New Jersey National Guard Capt. Ellia Miller once hated exercise. Today, she is a two-time Fittest Military Service Member.
Navy Reserve Petty Officer 1st Class Alexander Spears grew up without playing sports or considering himself an athlete. Today, he makes his living in Oklahoma helping others get fit.
Both give significant credit to CrossFit, the popular functional fitness regimen. CrossFit, they attested, can be a great way to get military ready.
“With CrossFit, you’re training your body to do anything you might need to do within a combat role or whatever else you need to do in the military,” Miller said. “Every movement we do in CrossFit translates to some sort of functional movement outside the gym, including military responsibilities.”
Falling for CrossFit
Miller discovered CrossFit in 2016 after a cross-country move for graduate school. After a childhood spent in competitive gymnastics and dancing, and then PT tests in ROTC, she had grown to despise exercising. But continual military fitness tests meant Miller had to get moving.
She started attending a strength and conditioning gym near her job. The exposure caused her to fall in love with Olympic lifting, a type of weightlifting. Now that she was in a new state, where could she go to keep that up? CrossFit, it turns out.
“I was like, ‘CrossFit is a cult! I’m never doing that!,’ but then I ended up falling in love with it,” Miller said. “It’s scalable to anyone or anything. You could have someone who can’t lift a bar, but that’s OK — we’ll give them PVC pipe and have them do the same motion.”
That openness also drew in Spears, a CrossFit Level 2-certified trainer. He found the functional fitness regimen during a deployment to Afghanistan when the base gym hosted classes. After the Navy utilitiesman returned home, he felt drawn to keep up the regimen of tire-flipping, rope-waving and shoulder-pressing at his local box.
“And I just got physically stronger and felt overall healthier,” Spears said. “I felt like I made better decisions as far as my diet and exercise.”
Spears also fell in love with the CrossFit community.
Their presence in group classes and coaching sessions made the whole experience less intimidating for him, he said. Eventually, he decided to get certified as a CrossFit trainer at CrossFit Exile in Moore, Oklahoma.
“All my friends nowadays are people I go to the gym with,” Spears said. “I CrossFit five to six times a week, and everybody is very willing to help each other out. It’s pretty cool.”
Military fitness tests are also a breeze for Spears, now that he’s the kind of troop who loves to jump rope for fun.
“I sometimes help out with PT sessions for drill weekend, and because of CrossFit, I’m able to come up with workouts for my guys,” he said. “As far as my own PT test goes, it’s never any worry.”
Miller, a full-time athlete, echoed that sentiment.
She has used her CrossFit training to power herself to wins in the military division of CrossFit’s annual Occupational Games, earning her the title of “Fittest Military Service Member.” She has also competed at the CrossFit Games semifinals.
“I love that it has helped me to not just live a stronger life, but it’s made me healthier in so many aspects of my life, like mental strength, my relationship with food, my body image, my general happiness,” she said. “I love my life since I started CrossFit.”
And she doesn’t mind the occasional snide remark about it, either.
“I try to get people to see the value of CrossFit for themselves,” she said. “It really can be very useful and beneficial for anybody who wants to do it.”
Ever heard one of these misconceptions about CrossFit? They’re all untrue, according to Spears and Miller.
- It leads to more injuries than other workouts ― a four-year analysis published in the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine discovered that CrossFit athletes get injured at about the same rate as other workout modalities. published in the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine discovered that CrossFit athletes get injured at about the same rate as other workout modalities.
- It’s a cult ― Miller laughs that she once believed this idea. CrossFit is simply a tightknit community, she now says, similar to legions of other groups.
- Its athletes can’t do a pullup ― just check out Miller’s social media pages for photographic and video proof that they can!
- Its athletes don’t care about technique ― a significant portion of Spears’ civilian career is dedicated to teaching his clients proper technique for maximum efficiency and safety.