Perhaps the hottest thing going in the world of strength and conditioning is CrossFit, one of those classic "overnight success" stories borne out of an entrepreneurial spirit that took years to incubate. CrossFit is designed in such a way that almost anybody can do it, yet it’s not for everyone. And, yes, that deserves an explanation.
On its website, CrossFit says its aim is to "forge a broad, general and inclusive fitness." Founder Greg Glassman, a former gymnast who started out with a single gym in Santa Cruz, Calif. (the company's Facebook page says it was founded in 1974, although other sources reference the 1990's) sums up the CrossFit philosophy with the equation CVFM @ HI + Communal Environment = Health. Translated, it's a regimen of "constantly varied (CV), functional movements (FM), performed at high intensity (@HI) in a communal environment (that) leads to health and fitness."
CrossFit is not about becoming a champion marathoner, powerlifter or bodybuilder, and it's not about vanity, spending hours in front of mirrors. It's about peak personal fitness, period. Workouts, done in a communal setting, are as intense as they are brief, lasting about twenty minutes or less, three to five times a week, and then you are done. For real, as in toast. Think twice about trying to fit a CrossFit workout into a lunch hour, especially if afternoon work productivity is a priority.
"CrossFit is part of a training trend called 'functional training,'" says CrossFit veteran Jamie Shane, writing for Fit Nation Magazine. "The quest is for fitness and adaptability, not for bulging biceps or rock-hard abs. … Running, jumping, lifting, agility and mental fortitude are all fundamental pieces of a CrossFit training program."
What the worldwide CrossFit community entails is a network of thousands of affiliated gyms, or "boxes" as they are affectionately known to members, as well as tens of thousands of accredited CrossFit Level 1 trainers. Chances are there is a CrossFit facility somewhere near you. You can even set up your own CrossFit cave at home in the garage or basement. Instructions are available at CrossFit's website.
Each CrossFit gym posts its own Workout of the Day (WOD) regimen that, like the name suggests, changes daily for variety's sake – all the better to keep the juices flowing. Every bit of motivation comes in handy when you're crawling out of bed after a prior day's full-throttle, character-testing/building workout. Which reminds us: before beginning any sort of new workout regimen, especially one as taxing as CrossFit, be sure to discuss it with your physician or other healthcare professional. The technical simplicity of its varied exercises theoretically makes CrossFit accessible to almost anyone, but like we said earlier, it's not for everybody. By the way, to help in post-workout recovery, CrossFit devotee Christmas Abbott, who used her fitness gains from CrossFit to help earn a spot on a NASCAR pit crew, tells shape.com to drink "lots of water to stay hydrated and a recovery shake to ease screaming muscles, and (eat) omega-3's throughout the day to reduce inflammation."
Each CrossFit facility has its own style and culture, and if you are looking for glitter, glass and eye candy glammed up in expensive, figure-enhancing fitness garb, you have come to the wrong place. Be prepared to sweat ... profusely. CrossFit utilizes dozens of exercises with names like power cleans, burpees and thrusters that combine "strength training, explosive plyometrics, speed training, Olympic and power-style weight lifting, kettle bells, body weight exercises, gymnastics and endurance exercise," as webmd.com describes it.
Propriety gets checked at the door here. Expect a lot of groans, grunts, vein-popping screams (think shot putters and hammer throwers, male and female), and the occasional clanking thuds of heavy barbells dropping to the floor. No pain, no gain – that sort of thing. This is not your Aunt Barbie's aerobics studio or Uncle Ken's spiffed-up YMCA country club: think Rocky working out with Mickey in a big warehouse minus the boxing rings. Note, too: there's opportunity for injury if you don't master the exercise techniques, or if you go beyond the limits your body is telling you.
Safety must always be a concern.
As written in a New York Times blog, "Debates about CrossFit's safety have raged online since reports came out of participants developing rhabdomyolysis, a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when broken-down muscle tissue floods the bloodstream. 'It can kill you,' Mr. Glassman told The Times in 2005. 'I've always been completely honest about that.'"
It sounds like CrossFit can be risky, but for those who can mix chutzpah with caution, it might just be the place to go and even make some new friends.