Book Review: “Inside the Box” by TJ Murphy

TJ Murphy, former editorial director of “Triathlete” and “Competitor” magazines, wrote a book about CrossFit and his experiences. A great way for the curious to find out what exactly CrossFit is.

Chances are even if you haven’t tried it, you’ve heard of it, and your reaction is a combination of interest and apprehension. It’s called CrossFit, and it is a fitness modality that in recent years has exploded in popularity. One of the many influences CrossFit seems to have had on the fitness world is a polarizing one: either you love CrossFit or you decry it, with not much room for gray. Author and life-long distance runner TJ Murphy captures some of the essence of this cultural movement in his book Inside the Box: How CrossFit Shredded the Rules, Stripped Down the Gym, and Rebuilt My Body.

When it comes to endurance sports, TJ Murphy is an expert, as the former editorial director of Triathlete, Inside Triathlon, and Competitor magazines. He himself ran a 2:38 marathon. But when it comes to CrossFit, Murphy is a relative novice, having started in 2011, which positions him well to explain to the uninitiated what the heck CrossFit is.

Not just the latest fly-by-night fad, Murphy explains that CrossFit borrows heavily from founder Greg Glassman’s orientation toward the short, intense workouts of his gymnastics background, as well as weightlifting and kettlebells. These, coupled with clearly defined terms and expectations as well as the use of hard data to determine whether a modality is “effective,” have helped CrossFit proponents develop a sophisticated and ever-growing body of knowledge about human performance. To Glassman, fitness has to do with “the broadest scope of athletic ability that one might need to tap into when it’s a matter of life and death.”

But all of this may still sound quite abstract – and intimidating – for the typical individual just looking to get fitter. In his book, Murphy also does an effective job of explaining what a typical CrossFit “box” (an actual gym) looks like, what a CrossFit experience is bound to be like for the first-timer (humbling and exhausting, and, depending on the first-timer’s nature, either utterly addictive or completely off-putting), and the importance of community in contributing to CrossFit’s popularity.

Murphy comments that the face of CrossFit nowadays is the “firebreathers” who are featured in the CrossFit Games, a sort of Olympics of CrossFit whose sponsorship by Reebok has significantly raised its profile from the Woodstock-like accommodations of the early years. But while those athletes seem to be almost otherworldly in terms of their work capacity and their shredded physiques, the heart and soul of CrossFit is the myriad practitioners who are everyday people who just happen to push their own personal limits on a regular basis.

Such practitioners may not be the best in the world, but, Murphy observes, they are committed to becoming the best, fittest versions of themselves possible, and they are also committed to bringing others along with them. After some initial skepticism of his own, Murphy’s experiences at his box led him to conclude that “most CrossFitters weren’t fitness crackpots, but down-to-earth people who made a point of being neighborly in a sincere, heartfelt way.”

Inside the Box weaves together the science behind CrossFit and the experience of the typical practitioner in a way that might help those on the fence make an informed decision about whether CrossFit is for them. At the very least, they will get perhaps more detail than anyone should about how the aftermath of a CrossFit workout feels: as bad as you are imagining right now.

“Inside the Box: How CrossFit Shredded the Rules, Stripped Down the Gym, and Rebuilt My Body” is available for $12.11 at