When exercise scientist and CrossFit instructor Imtiaz Desai invited myself and a friend to a training session at a newly opened CrossFit branch in Bedfordview, I didn’t know what to expect. But I love trying new things, so it was a sporting adventure I welcomed. Before we left, I did a bit of research on CrossFit and found out that it has taken the USA by storm, but is still relatively new in South Africa. Still, I had no idea what was waiting for me!
I imagined a gym type set-up for the classes, and since the gym environment has never really appealed to me, I was pleasantly surprised at the ‘warehouse’ type of indoor/outdoor environment we were going to train in. When you walk into a CrossFit facility you won’t find rows of traditional gym machines. All you will find are weights, exercise balls, rowing machines, kettlebells and bars, amongst other things. Seeing all the weights made me wonder aloud to my friend: “Those must be for the guys, I wonder where the girls’ stuff is?” I would soon find out that the equipment I was looking at was exactly what I would soon be lifting, jumping over or swinging on!
Imtiaz first explained that many people believe that machine-based or isolation exercises coupled with extended aerobic sessions develops optimal fitness. Some people also think that endurance capacity is the key to a fit body, and endurance athletes are often held as exemplars of fitness. CrossFit advocates a totally different approach.
SO WHAT IS CROSSFIT?
The easiest way to explain CrossFit is that it is a combination of running sprints, Olympic weightlifting, kettlebell training, gymnastics (yes, prepare for those handstands) and power-lifting. And then, of course, that one word that still makes me break out in a cold sweat: squats. And lots of them! CrossFit encompasses so much, and one thing is for sure, it isn’t easy! Classes are generally small and Imtiaz kept a constant eye on all of us, helping and encouraging.
When Imtiaz mentioned that one of our workouts would include weightlifting as well as some gymnastics, I was a bit apprehensive, as the last time I did gymnastics was in primary school. But he quickly explained that gymnastics not only refers to the traditional sport, but all activities where the aim is body control without external loads. The basis for gymnastic ability comes from pull-ups, push-ups, dips and jumping, which develop strength, flexibility, coordination, balance, accuracy and agility.
He also explained the difference between weightlifting and weight training. Weightlifting refers to the Olympic sport which includes the ‘clean’ and ‘jerk and snatch’ movements. These lifts are based on the deadlift, clean, squat and overhead press. These movements are essential to everyday life and athletic performance. Initially, I had no idea how weightlifting would help my running, but Imtiaz explained it develops strength, speed and power, and requires substantial flexibility. The requirement of moving heavy loads in a technical manner also improves balance, coordination, accuracy and agility. Weightlifting has also been shown to have a significant impact on cardiovascular fitness.
The best thing about CrossFit is that no workout is ever the same. CrossFit uses interval training to develop aerobic fitness and strength, and the workouts were always challenging and quite hard. You might be surprised to know that the actual workout is only eight minutes long! But that is preceded by 40 minutes of warming-up, running sprints, push-ups or weightlifting. I can already hear you say: “Only eight minutes, how hard can that be?” Well, very hard! Those eight minutes were more intense than many races I have done. I was taken so far out of my comfort zone that I doubted my ability to continue, but each time we all managed and became that little bit stronger.
The CrossFit program applies all the different training tools in an infinite number of combinations. There is no adherence to a particular amount of sets, repetitions or rest periods. The movements are compound, using several joints and muscle groups at once. The motor recruitment patterns found in these movements are similar to those found in movements of everyday life and sport, and they have been proven to enhance our functional and sports capacity. Finally, the movements are applied at relatively high intensity, because the greater the stimulus, the greater the adaptation.
A DIFFERENT APPROACH
CrossFit makes use of three models to guide, achieve and evaluate, and complete fitness requires competency and training in each of these pathways:
• The first model is based on 10 physical skills: cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy. You are as fit as you are competent in each of these skills.
• The second model refers to an individual’s ability to perform a physical task, with your fitness measured by your capacity to perform these tasks in relation to other individuals.
• The third model is based on the three metabolic pathways that provide the energy for all human movement. The phosphagen system provides energy for the highest powered activities that last about 10 seconds, the glycolytic system provides energy for moderate-powered activities that last up to several minutes, and the aerobic system provides energy for low-powered activities that last longer than several minutes.
CrossFit has contributed to increasing my overall fitness level and especially my overall strength and body conditioning. It is about pushing yourself harder and challenging yourself in ways you never thought possible. But don’t worry about bulking up and building muscle that will make Arnold Schwarzenegger look like a ballerina. Apart from the strength and conditioning benefits, it will actually help you develop a lean and toned body. It takes a bit of time to get the technique right, but once you’ve got it, it is an amazing feeling!
CrossFit is for anyone passionate about improving their overall fitness and becoming a stronger all-round athlete. If you are keen to try it out, visit the CrossFit Jozi website at www.crossfitjozi.co.za, Which includes links to CrossFit studios across the country. Also log on to www.modernathlete.co.za to check out some cool CrossFit videos.
WHAT DOES AN 8 MINUTE CROSSFIT WORKOUT LOOK LIKE?
Typical examples include:
100m sprints followed by 10 push-ups followed by10 squats before you start all over again!
20 Kettlebell swings followed by, 1 minute of skipping followed by 20 sit-ups.
All workouts are done at a very fast pace and workouts are timed. You keep count of how many rounds you are able to complete. These get recorded so you are able to see your progress over time.
CrossFit was founded by former high school gymnast Greg Glassman and his former wife Lauren. The Glassman’s began training clients in the garage of their California home and their athletes soon began to distinguish themselves in the ring, stadiums and gyms. In 2001 the Glassmans launched www.crossfit.com, and today there are over 2000 official CrossFit affiliates worldwide.