Exercise, Health, Slide Show — May 9, 2012 5:28 pm

CrossFit Craze

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Coming soon to a gym near you: A new fitness trend that blends a little bit of everything into an intense 15-minute exercise blitz.

A CrossFit participant feels the burn at Queen City CrossFit in Cincinnati. Photo by Danielle Koval.

 

For the traditional fitness buff, Smith machines and leg presses are the golden tools for muscle enhancement, while ear buds and mp3 players orchestrate the workout, and mirrors serve as the ultimate guide to decipher next week’s diet. But not in Justin Campbell’s gym in Cleves, Ohio, where there are no Smith machines or leg presses in sight. Mirrors and TVs are forbidden. Pull-up bars, ropes, tires, barbells, kettle-bells, rowers and rings are the only pieces of workout equipment sprawled around the gym’s perimeter. It’s bare enough to give the typical gym-goer a nervous breakdown, and small enough to cause a gymnast to suffer claustrophobia. But the fitness fanatics in this gym don’t strive to become rail thin or the world’s strongest man. They’ve come to improve their agility, strength, endurance, flexibility, accuracy, speed, power, stamina, balance and coordination. They’ve come for CrossFit, a new fitness program that significantly improves all of these skills while forming a sense of community among participants.

Clients at Justin Campbell's gym in Cleves, Ohio, stretch before their rigorous CrossFit workout. Photo by Danielle Koval.

CrossFit–which combines weightlifting, power lifting, gymnastics, rowing, sprinting and basic conditioning–originated in a garage in Santa Cruz, Calif., where former gymnast Greg Glassman launched a new exercise program in 1995. Glassman had no idea his fitness endeavor would explode into the fanatic craze it is today, with thousands of CrossFit gyms around the world. For gym owners like Ohio’s Justin Campbell, who operates CrossFit on the River in the town of Cleves, a $3,000 annual fee secures an official Internet-based affiliation with Glassman’s program and permission to use the “CrossFit” name.

A client gets in the zone for a bench-press at Queen City CrossFit in Cincinnati. Photo by Danielle Koval.

The program’s versatility is a big part of its growing appeal. “CrossFit, by definition, is constantly varied, functional movements done at high intensities,” says Campbell, 32. “The biggest thing I hear out of people is they love the [variety] of it. They never know what they’re going to do. All the training we do here, we try and stay functional, meaning stuff that is going to translate into the real world.”

Siu Ping Lau of Queen City CrossFit in Cincinnati. Photo by Danielle Koval.

Variety and functionality are critical in CrossFit, explain Siu Ping Lau and Chad Weldishofer, co-owners of Queen City CrossFit in downtown Cincinnati. “Functional means that we’re doing compound movements that we do in everyday life, so we squat, we pick up heavy things, we pull up our own body weight,” 29-year-old Lau says. “But we don’t do isolated movements that you would see on a machine; and we do it at a high intensity. The beauty of a high intensity is that it’s very individually defined. So my high intensity looks very different than [Chad’s]. But ultimately, as long as you’re always pushing your own threshold, you’re always getting better.”

The program’s fans say it’s addictive. Weldishofer, 30, says he’ll never be able to return to traditional workouts again, and Campbell is convinced that it’s the best fitness program currently available. “This is the program that creates the fittest people in the world,” Campbell says, referring to CrossFit’s popular use in police academies and military special operations training units. “What we do is make people fit. You’re never going to be fit by our definition until you do this.”

Participants prepare for a workout at Queen City CrossFit. Photo by Danielle Koval.

But it’s not just elite athletes who are embracing this challenging form of fitness; it’s gaining in popularity among a much more diverse group of fitness buffs, Campbell explains. “We’re kind of opening people’s eyes to [the fact that] fitness doesn’t have to be this boring thing in the gym where you put on your earphones and don’t talk to the person next to you,” he says. “This is a shared experience. Nothing brings people closer together than suffering together.”

Weldishofer agrees: “You’re training with a group of people, and everyone is doing the same work,” he says. “So you form this bond with everybody, and if one person gets done before you, that person is behind you cheering you on in the next minute.”

Chad Weldishofer concentrates on a benchpress at Queen City CrossFit in Cincinnati. Photo by Danielle Koval.

And the best part about it? Anyone can do it. Campbell, Lau and Weldishofer say the programming is designed to adapt to each person’s fitness level. New students go through a four-week elements program, which teaches the CrossFit terminology, movements, workouts and intensity. The classes change day-to-day, and because the workouts are done at such high intensities, they generally only last 10 to 15 minutes. “If you look at our clientele, they are so diverse in capability and backgrounds, but they all come in and do the exact same thing,” Lau says. “We, as coaches, are responsible [for] understanding them as individuals and then scaling the workout to a weight and rep scheme that they can still [do] at a high intensity.”

Skeptics suggest that CrossFit is just a fad, another passing exercise craze that will fade with time. “There’s nothing ‘fad’ about the improvements people are making, the quality of life people are getting out of this, or the absolute physical improvements that people are getting,” Campbell argues. “It’s not easy to do this. If you’re unfit or you’re fit, it’s still hard as hell. That’s not a breeding ground for fads. For something to be so hard for people to do and still be successful, it’s going to be around for a long time.”

Justin Campbell, owner of CrossFit on the River, watches as his clients work up a sweat. Photo by Danielle Koval.

Back at his gym in Cleves, Campbell is hoping for such success as he stands among his seven students, taking a final look at them before starting the large timer mounted on the wall. Today’s workout will be quick, but intense. The participants don’t seem ready for the brutal burpes (push-up jumps), lumbar-challenging lunges or sizzling sprints they’re about to attempt.

“This is interval training at its best!” Campbell yells.“Your effort needs to be skyrocket high. You guys ready?”

Silence.

Not one of them looks ready. Not before the workout, not during, and certainly not after. But 15 minutes in, even with cherry-colored faces and sweat-drenched shirts, they do appear to be enjoying it, cheering each other on. Best of all, they don’t quit. 

 

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3,682 Comments

  • Good info Beth, might be right up my ally, pretty similar to the “Pump N Run’ I am involved with but this seems to be more challenging.

  • Bethany, this is a great writeup on CrossFit!

    I definitely see this sport lasting, and it won’t simply be a “fad” as it’s constantly changing lives every day, mine included :)

  • Excellent article Bethany…it’s a great summary of CrossFit.

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