Monday, August 30, 2010

What is Crossfit?

For the past five months, I've aimed to do four or five Crossfit workouts per week.  Crossfit is a very unusual fitness program that I would highly suggest to anybody who is easily bored with their normal gym routine and who likes to see results in everything from flexibility to strength to cardiovascular fitness.  But it's a little bit hard to explain...

First of all, let me give you an example of one of my mornings while attending Crossfit South Hills.  I would wake up at 6:30, mix up a protein shake, grab an Accel gel, and race over to the gym. The warm-up consists of the following:

3 rounds of ten reps each of the following exercises:
-dislocates (PVC pipe raise above head and rotated down to the lower back then back up and in front, etc.)
-overhead squats (again using PVC)
-dislocate + lunges (PVC)
-back extensions
Then, we were required to do a "Buy In", which is usually to practice a skill-based movement. But it could also be a sprint (400m, 800m, or mile), max rep body weight exercise, or a mini-workout.  You never know!
After the buy-in, there's a Workout-of-the-Day (WOD), which is normally a nightmare.  After that, you complete a "Cash Out", which follows the same formula as a Buy In, only it normally works the same muscles focused on in the WOD, so it's extra hard.

Here's is an example of a typical workout routine at Crossfit South Hills:
-Buy In-
Max Effort Burpees For A Minute
21 Renegade Rows
Row 250M
12 Knees To Elbows
15 Renegade Rows
Row 500M
12 Knees To Elbows
9 Renegade Rows
Row 750M
12 Knees To Elbows
-Cash Out-
25 Strict Chin Ups

 The idea here is to complete the workout as fast as possible.  The beauty of most of these WODS is that they don't take very long.  Sometimes, the WOD only lasts for 6 minutes.  Other times, you might be grinding through it for a half hour.  Every session is an hour or less, though.  So if you switch to Crossfit, those constant, drawn-out sessions at your local Bally's will be history.  Crossfit four or five times per week, and your body will thank you.

Another great part of Crossfit - and probably the key to its incredible results-producing regimen - is that when you walk into your Crossfit gym, you are totally surprised by the workout.  Indeed, their slogan is "unknown, unknowable". While those who program the WODs do have a formula in mind to keep their athletes balanced over the long haul, you  have to be prepared for anything when you walk into the gym.  You might work the same muscles multiple days in a row (this is body-building, it's general athletic preparedness!); likewise, you may go a week without doing any ab-concentrated movement, for example.  Some WODs include tire-flipping, rope-climbing, or pushing a weighted sled across a parking lot.  We use jump ropes, kettle bells, medicine balls, and sand bags.  Like I said, Crossfit WODs are murder, but you see results quickly in all areas of fitness.
Here's another example of a WOD:
21 Thrusters (95 lbs.)
21 Pull-ups
15 Thrusters
15 Pull-ups
9 Thrusters
9 Pull-ups

This one takes more elite athletes less than three minutes to complete, but it's a full body workout.  

Olympic lifting and virtually any exercise that uses a long barbell will engage your core whether you like it or not (you like it, trust me).  Because most Crossfit WODs include a barbell movement, every workout does something for your core.  
A lot of people are critical of Crossfit because they see it simply as a strong man competition because of its frequent resort to Olympic lifting.  Here's a WOD that displays the type of cardiovascular workout that you can get from Crossfit:
2 power cleans on the minute (205 lbs.) for 15 minutes
For the remainder of the minute, do as many double unders as possible.  
Keep a running total of double unders.

This workout requires both strength and cardiovascular fitness to finish with a good time.

The only way to experience the benefits of Crossfit is to try it out for yourself.  Affiliate gyms are located virtually everywhere nowadays.  Despite all of the perks to your health and body, the community fostered in these gyms is unbeatable.  You would be hard-pressed to find a group of Crossfitters that wouldn't welcome you whole-heartedly into their gym and cheer you on while you improve your fitness.  I consider my coach and colleagues at Crossfit South Hills some of my dearest friends.

I can also testify to Crossfit's effects on my performance as a triathlete.  In July, I competed in the Steelhead 70.3 half ironman.  I broke my personal records in the swim, bike, and run distances (1.2 miles, 56, and 13.1 respectively).  My times: 32:57, 2:48:55, and 1:33:11.  My training reached about 15 hours per week, but five of those hours were dedicated to Crossfit training, meaning only 10 hours per week of swimming, biking, and running.  Most triathletes at this level are training anywhere from 15-20 hours in swim, bike, and run.  At the race, I was particularly strong in my transition from bike to run, which is normally considered the hardest part of the race. I also required virtually no recovery time.  In fact, I had to jump in the car and drive straight back to Pittsburgh after the race in order to be in Philadelphia for classes less than 48 hours afterwards!  After having crushed the triathlon and then driving for 7 hours back to Pittsburgh and NOT having any stiffness or sore muscles, I can only attribute my great experience and times to Crossfit South Hills (and my adherence to the Paleo Diet, but more on that in the next post...)

Try out Crossfit.  Most gyms will allow you to work out a few times for free!  And all you have to do is show up ready to sweat.  I suggest Crossfit South Hills if you live in Pittsburgh.

Have fun getting the body you have always wanted, sleeping better, buying new clothes, making new friends, and freeing up some time in your schedule due to the brevity of Crossfit sessions!