It’s a well-known fact that Jessica Biel has hands down one of the best bods around with kick-ass curves wrapped in a lean mean physique. As the Brits say “she’s fit”. Literally. So how does she stay in shape? With the latest fitness craze known as CrossFit. And she isn’t the only celebrity fan with Justin Timberlake, Cameron Diaz , Vanessa Hudgens and Brad Pitt all converts. There hasn’t been as much hype around an exercise trend since Taebo (anyone remember that one?) So what is it and does it live up to expectations? We’ve asked three experts to give us the goss and their take on the trend.
What is CrossFit?
“CrossFit is a new training regime that has taken off over the last two years. It’s a strength and conditioning program that builds strength and increases endurance.” Says Amelia Burton, Skechers performance ambassador.
The program has a military bent (think of those videos of army peeps climbing up ropes) and works on imbalances in your body (like muscle or joint weaknesses) by mimicking movements you would do every day and combining it into intense, varied workouts.
“It’s the improvement that’s the goal and the benefit of that is looking great. It’s a complete reversal for the fitness industry. CrossFit is taking ordinary everyday people and using similar training principles that coaches use with athletes. Train like an athlete, look like an athlete”, says Nadine Burns, a coach who converted her Waterloo fitness centre in Sydney to a CrossFit-specific gym, CrossFit Ignite, four years ago
What does a workout look like?
According to Burton, each 45-minute class is different with the climax of the workout being the “WOD” or “Workout of the Day”, but the general structure is:
- Extended warm up.
- Practice round focusing on skills and technique.
- Main WOD (Workout of the Day)
- Cool down and stretch.
You might be squatting with barbells one day, doing box jumps the next, climbing a rope on another day, or partnering up in sprinting circuits. The variety is endless, so boredom is not a part of their vocabulary! And if you’re the competitive type there are regular CrossFit “Games” run all over the country where you can compete against other people of a similar level.
Most CrossFit classes are run out of a “box”, which is essentially a space with rubber flooring, barbells, kettle bells, some dumbbells and other equipment such as medicine balls climbing and skipping ropes.
What are the good points?
Fast Results. Even though the classes only run for 45 minutes, the added intensity means you get results very fast. Because you are working multiple muscle groups at once, you’ll be burning more calories and fat whilst building lean sexy muscle all at the same time.
Prevents muscle imbalances and injuries. Because the workouts are varied, you will not get the potential overuse injuries that come from repetitive workouts such as running. There is also a huge focus on flexibility work, so balances tight muscles whilst strengthening the weak ones.
You won’t bulk up. Even though some activities in CrossFit involve barbells and heavy lifting, you won’t bulk up because these workouts are balanced by lots of body weight, sprinting and cardio activities. Think of how toned and lean Cameron Diaz is. That’s the kind of body you can get from CrossFit.
Lots of support. Most Crossfit boxes won’t let you participate in a class until you’ve done four to five private one-on-one sessions. This is to teach you the main moves and correct technique.
Suits competitive types. Competition works really well for many people, and striving to out-do yourself and achieve a strength or fitness goal is far healthier and effective than focusing on weight loss.
Variety is the spice of life. It’s exciting and fun so you forget you’re exercising. It’s social and supportive, so you are always doing new things, which keeps it interesting. You get amazingly fast results when you couple the training and nutrition.
Great for social exercisers. As it’s done in a fun, social environment, people who enjoy working out with others love CrossFit. Although, I have seen non-sporty shy people burst with confidence after being in program for only a few months.
What's the downside?
It can be hardcore. Some can be daunted when they first walk into a CrossFit “box”. It’s quite masculine, very stripped down, and quite basic. Don’t expect a scented towel, ambient music or TVs on the wall. People go in there for one reason: to sweat, and to workout hard. Once you get past that, and you realise how nice everyone is, then you’ll be fine.
Limited control over workout. You can’t dictate what you do. Whatever is on the WOD, you’re doing (unless you’re injured and physically can’t). So if you really feel like doing lots of running and cardio, but the WOD is a strength WOD, there’s nothing you can do. So long as you go three-to-four days per week, you will get enough variety. For example, I hate the rowing machine, but if I turn up on a day where there’s lots of rowing in the WOD, I’ve just got to suck it up and do it (a good thing I suppose!)
It’s very technical. Some of the movements require you to learn specific techniques. This can be frustrating for those who just want to get in there and train hard. The downside when you first start, is you can’t go super heavy or do all the moves perfectly until your technique improves. The upside of this is you are teaching your body valuable moves that protects it from injury and improves your posture. It’s worth persevering for the first few weeks, going lighter, slower or hanging around afterwards to practice. You’ll then have a whole new set of skills to use – handstand push-ups anyone?!
It’s not ideal conditioning for specific sports. If you are training for a specific sport, you will get greater results doing targeted training for that sport rather than taking CrossFit’s general approach.
If you are overweight, you shouldn’t start with CrossFit. Weight gain is often due to stress and poor lifestyle habits. Training this way increases the stress on the body and will either make weight loss difficult, or slowly break the body down leading to injury. It doesn't necessarily address the cause of weight gain either.
While gyms like Burn’s also offer a nutritional component, this isn’t always the case. Plus if you don’t have an experienced coach, you could find yourself stuck with an injury.
“What concerns me is technique. Truth is people should be able to do these movements correctly, but in reality most people can't and I see many coaches unable to identify their poor form,” says Chandler.
It’s difficult to do without quality coaches. People think that they need to be able to do workouts “as recommended” (or “rx’d” as we call it) too soon, they may have poor form and therefore can hurt themselves. People can try to do too much too soon without proper coaching and without having gone through some foundational training. Ideally people doing CrossFit need guidance and coaching from professionals so that they scale their workouts when necessary, are progressed when they are ready and are taught proper movement mechanics.
It’s not easy if you’re injured. CrossFit can be challenging if you have an injury, however a good coach can rehabilitate you and work around it while you are repairing, and have you come out the other side better than ever.
So how do you find a good coach?
How much you get out of CrossFit depends almost as much on finding the right coach as it does on you. We asked Burns to offer a few tips:
Head online. Search CrossFit in your area online or go to CrossFit.com, which lists all the affiliates worldwide.
Shop around. It’s important to shop around to make sure that the place you go to is the right fit for you as different environments will work for different people.
Check their credentials. Make sure your trainer/gym is affiliated with CrossFit and that they are certified CrossFit Level 1 trainers with appropriate qualifications in fitness and personal training.
In short, an exercise program that’s low on boredom and high on results sounds like a dream come true. But like any workout, it still comes down to exercising smart, not just exercising hard.