A radical new approach to physical fitness
As a fitness trainer in Phuket, I’m often asked my opinion on Crossfit Training. Very often, these are fitness fanatics who ask me this, looking for a way to further up their game. Other times, it’s newbies who are yet to see the inside of a gym but are very much conditioned to the use of internet based knowledge. However, these two groups kind of define the extremes of CrossFit that one needs to be careful about. Lack of knowledge or pushing it too far, this is where CrossFit fails and can be potentially harmful. However, there is a middle ground, the sweet spot, the part that I love about CrossFit.
First things first. What is CrossFit?
CrossFit is a training style developed by former gymnast Greg Glassman who firmly believed that physical fitness is a measure of the overall fitness level of the body. Instead of exercises that focus on a certain muscle group or in developing a specific skill set such as say, ‘powerlifting’, CrossFit training uses varied functional movements, thus building the general fitness of the entire body with each workout.
Don’t, even for a second, misunderstand this to be an easier way to build your fitness levels. When Glassman says overall fitness instead of specialized training, he doesn’t intend to go easy at all. Instead, in order for CrossFit training to be as effective, or even more than the conventional training style, it is performed at high intensities in a very limited time span.
The CrossFit philosophy — ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’.
This philosophy is by no means, meant as an insult. It, in fact, defines the strategy which CrossFit uses in building an overall high level of fitness i.e. executing a greater work load over a broad time & modal domain. The functional movements CrossFit employs, have been tried and tested over many years and are the best of weightlifting, rowing, gymnastics, running etc.
The Building Blocks Of CrossFit
The way CrossFit sees it, there are 10 primary components to physical fitness – Cardiovascular or respiratory endurance, power, strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, agility, speed, stamina, and accuracy. The functional movements used in CrossFit training are constantly varied for each workout and is performed at high intensity. The idea here is to maximise the work load in the least amount of time. This work divided by time method is used to measure the power output. The aim ultimately is to address and improve upon the 10 building blocks of our physical fitness.
The higher the intensity, the bigger the power output, the greater the gains.
Well, there are numerous tactics CrossFit training incorporates in order to keep its participants motivated and to achieve the desired results. For starters, CrossFit is a group training activity. This is done primarily for two, very good, reasons. One, motivation is an essential commodity when it comes to highly intense and painful workouts. The second is, of course, competition. A competitive environment tends to bring out the best in us. That’s just human nature.
Other things you’ll commonly notice in a CrossFit box (or gym) are a scoreboard, rules defining the standard of performance expected of each workout, a ticking clock, an equally motivated trainer pacing to and fro, and of course some very unconventional training equipment.
Even the CrossFit training sessions are different to what you might be used to. A session typically lasts 40 minutes to 1 hour and are mostly divided into 4 sessions.
- A dynamic warm up – This is not your typical light movements such as a few minutes on the treadmill. Instead, you’ll be doing stretches, functional and mobility movements by climbing ropes, doing lunges, pull ups, push ups etc.
- Strength or Skill based workout – Here, as per the daily schedule, you will engage in a workout that completely focuses on either building pure strength or on improving a skill such as squats. The workout done in this session is to complement and prepare the body for the ‘workout of the day’.
- Workout of the day or WOD – This is kind of the main event, the one that will have you sweating and swearing. Here, the participants are given a specific workout of which they are to complete a certain number of reps or check how many reps of the workout can be completed in a set time limit.
- Finally, stretch and cool down – After all that screaming and panting, here you finally get to sit down, stretch those muscles, cool down and relax.
Crossfit: the good, the bad and the ugly.
Big results always come with big risks. Crossfit training is no exception to this universal law. With CrossFit training, there are many key components, namely the training program, the trainer and the trainee. It may not seem like a big deal at first, but when you’re doing high reps of very heavy weights at high speeds, if even one of them is left unchecked, the results can quickly turn south. Given the big gains and losses involved, if you’re new to the CrossFit concept, here are a few pros and cons of the game:
PROS Of Crossfit Training:
– A supportive community. Unlike the conventional gyms, CrossFit is specifically a group activity. Group members tend to be a great motivating and support factor during those very very hard training sessions. Sharing the pain, sweat, and rewards together, the CrossFit training groups often turn into tight knit communities whose relations extend even out side the box.
