Learning to Breathe Fire: The Rise of CrossFit and the Primal Future of Fitness by J. C. Herz

Book Overview

The absorbing, definitive account of CrossFit’s origins, its explosive grassroots growth, and its emergence as a global phenomenon.

One of the most illuminating books ever on a sports subculture, Learning to Breathe Fire combines vivid sports writing with a thoughtful meditation on what it means to be human. In the book, veteran journalist J.C. Herz explains the science of maximum effort, why the modern gym fails an obese society, and the psychic rewards of ending up on the floor feeling as though you’re about to die. 

The story traces CrossFit’s rise, from a single underground gym in Santa Cruz to its adoption as the workout of choice for elite special forces, firefighters and cops, to its popularity as the go-to fitness routine for regular Joes and Janes. Especially riveting is Herz’s description of The CrossFit Games, which begin as an informal throw-down on a California ranch and evolve into a televised global proving ground for the fittest men and women on Earth, as well as hundreds of thousands of lesser mortals. 

In her portrayal of the sport’s star athletes, its passionate coaches and its “chief armorer,” Rogue Fitness, Herz powerfully evokes the uniqueness of a fitness culture that cultivates primal fierceness in average people. And in the shared ordeal of an all-consuming workout, she unearths the ritual intensity that’s been with us since humans invented sports, showing us how, on a deep level, we’re all tribal hunters and first responders, waiting for the signal to go all-out. 

Book Review

I laughed. I cried. OK, I cried WAY more than I laughed as I read this book. The book has many touching moments of individual triumph against long odds.

This is not just the story of the elite athletes that make up CrossFit but also the story of ordinary people who turn their lives around with CrossFit. Did the book make me think I could go out and be an elite athlete? No way. Those people are still supermen and superwomen to me. But the book did inspire me to enter a newbie competition in the Spring and I guess that’s how these things start – with a small beginning.

I also liked the historical perspective with the rise of Rogue Fitness and the other elements like the games which are around CrossFit but which don’t have much explanation unless you’ve been in it for a long time. As a newbie to CrossFit it filled in those gaps.

The only bad thing about this book was that it ended. But I guess the story goes on with those who embrace the challenge of CrossFit.

About the Author

J. C. Herz is a former rock critic and tech writer for Rolling Stone and Wired, and wrote The New York Times’ first game design column. A two-time author and technology entrepreneur, she started doing CrossFit in a gym where white-collar professionals and new moms hit WODs with active-duty military and members of the presidential Secret Service detail.

Her favorite CrossFit workout is “Cindy.”

Author Links

Facebook: J. C. Herz
Amazon: J. C. Herz


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