“Does your workout make you nervous?…It should.” -CrossFit Quote
Continuing my series about trends in fitness, I write today about CrossFit. As an athlete, I am intrigued by CrossFit because I can immediately see the challenge it poses. It is different than other types of workouts because it brings fitness to a level of sport. Many of us look at fitness as a means to an end. It is part of what brings us to a place of improved health and wellness while also helping us maintain or control our weight. In other words, if weight loss or improved wellbeing is our goal, there are multiple ways to get there and as many kinds of fitness as well. CrossFit, while it can be another way to get fit, provides many people with a much broader purpose and elevates working out to a competitive sport.
CrossFit, Inc. is a fitness company founded by Greg Glassman in 2000. As of 2012, there are approximately 3400 CrossFit-affiliated gyms worldwide, most of them in the United States. Some followers practice CrossFit’s exercise program on their own rather than at an affiliated gym, completing workouts which are posted daily on the company’s website. In fact Coach Glassman has written articles about the garage gym (how to transform your garage into a workout room). Just one look at the CrossFit website reveals how many people are attracted to the CrossFit concept. Out of over 80 CrossFit Level One Certification courses offered around the country…approximately 72 are sold out for the upcoming months alone. Also, check out CrossFit Games to see some great pictures of the most recent competition for the “Fittest on Earth”…
CrossFit is the principal strength and conditioning program for many police academies and tactical operations teams, military special operations units, champion martial artists, and hundreds of other elite and professional athletes worldwide. The CrossFit program is designed for universal scalability making it the perfect application for any committed individual regardless of experience. “We scale load and intensity; we don’t change programs.” In other words, everyone does the same workout…just the weight and amount changes per person. According to Glassman, “The CrossFit prescription is ‘constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement.’ No aspect of functional movement is more important than their capacity to move large loads over long distances, and to do so quickly.”
A CrossFit gym recently opened up about four minutes from me and they offer a free class to first-timers. I took advantage of this and emailed the owner, Cory Worf, who invited me to come try one out. A few days later, I showed up… clueless. I should have known it would be tough when first, I took one look at Cory (pictured above). Secondly, I saw one of my oldest’s (Charlie) friends who will also be graduating soon from the Naval Academy (and who is extremely fit), getting ready to take the same class. My first thought was, “I am way out of my league…”
However, that is the thing about CrossFit, it really doesn’t matter who else is in the class with you, because you are ultimately competing with anyone and everyone who did that CrossFit workout that day. However, the workout is customized for you, and in the end you are your biggest competitor. Infact, while the rest of the group was doing five minute AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible) sets with weights and bar bells…Cory set me up doing a five minute set of wall balls, push-ups and sit ups (since I was a newbie to CrossFit, he didn’t want me getting injured the first day). Every AMRAP set began with the group running 400 yards at a fast pace and then coming back into the gym and finishing the five minute set with the barbell circuit (I worked my wall ball, push-ups, and sit-ups) while Cory encouraged the group (there is something about the guy…you just don’t want to disappoint). CrossFit is not only for elite athletes….anyone can do it…and that is one of the best things about a CrossFit class…the variety of skill level and fitness level is not the same – but it doesn’t matter (I would say that is what makes it interesting).
At the CrossFit gym where I took that first class, every workout begins with a group stretch and some kind of “skill” set (we did squats with bar bells on our back) while the coach (instructor) supervises to make sure everyone has proper form. The whole workout is done together as a group with individuals working their own weights and numbers, etc. It was the group feeling that I really liked; there was a comaradarie and team atmosphere about the workout. What I immediately noticed after coming back from the first run and finishing the wall ball sets, was how tired I was! By the time I got to my second set of five pushups I was counting the seconds left in the set…I heard Cory yell out “two and a half minutes left”… Two and half? Minutes? Maybe he meant to say seconds… Weren’t five minutes way up by now? Ultimately, I have decided that if you are praying for it to be over the entire time…it’s a good workout! Although there were short breaks in between sets, that is basically how I felt the whole time…ready for it to end.
CrossFit appeals to both men and women of all ages, and those of all fitness backgrounds. I was amazed at the strength of the women (mostly moms about my age) who took the same class I did…obviously they have been doing it for a while. The words “one, mean mother” came to my mind (and I mean that in the nicest sense of the word–see photo below of 87 year-old) when I thought about those CrossFit women. Although I have some reservations about the workouts (I am thinking of my back actually- after watching everyone “clean” and “sweep” the heavy bar bells), there is no doubt that I want to try it again soon. My competitive juices were just getting started! I talked to Cory ….who has been a CrossFit coach for two years, and who’s wife was at the class I took, and to Sonna Hughes, friend and mother of two, who recently discovered CrossFit and is “addicted”. Here are their answers to questions I asked them about this popular trend in the fitness world…CrossFit:
Me: What got you first interested in Cross Fit as a form of exercise? Sonna, how long have you been doing Cross Fit?
