What Is CrossFit?

1. Explain Cross Fit and why it’s so beneficial.

Explaining the benefits of CrossFit is simple. CrossFit is a fitness program for everyone–regardless of age or ability–who is interested in improving fitness.  CrossFit provides immediate, noticeable, and positive results.

Explaining CrossFit can be a bit more complicated.  CrossFit treats every participant as an athlete, and seeks to challenge that athlete with a constantly changing program featuring a wide range of functional movements performed at high intensity through a variety of modalities.

Simply put, CrossFit develops and maintains one’s ability to engage in the activities that improve and extend the quality of life. I think a quote from CrossFit’s website really distills their philosophy:

The needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree not kind. Our terrorist hunters, skiers, mountain bike riders and housewives have found their best fitness from the same regimen.

That’s quite a bold statement, lumping together housewives, recreational athletes, and military Special Forces. The truth is CrossFit has very broad appeal to folks from every walk of life. It certainly is popular with military, law enforcement, and firefighters, but there are plenty of others, from kids to senior citizens, who CrossFit regularly. They do so to improve their ability to perform basic functions of their professions or their personal lives.

For example, the squat is the single most important exercise one can do, it is a functional movement. Anyone who cannot squat cannot engage in normal daily activity, and must have some sort of care provider, whether a hospital, nursing home, assisted living facility, or being a shut-in. CrossFit insists on working to perfect the squat and other foundational, functional movements. It doesn’t matter whether you can squat while holding a load overhead that is twice your body weight, or just do a few “air” squats—doing squats properly and frequently builds overall fitness in a way that is ignored by most people, and ignored by many other fitness programs. There are many similar examples in CrossFit.

Most popular thinking about what fitness is, and most products and programs offering fitness, lead to being overworked in some areas and under-developed in others. The long-distance runner and the body builder are two good examples of the opposite extremes of the standard approach to exercise, but CrossFit insists that neither portrays true, balanced fitness. CrossFit offers balance. CrossFit also offers measurable improvements in endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, and accuracy.

2. Why did you start doing it?

Another easy response–I started CrossFit because I was bored with the standard paradigm for fitness and how to achieve it, and dissatisfied with the results of typical fitness training.  I’ve been active and fairly fit all my life.  I’ve done quite a bit of bicycling, running, swimming, calisthenics, weight training, gymnastics–you name it.  When I was in the Navy, I was the guy who biked 20 miles to get to the semi-annual physical fitness test.  As a junior officer, I was the poster boy for the joke that senior officers sit at their desks to write policies on fitness standards, mid-grade officers dread thinking about whether they can meet the standards, while junior officers ace the fitness test and then go work out.

A couple of years ago, I noticed some fellow instructors at FLETC getting leaner, stronger, faster.  Nearly every day, they were engaged in wild combinations of running, weightlifting, calisthenics, and other things.  One day, they might be doing 400 meter sprints followed by body weight squats, pull-ups, and push-ups repeated for five rounds.  The next day could be a simple 10 kilometer run for time.  On day three, they’d be in the weight room for a maximum effort single-repetition of deadlift, bench press, and back squat. Day to day, week to week, it was never the same thing.

At first I thought it was just some silly new fad. Heck–maybe it is; but once I saw the results, I looked further into it.  Within a couple of weeks I tentatively started joining them in their workouts.  CrossFit calls it the WOD—the Workout of the Day. (CrossFit gives girl’s names to a lot of their WODs—maybe that’s silly, too, or maybe it adds to the mystique.) It took a while longer before I felt enough confidence to jump in with both feet, but the improvement in my own fitness level was astounding and utterly convincing.

After about three months of regular CrossFitting, I completed their Level I Certification, and have been teaching basic CrossFit concepts to my trainees at FLETC ever since.  I avoid presenting it as “CrossFIt,” but the programming is the same:  functional movements, foundational progressions, high intensity, wide variety, constantly changing.

Another reason I adopted CrossFit as my fitness philosophy is that I genuinely like the people involved in CrossFit. I have plenty of friends that don’t CrossFit (yet), but everyone I have met in the CrossFit community is genuinely nice, personable, motivated, hard-driving, honest, and supportive. There is a great sense of competition, not necessarily one athlete against another, but competition in the sense of each participant competing against the clock, against a personal record, or against the desire to give up. Once the lactic acid builds during and intense WOD, every effort is a miserable struggle to do one more push-up, one more kettelbell swing, one more burpee. CrossFit plainly shows you all of your strengths and weaknesses, and challenges you to improve and overcome. The camaraderie of CrossFit is just plain fun. The WODs can be a real beat down, but the folks are great.

3. How should you get started?

A friend of mine has a CrossFit bumper sticker that reads “3, 2, 1 . . . GO!”  Every experienced CrossFitter knows that’s how to get started on an intimidating WOD.  Well–they’re all intimidating, but many of them are absolutely, dreadfully brutal.

I guess what you want to know is, how does the average person get involved in CrossFit.  That, too, is easy: www.crossfit.com is the website for CrossFit HQ.  A new WOD appears at the top of the page every day.  On the left side of the page is a list of navigation buttons to a whole bunch of topics.  Two links near the top of the list are helpful:  “What is CrossFit?” and “Start Here.”  A little further down the list is a link to hundreds of exercises, demonstrations, and tutorials on just about everything that might pop up in CrossFit world. That’s one big thing I like about CrossFit—their knowledge base if free to everyone. Nothing is hidden, no secrets. Crossfit founder Greg Glassman likes to put it like this: “Our raincoats are open.” I’m not going to explain that one.

