Jessica Matthews by Jessica Matthews

CrossFitI'll admit it—I'm that person in the gym that people sometimes look at (including some of my colleagues) and wonder what the heck it is that I'm doing. I love being physically active and I love challenging myself in new ways, which includes constantly adding new exercises to my routine and pushing myself to work just a little bit harder each and every workout. It's because of this that I've always been intrigued by Crossfit and have wondered what the hype is all about. From those who swear by this approach to training to those who swear after going through this type of training, I set out to discover firsthand what the buzz is all about.

What is It?

Crossfit is a strength and conditioning program that focuses on everything from coordination to power through an assortment of randomized physical challenges. From box jumps and kettlebell swings to push-ups and lunges, Crossfit strives to provide a total-body, integrated approach to fitness through exercises that are based on the movement patterns of everyday life.

My Experience

Through its continued growth and rise in popularity, Crossfit has created quite a stir in the world of fitness. From diehard Crossfitters to individuals with preconceived notions about what happens inside "the box" (a term used to describe a Crossfit training center), there is no shortage of opinions about this style of training, some favorable and others, well, not so much. I wanted to experience firsthand what a workout of the day (WOD) was really all about, so I headed to East Village Crossfit (EVCF) in downtown San Diego to put my fitness to the test.

The WOD that I attended was led by Jessica, who has been involved in Crossfit for the last 7 years. Before moving into the workout itself, we began with a warm-up that consisted of running two laps around the block followed by a series of dynamic warm-up exercises that had us moving across the floor inside "the box," which, at this location, is a large warehouse with tons of open floor space and a variety of training tools (from barbells to kettlebells) lining the walls. While it may not appear to have the frills of your average health club, it does have everything you need for a challenging, total-body workout. Following the warm-up we prepared to transition into the WOD, which on this particular day consisted of:

5 Rounds for Time:
200 m row
10 kettlebell clean and presses (5 on each side)
15 push-ups

While you might be thinking that performing three exercises doesn't sound all that challenging, I beg to differ! Through the five rounds that made up this intense workout, I worked up a major sweat and felt pretty empowered in the process. Being a part of a group of 11 people working hard to achieve their best time (since this particular WOD was done for time) kept me motivated to keep pushing myself throughout the 14 minutes it took to complete this assignment. Jessica also helped to keep the entire group on track by providing feedback on our form, ensuring we were not only performing each exercise correctly, but that we also weren't cheating on any of the reps in the process.

One of my favorite aspects of the class was the sense of "community" I felt even though it was my first Crossfit experience. Every participant was quick to introduce him- or herself and offered support and cheers throughout the workout, exhibiting that "we're in this together" mentality that Crossfit prides itself on.

What I Wore

For class, I donned athletic shorts and a dri-fit t-shirt, which was perfect for wicking away moisture and keeping me comfortable and dry as I broke a serious sweat. For this workout, any fitness apparel you feel comfortable wearing (shorts, pants, tank tops, etc.), that will allow for maximum movement and optimal cooling, will work just fine.

What it Worked

This particular workout strongly emphasized pushing and pulling movements (two of the five primary movement patterns), which worked the triceps, chest and shoulders ("pushing" muscles), along with the biceps and back ("pulling" muscles). While the upper body was definitely challenged during this workout, the muscles of the lower body and core were heavily involved throughout the duration of the workout as well.

Who is it Best For?

The WOD is designed for regular Crossfitters who have a firm foundation of fitness. If you're physically active, but not familiar with this type of training, this particular Crossfit (like many other Crossfit locations) offers a Foundations course, which serves as a prerequisite before progressing to the WOD. (Note: If you are new to the area, but familiar with Crossfit, you can opt to "test out" of the required Foundations course by demonstrating proper form and general understanding of the key movements.) At this particular location, the 4-hour Foundations course is held on Saturdays, and teaches participants the foundational movements (e.g. squats, lunges) without using weights or equipment to fine-tune proper mechanics before adding in training tools like barbells, sandbags and kettlebells. This particular Crossfit also offers personal training sessions, which is another option worth considering if you'd like a more individualized approach to your workout experience. Of course, its important to inquire as to what credentials the trainer holds, as well as what additional training and education he or she has to ensure safety and effectiveness during your training sessions.

What to Watch Out For

With a workout like this, one of the things you may need to watch out for is your own ego. Given that the particular WOD I attended was for best time, it can be very easy (and tempting) to want to compete against yourself and others. Of course, this isn't necessarily always a bad thing—some friendly competition and additional drive to push yourself to go further and work harder can serve as great workout motivation. However, it can also easily be taken too far and your efforts to secure a faster time could result in you sacrificing your form and, possibly, your safety. The good news is that, because of the "together" approach of Crossfit, participants actually cheer one another on regardless of how fast or slow individuals may go through the WOD. As a result, the intimidation factor related to how you "stack up" to the rest of the group isn't quite as high as you might think. Also, the instructors try to continually monitor participants throughout the workout and provide instruction on how to properly perform each exercise. As previously mentioned, however, don't be afraid to ask questions regarding the certifications, training and education of the instructors. Seeking out individuals with an NCCA-accredited personal training certification, along with the mandatory Crossfit Level 1 credential and other relevant continuing education, is important to ensure that you make the most out of your Crossfit experience.

Final Word

After completing my first WOD, I can definitely see what the buzz is all about. Crossfit provides an intense and challenging approach to fitness that appeals to many fitness-oriented people (myself included). However, while this type of training can certainly provide some great benefits, when done incorrectly it can also lead to injury, especially if you do not possess the base of fitness needed to take on such demanding workouts. As with any type of exercise, it's important to be aware of your current level of fitness and gradually progress your intensity to ensure you are making the most of your exercise experience and are developing a firm foundation on which to build in the process. Once you have established that solid foundation of fitness, the possibilities for leading and maintaining an active lifestyle are endless!

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