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Dublin: 14 °C Sunday 30 August, 2015

What is CrossFit and why can’t people stop talking about it?

Need a routine to get you fit, strong, fast and lean? This way…

Image: CrossFit Cork/Facebook.

WE WOULD ALL like to be in a bit better shape. We’d all like to be a little more proficient at an activity.

But if you’re not planning on dropping everything and devoting the rest of the prime of your life to a single pursuit, where do you start? What if running doesn’t quite do it for you? What’s the fastest way to get fit? Why do those solid looking people keep going on and on about CrossFit?’

“One of the things that attracts people is that members might never do the same session twice,” says Ian O’Leary who, along with Kevin Kennedy runs a CrossFit gym on the southside of Cork City.

“For new people coming into our gym the term we use is mixed modality training.

“Five years ago, even now, some people who want to get fit will say: ‘I’m going to start running’. People who want to get stronger will just start lifting weights, people who want to get toned will do bodyweight or people who want to get flexible will start doing yoga.

“CrossFit’s a way of incorporating everything into that. You’re looking for a broad general fitness. We’re not just focused on weightlifting, we’re not just focused on cardio, we’re not just focused on bodyweight – we’re pulling all these elements in to a complete training package.”

‘Training’ is the critical word for O’Leary and he is keen to differentiate it from exercise. Rather than aiming to bust a gut from minute one, he asks a maximum of 14 participant in each session to lay down building blocks to allow them put in greater effort with each passing week.

“Some people might do a 10-minute high intensity thing and they’d be like: ‘that’s very short, I was hoping to do  a bit more’. But the intensity and pushing themselves hard for those 10 minutes is more beneficial than them going out for a 5km run or a 30 minute jog at a very low intensity. We’re trying to get across that it builds power and speed, it burns body fat, it builds muscle and just keeps your body working.

“Generally we find our members get very lean. They get strong, they get fast and they get fit. In terms of composition: it’s not body-building — for the most part members will get strong, good physiques, a very athletic body composition.”

That long-term focus means that CrossFit Cork have no reason to get the sports scientists in to measure the energy used by a body in a given session. The University of Wisconsin have, however, and their study published in November last year found that, on average in CrossFit workouts that varied in length, men expended 21 calories per minute and women burned 12.

CrossFit is at its most beneficial for people seeking an all-round fitness rather than a specialty. Rory McIlroy was a high-profile pull-out from the system early this month after fiancee Caroline Woazniacki reminded him he was a golfer. Similarly, a powerful physique will be of some use for a sprinter, but a long-distance runner would find it little more than a hindrance.

As a straightforward route to accessing a strength and conditioning coach in a room full of weights, CrossFit can undoubtedly be useful for anyone looking to build explosive power or agility for team sports. Those hoping to specialise in one particular field, though, should do just that. CrossFit is for the Jack of all Trades.

There are locations offering CrossFit training all over Ireland, but here’s how a 60-minute session pans out at CrossFit Cork:

Stage 1:  Warm up (10-15 minutes):

“You’re going through a dynamic range of motions getting the muscles warm, getting the blood pumping and prepared for the next movement,” says O’Leary.

crossfitcork2 Source: CrossFit Cork/Facebook

Stage 2:  Skill or strength phase (20-25 minutes):

This can involve anything from squatting or lifting weights to reach a particular goal or instead doing varied sets and repetitions of  weights.

The skill side of this section may involve suspension on gymnastic rings, handstands or picking up a new power-lifting technique.

Stage 3: High intensity.

“This is what most people would associate with CrossFit, where you’re pushing yourself pretty hard,” says O’Leary.

“Even with that, the intensity will vary. We try and get across to our members that when you come in the movement is all you need to think about: You want to do a perfect squat rather than trying to do 10 half-arsed squats as fast as you can.

“It’s all about focusing on movement. The high-intensity could be anything from three rounds of a 400m run, 10 push-ups and 10 deadlifts. Or five pull-ups and five box jumps (x 10). It could involve skipping or kettlebells, all weightlifting movements, it could involve all bodyweight movements… the room for variety is infinite.”

By the time you come through all that, then you’ll certainly be feeling a shape coming onto your body and you’ll understand why it’s hard to forget about CrossFit.

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