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Full disclaimer: I used to laugh at Crossfit. Then I started training at Aspen Crossfit.
Now, I don’t know if it was the impact of the nearly 9000 ft elevation on my lungs after having lived at sea level for a year (I’m a Denver native), but mid-way through my first WOD in Aspen, I really thought I might die.
And I loved it.
How did a die-hard lifter end up in the most divisive of training modalities?
I, too, had laughed at Crossfit memes on Instagram, which played Crossfit off as a cross between red-headed step child and snot-nosed little brother tagging along with his bigger and badder brothers, Powerlifting, Bodybuilding, and Strongman.
Well, there simply were few other options in Aspen. I was there singing on fellowship for the summer, and needed a place to lift. The local rec center was a joke. There were some other very bougie gyms at very bougie prices, but even those didn’t have what I needed: heavy weights and permission to get wild while lifting.
As soon as I walked into Aspen Crossfit, I was sold, Crossfit memes and IG fit culture be damned. It was open, organized, and filled with absolute killers.
REASON #1 Crossfit is so damn effective: you train in a group, and the cream rises to the top
Nearly getting lapped by a guy ten years older than me during a WOD involving running (or is that “yogging”, with the soft “y”?) pushed me out of my comfort zone.
Wanting to see my deadlift total for a hinge-based WOD at the top of the day’s numbers motivated me to go harder.
Wanting to prove to myself (something that must be established everyday, one of the things we all can agree is great about training) that I was not the one who would quit, not the one who would half-ass his WOD, and that I was worthy to look myself in the mirror in pride and not shame, kept me honest during particularly tough WODs.
We are the average of the five people we spend our time with. Do you want those people to be elliptical spinning skinny-fats, or a group of fellow lunatics willing to bleed for PRs?
REASON #2 Crossfit is so damn effective: logical programming
Crossfit programming can be kind of a crapshoot. You can either get a whiteboard (where WODs are displayed) that looks like it got sneezed out of rejected Men’s Health workout, or something that came from Charles Poliquin himself (RIP).
The more competitive the fitness industry at large becomes, the more the consumers benefit. Because here, too, the cream rises to the top. This means that coaches at top Crossfit gyms are continually investing in their education, and implementing what they learn in their boxes.
Aspen Crossfit places a premium on training mobility, and also on healthily testing strength levels (aka 90% of 1rm, never a true 1rm – a recipe for disaster for all but competitive strength athletes).
WODs were never randomly thrown together, but were part of larger macro cycles. To this end, it was to each trainees benefit to attend as many days per week as possible.
I ended gaining a lot of strength that summer, but also dropping a ton of fat, and getting into the most conditioned shape I had been in (up until that point).
Here is a simple framework that you can apply to your next training plan that is based on what I experienced in my time at Aspen Crossfit, H-Town (Houston) Crossfit, and Crossfit Central Houston:
Run 400m mobility complex using PVC pipe/very light kettlebell/bands, focusing on patterns to be trained in Pre-WOD/WOD
Pre-WOD (where the heavy lifting gets done, to prime your CNS for the metabolic conditioning aka cardio with weights, to come in the WOD)
One of the major compound lifts (squat, deadlift, bench, overhead press) or Oly lifts (snatch, push press, clean, etc) for 3-6 reps, building towards max weight for those reps.
To increase intensity, these lifts are done within a shortened time frame. For example, you might have 15 minutes to build to a 5 rep max. Or, you do 80% of your 1rm every minute on the minute for 10 minutes.
WOD (this is cardio with weights. It hurts so good)
Pick 2 ancillary exercises that are related to the movement pattern of your main lift for the day (see pre-WOD). Pair these with said movement using “recommended weight” or RX based on your gender. Pick a time limit, or way of increasing intensity with these exercises, and have at it. This could look like:
For 20 minutes, as many rounds as possible
- 10 24” inch burpee box jumps 400 m run
- 10 barbell back squats at 225 (rx weight)
As I write this, I’m not sure that wouldn’t nearly kill me, or at least leave my legs and abs feeling like they were turned inside out of their fascia.
Now, I was paying almost zero attention to the nutrition I put in my body, yet why did I make such, in my opinion, a significant recomposition and loss of about 10 pounds in 2 months?
1) Energy expenditure was through the roof.
Calories in, calories out, it’s as simple as that.
4-5 WODs/week was giving me an extra 1000 calories of expenditure per day. My daily work as an opera singer was already not very sedentary, as was done standing (coachings and lessons) and moving around (rehearsals – we decided, for comedic effect, that my character was about 100 years old, which meant I had to affect a stereotypically elderly posture for all of my time onstage).
2) The “afterburn”.
It is a well-studied and proven fact that HIIT and “cardio with weights”
raises metabolism for hours, even days after the workout is complete. This is why such training modalities are more effective for body recomposition (aka building muscle, burning fat, looking better naked and in clothes) than simply spinning your wheels on an elliptical. By my estimation, I was basically an adipose-tissue inferno for that summer.
Say what you will about Crossfit, but until you can put up numbers like the top guys at the games, and look as good without your shirt on, you’ve got little room to talk, and lots of room to learn.
I did, and I’m a much better meathead for it.
About the Author
Michael Hewitt is an opera singer and iron slinger. He runs a select virtual fitness and lifestyle coaching program, Statue Jacked Foundations, and sings operas around the world. He is the creator and co-host of the hit podcast “Music & Weights”, available on iTunes and Spotify. Catch him this spring onstage at The Kennedy Center in Puccini’s Tosca as war-hero-turned-vigilante, Angelotti. Got a question? Hate what he’s written? Want to hear him sing? Hit him up on Instagram.