– Increased competitiveness. Not just due to the group training, but with the scorecard in sight and the adrenaline rushing, you will soon find you are constantly competing against your past performances.
– Improved cardiovascular health. Since the CrossFit workouts are performed at high intensity, the heart rate is constantly elevated during the training sessions thus enhancing the cardiovascular health.
– Crossfit is great for fat loss. Due to the high-intensity interval training (HIIT) style workout of CrossFit, you’ll be burning calories for hours after your workout.
– Crossfit enhances muscle building. Due to the varied functional movements performed at high intensity, several muscle groups are worked on at the same time, thus improving the overall muscles endurance. No wonder, CrossFit training builds muscles fast!
– Improved mobility. CrossFit training is not a static workout. Rather, the focus is on functional movements that constantly varies with each workout. Such workouts help not just with body strengthening but joint movements, agility, balance, endurance etc. giving you better mobility of the body.
– Crossfit is scalable. This is perhaps one of the main reasons to get you started with CrossFit. Although the workout program remains the same for the entire class, the load and intensity can be adjusted as per the individual. This helps you stay with the class without putting undue stress on the body. Once your strength and endurance levels increase, so can your work load and intensity.
CONS Of Crossfit Training:
– Greater risk of injury. Crossfit training often encourages its participants to push themselves to the edge, not just in terms of weight (or strength) but in terms of intensity as well. Which means you might be lifting more and trying to do more reps than you comfortably can. When focusing on maximizing the reps, it is very easy to lose form. This very often leads to serious injuries. Checkout my article on the Signs and Symptoms of Overtraining to make sure you don’t fall into this category.
– Not good for specialization or sports specific workouts. Crossfit follows the philosophy of overall fitness without focusing on any one area. This is bad news if you’re specifically looking to improve a certain skill set or performance related to specific muscle groups.
– An over-obsessed community. I’m sure you’re wondering why this is both a PRO and a CON. When the community stays involved with CrossFit to a certain limit, it is PRO. However, from my experience so far, because of the intense nature of the CrossFit workouts, the community soon gets obsessed with CrossFit. At one point, they live, breathe, eat and sleep with CrossFit on their mind. That is all they talk about, even when they’re not with each other, often speaking a language no else understands! This is especially bad since you tend to forget there are things to watch out for when doing hardcore fitness training.
– Poor quality control of CrossFit boxes. This, for me, is the biggest negative about CrossFit. One only needs to clear a level 1 certification, which is just a basic training, and pay the affiliate fees of around $3000 a year to be qualified to start a CrossFit box or gym. Given the popularity that CrossFit is gaining, it comes as no surprise that there are so many poor quality CrossFit boxes out there.
– Rhabdomyolysis. In the CrossFit community, this medical condition is also referred to as ‘Uncle Rhabdo’. Although there is absolutely nothing funny about this condition and is an example of how things can turn ugly if precaution is not taken. Here’s why – Rhabdomyolysis is a condition that occurs when one puts way too much stress on the body, the muscle fibers breakdown and enter the bloodstream which leads to kidney poisoning. Uncle Rhabdo still sounds funny to you? Although this is a very rare condition, in almost all of the cases it is the fault of the individual ignoring instructions or a bad trainer not instructing on time!
CrossFit – Think outside the BOX, but train in it.
Now that you know the good and the bad side of CrossFit, are you still wondering if this is something you can work with? Well, you’ll never know unless you give it a try. Although, if you’re completely new to fitness training, my advice would be to just get started with some regular and basic training first. Build yourself a foundation and some experience. These will not just help you evaluate better but also bring down the chances of any injuries.
The next precaution should be the trainer. Make sure they are CrossFit certified and have sufficient experience with the same. A good trainer is paramount to an effective workout. Never ever take chances with the trainer. If you are looking for CrossFit in Phuket, then you don’t need to look twice. Unit 27 is hands down the best option you’ll find for CrossFit training. Unit 27 has premium quality trainers that will ensure that you don’t just look, but feel strong as well.
Education plays a major role in preventing training related injuries. Share this article, if you have friends who are contemplating joining a CrossFit box. We all learn from experience. If you’ve had any with CrossFit training, let us know your experience through the comments.