So you have heard of Crossfit right? Surely by now we have all met a Crossfitter (I didn’t just make that name up btw that is what they call themselves)? A Crossfitter is most often a person who used to have zero interest in physical activity that now regularly sports a t-shirt with the words, “Fitness is our sport” emblazoned across the chest and who enjoys recounting visits to the Box (a box is a Crossfit gym, yeah I know!) in tedious detail. If you are a Crossfitter do you mind if I ask why politics, natural disasters or the dissolve of Rick and Shane’s friendship on The Walking Dead are subjects that pale in comparison to this morning’s WOD? BTW a WOD stands for Workout of the Day but we will get to that.
Like Zumba, Pilates and aerobics before it crossfit promises a new way of working out that will challenge you and give you the body you have always wanted. Fuelled by rumblings that this is how a host of celebrities stay in shape – Jason Stratham, Brad Pitt and Jessica Biel – and a Reebok sponsorship (remember Reeboks?) the Crossfit phenomenon doesn’t look to be losing any momentum. But what is it? Why is it different and why are all these seemingly normal people entranced by a few squats and climbing up a rope?
Founded by a guy named Greg Glassman, Crossfit is nothing really new. Explosive functional movements for high reps has been employed before (notably by athletes and the military) to improve fitness and reduce weight.
Crossfit isn’t for the faint-hearted, the Crossfitters turn up to hone their technique on various foundation exercises (squats, dead lifts, sit-ups, double-unders, box jumps to name a few) for around 30 minutes before completing the WOD of the day - a combination of exercises performed either for a time or set number of reps lasting anywhere from 10 – 30 minutes.
By the time I showed up to be put through my Crossfit paces I had heard an awful lot, not all of it good, about the sport. Circulating widely is the fact that Crossfit is more of a cult than a way to exercise and that inexperienced trainers take wannabe athletes through difficult exercises at high levels of fatigue potentially causing dangerous injuries? Sheesh! The only way to make up your mind about Crossfit is to go and that is exactly what I did.
If exercise intimidates you then having to attend what is referred to as, a technique session will have you way out of your comfort zone. On a lonely Thursday evening I was put through my paces while not one but two Crossfit trainers watched on. The measly $15 I gave them for their trouble hardly seemed enough but that is the thing about Crossfitters, they are a dedicated bunch. I divulged as little as possible about my background and then I rowed, squatted and burpeed my way through the session. I was told I moved well and so I could attend any sessions I liked from now on. Phew!
Turning up to the class the close-knit group stared at me without a word. I felt clueless, intimidated and more than a little amused by their seriousness. I wondered if this is how GI Jane (aka Demi Moore) had felt when she was accepted into the Navy Seals? I really liked the fact I wasn’t surrounded by Lorna Jane-clad women whose idea of working out was 10 minutes on the treadmill next to a girlfriend gossiping about their mutual friend who hadn’t been able to make it that day. No, this was a very different environment indeed. Young fit-looking guys smashing out squats that had them doubling over, gasping for air and looking to the clock for relief. Around the room anguish touched the faces of the crossfitters and I wondered more than once if I my muscles were going to be able to hold on. My modified WOD involved throwing a medicine ball at a wall from a deep squat (wall balls is the technical term) for 10 reps followed by 10 burpees as many times as I could in 10 minutes. I have no idea what the RX would have been - that is Crossfit speak for at non-modified WOD. Rx is a Latin term, used mostly in the medical industry. It is an abbreviation for ‘recipe’ and means as prescribed. If you Rx your WOD then you completed it without alteration. Understanding the lingo is apparently important.
On leaving the cube (sorry I mean the Box, bad joke), I felt good. The way you feel when you run 10km fast or the way you feel after a hard spin class or for those of you who are not much into exercise the kind of feeling you get when you have cleaned the whole house, folded the washing and put the kids to bed - accomplishment.
What was clear to me coming out of the Crossfit session was that it didn’t matter what gender, age or fitness level you were the point of being there was to be stronger, fitter and faster. It is a goal that is so often lacking in many other gyms and indeed workout routines. Pushing yourself is the only way to get fitter and it is the only way to build confidence. I saw elements of the Crossfit stereotype: the seemingly arrogant, competitive guy whose priority was to get the best time and the heaviest weight because his sense of self was tied up in how much better he did than the men beside him. The woman next to me with quadriceps more befitting a male weightlifter, biceps even Arnold Schwarzenegger would be impressed with and a steely expression that was more intimidating than her physique.
What I now know about Crossfit having attended in a few different locations is that people are people and communities differ wherever you go. Camaraderie hits you as you walk through the door at some boxes and arrogance is more prevalent at others.
I’m not sure if it’s a cult, I’m not convinced it is the best exercise routine going and my mind isn’t made up about how much I do and don’t like it but like other fads before it people have embraced Crossfit because on some level it works for them. Maybe it will work for you and if it does then become a passionate Crossfitter and don’t let anyone stand in your way. If you gain fitness, a better physique and are happier and healthier than it gets a big thumbs up from me. Just one question though…why is everyone wearing knee-high socks?