Learning to Breathe Fire
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.
“Learning to Breathe Fire is one of those books that come along every generation or so that brings to life a sub-culture so vividly, so deliciously that it makes you want to run out now and become a part of it! Written with great verve, comprehensive research and a novelist’s knack for deft characterizations, this is CrossFit’s War and Peace.”
–Charles Gaines, New York Times bestselling coauthor of Pumping Iron
“A beautifully written mix of evocative vignettes and lucid explanations that shows us what we’re capable of when we train hard and connect with our instinctive nature. This is a book about digging deep, about kindling a spirit that allows us to push past our wildest expectations. Whether your fitness habit involves going it alone or tunneling through an extreme workout as part of a group, you’ll find this CrossFit journey thoroughly immersive.”
–Marshall Ulrich, Badwater-146 Record Holder and author of Running on Empty
“CrossFit is a phenomenon, both as a radical way to confer fitness and as a virally successful business. Herz tells both stories with exceptional insight—plus the inside lore of a dedicated CrossFitter.”
–Stewart Brand, creator of the Whole Earth Catalog (and CrossFitter at age 75)
“The remarkable rise of the CrossFit movement is grounded and propelled by a great moral truth. Effort alone is all we may bring to life. Everything else — our genes, our talents, and our teachers — are gifts. J.C. Herz has written a compelling book around this truth as embodied in the CrossFit culture. As a society, we forget that we are evolved to realize our greatest strength when we are truly tested. The originators of CrossFit have rediscovered that, and proved it by becoming the fittest humans on the planet. In the view of CrossFit athletes ‘the only possible sin is slacking off.’ Herz writes with sweep and depth about great characters, often racked with doubt, finding their limits and surpassing them. This is the ultimate chronicle of how they created a training method, a championship, a corporation and a loving community devoted to the sacred tenant of effort.”
–Kenny Moore, award-winning writer for Sports Illustrated, former American record holder in the marathon, author of Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, and co-screenwriter of “Without Limits”
“J.C. Herz expertly debunks many longstanding fitness beliefs and shows how high-intensity exercise can yield the greatest return on your workout investment. Her Learning to Breathe Fire chronicles the rise of CrossFit, showing – in a way that is always interesting and insightful — how ordinary people have achieved extraordinary results following this program. A must read for anyone looking to maximize his or her potential.”
–Dean Karnazes, ultra-endurance star, New York Times bestselling author, and one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People”
“I couldn’t put this book down. J.C. spares no detail in helping us see into into the heart and soul of a CrossFitter. Her description of what CrossFit athletes overcome is truly unbelievable. She captures the essence of the sport and what it represents, most especially the ability to push through barriers, whether physical or mental. This is about the gut-busting journey to the last rep, but it’s also about life. Whether you’ve tried CrossFit or just thought about trying it, Learning to Breathe Fire is a must read.”
–Chrisanna Northrup, New York Times bestselling author, CrossFit Level 1 Coach, and former CrossFit Box owner
As we head into the 4th of July weekend, I’m posting an excerpt from Learning to Breathe Fire that explores the kinship between CrossFit and military training – the rigors of it, and the bonds that people form when they face difficult and uncomfortable physical challenges as a group. Fire has been warmly received by veterans from Fort Bragg to Camp Leatherneck, and I’m supporting a military nonprofit, TeamRWB.org, which is dedicated to improving the lives of returning veterans through fitness. Books purchased through this link will benefit TeamRWB.org.
Fallujah, For Time: Sprinting Wars and the Next Generation of Combat Training
By this time, CrossFit was proliferating across two war zones and infiltrating military bases around the world. It was cheap, improvised, and time-efficient. It didn’t break in heat or dust. And it made soldiers physically more powerful than they’d ever been, in a new era of military conflict that demanded heavy loads be hauled as quickly as possible from point to point. Counter-insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan was not a game of long marches and precise campaigns. In a landscape of steep hillsides, hot stairwells, and dangerous corners, hazard boiled up in sudden twenty minute bursts of load-bearing cardiovascular suck. It was CrossFit as a live fire exercise, and any soldier with half a brain knows to train as you fight….
Read the full chapter here: Learning to Breathe Fire – TeamRWB Excerpt