to specialized training regimens.
"I went there with the intent to win, so it’s always disappointing, but I’m not discouraged with my performance," said Spealler, who can do 96 pull-ups, deadlift 370 pounds, military press 155 pounds and do a whole host of other things you probably can’t. Spealler won the Spirit of the Games award for his dedication to the sport, and also took home first-place honors in the wall burpee/rope climb leg (a "burpee" involves dropping to a push-up position and rising to a standing position again as quickly as possible).
"You can’t really have any chinks in your armor – you have to be well rounded," he said of the CrossFit schedule, in which athletes do 10 workouts designed to promote versatility. Making matters more challenging, entrants are not informed of the next event until an hour before it starts. "At the elite level, it takes a major amount of mental toughness."
The CrossFit concept stresses well-roundedness above all else, focusing equally on cardiovascular endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination and accuracy. Most workouts involve a combination of disciplines, sometimes as many as three or four, with multiple repetitions of each. An example of a CrossFit workout is a 400-meter run, 15 handstand push-ups, and 15 pull-ups – repeated five times.
"It’s pretty exhausting," Spealer said. " the end of the weekend, everyone’s pretty drained."
Spealler placed fourth in the inaugural 2007 CrossFit Games, just months after he got involved in CrossFit training. Prior to that, he had wrestled since first grade through college at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania. When the fitness enthusiast came across CrossFit, the ideas resonated strongly.
"It’s so simple," he said. "Lots of people have gotten carried away with their workout routines, with repetition and specific exercises. CrossFit gives you a huge base to do whatever you want."
The Games have grown significantly over the last four years, Spealler said, and the athletes have begun to foster a sense of community among the concept’s disciples.
"Most (sports) kind of have rivalries and bad blood among competitors, but CrossFit is so welcoming," he said. Trainers regularly share tips and workouts over meals and during breaks, he said.
The profile of the training method has also grown in Park City, thanks largely to Spealler’s gym, CrossFit Park City. There (at 2730 Rasmussen Road) you won’t find any fancy exercise machines.
"Most people might consider it an unconventional way of working out, but it’s really the most basic stuff you could do," he said. "Our specialty is not specializing. The workouts tend to feel a little bit more like playing sports."
CrossFit Park City started as a small operation in the Basin Recreation Center more than three years ago, and has grown steadily to about 25-30 participants. Two years ago, it moved into its own space, and a year ago saw an expansion intended to accommodate a further boost in popularity. Now, the gym even tailors programs to kids ages 6-18, with 16th-place Games participant Eric O’Connor overseeing the youngsters.
Athletes in other sports and military personnel have incorporated CrossFit concepts into their training, Spealler said. Elite competitors have very little to gain from traditional methods at the highest levels, and CrossFit gives those athletes a chance to hone some of their weaker skills. This is something they’re often reluctant to do, at least in the comfort of their choice pursuit, Spealler said.
"Park City as a whole is very endurance-oriented, so they’re a little hesitant to try strength exercises," he said. But once they do, a number of testimonials have supported his claim that anybody can improve through CrossFit.
One woman told Spealler she can now keep up with her male friends on steep mountain bike climbs, while another patron said (half-joking) he escaped a bear attack in the Uintas with the agility and speed he improved at the gym.
Spealler said there are two common misconceptions about the program: that it’s too hard – it can be scaled down for anybody’s needs – and that people need to get in shape before they start doing it.
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