What Happened When a 300-Pound Chain-Smoker Tried CrossFit

Travis Brumbaugh wore size 44 pants, worked 12-hour days and stress-ate. His weight was spiraling when, as a last-ditch effort, he joined a CrossFit gym.


Travis Brumbaugh at CrossFit 428 (Tampa, Fla.) Photo by Jay Kay (jayknickerbockerphotography.com)

The first time he walked into a CrossFit box about a year ago, 30-year-old Travis Brumbaugh was a chain-smoking sales manager whose weight hovered around 300 pounds. "I was doing all of the wrong things," he says.

Brumbaugh wore size 44 pants and frequently worked 12-hour days. To counter the stress of his job, he ate pretty much anything and everything, and his weight skyrocketed as a result. After trying and failing numerous diets, he was on pace to become one of the 25.8 million Americans suffering from Type 2 Diabetes. And though he'd recently trimmed down to about 285 pounds thanks to a set of P90X DVDs, he'd fallen off the wagon and his weight was climbing back up when, in a last-ditch effort, he joined CrossFit 428 in Tampa, Fla.

With a body type that could be categorized as morbidly obese, Brumbaugh was not even close to being prepared to handle the intense workouts performed by elite athletes at the CrossFit Games. Trainer Hope Keddington knew she'd have to scale back the movements and workouts to a level Brumbaugh could safely handle. "He was very overweight and he wanted to come in every day," Keddington says. "I tend to be blunt. I told him, 'If you can do it, I am all for it. But it's going to be hard.'"

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Keddington, who coached the 5:30 a.m. class, was an Olympic lifter in college, and she had seen many newcomers set unrealistic goals, grow frustrated and give up. She convinced Brumbaugh to try a three-days-per-week approach, which would give him sufficient time to recover from each workout. The workouts were challenging, and Brumbaugh started off slowly, but he kept coming back consistently. He liked Keddington's coaching and the team atmosphere of the gym and its members. Eventually he saw results.

"It felt like an overnight thing," Brumbaugh says. "In the fourth month, it was like the fat just started falling off me."

After 10 months, Brumbaugh had lost over 60 pounds and burned 10 inches off his waist size, from 44 to 34. Attending the 5 a.m. classes, he upped his attendance to four, and eventually to five days per week. Today, "he only misses workouts on the rarest of occasions," Keddington says. "He's the poster child for what CrossFit can do for you."

Last November, Brumbaugh competed in the entry level section of an inter-gym competition. He hit a personal record on the Snatch, lifting 135 pounds, as well as a PR for Pull-Ups. "He did 10 of them," Keddington says proudly. "All unbroken."

Brumbaugh today

Brumbaugh today. Photo by Jay Kay (jayknickerbockerphotography.com)

From the back of the gym, Keddington watched Brumbaugh and her other clients at the competition. At one point, she teared up a little as she thought about the transformation some had made. "I consider myself to be one of the luckiest coaches," she says. "I get to work with a group of individuals so unique in their own personalities. Yet they all are so encouraging, helpful, motivating and proud of each other."

That's one of the secrets behind Brumbaugh's transformation: A supportive gym with a supportive coach and athletes. Here are five more things that helped him succeed in CrossFit—and can help you, too.

1. Set a realistic pace at the beginning

As Keddington told Brumbaugh, it's best to start small and work consistently. The goal is to work up to a three-days-on, one-day-off or a five-days-on, two-days-off cycle. But it takes time to get there. Brumbaugh and Keddington developed a plan that allowed him to adapt physically and mentally to the demands of the training. The first month, he attended three classes per week. The second month, he got to four per week. And by the third month, he was attending five classes per week, Monday through Friday, with weekends off to recover. Keddington says a newcomer to CrossFit should have a similar conversation with his or her coach to devise a plan they can both agree on.

2. Don't skip workouts because you're unfamiliar with a movement

CrossFit includes a wide variety of movements from different sports. Certain skills will almost certainly be new and frustrating—like learning to climb a rope or holding a handstand against a wall. Rather than skip these workouts, Keddington says, charge into them. The struggle to learn new skills pays off with a host of powerful training effects, and when you get that first Pull-Up or handstand, the confidence you feel will be all-powerful. Keddington tells her athletes, "I admire those of you who come in no matter what. Skipping a WOD because there is a skill you don't like or can't execute doesn't help you."

3. Take pride in your courage to start the program

For many CrossFit beginners, the enormity of all there is to learn and the eventual gut-busting intensity can be demoralizing. Don't fall prey to this feeling, Keddington says. The courage you've shown by taking on the challenge of CrossFit should make you proud. "The strength it takes to start something new and outside of your comfort zone is immense," Keddington says.

4. Don't let the whiteboard get you down

One of the things that makes CrossFit so effective is that it turns workouts into competitions. Athletes in the class compete side-by-side and against the clock. Scores are posted on a whiteboard following each workout. But beginners should only be concerned only with how they stack up against their own previous results. "Take what time is posted for other athletes with a grain of salt," Keddington says. "You don't always know how heavy they went, how correct their form was, how well they counted or what they did to modify or scale. We all check the board at some point, but remind yourself of your current skill level and the progress that you have made."

5. Stick with it for at least four months

That's how long Brumbaugh trained before he began to see the results he wanted. It takes that long to adapt to the training, learn the necessary skills and feel comfortable enough with the workouts that you can up the intensity. "At first I couldn't jump onto any of the boxes," Brumbaugh says. "So I jumped on top of a tire. I couldn't do Pull-Ups even with a band, so I did ring rows." Then the results started flowing. "It's all routine now," Brumbaugh says.

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