Sweat pours down their faces. Their arms feel heavy with fatigue after several reps of pull ups and ring rows. They move from the pull up rack to their kettlebells to complete another set of squats. They race against the clock, pushing through pain until 150 reps are completed.
For a participant in CrossFit, this is a daily workout. BYU student Cayson Manwaring, a two-year CrossFitter, is among the class members. She is exhausted, on the ground smiling after the workout. For her, CrossFit is about accomplishing things the mind might not think are possible.
“Completing a variety of workouts with diverse skills gives me a sense of satisfaction daily, plus working out with good friends is motivating and uplifiting. I always leave CrossFit feeling better about myself, proud of my friends and excited for both to improve,” Manwaring said. “Overall, CrossFit enhances my fitness level – strength, endurance and confidence—improving my life. My general fitness level and the relationships I’ve developed are why I love CrossFit.”
Manwaring is one of many BYU students who do CrossFit for exercise.
According to CrossFit.com, its program is “constantly varied functional movements performed in high intensity.”
CrossFit’s goal is to provide scalable workouts for athletes of all ages. CrossFit workouts differ daily to keep the body guessing to prevent physical plateaus.
Founder Greg Glassman has grown CrossFit from a single gym in 2000 to 10,000 gyms worldwide. CrossFit’s growing trend prompted ESPN to sign a multi-year extension for the exclusive television rights to the CrossFit Games on July 15.
There are 22 CrossFit gyms in Utah County, which is evidence that the exercise juggernaut is growing locally. According to CrossFit.com, this number will increase as the “sport of fitness” continues gaining respect as a fitness program.
CrossFit gym owner and coach Tyson Henrie said CrossFit grows because people have support in their fitness goals and the programming works.
“CrossFit is an effective interval-type workout with variety causing people to see success and results in weight loss, strength and fitness. CrossFit can be adapted for all skill levels with individualized modified workouts,” Henrie said. “Also, CrossFit is competitive. Once you start CrossFit you have the desire to improve yourself as well as compete with others. However, the competition with others is friendly, supportive and motivating.”
Despite CrossFit’s popularity, some call its methods potentially dangerous and too extreme. A recent article written by ESPN journalist Mark Fainaru-Wada questions the CrossFit focus on high-repetition workouts while incorporating technical Olympic lifts.
Joe Powers, an orthopedist at the American Sports Medicine Institute, said pushing one’s body to the point of exhaustion during CrossFit workouts might not be the best thing. He also said CrossFit must conduct more research on participant safety and injuries if it wants to be considered a legitimate sport.
Certified Olympic lifting coach Amanda Crass said she is also not a fan of high-rep Olympic lifts. According to Crass, these technical lifts should not be considered until the movement is completed with perfect technique four times. She said form fails during workouts when max reps are performed – leading to potentialy devastating injury.
CrossFit athlete and coach Kevin Ogar, from Denver, competed at a competition based on CrossFit movements last January in Southern California. Ogar completed a rigorous three-mile workout with 70-pound kettlebells and another workouts with Olympic lifts shortly after. He lost control of the barbell overhead, causing the weight to crash on his neck. He is paralyzed from the waist down as a result.
Ogar, who remains a CrossFit advocate, coaching and doing workouts, said an unlikely accident caused his injury, not CrossFit programming.
BYU student Bryan Reil, who has been involved since 2010, and the CrossFit community continue to advocate for CrossFit as a safe and effective exercise program despite the scrutiny.
“Injuries happen during sports and exercise; CrossFit is no different than other sports in that regard. CrossFit does an excellent job trying to teach proper form and technique to avoid injuries,” Reil said. “Coaches stress for athletes to listen to their bodies when exercising while preaching quality and form over quantity during workouts.”
CrossFit coach Tanner Manwaring knows negative opinions exist but said his gym takes proper measures to prevent injury.
Manwaring leads each class through a series of mobility exercises with barbells, bands and rollers to keep athletes safe. He said coaches give feedback when they see poor technique.
He knows firsthand the impact CrossFit can have on individuals. He has seen his body change; he has lost 50 pounds, and he feels stronger. Manwaring said he finds great satisfaction supporting others change and reach their fitness goals as a result of CrossFit.
BYU Assistant Professor of public management Eva Witesman does CrossFit because the support system impacts athletes while they work out.
“I love that CrossFit has a tradition that once you have recovered from a workout, you go back and cheer on anyone who is still working to finish. In that way, it’s an individual sport but a group experience,” Witesman said. “You compete with everyone on the floor, but most of all it’s you against the clock and your personal record. And everyone in the room wants you to beat your personal record.”
Brooke Nemrow, a CrossFitter for more than 18 months, also said the support system makes CrossFit more than just going to the gym. She enjoys working together toward the same goal with people she considers family.
“Everyone works together to become better physically. Nobody looks at you as if you are different,” Nemrow said. “We are all at the gym working together, encouraging each other and trying to live a healthier lifestyle; you do not find that sense of community in other gyms.”
Henrie said he will continuing coaching CrossFit because the benefits go beyond the exercise program. Nothing gets Henrie more excited than seeing an athlete achieve a hard-earned goal. He said he enjoys working hard to help them get there.
“CrossFit is more than exercise; it teaches valuable life lessons. Athletes realize anything is possible with proper dedication and effort,” Henrie said. “Some athletes doubt their own abilities, thinking they won’t finish an intense workout. However, once they do finish and overcome (the) mental blocks holding (them) back, the growth is very empowering to that individual.”