October 1, 2012 / 2:31 PM / 7 years ago

Crossfit takes a tough, no-frills approach to exercise

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Forget the leisurely workout. Crossfit training is a high-intensity, no-frills strength and conditioning program to get fit.

Used by fire departments, the military, college sports teams and in gyms, Crossfitters tackle an array of physical challenges and follow daily workouts posted on a website.

“I really do like them in terms of the strength and the challenge,” said Liz Neporent, the author of “Fitness for Dummies, said about the exercises.” “Why not maximize your time? If you’re going to do it, do it. Don’t fool around.”

Crossfit training is the invention of Greg Glassman, a gymnastics coach who opened the first Crossfit facility in Santa Cruz, California in 1995.

“Crossfit is more of a movement than an organization,” Neporent said. “There’s a website but it’s basically individuals, gyms, and groups doing it.”

Crossfitters don’t say they visit the gym; instead they head into “the box,” which is a Crossfit training center for the WOD or workout of the day, which is posted daily.

“Today I’m doing 100 squats, 100 push-ups, 100 crunches,” said Neporent, “which is about half a WOD.”

A lot of people, she said, would not be able to walk afterwards.

“That’s what you have to understand about Crossfit. For some people it’s aspirational.”

Casey Kirch, an instructor at Crossfit East Village in San Diego, California, believes the timed intensity of Crossfit shows results quicker than traditional strength training.

“When you’re working against the clock you’ll work harder,” he said.

For Kirch, one exercise, called the burpee, illustrates the love-hate relationship Crossfitters have to their WOD.

He said from a standing position you squat down, put your hands on the floor, kick your feet behind you. Then you lower yourself to the floor, push up, jump to your feet, stand up and jump in the air. Then you do it as many times as you can.

“It’s a move everyone dreads,” he said. “But no matter what someone’s fitness level, if they do just a few they’ll quickly build up to more. It’s immediate satisfaction.”

A personal trainer for seven years, Kirch has seen too many people give up when they don’t see changes soon enough. At his center the sessions last an hour although the WOD might be just 20 or 30 minutes of often grueling intensity. The rest of the time is spent on stretching, warming up and on technique.

“We don’t have machines,” Kirch said. “We don’t have treadmills or cardio equipment or strength training machines.”

Rather the so-called box holds squat racks, Olympic barbells, kettle bells, medicine balls, jump ropes, tires and climbing ropes.

“Most things are based around body weight and barbells,” he explained.

Proper technique is crucial to safely execute the moves, Kirch said, and most, if not all, centers have a mandatory foundation course.

“If someone says they’ve been doing Crossfit at another gym, we’ll do a test to make sure they know the movements,” he said.

American Council on Exercise spokesperson Jessica Matthews said her maiden Crossfit session left her with a major sweat and a pretty strong feeling of empowerment.

“I like the style,” said Matthews, an exercise physiologist. “They focus on foundational, functional movements. They do a lot of total body movements and integrated exercises, such as squats, kettlebell swings and presses. It’s an approach I totally agree with.”

Matthews’s session also included a two-lap warm-up run around the block and a few rounds on a rowing machine.

Trickier for her is what she calls the “scalability portion” of the Crossfit philosophy: the notion that it works for everyone from the elite athlete to the overweight grandmother.

“You go for time,” she said of the WODs. “We know that when we manipulate intensity by adding variables like speed, people not as seasoned may sacrifice initial base form.”

She was nonetheless delighted that instead of the tough talk so characteristic of Crossfit websites, which usually promise that butts will be kicked and specialists punished, camaraderie and encouragement ruled the WOD.

“The environment was intense but not intimidating,” she said. “They (her 10 session mates) looked like average people doing the workouts. It’s a community. We’re all in the box.”

Editing by Patricia Reaney and Paul Casciato

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