It's the new buzz-word in fitness, and as we all look to make lifestyle changes in the New Year, NATHAN BRIANTexamines the world of CrossFit.
A PROMOTIONAL CrossFit video on YouTube, which has been viewed over ten million times, shows what the disciples of the exercise programme might think they are up against with less strenuous ones.
The video starts with a man working out on an exercise bike. It seems like he is working fairly hard; but then the camera moves and shows that he is reading a magazine while he does his exercise.
A few seconds later, another cyclist is seen draining a big soft drink.
CrossFit is far more demanding – and no doubt its followers would say more worthy – than all that gym stuff the video pokes fun at. Later in the video it shows CrossFit exercises: a mixture of body weight exercises, distance movements and movements with weights.
It has collected disciples quickly. In 2005, the first gym started to use CrossFit techniques in Seattle, Washington. Now there are 7,200 gyms using the methods around the world and the number is still growing.
The founder of CrossFit, Greg Glassman, was originally a personal trainer at gyms in Los Angeles. He was keen to develop a workout in which people could pay for an hour of guaranteed exercise, without relaxing at the gym – namely reading magazines or drinking sugary drinks.
According to Men’s Health magazine, 50 gyms a week are becoming affiliated gyms and following its programme. It is being run in 61 countries and there are 60,000 CrossFit trainers. It’s clearly growing very quickly.
Matt Hughes, who runs the Obvilion CrossFit gym in Abercarn, said he started getting involved with the exercises when he tried to find something different from standard gym fare.
He said: “I was a personal trainer to begin with and I was interested in fitness and I wanted to find something that was a bit different, something that puts a lot of constraints on the body.”
He started going to sessions at a CrossFit gym in Swansea about 18 months ago and has developed his skills since then.
“I started learning picking tips off the internet and then I went to a couple of local gyms. I was a personal trainer at a number of gyms anyway, doing kettle bells.
“And then I went and did my CrossFit level one instructor qualification and got tips and tricks on training other people and used my previous background to mix the two together.”
When he started the sessions always seemed “very interesting”.
“It mixed a lot of things I like: it mixed Olympic lifting with, short, sharp intensity lifting, which was a bonus to me because I could do short, sharp workouts.”
His job as a fire fighter meant it was perhaps easier for him to start than other people.
Yet he is keen to say that starting and then maintaining CrossFit is easier than it might seem – especially for people who might be out of shape after an enjoyable Christmas and New Year.
He said: “Everything is CrossFit is scalable: you have to remember that. Everything can be scaled to the beginner’s level to the more elite athlete and anywhere in between. I know some of it looks a bit strenuous on the body if you look at things on the internet, but take it with a pinch of salt. As we go through the programme, people get better and progress with their skills.”
“I was used to lifting weights but CrossFit teaches you the right technique, the correct mechanics and getting the consistency right before you ramp up the intensity.”
“It’s for everybody. But there’s an element of sticking with it: it’s not going to come overnight.”
But he says his obsession with it and keeping fit keeps him motivate to want to improve.
“I think I’ve come on leaps and bounds. The thing about CrossFit is that I’ve learned something every day. I read about it constantly; I think about it before I go to bed and look at on my iPod and iPad; I’m always watching videos of it.
“I think everybody can learn something from everybody else. We build a community. We chat to other people, we pass on our knowledge and we give everyone a high five and a chest bump after every workout.
“And if someone gets one rep I’m over the moon for them. I think that camaraderie and spirit carries through the CrossFit community.”
Now the gym trains people to become CrossFit trainers. The courses can be spread over three days and Matt teaches them the fundamentals of the programme.
At the gym in Abercarn there is about 50 regular members taking part but there are also other members – when they take part in CrossFit they are called affiliates – who visit now and again.
Matt said: “It’s great to see what they can bring to the table and we can learn from these gyms as well.”
And then there are others who are just as obsessed across Gwent.
Ben Black is a former amateur boxer so he is no stranger to vigorous workouts. But, like Matt, he wanted to try something different when he took up the programme.
He said: “A friend who does [CrossFit] kept on going on about it so I thought I’d have a look into it. I didn’t have a clue of what it was.” That was in July last year.
Now he’s a regular member of the Celtic CrossFit gym in Newport, which is based in a warehouse on the Leeway Industrial Estate.
He takes part in the one hour sessions at Celtic CrossFit a few times a week and praises what it has done for him.
“It’s just a really organised, logical, clever way of training. It fits in with work and family, so you go in and walk out - or hobble out, I should say.”
“As soon as I went there, I felt the atmosphere of the place. You get punished if you don’t know someone’s name so it’s important to recognise someone and say hello to them.”
That, of course, makes a difference to those gym goers who might be more interested in their drink or magazine than welcoming fellow exercisers.
Ben goes on: “It doesn’t matter where you are, you can still join in with it. It’s not about big guys with big weights: it’s not like that at all. It’s a way of exercising in a sensible way. It’s pretty addictive. It’s sad how addictive it is, to be honest.”
The difficult time Ben spends at the gym is the workout, which is done as part of a group and varies from day to day so its length or difficulty cannot be predicted.
“The end bit could be seven minutes long, it might be nine minutes long, it changes every day. It’s addictive in that you don’t know how long it’s going to be. It’s crazy how hard it can be. Everyone is there to train each other.”
That morning, Ben had been to the gym for an hour before work. Rather than the gym being dominated by men, he said there were more women at the workout.
As he said, the idea of the programme was “getting healthier and lifting weights.”
Predictably, most of the CrossFit gyms in South Wales are based in Cardiff, but there are still more springing up around Gwent. So if people want to go in hard on losing their Christmas and New Year blubber, CrossFit is always an option, even if it is one that clearly requires hard work.