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Why CrossFit is seducing more women

“Women are finally catching on that they won’t bulk up if they do CrossFit,” says one CrossFit coach. One reason why more women are joining the CrossFit craze.

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CrossFit isn’t just for Marine-wannabe guys any more. Women in New York City, and across the country, are cozying up to huge barbells, gymnastic rings, and climbing ropes. Tracy Anderson this is not; you won’t find three-pound weights in a box (the name for Crossfit “gyms”).

In CrossFit’s earliest days (it started in the mid-90s in Santa Cruz), it attracted men in law enforcement and former Marines. But the combination of mental and physical challenge coupled with a genuine sense of accomplishment and progress made it a popular workout for Type-A guys.

Then it became a legitimate craze with 4,400 boxes nationwide and Reebok aligning itself with the sport, not to mention the major PR of the CrossFit Games. Women started joining the CrossFit community, and today in NYC account for  30-40 percent of its members.

Initially, there were two reasons that women stayed away, according to Cameron Bender, an endurance athlete turned CrossFit coach. “Women worried they’d bulk up and that they simply couldn’t do the workout. They’d see 50 pull ups on the board and think ‘I can’t even do one.’ But everything we do is completely scalable.”

I was curious about just that when I tried seven WODs (that’s Workout of the Day) at 212 CrossFit in Tribeca. I did pull-ups with the assistance of a band, and I threw eight pound medicine balls against a wall while more advanced women next to me threw 12.

And, no, I never once wanted to puke or felt like I was going to die (popular CrossFit lore). I did, however, feel so sore it required an Epsom salt intervention. And I did mysteriously hanker for more. Next time could I deadlift 100 pounds? Could I master the double under (a jump roping move)? Could I ever do an unassisted pull-up?

Katy Glover, 27, trains at CrossFit Riverdale. At just 115 pounds she’s no muscle-head, but she can deadlift 190 pounds. Glover got turned on to CrossFit when she noticed one of her friends looking “awesome, very toned and muscular but not bulky.” Glover had always worked out, but CrossFit was more addictive than anything else she’d tried, “I felt tired but energized,” says Glover. And she looked better than ever—long lean muscle, like a triathlete.

“Women are finally catching on that they won’t bulk up if they do CrossFit,” says Bender, now a coach at 212 CrossFit. “Bulking up has to do more with your genetics and your diet.”

In a lot of ways, CrossFit takes the bootcamp craze to the next level. Women who sweat it out at Barry’s Bootcamp, Slim & Strong, and Training Camp, are curious to see if they can take their functional fitness to the next level. Maybe you’re one of them? —Alexia Brue

Want to find a location near you? Check out our Guide to New York City CrossFit boxes!