I’ve always been interested in the idea of Crossfit. It’s the controversial subject of the sports world, drawing conflict with regards to athletic development, efficacy as a strength and conditioning program, and safety. Some people follow Crossfit evangelically, performing WODs daily in a constant strive for improvement. However, the internet often rises up and spits out an article damning Crossfit and its legion of followers.
I’ll quickly map out my path of experience of Crossfit:
– I liked the look of a program that is organised, has a variety of skill based movements and an emphasis on both strength and metabolic conditioning. There is an appeal to the programming of the remote mainsite WOD, safe in the belief that someone out there is constructing a plan out of knowledge greater than mine.
– As a beginner to Olympic Lifting, I didn’t like the sound of performing technical lifts under heavy fatigue and time pressures. Crossfit is criticised online for the breakdown of technique when its participants are pushing the limits of their ability.
– With this in mind, I found Crossfit Football. It is a simple 3×5 program with the major strength lifts programmed over 4 days, and conditioning 5 days a week. It’s aimed at American Football players with a focus on mass gain and strength. I prefer that the WODs are on the shorter side, focusing on sprints and explosive power. If CFFB is not for you, Max Effort Black Box may be better. This is compared to other approaches which may neglect the strength training, and program longer ‘endurance’ type workouts.
– After receiving considerable ‘Gainz’ 😉 from Crossfit Football, I felt I could lift enough (with solid technique) to try my hand at Crossfit. Hence, when I went back home for the summer, I joined the newly opened Crossfit Verulam with my friend, Ryan.
Functionally, it’s got everything it needs. It’s in a two-story warehouse, long but narrow, white painted breeze blocks and flaking plaster scored by matt black metal cages. It’s industrial, from the thick rubber matted flooring to the coarse ropes slung over sturdy metal girders in the ceiling. It contrasts highly to the colourful ‘Boxes’ elsewhere, or the manicured aesthetic of the Reebok Crossfit Games. That’s fine by me, I preferred the older unbranded, unemblazoned Crossfit approach of training in a garage gym, training a range of functional movements that provide an advantage in real life. It doesn’t have to be carefully designed and sculpted. I’d argue that you can find a beauty in the stripped back raw minimalism of a true gym.
The Box is a new addition to St Albans, the first of its kind. Despite the possible difficulty of promoting Crossfit to an otherwise unknowing population, the first of the Foundation Programs were filled quickly within the first week, and the ball was rolling! It was great to see the Facebook ‘Likes’ and review rates tick steadily upwards.
Crossfit Verulam was created by Cameron Burns and Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Goode. Cameron is an ex-Marine whilst Charlie has played both Premier League Football and Rugby for Saracens. With the number of members (or ‘Verulams’) increasing, they’ve also got Colin, Hat and Barney as part of the coaching team, all adding their respective skills to the mix.
It’s especially refreshing to have a gym where you can lift weight and push hard with your coaches, yet have a talk, laugh and joke before, during and after the competition is on. Working hard is encouraged, and performance lies at the heart of the gym – turn up early, get a complete warm up, target your less mobile areas, do some strength work. I find it an incredibly constructive and supportive environment to train in.
Crossfit gets a bad rap because it believes that progress is made when pushing the boundaries of your capabilities. Whether it is an ‘AMRAP’ or ‘X Rounds For Time’, the emphasis is move fast and work at high intensity. This can and has caused problems in freak accident situations. This being said, I believe you can minimise these accidents with your own self restraint, and with the careful eyes of an instructor watching over you. Their instruction is very useful when you are in the blind heat of a WOD, where the immediate world darkens into a tunnel of solitary battle where it is easy to allow technique to lapse. This guidance is definitely found in Crossfit Verulam where there is a maximum of 8 people in a class to ensure each individual’s work is carefully inspected by one or more coaches.
So, Crossfit can be a brilliant supportive tool bringing confidence, strength and speed gains for anyone. What makes this different from constructing your own program or hiring a PT to battle it out in the super-gym sport complexes of England? I believe Crossfit is more accessible as the workouts are scaled to the participant’s ability, and there is a large focus on movement ‘screening’ and addressing mobility issues. This personal approach is what I believe is lacking from run-of-the-mill Personal Training.
Additionally, Crossfit provides something called the ‘High-Five Culture’. In effect it is the support you gain from the community at the box; the other athletes, the coaches, your friends and competitors. It’s the positive feeling you get when entering the box that makes you work harder for longer, to scrape yourself off the floor to return the next day. Sean Woodland perfectly reflects this idea when commentating on the Crossfit games – ‘The man who finishes last often gets cheered louder than the man who finishes first’. It’s an addictive feel-good burst of human comradeship.
I don’t think it’s wise for me to label myself into one camp so quickly, as I’m still relatively inexperienced. However, in a short statement that blankets a non-anomalous population, I’d recommend Crossfit at Crossfit Verulam. If you’re elsewhere I’d recommend Crossfit at another box, too; If you feel the gym has the facilities you need, and the coaches are supportive, amiable and can communicate well to help you achieve your goals safely. Finally, it is easy to make Crossfit into a lifestyle. This new box you join may be a source of great friends and supportive networks that leave the addictive ‘High-Five Culture’ in the dust.
I’m moving back to South London in September to start my Phase 3 years. Unfortunately this means I will leave Crossfit Verulam, but I have enjoyed PRs, developed skills and had a great laugh. I’ll now start looking for another place to train. If I am sensible enough to rest, to review all niggles and pains I have and keep my diet in check I think I’ll continue with this style of exercise for a while yet.
Pictures by Colin at Crossfit Verulam. Find him here.