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Learning to Breathe Fire: The Rise of CrossFit and the Primal Future of Fitness

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  758 ratings  ·  79 reviews
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 o
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published June 3rd 2014 by Crown Archetype
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Dan Schwent
Feb 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
From the ages of 19 to 34, I worked out religiously 3-5 times a week. The last couple years, however, I let myself gradually slip out of the habit. After all, that's 3-5 more hours a week I could be reading. However, my girlfriend read up on CrossFit and told me we were going to start going a few times a week.

Since I was still reasonably fit for a couch potato, I figured I could handle it. I could not. It kicked my ass in less than 20 minutes and I was sore for three days, something that never
Jim Stogdill
Jun 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
If you're a Crossfitter and want to learn more about the origins of your favorite cult, read this book.

If you're not a Crossfitter and you want to understand what the hell we Crossfitters are up to, don't read this book, go start crossfitting and then come back later and read this book to shake the mosaic pieces into place.

Either way you probably won't be able to put it down. JC mixes history, science, and participant narratives into a great read that makes you want to set it down only long enou
Jun 29, 2014 rated it liked it
THere's some good stuff in here on how crossfit runs its game and business, but mainly it's just an over glorification of crossfit.
Michelle Garcia
Dec 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fitness
EXCELLENT BOOK. Very well written. Whether you're a CrossFitter or not, this book will take you into the depths of how it all began and why CrossFitters continue to multiply year after year. An incredibly wonderful asset to any CrossFitter's library, but an even more educational eye-opening thought-provoking piece for anyone in the fitness industry and/or just anyone curious enough to want to learn the truths and finally put the assumptions behind.
Darlene Cruz
Apr 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Crossfit - rest is not a part of the program, ignore the part of the brain that tells them it's impossible to keep moving. Stopping is not an option, no finish line but to finish what you started. Combination of weightlifting, sprints and gymnastic movements and pull-ups, pushups and unweighted squats as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes. Do you believe that? 20 minutes! Wall ball shots, sumo dead lift high pull, 20-inch box jumps, 75 lbs push press, rowing machines, high intensity regime, C ...more
Sep 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Reading this book made me want to run straight to the nearest Crossfit box, or at least go bust out a set of burpees. A very evocative description of the spirit and drive of Crossfit.
Jan 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, sports
In a nutshell, Learning to Breathe Fire is an ode to CrossFit.

I'm an avid CrossFitter myself, so I did find this book entertaining, inspiring, and motivating. I loved the first third of the book, especially the chapters on the science behind the maximum effort and CrossFit's origins.

However, after the first few informative and well-organized chapters, Learning to Breathe Fire becomes extremely repetitive, a bit pointless, and way over the top. In fact, I'm a bit surprised that J.C. Herz is an ac
Wendy Wagner
Jul 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fitness
A really interesting and in-depth look at the origin of Crossfit, the Crossfit Games, and Rogue Fitness manufacturing. The prose is particularly nice, and the book digs quite a bit deeper than other books I've read. It's not a particularly critical take on the subject, but it's a riveting read.
Mar 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of CrossFit and some of the key names from games gone by.

It really does sound as though it was never intended to be the huge global industry that is has become and that is more due to the success of the techniques and effects of training which spread by word of mouth and not due to clever marketing.

It also makes most of the people involved sound very genuine. There is clearly an interest for those at the top in ensuring that everyon
Deane Barker
Aug 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Good overview of the history of CrossFit. This is not a practical book -- it will not teach you how to burpee better. But it will explain where CrossFit came from and hopefully get you to understand the culture a little more. Extremely well-done.
Apr 13, 2014 marked it as to-read
I just won this book free as a goodreads giveaway! I am waiting to read it. Thanks.
Jan 20, 2016 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. Interesting origin story about Crossfit but too rah rah for me. Genesis of Rogue and their manufacturing was particularly fascinating. The author totally drank the kool aid.
Jul 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fitness
My background: once upon a time as an adult I ran marathons, I used to cycle as a commuter, so I was generally fit for someone who was never in competitive sports in my youth. I also hiked, backpacked, and had a combat deployment (as a civilian, but I did use the opportunity to do workouts in body armor. I told my CO that although I was not told to, I wanted to be comfortable in body armor before I needed it.) A few years back, realizing that my running had dropped down, I joined my son in taekw ...more
Jun 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: library-loan
I can’t think of many activities more controversial than CrossFit when discussing/exploring personal fitness regimens. Its practitioners tend to proselytize with a fervor bordering on religious fanaticism, while the mainstream fitness establishment does alot of head-shaking and hand-wringing over safety and injuries. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, at least that is what drove me to give this book a chance. I am not a CrossFitter, but I have friends and relatives who are. Many of ...more
Oct 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
We read to see things differently, to explore worlds that, for whatever reason, we can't get to right at the moment. I've been doing CrossFit for over 3 and a half years now, and the past year I haven't been CrossFitting much - work and life have had louder (and sometimes more attractive) priorities. A friend who's been CrossFitting for a year or two now because I got him into it (despite his stubborn bullheadedness), he mentioned the Art of Manliness podcast to me recently that had J.C. Herz as ...more
A.L. Chittur
Oct 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Though I've been an amateur, mostly self-taught 'CrossFitter' for several years, I am only recently meeting this larger community halfway. I found Herz' book a long time ago yet have only now read it, and I find myself wondering what took me so long.

