Sunday, 4 November 2012

Crossfit - Is It For You?

In my very first post on 'what is fitness' I mentioned a training program called CrossFit. I promised that at some stage I would tell you more details about this program. 

This morning while eating breakfast before going to my (becoming) usual Sunday CrossFit session, I came across an article on the program in the magazine I was reading. I took this as a sign it is time to layout the basics of the program for you so that you can taste and see that it is good/bloody hard. 

The concept was initially developed in 1995 by Greg Glassman when he was hired to train the Santa Cruz Police Department. Unlike say a 100m sprinter, police don't have specific areas they have to be good in, they need to be prepared for pretty much anything. So Glassman developed a program that worked all the different functional areas of fitness.

Quick recap for those who didn’t read my first ever post (shame on you) on the ten elements of physical fitness:

1. Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance - The ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen.

2. Stamina - The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy.
3. Strength - The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force.
4. Flexibility - the ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint.
5. Power - The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.
6. Speed - The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement.
7. Coordination - The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement.
8. Agility - The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another.
9. Balance - The ability to control the placement of the bodies center of gravity in relation to its support base.
10. Accuracy - The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity."

The program has gone on to become popular throughout the services, which is particularly noticeable with CrossFit's 'hero' workouts. These are set workouts named after men and women who have died in the line of duty, including police officers, fire fighters, defence force personnel, etc. I find this rather touching, and try to remind myself therefore not to swear too much during these workouts as they tend to be pretty hard. 

The basic concept of the program sounds pretty easy. No two hour long yoga sessions or 90min spin class. Each workout is usually around 20 mins (excluding warm up and cool down).  They recommend working out five days a week, in support of your ordinary sport.  If I was being paid to keep fit, this might actually work. As it is, I'm currently trying to go twice a week, and go to my normal gym three to four other times to do longer cardio sessions. I’m aiming to work up to doing CrossFit three times a week in the next month or so.

The biggest appeal of the system (for me) is that the work out is different every single day. And when I say different, I really mean it. It varies from doing one rep sets of a maximum weight through to a series of gymnastic moves such as ring dips and handstand pushups. Some workouts are made to make you focus on your technique, others are slow and heavy, and others are fast and dynamic. And they aim to work out your entire body.

The big thing to note is that all exercises are designed to be scaled. When you first look at them, they sound insane (and when you keep looking at them, you realise they are, but they might just be doable). For example, one work involved 50 chin-ups. What woman, I thought, could do fifty chin-ups? I was hoping one day to do three, and I thought I had pretty good upper body strength. But it is possible, someone just has to tell you it is.

Not quite there yet? Then you can use a resistance band. I had to do them in one of my first workouts at the CrossFit gym, so they scaled it down for me to do ring-rows instead (as we had to do 21 reps for 5 sets!) But one day I’ll be up to doing 10 chin-ups in a row (that’s one of my goals, along with a set of hand stand pushups – not against the wall).

But let me tell you how you can actually do it.

First of all, go to the US CrossFit website. It is set up with so much information that you really need to spend a good amount of time looking around But the biggest things I want to point out are the WOD (workout of the day) listed on the main page, and in the forums they list scaling options. When I first heard about it, I was living in the country, unemployed and wanting to keep my newly gained fitness up.

As I didn’t have access to a gym, I logged onto the website in each day, copied down the workout and then went to my local park and adapting as best I could. Luckily they usually have a video of that day’s WOD because a lot of the exercises I had no idea what they were.

There were limitations, particularly I couldn’t do the heavy weight workouts, or the rowing machine exercises (yes, they use ergos!) but by the end of a month of trying about four days a week to do my own little workout, I was seeing results (of course, after one day I was feeling them!).

However, I moved into the city and started doing other things, and would just do about two CrossFit workouts a month at the gym, whenever I remembered. Surprisingly, not as effective.

Then I found out that there was actually a specialised CrossFit gym right near my house! (Was very excited, this was about two years after I first heard of it). So only two or three months ago I pottered along to CrossFit South Yarra and was met by Benjamin. The first workout was free so I joined in. The gym runs the class for an hour, so you do stretching and a warm up (which might have previously been my usual workout) and then practice all the moves for the WOD. Once you have worked out what you are doing, and how you are going to scale (you get given burpees to do if you scale incorrectly and have to go down during a work out, the aim is to try and be consistent), the workout starts in earnest.

Other than getting the expert advice on scaling and technique, the biggest advantage I’ve found of going to the group workout (usually 6-8 people) is I just hadn’t realised the speed with which the exercises were meant to be done. A lot of the exercises are either trying to do as many rounds in a set time or trying to do a set number of rounds in the fastest time.  Also, the encouragement is pretty awesome.

Do I recommend the program for everyone? Well, they claim it can be done by anyone, which is true in that everything can be scaled. However, it takes quite a lot of grit to keep going in some of them. I think building up grit is an excellent thing, but if you don’t have it, you might not like the program.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that if you look at women who do CrossFit, they are amazingly strong, but haven’t always worked off the layers of fat over that muscle. Basically what I’m trying to say is that if you are trying to slim down as well as get strong, CrossFit will definitely help for the high intensity and weight works out, but you might want to supplement it with longer, slower workouts that break the 40minute barrier.

But if you are interested, I recommend starting at a gym so you get proper training on technique. Affiliated gyms are listed on the US CrossFit website, though you can also just do a google search. In one way they are a little expensive (especially if you are only going once or twice a week like me, as they usually charge a monthly membership). However, for me it’s like having a personal trainer, and comparative to paying for an hour or even half an hour of personal training twice a week, it is much more cost effective.

However, if you don’t have access to a specialised gym and want a varied and challenging workout, I recommend trying to the WOD from the website yourself. Watch the videos on technique carefully, and adapt as necessary.

This week’s challenge?

Find a CrossFit gym near you and try their first free session, or try the following WOD and scale appropriately:

Tuesday 121030
Five rounds for time of:
Run 400 meters
30 Box jump, 24 inch box
30 Wall ball shots, 20 pound ball

For a video of the workout see:

The scaling for this workout as suggested by one of the administrator of the website is:
Big Dawgs
as Rxd

Five rounds for time of:
Run 400 meters
15 Box jump, 24 inch box
15 Wall ball shots, 20 pound ball
Three rounds for time of:
Run 400 meters
30 Box jump, 24 inch box
30 Wall ball shots, 20 pound ball

Three rounds for time of:
Run 400 meters
15 Box jump, 24 inch box
15 Wall ball shots, 14-20 pound ball
Post time to comments.

Three rounds for time of:
Run 400 meters
10 Box jump, 24 inch box
10 Wall ball shots, 14-20 pound ball
Post time to comments.

Sub for wall ball is dumbbell thrusters. 20# for Big Dawgs 10-14# for others.

“CrossFit is not dangerous.
Bad coaching is dangerous, poor movement is dangerous. Ego is dangerous.
CrossFit, properly scaled to the individual is the safest and most efficient program available”
BlueBugofJustice - 18 August 2009

No comments:

Post a Comment