By far the best way to get started is to find a local CrossFit affiliate for some personal coaching.  In CrossFit world, a local affiliate is known as a “box,” and every box has a website.  All CrossFit affiliates are listed on the CFHQ website, or one can just Google the name of a city with the word “crossfit.”  If you were to search the web for “brunswick ga crossfit” you’d find that Brunswick now has a CrossFit facility:  CrossFit Salt (www.crossfitsalt.com), located at The Kids Club, just off Scranton Connector.   Like any box, CrossFit Salt offers personal training sessions, group sessions, and just getting together to do the WOD.

As with any other exercise regimen, a prospective athlete must have clear direction from a health care professional that it is safe to engage in strenuous physical activity.  This is especially true with CrossFit, because the very nature of this beast is characterized by “high intensity.”  However, no one need be put off by that, because everything in CrossFit is scaled to the age and ability of the individual participant.  “High intensity” means one thing to an 82 year old great-grandmother, something else to a 32 year old tri-athlete, and both are different from what an 8 year old soccer player can bring.

4. Explain your training program.

I usually stick to the mainsite WOD, which is on a 4-day cycle:  3 consecutive days of workouts, followed by 1 rest day.  Occasionally, I might make up my own WOD, particularly if I’m out of town and don’t have handy whatever equipment or facilities required by the mainsite WOD.  I also get a bit of exercise in during my instructional duties at FLETC, as well as through coaching friends and private clients with CrossFit instruction. If I’m travelling, I’ll look for a local box and just do whatever WOD they offer (and probably buy their T-shirt as well).

Others might follow the WOD from a particular box.  For instance, my son’s Drill Instructor at Parris Island follows CrossFit Brisbane (Australia).  I have some colleagues at work who now prefer the WOD from CrossFit Football (www.crossfitfootball.com).  (Most of them are bigger than 6 feet 4 inches & 250 pounds–go figure.)

What I do for a daily workout, or what anyone else does, one very important consideration is this:  the WOD is intended to enhance your life, not run your life.  I enjoy mountain biking, gardening, home repair, sailing—just being outside and doing things. If I’m in the mountains for a few days, then biking becomes my WOD. On the other hand, Janis Joplin says it best:”get it while you can.” I’ll do overhead squats with four by fours while shopping at the lumber yard, or maybe bang out a few deadlifts with forty pound sacks of dog food at the pet supply store, or just stretch while standing in line at the drugstore. My kids hate me for that.

I also practice the CrossFit approach to managing my diet. CrossFit promotes the Zone diet, developed by Dr. Barry Sears, to ensure the best mix of protein, fat, & carbohydrates, and to provide the proper amounts of vitamins, minerals, and hydration. I was quickly becoming an adherent to CrossFit’s approach to fitness through high-intensity, constantly varied exercise, mostly because it wasn’t far off from what I had always enjoyed doing. But I was truly a skeptic about CrossFit’s promotion of a “diet plan.”

I was convinced that generally following the FDA guidelines was just fine: lots & lots of whole grains, fresh fruit & vegetables, a little meat, fish, and dairy, very little fat and sugar. The Zone approach, promoted by CrossFit, agrees with that in quality, but not quantity. Zone says to cut back on carbohydrates, increase protein, and don’t be afraid of the fat. That was tough for me, because I enjoyed 3 or 4 bowls of cereal every morning—not the sugary stuff, but lots of carbs nonetheless. I used to think “I’m in pretty good shape; I can eat what I want.” CrossFit says “You are an athlete; you need high-quality fuel.

One complaint about the Zone diet is that, done strictly, it requires one to measure all food, at least for a couple of weeks to get the hang of it. Some folks think that’s too much trouble, so CrossFit offers a simple solution, recommending a diet of “meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, no sugar.” Following this advice led me to drop 5 pounds of bodyfat and gain three pounds of lean muscle mass without even trying. Occasionally, I’ll stray from the Zone, but I know right away. Getting too much carbohydrate makes me feel weak, grumpy, and tired. Holding the Zone—and getting my WOD done—has the opposite effect.

5. This is a huge trend. Why is that?

Is it a huge trend?  The obesity epidemic suggests otherwise.  Diseases and disorders associated with physical inactivity and a general lack of fitness are all on the rise.  When I was a kid, it was quite unusual to see someone who might be 50 or more pounds overfat.  Today, it’s unusual to not see that.  Perhaps even more disturbing is that being overfat is considered by many as some sort of victim status–you can’t even use the word “fat” in a clinical setting to describe someone’s appearance for fear of offending.

But, to the extent that CrossFit is a “huge trend” among those interested in leading a life of strength and independence, the answer can only be:  Results.  At fifty years of age, I’ve never been leaner, faster, or stronger. Everyone, regardless of age or ability, can enjoy the benefits of being leaner, faster, and stronger. You don’t have to search the CrossFIt website long to find photographs of quadriplegic military veterans banging out a WOD, or groups of kids swinging kettelbells, or someone’s elderly father learning to deadlift because he wants to be able to pick up his grandchildren. CrossFit is a success because it brings quality of life.