Cory: I became a CF Coach in 2008. I had been doing it for almost 2 yrs at that point. I really liked the competitive aspect imbedded in the methodology of the CrossFit movement.
Sonna: I have been doing Crossfit 3 months.
Me: What makes CF different from other group exercise programs?
Cory: Unlike most other forms of group exercise CrossFit turns fitness into a sport. Everyday is game day. Everyone that attends the gym that day is competing against everyone else there that day. They may not be doing the same weight or reps but competing still the same. You aren’t just in a room with people going through the paces. You are going as hard as you can the entire time. You also have a Coach that is there to teach you, motivate you, and correct you if needed.
Sonna: The Cross Fit trainers are really great and having their expertise helps to motivate you to be the best that you can be. You are getting so much more than just a fitness instructor for a group exercise class! I know that is why it has worked so well for me and why I have not gotten hurt…the trainers really watch us and make sure we are using proper form.
Me: What do you like the most about it for yourself?….and for your clients?
Cory: That it is a different workout every day and I love the competitive part of it.
Sonna: The muscles confusion from the Cross Fit workout has made me more ripped and toned than I have ever been in my life. I have done all sorts of other kinds of exercise as a triathlete (including yoga) and while I like them all, Cross Fit has by far given me the most results.
Me: Would you consider CrossFit to be cardio, strength, or a combination?
Cory: It would be considered all of these things. It’s a broad and inclusive program.
Me: A friend of mine is a sports physical therapist and said that he sometimes sees patients who have been injured doing CrossFit. What kind of precautions do you tell clients to take to avoid injury? Sonna, have you experienced any injuries doing CrossFit?
Cory: People get hurt doing all kinds of things. However most of the people that have gotten hurt doing CrossFit have been the people that do it at home without a Coach watching them to tell them if they are doing correct form. We want Form then Intensity. I also have a few Physicians as clients and they say that they see more injuries from people doing DVD workouts in their homes.
Sonna: Since beginning Cross Fit I have had no injuries, but I’m extremely careful to take things to my limit and then no more. There are a lot of other women at CrossFit who can lift weights a lot heavier than I can, but I do what is at my level of strength and fitness. I think the CrossFit trainers really understand the individual limits of their clients and they help to customize the workout for each person.
Me: What is your favorite thing about coaching CrossFit? About CrossFit workouts?
Cory: I love seeing people that have never been athletic change their lives through CrossFit. Helping someone lose almost 100lbs can really change their life. I love my job and I thank God everyday for giving me the gifts he has so that I can do what I do as a living.
Sonna: My favorite thing is how much I can do that I had no idea I could do. I’m afraid sometimes, but when you do achieve something that you didn’t think you could do – it’s really awesome! Like working on headstand push ups! What an accomplishment when it does happen! I did Crossfit to help improve my triathlon season and so far my wattage on the bike has increased 17 watts and my running times have decreased at least 30 to 40 seconds per mile. And I have even lost weight…I have gotten leaner & more toned.
Me: How do you think the cost compares to other group exercise classes?
Sonna: I’ve tried lots of other exercise classes, and I think it is pretty comparable. The other thing is that it can be cheaper at the YMCA than at a Crossfit studio by itself.
Me: The CrossFit Weddington gym offers unlimited monthly CrossFit classes at a cost of $150, or three days a week for $110. There is special pricing for those in the military and law enforcement.
Can you give us a typical workout at CrossFit?
Cory: There’s nothing typical about CrossFit…but here is an example of a recent WOD (Workout of the Day):
Me: Clearly CrossFit has a language all its own, and one needs to speak that language in order to decipher what this workout means…but for what it is worth…:
3 Clean Pulls and 1 Hang Power Clean x 5 “AHAP”
10 Rounds w/ 20 min Cap
5 Hang Power Clean 135/95
20 Double Unders
In an interview for an article in 2003, Glassman was asked about the WOD. Here is what he said:
Journalist: How many times should someone do
the Workout of the Day (WOD)?
Coach Glassman: Yeah, we actually get this question
every once in a while. When it comes up we know for
a fact that either they’ve not tried the workouts or
they’ve tried them at a leisurely pace. Done right, they
have a horrific impact; they’re designed that way. No
one comes out standing much less looking for another
There seems to be an almost cult-like following behind the CrossFit movement, and to those who adhere…it is highly addictive. Have you tried it yet? Let us know what do you think!