CrossFit – My thoughts after 3 months

One lazy afternoon, I was browsing the Netflix catalogue when I happened upon a documentary called ‘Fittest on Earth’. The documentary follows several athletes while they compete in the 2015 CrossFit Games, a “a 5 day, 13 event, grueling test to find the fittest male and female on earth.”

Like so many others before me, this was my introduction to CrossFit. Intrigued, I browsed the web to find some more information. So what is this CrossFit business, you ask? According to wikipedia it is

Promoted as both a physical exercise philosophy and also as a competitive fitness sport, CrossFit workouts incorporate elements from high-intensity interval training, Olympic weightlifting, plyometrics, powerlifting, gymnastics, calisthenics, strongman, and other exercises. It is practiced by individuals who complete daily workouts (otherwise known as “WODs” or “workouts of the day”).

Seems interesting, but I have no idea what any of this means. So I had a look at CrossFit’s own definition: Constantly varied, functional movements at high intensity.

I enrolled in a local gym and started training there. A couple of things one notices right off the bat: CrossFit mainly consists of group classes. There is always a certified coach present who teaches you the movements and helps you throughout a workout. The coaches at our box (the name for a CrossFit gym) are all very friendly and they know what they are talking about. Newbies like myself are not allowed to jump into regular training when starting out, but have to complete 6 intro classes to learn all the basics of air squatting, deadlift, front squat, ring rows, wall balls and other movements that are often used in normal classes. Special attention is paid to people with current or previous injuries and more often than not, people got individually altered exercises to alleviate stress on parts of their body that have been injured or are stressed. CrossFit has a pretty bad reputation as far as both form of execution and injuries is concerned, but at least for my box this is simply not true. I feel very safe , especially because all coaches let new people work out with broomsticks instead of barbells to get the movements just right. Only once you have correct posture are you allowed to move on to barbells and actual weightlifting.

Benchmark workouts are CrossFit’s way of measuring your performance and improvement. These workouts usually involve an AMRAP (as many reps as possible) or AFAP (as fast as possible) scheme.

After I had completed the six intro classes, I moved on to regular classes, or WODs (workout of the day). These have proven to be immensely fun, while often also quite challenging.

Constantly varied? Yes
Workouts are indeed constantly varied: throughout the course of one year you would normally not do the same workout twice. Some of the components of a workout come back: like squats, pushups, pullups, etc, but they’re always combined in different ways. I’ve noticed I’m always pretty excited to check to see what madness they have in store for me today.

Functional Movements? Yes and no
One thing you notice when walking into a CrossFit gym is that while there are some machines here and there, most people are working with their own body. Most movements are composite movements that require core strength and use many different parts of the body at once. The burpee, pull-up and handstand come to mind as nice examples of this. As real-life activities also require you to move in this way, it’s normal to train in this way. But while I use squats on a daily basis to pick things up and reach the mugs hidden in the bottom of kitchen cupboard, I wonder how often I do some of these other movements in real life. Of course things like deadlifts and snatches help with picking things up, but I feel like they’re mainly practice for doing heavier deadlifts and snatches. But then again, I like doing deadlifts and snatches, so no complaints here.

High intensity? Yes, but…
The high-intensity part is definitely true: workouts feel more like sprinting than going for a 10k run. Which brings me to my own practice: I have kept running on days I didn’t go the box, and I wouldn’t just throw out all other activities you do just yet. As you start out, your body simply isn’t ready to do WODs every single day. You need rest days every other day. In my case, that meant having to go for runs 2-3 times a week for weight control. As you get more experienced you can start going more often, until you reach the goal of working out every day. But even then I feel like CrossFit is mainly weight training in short bursts, and benefits from being complemented with running longer distances every now and then. In all fairness, one of the WODs I have done simply stated “run 10k”. Based on the low attendance that day and the way some of our regulars struggled with running I would say running on your own every now and again is probably a good idea.

Cold hard Cash
When shopping around for a place to train, it seemed like membership for a box is around 4 times the fees one would pay at a traditional gym. I have been quite willing to fork over these high fees, because if it allows me to have a skillful coach correcting my movements so I don’t injure myself, it is money well spent.

I had never thought of myself as someone who would go to a gym on a daily basis, but that’s exactly where I’m headed. I’ve really enjoyed the classes, met interesting people and am amazed at how much fun I’m having. I love being somewhat competitive (understatement of the week), and this sport allows me to challenge myself on a daily basis.