CrossFit South Rockland

Saturday, July 30, 2011

High-intensity CrossFit exercisers swear by their method

Stopping is not an option.
James Parry sprints 400 meters beneath the Mesa sun before plunging into 10 pull-ups. He breaks for a second to suck in some air and jolts back to the pavement. He keeps at it for 20 minutes.
The 27-year-old Gilbert man considers himself lucky for not vomiting when he collapses to the floor after his last, strained pull-up. But he loves every minute of it.
"You just kind of black out," he said. "You got to be kind of crazy to do this."
Thousands of fitness diehards like Parry are fueling a mass movement to increase strength and slim down around the country. The trend, called CrossFit, uses a surging 20 minutes of lifting, running, climbing or rowing to shock the exerciser's body into fast fat loss and strength gain. Focusing heavily on competition, CrossFit trainers challenge clients to beat their previous scores and beat each other's records.
Parry trains at the newest CrossFit gym in Mesa. Courtney and Mike Naujokaitis opened CrossFit SanTan near Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. Nestled in an expanse of desert with the Santan Mountains in the distance, the gym started in March and has about 35 members recruited mainly by word of mouth. The 3,500-square-foot gym is stocked with a pull-up station that supports 12 people at once, enormous tires to flip with raw strength, rowing machines and climbing ropes.
The idea is to get fast results and spend little time in the gym compared with one- to two-hour stints in traditional fitness programs. Parry says he lost 5 percent of his body fat in one month. Stacey Sutherland, a 26-year-old CrossFit convert from San Tan Valley, ran 2 miles in 40 minutes in March and recently ran the same distance in 28.
But those within the field acknowledge serious health risks that accompany intense workouts. The CrossFit website cautions against a disorder called rhabdomyolysis, in which too much exhaustion breaks down muscles, excreting toxins throughout the body.
Light-headedness and vomiting are also common post-workout occurrences. Frequent discussion-board posts on the headquarters website boast of "meeting pukie," meaning that they worked out so hard they threw up.
Naujokaitis said he and his wife watch for overexertion, but newcomers often can't help but vomit.
"It's nothing to be ashamed of," Naujokaitis said. "We show them where the bathrooms are, where the trash cans are, where the desert is."
After 20 minutes, those left standing argue that the place is more than just a gym.
"You don't have the anxiety of going to a gym where you feel like a number," said Sutherland, who has worked out at CrossFit SanTan since it opened. "It's like a big family."
CrossFit fans often refer to their crew as part of a "culture" or "friendship." This gym fosters this sentiment, Courtney said. Clients often exercise in groups, cheering each other if someone is lagging or looking after a buddy if he seems too strained. Some even tell each other that they love one another before they leave.
Their ties aren't limited to the gym. CrossFit is a way of life, Naujokaitis said. He, like other CrossFit exercisers, described himself as a believer.
Leif Lake, who has run CrossFit Leiftime Fitness in Mesa for three years, also talks a lot about the "CrossFit culture."
"Some people say we are a cult," he said. "But I always say we are a good cult."
CrossFit started with a trainer named Greg Glassman, who founded his company a little more than a decade ago in Santa Cruz, Calif. It has taken off worldwide in the past few years, with startups in personal garages or office spaces. Police academies, firefighters and even some Army units have used the method for training, according to the site. Glassman prescribes techniques that are not limited to the 20-minute work out, and the program generally advocates exercising for three consecutive days and taking a break for one day.
To use the CrossFit name, trainers must attend a weekend-long licensing seminar. The headquarters, in Washington, D.C., has about 2,500 affiliates worldwide, according to the site. Glassman did not return calls for comment.
Tracie Rogers, director of the human movement program at A.T. Still University in Mesa, said fitness experts are keeping a close watch on the CrossFit concept.
She said adherents tend to like it because they burn more calories than they might by spending three times the amount of time in a traditional gym.
And everybody loves a little competition.
"It's fun," Rogers said. "It's social, people are getting a great workout, and they feel empowered. I think that will keep the trend around."
For $150 a month at CrossFit SanTan, anyone looking to get fit can join. But Rogers warned that the full-blown workout is no job for a beginner. Weeks of conditioning are necessary before a novice can dive in, she said. CrossFit SanTan's conditioning methods still encourage people to complete the 20-minute workout, but also allow for newcomers to move slow, lift light weights or stop after 10 or 15 minutes if they need to.
The method uses a technique called "explosive power movements," which basically means that every tendon and muscle works at once. This differs from slower-paced gym techniques in which the person uses isolated movements to grow muscle. For example, a bicep curl allows much of the rest of the body to stay stationary. CrossFit doesn't let that happen, Rogers said.
Explosive power movements, such as lifting a bar from the ground to above the head in one motion, can be beneficial or risky for the body. Well-trained athletes can handle the intensity, where non-athletes could reach dangerous heart-rate levels or risk severe dehydration quickly, she said.
As more clients trickle in to CrossFit SanTan, Naujokaitis and his wife are hosting age ranges from 16 to about 60. They have everyone sign a waiver acknowledging the risks, along with the risk of rhabdomyolysis, before starting. Either one of them is always present during sessions, and follow each client's moves closely, Courtney said.
Not everyone is a fan.
Jason Hill, a fitness manager at 24 Hour Fitness, said he doesn't recommend a steady diet of CrossFit for his clients, even with supervision.
His clients work out for about 50 minutes because it takes at least 20 to 25 minutes to nudge the body into fat burning using his method. He has tried CrossFit and said it is good to toss in occasionally, but too much might hurt.
Extreme workouts lead to heart-rate levels that could exceed 180 to 190 beats per minute. The body could start burning through lean tissue if heart rate remains that fast for a minute to two minutes, Hill said.
"I have mixed feelings about it," he said. "Workouts aren't designed to last very long, but your body is supposed to change in a healthy, safe way. You shouldn't do that much that fast."
But Naujokaitis said CrossFit can be tailored to anyone's skill levels and health. The quick workouts are big perks, he said.
"I was a real gym rat," he said, of his life before CrossFit. "I would spend hours lifting weights and hours on the treadmill, but I never felt like it was a good peak performance. I was real skeptic when I heard about (CrossFit), but I totally got the results I was looking for and I was a believer."

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