Every athlete knows that cross training is an important part of conditioning. Cyclists can work out their weaknesses with speed skating; mountain bikers can speed up reaction time with hockey. But a new type of cross training is not at all sport-specific. And it may be the future of working out—for both Olympians and senior citizens, as hard as that is to believe.
Crossfit is now a national chain of gyms—nearly 1,000 throughout the U.S., with four in Salt Lake City alone and more in Ogden, Layton, Provo and St. George. Practitioners call them “garage gyms,” an apt description. They have no flash, no treadmills and little chrome. Instead, the gyms are filled with squat racks, kettle bells, big medicine balls, plyometric jumping boxes and a huge tractor tire used for team lifting.
“Crossfit is a strength and conditioning program that uses high intensity, functional movements. We don’t train the body in separate pieces; we train it as a whole. That’s why we don’t do isolation movements like biceps curls,” says Salt Lake City Crossfit trainer Jason Moreland.
Among the athletes Moreland works with at the warehouse-like gym at 440 S. 400 West are mixed-martial-arts fighters, an ultimate Frisbee player, ski racers, ultramarathon runners and ordinary people looking for a higher level of fitness. About half the members are athletes. Some are overweight members training for health, not appearances.
Moreland says that it doesn’t matter whether or not a member is an athlete. “We believe that the training that your grandmother needs and an Olympic athlete needs are different only by intensity, not kind,” he says, adding that Crossfit gyms are exploding in popularity because they offer a quality training program. “It’s about establishing a broad fitness base, then training more to specialize in your sport, like a doctor trains to be a basic MD, then trains more to be a specialist,” he explains.
Working out alone in a commercial gym leaves openings for weaknesses, Moreland says, adding, “I find the core muscles to be the biggest weakness in terms of equal strength. Most people who train with isolation movements have strength in isolated areas, but lack the proper core balance to tie it all together. If your spinal erectors aren’t able to stabilize the spinal column in a functional way, your power isn’t transmitted effectively throughout your movements.”
Crossfit offers constant personal training in basic conditioning movements like the squat, deadlift, power clean and Olympic lifts. Members work out under supervision by a certified trainer, individually and in groups. The group concept forces members to push themselves to keep up with each other.
The “elite fitness” concept of Crossfit was invented nearly 20 years ago by Greg Glassman, a California gymnastics coach. His vision was a community sharing a survival type of conditioning; workouts for %uFFFDber-function in everyday life. Instead of monotonous machines, his routines involved pulling, pushing, running, jumping and lifting big bars of weight.
In 2001, he began putting a “Workout Of The Day” (WOD) on the Crossfit Website, and a unified movement was born. Members check online for the WOD, which can be as brief and intense as this recent example: “Complete 32 intervals of 20 seconds of work followed by ten seconds of rest where the first 8 intervals are pull-ups, the second 8 are push-ups, the third 8 intervals are sit-ups, and finally, the last 8 intervals are squats. There is no rest between exercises.”
It’s not cheap. Members pay $125 monthly, with unlimited visits and personal training, but no contracts. First, there are three required introductory sessions—the first is free, the second and third are $25 each— that cover proper lifting technique. Some members pay for just a month or two of training to get in shape for their competitive season.
Don’t even think of joining just to show off your buff body. Crossfit is not about looks. Moreland says, “Body composition is not our focus. I’m focused on what people can do.”