April 10, 2013
Figure and CrossFit: Tara Martin
By Keka Schermerhorn

“CrossFit is definitely about more than being strong. I thought I was actually in shape before my first WOD, and I wound up finishing it dead last with my tail between my legs.”

Top photo by: CrossFit Bell


Other photos by: Jason Breeze

“I put on a significant amount of weight in college and law school, and decided to join a gym for some extra help,” Tara Martin says. “Despite achieving the weight loss I desired, I still was dissatisfied with the way I looked — thin on top and curvy from the waist down — and I became fixated on finding a way to change that.”

A friend told Martin she should compete in a branch of natural bodybuilding called Figure, which allows for a more feminine look than the conventional bodybuilding contests.

She decided to start training in the spring, and in September of that year, Martin took first place in her first novice show. Six weeks later, she won her World Natural Bodybuilding Federation (WNBF) pro-card at the NYS Championships.

That was six years ago.

In the summer of 2012, FDNY Lieutenant Tom Daly, introduced Martin to CrossFit.

“Since I weight trained the old fashioned way, we would have friendly disagreements over each other’s approach to training,” Martin recalls. “Finally in June of last year, I decided to secretly try it out so I could see first hand what he insisted I’d become addicted to. I subjected myself to CrossFit four times a week for the six weeks prior to a trip we took to Vermont for his birthday so that when we got there, we could do WODs together at a local box as a surprise.” 

What Martin learned is that it takes more than strength and muscle symmetry to thrive in CrossFit.

“CrossFit is definitely about more than being strong,” Martin says. “I thought I was actually in shape before my first WOD, and I wound up finishing it dead last with my tail between my legs.”

Martin’s bodybuilding routine prior to CrossFit was slow and methodical.

“Prior to starting CrossFit, I would take breaks between sets all the time, rarely supersetting,” Martin says. “In CrossFit, there are no breaks, and if you take one, you’re kicking yourself for it later. (CrossFit workouts) force me to stay focused, not only because the clock is ticking, but also because there are people of all ages and levels of conditioning around me not quitting.”

Dominick Fortino, co-owner of CrossFit Bell, where Martin trains, is working on helping her find a balance between the two worlds.

“We were very familiar with the style of training Tara was doing,” Fortino says. "The contrasts were endless — isolation versus multi-joint, high volume versus low volume. The biggest challenge coaching Tara is helping her find the balance between technique and safety, and the intensity that CrossFit requires.”

“The after-effect of WODs is one of the reasons I’m currently a CrossFit part-timer,” Martin explains. “After my first WOD, I couldn’t train my upper body the old-fashioned way for four days. I’m determined to find a balance between the two.”

One of the benefits Martin has noticed since adding CrossFit to her regimen is a better posterior.

“Using a full range of motion for my squats over the past six months, at a lower weight than the one I was ‘cheating’ with definitely has helped me cultivate a better posterior, or as some call it, a CrossFit booty. Whatever it is, after a lifetime with an ass that could barely hold up a pair of pants, I’ll take it,” Martin says. “At first, I was afraid I’d damage my knees breaking parallel but since my form remains good, and I’m realistic about what weight I can manage without losing good form, I haven’t had any issues. Overall, CrossFit’s emphasis on full extension and range of motion has given me an awareness of the importance of stabilization, something I rarely thought about before. That is one of the primary benefits of CrossFit for me.”

Since starting CrossFit, Martin completed the Level 1 Seminar and the CrossFit Gymnastics courses. This year, she participated in the Open for the first time.

“It’s so novel to be a part of programming that is happening around the world, and which people of all levels are taking a stab at,” Martin says of the Open. “From week to week, it’s interesting to see that the (workouts) I think I’ll be good at, level me. Some of the ones I’ve dreaded because they contain movements I’ve never done before have surprised me because I’ve had some success.”

Ant Lucic, co-owner and coach at CrossFit Bell, has great admiration for Martin.

"There is nothing stronger than a determined woman, and nobody fits that description better than Tara,” Lucic says. “She comes early and stays late, she works on her technique, she (goes to seminars), asks questions and is constantly trying to improve. She understands from a lifetime of lifting, that you have to work hard to get the results you're looking for. Although she is still early in the process, I can see great potential in her. She is a wonderful role model to all of our ladies, showing them that fitness is forever …”

Martin hopes to keep competing in CrossFit and bodybuilding into her later years.

“I laugh because I have mixed feelings on the age brackets for both CrossFit and figure competitions,” Martin, 41, says. “I’d rather be bested by a 25-year-old than a 55-year-old. But then again, I did win my pro-card at the ripe old age of 35 against a 19-year-old. Who knows? Maybe when I’m 55 and still CrossFitting, I’ll be out-snatching 40-year-olds. Stranger things have happened.”