Lately, CrossFit has been all the rage for the health conscious.
Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai founded the fitness program/gym in 2000, but it has really taken off in the last few years. Now there are more than 10,000 CrossFit gyms across the country.
While CrossFit is plenty popular, some people think it’s just the next thing in a long line of fitness fads. You have to wonder if we’ll look back on it and think of it like Tae Bo in the 90s or step aerobics in the 80s.
Sure, it seems to deliver results, but some people have described the atmosphere of CrossFit gyms as almost “cult like.”
Devotion can be commendable but not at the risk of autonomy. At the very least, there are a lot of people with that one friend who won’t shut up about CrossFit. He goes on and on about his deadlifts and squats and how “you should really give it a shot.” You know that guy.
Still, others feel that the workouts might be too intense for regular people. Thus, the intensity (a point of pride for the program) could lead to serious injury or exhaustion.
Recently, I was in the Twin Cities visiting my brother Chris, and he mentioned that he had just started CrossFit. I decided to get to the bottom of this latest fitness craze and find out what CrossFit is really like.
*This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
HeathyWay: What were you doing for exercise before CrossFit?
Chris: I was just lifting weights when I could. At work, at 3M, we have a gym there, so I would go in and try to do different muscle groups…and basically try to get in two to three times a week. But it was probably closer to one or two times.
That’s basically what I was doing before, and I was pretty inconsistent in going. After working nine, 10 hours it’s pretty tough.
HW: What made you decide to try CrossFit?
C: I was reading something, I think in “GQ,” or something online. I was kind of looking for stuff to do in the New Year and CrossFit intrigued me. I just wanted to meet new people and maybe get a hobby. I looked around and Googled to see if there were any gyms nearby, and TwinTown Fitness is only two blocks from where I live.
So I figured it was worth a try. And they have a free class Saturdays so you can try it out. I just wanted to try something new, and I was seeing if I could better results that way. I was looking for something that was more consistent.
HW: How does it compare to what you were doing previously?
C: Well I think…it’s definitely better. I’ve been going a lot more often than I was before, so I’m getting three or four times a week. Also, it costs a lot more, so that might have something to do with it. I think it’s definitely worth the cost, and the other aspect is that you’re not working out by yourself.
It’s a class of, like, 10 to 12 people with a coach who’s there. You have a team mentality and people there to cheer you on and stuff like that. It’s a lot different than just going to the gym and pounding out a workout. There’s a lot more of social aspect, which I like.
HW: You like the social aspect. Are there any other aspects that you’ve liked so far?
C: Yeah, at least with our gym, we get an online tool called “Beyond The Whiteboard.” It’s a way for you track your progress. You don’t have to do it, but they encourage you to do it. You’re recording times and, you know, your reps…stuff like that. It tells you what you’re good at and what you’re bad at and what you need to work on.
Also, with our gym, it’s not super competitive, but, if you want to be, you can be. If you want to see yourself get better, you can post results on a leaderboard, so you can compare yourself to your peers.
It also has a lot of cardio, as well. I used to just lift and never run. I hate running. You get cardio from doing workouts on the rowing machine or the ergometer. You’re also doing Olympic style lifts, so I’m learning lifts I would never have done before.
And I kind of started from scratch. They basically deconstruct everything you’ve learned and you learn how to squat properly and lift properly. What was nice about our gym is you have to go through a foundations class before you go up to doing the WODs, the workout of the day. It’s a way to screen you to make sure you’re mentally, but also physically, tough to handle the workouts. I like that.
HW: Are there any aspects that have been challenging or that you don’t like?
C: I’ve found one thing to do is never look at a workout before going in. They post what you’re going to do before…but you just don’t want to psych yourself out if you see something that looks intimidating. Chances are you’ll be like “Uhh…maybe I won’t go to this class today.”
And I guess…it’s expensive. I’m paying about $200 per month. I think it’s worth it, but, for some other people, they might not be able to afford that. That’s the thing…if you get something good out of it then it’s worth it. But, if not, I can see where people think it costs too much.
You do have to invest. You can’t miss a week or two and expect to be right back into shape. It’s tough, too. There have been some workouts that I’ve just hated. But I always feel good after the fact that I did them. Sometimes you do a 20 or 40 minute workout straight through, and it’s just hell. It’s always good after the fact.
HW: How are the workouts broken down?
C: Each class is kind of divided up. It’s an hour long, so you’re only working out for an hour, which is fine. You get plenty of workout in that amount of time. You usually do a warmup. That’s maybe the first 10 minutes.
Then the next 20 minutes or so, depending on what day it is, you’ll focus on a specific sort of lift. One day you could be working on your squats or your dead lifts or your snatches or you’re working on pullups.
Then the last portion of class, either 30 or 40 minutes, is the WOD, which is work out of the day. Then they have the AMRAP, which I don’t even know what it stands for, but basically it’s a circuit. It’s either for time or you have a set amount of time and you have to get a certain number of rounds in. You’re usually doing three or four different things X number of times.
The coaches are picking these out to make sure we’re balancing the types of workouts we do. There’s a lot of bodyweight but they also incorporate in the lifting and there’s some sort of cardio portion, too. It’s well balanced.
HW: From what I’ve seen, CrossFit tends to deliver results. What have you seen personally?
C: That’s a good question. I definitely feel like I’m in a lot better shape. Physically, I’ve kind of kept track with pictures. I definitely have more definition in my legs and my abs, and I kind of the V cut thing going on that I’ve always wanted but was never quite there.
It’s weird. I haven’t even benched in months, and I don’t feel that I’ve lost any upper body strength. It’s because I’ve been doing a bunch of pushups and pullups. I’ve also noticed the cardio getting better. I was playing basketball this past winter and toward the end of it was when I was getting into shape with CrossFit. I could tell I was in better cardio shape.
HW: I guess the final question is would you recommend it?
C: Yes, I think I would. It might get a bad name every so often from people just because they think it’s a fad or a trend. You know there’s the joke, “How do you know a person does CrossFit? Don’t worry they’ll tell you.”
It kind of has a cultish feeling at times from other gyms I’ve seen. But the one up here is pretty relaxed, and it’s a good way of branching out and meeting new people. If you want to push yourself, it’s a good way to do that. And, if you’re tired of just doing the same gym workouts over and over again and you want to do something new, I recommend it.
Even if you only sign up for half a year or a couple months, you can still get benefits out of it.