CrossFit: The new way to fitness

CrossFit members show off their matching shirts to feel more unified during their workouts. CrossFit gyms around the country boast of the undeniable community culture. (CrossFit SpearHead)
CrossFit members show off their matching shirts to feel more unified during their workouts. CrossFit gyms around the country boast of the undeniable community culture. (CrossFit SpearHead)

Tres Heaton, a recent college graduate, steps up to the barbell stacked with numerous plates on either side. As sweat drips down her face, she concentrates on one thing: beating her previous record. Heaton’s dead lift, a movement of standing up with the barbell, is accompanied by blaring rock music pumped through the gym’s speakers as well as several gym members’ cheers for her success. Heaton has been working toward lifting 500 pounds since she joined CrossFit three years ago. As she completes the movement, surrounding members yell, jump and cheer on behalf of her accomplishment.

“I joined CrossFit Spearhead (Murray location) because my sister urged me to try it out,” Heaton said. “After doing it once, I was sold on it. When I came to CrossFit it was a perfect mix of power lifting and endurance.”

CrossFit has boomed over the past few years, both countrywide as well as across the world. Greg Glassman, CEO and founder of CrossFit, defines this fitness regimen as “constantly varied, functional movements performed at relatively high intensity.” CrossFit has more than 11,000 affiliated gyms worldwide. Gyms average 100 to 150 members and charge rates of $150 to $200 per month per member. The gyms offer hour-long workout classes every day for members; but the classes are not like those offered in normal gyms.

“Every time that gym members come in, there is going to be a completely different workout scheduled than the one scheduled for the day before,” said Sean Crotty, coach at CrossFit Spearhead. “It is a structured schedule, but it is random in the sense that only the coaches know what the workout of the day is going to be beforehand. For people that haven’t been here before, the class aspect could be a little daunting. But we don’t really look at it as competitive against other participants; we look at it as competitive against self.”

CrossFitters boast about the “community” they feel comes with their gym membership. CrossFit executives promote this idea. “CrossFit is also the community that spontaneously arises when people do these workouts together,” Glassman said. “In fact, the communal aspect of CrossFit is a key component of why it’s so effective.”

Crotty credits the gym’s popularity to the social aspect it promotes. “A lot of times when you go into a normal gym, people don’t talk to each other or interact, and it’s intimidating,” he said. “One thing that stands out with CrossFit is that everyone talks to each other. That really makes this particular exercise unique, not only domestically, but internationally.”

Gym members share conversation and success. “I get every bit as excited to watch my 6:15 a.m. class do well (as) I do when I do well myself,” said Scott Clinger, longtime CrossFit athlete.

Aside from the camaraderie its system encourages, CrossFit also recommends a certain diet that has members coming back for more. CrossFit calls this nutrition guide “The Caveman or Paleolithic Model for Nutrition.”

“In plain language, base your diet on garden vegetables, especially greens, lean meats, nuts and seeds, little starch and no sugar. That’s about as simple as we can get,” Glassman said. “Many have observed that keeping your grocery cart to the perimeter of the grocery store while avoiding the aisles is a great way to protect your health. Food is perishable. The stuff with long shelf life is all suspect. If you follow these simple guidelines you will benefit from nearly all that can be achieved through nutrition.”

The Paleo Diet, combined with regular exercise, has helped athletes around the world to meet their fitness goals, Heaton being one of those cases. “I picked up most of my weight when I was in junior high, and it was mostly because I wouldn’t stop eating,” Heaton said. “I loved food.” After several years of fighting with obesity, Heaton served an LDS mission in the Philippines. “We walked 20 to 40 miles a day, and the pounds just kept coming off,” Heaton said. “A year into it, I realized how much weight I had lost, and I didn’t want to stop there.”

Heaton used CrossFit after her mission as a springboard for her new lifestyle. Through hard work, dedication and with the encouragement of her fellow CrossFit members, Heaton has lost more than 70 pounds.

Registered dietitian nutritionist Miki Eberhardt got into CrossFit because a friend bribed her to try it out. “I thought I was in shape,” Eberhardt said. “But CrossFit just kicked my butt!” Eberhardt has been a member at the Riverton location for four years. CrossFit’s South Valley members who need nutrition help or want to measure body fat, create meal plans or participate in nutritional classes go to her for assistance.

“Any diet that promotes whole food eating is a trend that I can get behind,” Eberhardt said. “Things like lean fat, protein and fruits and vegetables are always great in my book.”

Prospective gym members may be nervous about the high-intensity workouts or the movements they have never done, but most CrossFit gyms require a series of introductory courses before applicants even enter regular gym attendance.

“There are a lot of different movements that members have to learn in order to be efficient, so when a member joins this gym, they go through what is called a foundations course,” Crotty said. “They need to learn the movements that we’ll be doing in here. Those range from bodyweight movements, like push-ups or pull-ups, to lifting a bar over their head, to doing gymnastic-type movements such as pulling yourself up on the rings. Once they show proficiency in those movements, they are able to join group classes, which are held throughout the day. “

The type of workouts CrossFit offers is yet another reason its members find it effective.

“There has been a lot of research done on high-speed interval training, which is what CrossFit is,” Eberhardt said. “This type of workout helps with weight loss for a couple of reasons. Because your workouts are so intense, it takes time for your body to come back to homeostasis. That extra time results in a boost in your metabolic rate. So you’re actually burning more calories throughout the day because of the intensity. You get an after-burn effect.”

Crotty calls it muscle confusion. With the variety of exercises, the body isn’t routinely focusing on one muscle group. “Your muscles aren’t really sure how to react,” Crotty said. “So the way that they respond is that they get bigger or help you get faster.”

Any time an individual lifts weights or uses body weight, the body responds by using muscle. “A lot of the time with weight loss, people will just focus on diet or restricting calories,” Eberhardt said. “Sometimes this works and they become a smaller person, but because they are restricting calories, they are losing muscle in the process and consequently decreasing their metabolic rate and making it tough for them to keep the weight off.”

The CrossFit workouts combine strength movement, which focuses on building muscle, with metabolic conditioning, which focuses on getting a participant to breathe hard and expand aerobic capacity.

“I love CrossFit because you’re not getting huge and bulky,” Heaton said. “You are getting fit.”

“Your body never gets use to CrossFit,” Eberhardt said. “You could walk every day, which could be good for heart health, but that’s not going to change your body. If you want to change your body, you’ve got to surprise your body and change up your workouts.”

This structure helps CrossFitters keep their passion for the gym. I wouldn’t ever go back to the boring old gym with a lonesome bike and no one to talk to,” Heaton said. “I love CrossFit for what it has done for my health as well as my attitude about working out.”

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