I waffled between a four and five-star rating, not because of the writing quality but because as the book progress, Herz progressively shorter chapters to introduce one of the community's more famous "firebreathers" then quickly launch into a comment
Jul 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you couldn't guess where I was heading with the growing number of CrossFit books on my Read list, yes, it's official, the kool-aid has been drunk, freshly minted CrossFitter right here. *waves* Helloooo!

And, this book is AMAZING! I read it after joining my local box and it does a fantastic job of articulating the appeal and addictiveness of CrossFit, which is difficult to explain to people that haven't experienced CF first hand. I was curious about CF for a year or so before I finally signed
Aug 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was loaned this book by Coach Lewis from CrossFit Llanelli and genuinely feel like they've managed to capture exactly what CrossFit is all about. It's written beautifully, almost poetically in parts. There's a saying among some of the ladies at my box; "if you know, then you know" and this book is written by someone who gets it.

It made me fill up several times in the same way watching someone get their first box jump does. That deep down, fierce bubble of empathy-pride. It deals with emotions
Eric Moote
May 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Overall: I didn't expect to like the book as much as I did. Historical in method, yet entertainingly stitched together like an old storytold over a fire pit or bottle of rare whisky. A good, fun read which gets emotional at times.

"Learning to breathe fire" is a mid-depth history of how Crossfiters came to be as well as some of its greatest moments/personas. I expected it to deliver straight forward details through the years, but the book weaves the bulletpoint history of a sport/organization/cu
Jan 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: practical
There is something about knowing what you did, but not quite being able to express what it felt like or how you processed through the thing ... but this book captures EXACTLY what CrossFit is about. It takes some of those intangibles and makes sense of them and puts it in (mostly) plain language so that those outside the box can attempt to understand the 'crazy' things we do in CrossFit.

An excellent read and highly recommended to all CrossFitters, as well as anyone even remotely interested or co
Aug 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very readable!

I, of course, drank the Kool-aid before I read this book, and have been doing CrossFit for 7 weeks now. This book is very well written, and really pulls you in to the stories a out some of CrossFit's most famous athletes. I found the discussion about the mental aspects of CrossFit training to be particularly interesting and relatable.

A very good read for anyone participating in, or even just interested in CrossFit!
Mar 11, 2020 rated it liked it
I really enjoy Crossfit myself and this book gave me what I was looking for in terms of the history of Crossfit, the major players, the reasoning behind it, etc. I learned a lot from it and enjoyed a lot of the stories. That being said, it felt like I was being fed a lot of koolaid in this book. The author tries a little too hard to make every aspect of Crossfit sound badass and it was a little cringey at times for me to read.
Kerri Morgan
Jun 12, 2017 rated it did not like it
I found this very self indulgent and congratulatory. I do crossfit so I'm all up for celebrating it and a lot of what was written in terms of the facts was interesting. However each tiny detail was hammered home for several pages making it a chore to read. My partner read it before me and had the exact same opinion. With a good editor this could have been a great book.
Jan 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Crossfit changed my life. So, I’m inclined to like this book. I agree with the reviewer who said, “go to a box first - then read this book.”

This book inspired me to up my game. It deepened my passion for the ideals of Crossfit and the community.

If your new and curious about Crossfit, you won’t understand it by reading this or any other book. You have to go to a box and jump in. Do it!!!!
Mason Wartman
Nov 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent Book

I was surprise that this book was so well written and so well researched. I'm impressed that the author investigated the science of Crossfit and the ancillary businesses like Rogue and Reebok. The author does deify almost everyone even remotely associated with Crossfit, but if that shouldn't be a surprise.
Chris Gonyea
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned-physical
Just started to learn CrossFit and this book gives an excellent run down of its history, the community, and key figures in this growing movement. Every time I read a few pages, I wanted to hit the box for another workout.
Sep 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Comprehensive view of CrossFit

Starts at the beginning for CrossFit, how it originated and developed. Names key players for growth, talks about the culture. This book encapsulates the craziness of CrossFit.
Jeff Hayes
Feb 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Decent basic introduction to the history of CrossFit, but the author is so gushy (and at times, maybe a little superior) that I found myself rolling my eyes frequently. Also too long and loses focus in a few places.
Oct 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Great book for those bought into Crossfit and want to soak up everything they can about it. Some topics more interesting than others, but overall a very enjoyable read for me, a recent CrossFit convert.
Ben Carden
Jun 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
An interesting account of the rise of CrossFit. Although very interesting, it did feel very cult-like and I would have liked to hear more about the negatives of CrossFit which would have laid the foundations for all that has happened in June 2020.
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