Inside The Box, How Crossfit Shredded the Rules, Stripped Down the Gym, and Rebuilt My Body, by TJ Murphy

I have a new book out, “Inside the Box: How CrossFit Shredded the Rules, Stripped Down the Gym and Rebuilt My Broken Down Body.” Juliet asked if I could write a quick blog describing what the book is about. It started off, as a matter of fact, the first time I limped into the parking lot behind the Sports Basement that you all know so well.

Two years ago I was working on a story for Triathlete Magazine (I was editorial director at the time) on Brian MacKenzie’s program, CrossFit Endurance. Pick up most copies of newsstand fitness magazines and you generally will see stories on “how to train” that are all fairly similar.The same can certainly be said for triathlon magazines. CrossFit Endurance was by all measures radical. Traditional endurance training plans have long emphasized periods of base building and have spent little time on subjects like nutrition, stretching and strength training. CFE did away with periodization and instead relied on a matrix of high-intensity sport-specific work, drills for proper technique, nutrition, CrossFit and mobility.

Ironically enough, at the time I was reporting on the story my 25 years as a competitive distance runner/triathlete were grinding to a painful halt. In the early 1990s, living in San Francisco, I was a founding member of the Golden Gate Tri Club and a fairly decent marathoner, running Cal International in 2:38. That was 1991. And if I look back at the record now the following 20 years slowly turned into a downward spiral of spending more time being injured and less time running. I recorded some good races through 1995 but since then I can’t recall the traditional style of training that I kept trying to put in motion, over and over, did me much good. I was able to cross the finish line once in a while but increasingly injuries derailed my race goals long before the gun went off.

So it was in November of 2010 when I first met MacKenzie. I spoke to enough people who told me about the value of CrossFit in not only preventing injury but in helping them break plateaus and record personal records that it would be ridiculous to not try it. From November 2009 to November 2010 I had spent a lot of money on a popular online running program that had left me with a severe limp and unable to run a quarter mile.

After talking about it all some, Brian told me the first thing I needed to do was see Kelly Starrett. The next month I limped into San Francisco CrossFit (I was living in San Diego at the time). I had paid many visits to many different physical therapists in my time and this was the first time the PT didn’t just hook me up to an ultrasound machine and send me on my way. Rather, a lot of the session focused on what happened when I tried to do an air squat (knees caving in, etc).

Kelly took a look at my severe restrictions in range of motion, the back pain and knee pain I had begun to assume were my due for so many years of being a distance runner. After I ticked off the various ailments and weaknesses and the fact that I couldn’t run a lap around the track, he gave me a sharp look.

“Are you OK with that?” he asked.

I considered the undertone to his question. You mean I have a choice here? “Well–since you put it that way—uh…No! I’m not ok with that.”

The implication was obvious—I had been OK with the injuries because I thought it was just the way it was when the running odometer reached certain levels. Kelly was suggesting that there were alternatives.

That was the beginning of my journey into CrossFit and some of the surprises that are in store for all of us. It was definitely a “Matrix”-like Morpheus/red-pill adventure. At the time I started the idea of hopping onto a 12-inch box was barely within my comprehension. Let along kipping pull-ups, Olympic lifts and hand stands. At first of course it was just about the couch stretch and such but within the next year I would establish a degree of athletic capacity that I had not had since high school. If ever.

By last October I had written several stories about CrossFit, CrossFit Endurance and the MWOD when I was asked to write a book for VeloPress. Like so many others at CrossFit gyms I’ve talked to, CrossFit had changed their lives to the better in one way or another. Or several ways. The book traces my at first reluctant journey into CrossFit and then some of my discoveries about the culture and history within.

Last March I moved to San Francisco and joined SFCF. One of the inspiring folks for me at SFCF has been Pon Sohmnhot, who seems to be alternating 50ks and 50-milers every two weeks. He’s one of the reasons I believe the rules are being re-written in terms of how one can train for a running race.

Now that CrossFit has allowed me to overhaul the physical infrastructure that seemed to be teetering on collapse 20 months ago—and having been inspired by the likes of Pon–I’m planning on spending the next few months getting into race form again, purely through this route of CrossFit Endurance-style training.

The book was an honor to write. I hope it gets in the hands of others out there the way I was, adrift in a diminishing state of health that may have some rather surprising alternatives at hand.

Please also join us for a Taco Social & Book Launch Party for Inside the Box at SFCF on Friday, October 5th