In recent years, there's been a massive global surge in high-intensity weight lifting and training. And no, we don't mean the stereotypical bodybuilding kind where you have a leg day, a chest day, etc. We're talking about full-body routines that have time limits attached to them, a mixture of weights and cardio, explosive movements all in one go. People have been flocking to this new sport in droves. And with its blazing trail of popularity, people everywhere have come to know it as the fun-loving sport known as CrossFit.

For this article, we sought to find out a little more about CrossFit and get a better perspective on what this sport is really all about, as a result, we decided to talk to two prominent figureheads and veterans in the South African CrossFit community, Mike Liebenthal and Derek Hill. Both these men have competed in very large CrossFit competitions both nationally and internationally and Derek has even competed at the world-renowned CrossFit Games, where he placed 2nd in the 60+ category. So, we knew the insight we were getting was amongst the best.

What is CrossFit Exactly and How Does It Work?

According to our dynamic duo, CrossFit is best described as a method of training and exercise that serves as a way to enhance and develop a person's physical abilities in a variety of different physical spheres. These different aspects of physical activity would include the following:

  • Cardiovascular and respiratory endurance
  • Stamina
  • Muscular strength
  • Flexibility
  • Muscular power speed
  • Neuromuscular coordination
  • Agility
  • Balance

As a very holistic approach to physical training, CrossFit typically constitutes a variety of exercises that are performed for high repetitions and at an extremely high-intensity, with little or no recovery time between sets. Very often, these sessions primarily focus on functionality and functional training and are generally performed in circuit-style fashion. At higher levels, these are sometimes not only performed within the session but between sessions as well (for those who have more rigorous training schedules or those getting ready to take part in a competition).

A more specific example of how intense these sessions can be was given to us by our guests. They called it Suicide on Saturday. This session is made up of a few pre-selected exercises that require you to complete 100 repetitions of all exercises in order for you to complete the workout and if that wasn't enough, the weighted exercises all have predetermined weight settings selected for you to ensure that the session was not an easy one (obviously, the determined weights are selected according to what you're capable of doing).

What About the Classes and Levels?

To tackle this point right off the bat, anyone can join. It doesn't matter what level of fitness you are at, there is generally a class that is set for your level, what you can handle and what you're currently capable of doing.

According to our guests and contrary to popular belief, the trainers and veterans at the CrossFit "boxes" (this is the CrossFit term for a gym) have a keen focus on proper exercise technique and execution so you can be assured that experienced trainers will ensure you're doing things in a way that will prevent you from getting hurt or injured.

The levels also consist of a variety of age groups. In a typical class, you can have trainees from the young age of 15 all the way to people at the ripe old age of 60 and older. Which goes to show how these "boxes" try to make it accommodating for everyone, no matter where you are in your fitness journey.

As for the classes, each session is what CrossFit athletes typically refer to as a WOD or Workout of the Day. The box will have set hours for classes that will be hosted at various times of the day and you'll take your pick as to which session best suits your day. The WOD is normally the same for every session throughout the day so if you miss a morning class, you're still able to catch up with a late afternoon or evening class.

That's cool. But why is it so popular?

Besides the intensity, the CrossFit community is largely an extremely friendly one. There may be competition (like most sports) but due to its team-like nature and how very supportive each athlete is of their fellow CrossFitter, many people doing CrossFit often refer to the people they train with as their family. Even at competitions, you'll see athletes from opposing teams cheer each other on, regardless of the fact that they're competing against one another.

Based on what we've observed, it really is a community in every sense of the word and mostly in its supportive nature. According to a recent report from CNBC, "By the numbers, CrossFit is possibly the biggest fitness trend in the world. CrossFit has over 13,000 gyms in more than 120 countries (up from just 13 in 2005), with over 5 000 000 CrossFit devotees.

So if you're a shy person, a lost person or just really want to get into fitness but don't want to do it alone, a CrossFit box may very well be the place for you to get your journey to better, healthier you started.

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