Apr 15, 2007

Looking back to move forward.

[Note: This is the first in a series of pieces I wrote for another forum. Sorry if you've read them before.]

CrossFit Oakland: Based on an open-source model and stripped down to bare essentials, this gym produces greater levels of fitness, variety and intensity than the typical modern assembly-line health club. Ready for the 21st century old school?

“Fitness” has become huge business. These past 20 years we’ve moved from Nautilus to Spinning to Power Yoga. And along the way, gyms have gone from open, flexible spaces to assembly lines filled with specialized hamster wheels.

Just over a year ago, I stumbled upon CrossFit, a workout system based on old-school exercises I’d mostly heard of but never tried, like the dead lift, push press, clean & jerk, handstand and pull up. It rarely called for extended running, and as I looked at pictures of CF gyms like the one above, I didn’t see any treadmills or elliptical trainers. After trying one of the workouts and nearly passing out, I realized that "cardio" wouldn’t be a problem.

Based on my personal results and those of a few friends, I can state unequivocally that when performed correctly and at high intensity, CF workouts produce far better results than traditional bodybuilding or cardio programs. There are piles of physiological reasons for this (some universally accepted, some the subject of vicious argument), but what truly fascinates me about this system is how remarkably innovative it is while being based on methods available for decades.

Instead of starting with a business model and building a better machine or combining existing protocols into an easily marketed hybrid, the founder Greg Glassman built his program on a true fitness model instead.

He asked a simple question: How do people get stronger, faster and more agile? They perform functional, compound exercises, correctly and quickly with little rest. Combining gymnastics with Olympic lifting and sprint workouts, Coach Glassman developed his program over years,borrowing from other known systems as needed and charting performance in real time on the web.

The result is a type of fitness regimen and gym model unlike any other, one that makes money based on individual affiliate growth and member involvement, not slippage. Instead of simplifying exercises to lessen liability, it asks you to learn complicated movements that can hurt if done incorrectly. Instead of convenience, it places great demands on its users, a decidedly old school idea in today’s world of consumer pampering and indulgence.

But the proof’s in the pudding—strong, powerful, agile pudding that kicks some serious butt.

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