New Books Network

J. C. Herz

Learning to Breath Fire

The Rise of CrossFit and the Primal Future of Fitness

Crown Archetype 2014

New Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in SportsNew Books Network July 18, 2014 Eric LeMay

In industrial parks, converted warehouses, and pole barns across the country, a fitness revolution is taking place. It’s a revolution, according to J.C. Herz,...

In industrial parks, converted warehouses, and pole barns across the country, a fitness revolution is taking place. It’s a revolution, according to J.C. Herz, that’s leading us not so much forward as back, into what she calls “the primal future of fitness.” This future is one in which fitness connects us with the deep memories of our species, when we roamed and hunted in packs, when we made ritual sacrifices to the gods, when our ability to run or lift or jump was less a matter of being in shape and more a matter of survival. For Herz, the future of fitness is rooted in our cultural and biological DNA.

And the engine driving us into this future is CrossFit, a strength and conditioning program that began with one irascible genius tinkering around with a few athletes in a small gym in Southern California just after the turn of the century. Since then, CrossFit has grown into an international phenomenon, with over 7,000 gyms worldwide and hundreds of thousands of athletes, from suburban moms to Marines, senior citizens to CEOs to sprightly teens. CrossFit attracts a huge variety of devotees, a variety that’s all the more surprising given that each workout these athletes are asked to push themselves to their physical, neurological, and even spiritual limits.

What accounts for this attraction, especially in our age of easy fixes and fitness fads? Herz takes up this question in her book, Learning to Breath Fire: The Rise of CrossFit and the Primal Future of Fitness (Crown Archetype, 2014) and, in her search for an answer, follows her subject from Santa Cruz to Fallujah, from the chemical reactions that cause muscle contractions to the decisions that determine the fate of companies such as Rogue and Reebok, hitting, ultimately, not on what it means to be fit, but what it means to live fully.