Fitness is full of fads. From restrictive diets that see you trying to live like a caveman or flushing your insides out with juice diets to gym regimens that have you trying to pick up the finer points of barre work in an attempt to shift pounds, there’s always something new to hang your towel on.
But, bona fide fitness crazes are a rare thing. In the ‘70s there was the running boom when everyone and their dog donned headbands, beat-up running shoes and too-tight Adidas shorts to hit the local track. Today, we have CrossFit.
If you don’t know what CrossFit is, it’s time to pick up that rock you’ve been living under, perform a few power-cleans with it, and catch up. At its core, CrossFit is constantly varied, functional movement performed at high intensity. As of 2017, CrossFit had over 13,000 gyms in 120 countries – which is more locations than Starbucks. These gyms are packed with over 4 million devotees. In other words: CrossFit isn’t just big, it’s a phenomenon.
It has its own version of the Olympics, too – the CrossFit Games – where competitors test their strength, endurance, speed and more. Devotees consider it a sport in its own right and the winners are often described as the fittest men and women in the world.
CrossFit more or less has its own language, too. Want to join your local box (gym) for a punishing WOD (workout of the day)? Of course you do. Which is why we roped in the talented Luke Andrew, a CF-L3-certified trainer at CrossFit Tewkesbury to talk you through some key CrossFit workouts.
The Benefits Of CrossFit Training
Andrew got into CrossFit while practicing mixed martial arts. His coach introduced him to CrossFit as a way of making him fitter, stronger and more efficient for his sport. The benefits are myriad. Step foot in a CrossFit box and your workouts will vary hugely from day to day, taking into account different movements, exercise, rep schemes, patterns and modalities from gymnastics to weightlifting.
“Routine is the enemy,” says Andrew. “Functional movement is a movement that is going to help you in every day life. [Typically] it uses more than one muscle across multiple joints. I can’t think of a situation in life where a hamstring curl is applicable. Where as a deadlift or even a clean and press presents itself daily.”
As well as being functional – you know, actually useful in real life – CrossFit workouts put an emphasis on high intensity movements, well known for blasting fat stores. It isn’t about pushing you to achieve unrealistic standards, though, just your best effort.
“I may run 200m in 0:35 seconds and my mum may run it in 1 minute 35 seconds,” says Andrew. “If we have both worked near max effort and hit high intensity, for us, then we will both see the same benefits.”
The obvious benefits of CrossFit are the physical; people generally burn fat, build muscle, clean up their diet and improve their health markers such as cholesterol numbers, blood pressure, and body fat index. But it isn’t just about the usual fitness benefits. Andrew sees CrossFit as a social enterprise, too, introducing you to like-minded people who can become your fitness family.
“The social side of CrossFit strikes a chord with me,” he says. “When people enter through our doors we want them to have the best hour of their day. We want to make them smile, laugh, work hard, feel good and leave in a better place than when they arrived.”
If this sounds like the answer to your fitness prayers, check out the taster sessions at your local box. You won’t be expected to know the lingo or the moves, so don’t worry. But, in case you did want to put in a bit of practice ahead of time, Andrew has outlined three short, sharp sessions you can try at the gym first.
“CrossFit has a series of benchmark WODs, affectionately named after women,” Andrew says. “We use these to evidence our fitness to make sure our programme is working.” The first, Helen, has plenty to get your head around…
Complete three rounds of the following, aiming to finish in 8-12 minutes
“I’d recommend running with some intention,” says Andrew. “The workout is short so cruising on the run isn’t a good strategy. Be brave and trust yourself.” In other words, get a shift on.
Then it’s in to kettlebell swings. Try 24kgs at first but go lighter if you need to. Pick up the KB and hold it in two hands between your knees. Your back should be straight, your chin and chest up.
Create a soft bend in your knees like you’re preparing to sit down. Push your hips back, pull your shoulders back, then use your hips to thrust the KB forward and up. Ideally, you want the bottom of the weight facing the ceiling, creating a straight line through your arms, shoulders, hips and knees.
Then, let the momentum carry the weight down to the starting position. The most important thing is not to let the momentum drag you forward; keep your chest up, back straight, and let the momentum carry you into your next swing.
Finally, it’s pull-up time. Twelve is a difficult number to get to, but try your best, starting from a dead hang and ending with your chin rising over the bar. If you’re having trouble, use an elastic rope to create a sling to put your knee or foot into to hold some of your bodyweight.
AMRAP 20 Mins
“AMRAP stands for ‘As Many Rounds As Possible’ and is followed by a number in minutes,” says Andrew. “Your goal is as much work as possible in a set period of time.”
A wall ball is where you hold a medicine ball on your chest and squat down then accelerate and throw the ball to the designated height against the wall. Try a 9kg ball and a 10ft target. For the rep to count, the depth of the squat must see your hip crease pass below your knee and the ball to hit the wall at the correct height.
“On the squat portion make sure to send your hips back, keep your spine neutral and ensure your knees are tracking your toes,” says Andrew. “Push the floor away and push the ball to the target. I like to think of it as a push rather than a throw.”
Burpees, as well all know, are the closest thing to hell on this earth. Andrew wants you to take it one step further by clapping with your hands overhead. However, do not add in a push-up at the start of each burpee as that’s going to make it unnecessarily difficult and is frankly just showing off.
Finally, you need to channel your Adonis Creed with double unders – a skipping jump where the rope passes under your feet twice in one jump. The key here is practice, practice, practice.
EMOM 30 Mins
“EMOM means ‘Every Minute On the Minute’,” says Andrew. “Each exercise should take 20-30 seconds and you rest the remaining time until the next minute.”
The handstand hold is a difficult one to start with. Basically, you’re going to kick your legs up so you’re performing a handstand against a wall (facing outwards). As your body lifts push the floor away from you to extend your hands. To hold the position for 20 seconds you’ll need to squeeze your abs, quads, and bum. You’ll get shoulder fatigue, jack your heart rate and build explosive power.
Box jumps are exactly what they sound like; a two-footed jump onto a box. Once you land on top of the box, make sure to stand up, creating a straight line through your hips and knees. Then you can either step or jump down. Be careful not to miss, trip or fall off the box.
Finally, pick a comfortable weight for the dumbbell push presses. Start by resting the weights on your shoulders. You can use your legs to help you press the weights by “dipping and driving”. The dip is where you bend your knees, pushing them forward and keeping your torso vertical. Push the floor away, squeeze your legs and glutes to lift the weights off your shoulders and finish the movement by pressing with your arms.
The rep is counted when you’re fully extended with the weights overhead. For faster reps use a bounce at the bottom and let the momentum help you accelerate into the next rep. Make sure to squeeze your abs when pressing and make sure your rib cage isn’t sticking up and you’re not arching your lower back.
Finally, collapse and give yourself a big pat on the back…
Got all that? Just about? Good. Clearly, no one is expecting you to do all of that straight off the bat. In fact, the pleasure is in the attempt, and the feeling you get when you finally achieve a goal without melting into a pool of red-faced jelly. The key is to see CrossFit as a lifestyle, a continually evolving programme of goals designed to help you live a healthier, happier life. Or, as Andrew puts it:
“We should be strong enough to lift our own body weight and heavy objects, we should be able to run a 5K park run with friends, play football with our children in the park, rock climb, surf on holiday or even run for the bus without being out of breath. CrossFit aims to give people a broad, general and inclusive fitness.”