I have never been to a gym that puts as much emphasis on form and functionality as the Cape CrossFit Gym. It is also the only gym I have been to that has a compulsory basics course before you can start training. That is not a criticism, but rather an endorsement of a concept that has very quickly turned me into a believer...
I admit I had my doubts before starting the programme, but two weeks on, I am already feeling the benefits and totally buy into their ideals.
When I first met with Head Instructor Jobst Olschewski a few weeks ago, I was not sure what to expect. I have always found gym pretty boring. It is one of the reasons I would rather hit the trails in and around Cape Town for a run than the treadmill indoors, but I had been hearing more and more about CrossFit and how the training had helped other runners, and I was intrigued enough to set up an assessment with Jobst.
My immediate impressions were good. The gym itself is pretty Spartan. There is not a treadmill or stationary bike in sight. The only cardio machines are three rowers stacked against the wall. Crossfit, I would come to learn, promotes functional muscle as opposed to aesthetic muscle.
The bulk of their workouts focus on exercises that exploit the full range of movements, utilising weightlifting, gymnastics and metabolic conditioning. No one workout is the same.
“Functionality means that we do stuff that transfers really well into real life,” explains Jobst.
“A dead lift translates into picking things up, while a squat equals sitting down or standing up, as opposed to dumbbell curls or cable rows, which have very limited usage in real life.”
In other words, big biceps courtesy of curling weights are not going to help when you need to extend the full range of motion in your arm to lift something up.
Back to basics
My assessment with Jobst was done in order to discover my strengths, weaknesses and any functional issues that I may have before proceeding with the Basics Course.
I am reasonably fit and according to Jobst I am above average as a beginner, but it is abundantly clear that I have the arm strength of a 12-year-old girl. I discovered this somewhat embarrassing revelation during the pull-ups segment of my assessment.
Initially I am impressed with the fact that I can bang out five pull-ups, but when Jobst tells me to fully extend my arms, I struggle to complete two. Functionality is again brought up and already I am beginning to see the light.
“If you need to pull yourself up in the real world, your arms will be fully extended,” says Jobst. “Doing pull-ups without extending your arms fully is not going to help.”
It is during my assessment that I discover just how much CrossFit focuses on form and function. It is also reveals what I am doing wrong. Jobst points out where I am slipping up and gives tips on how I can improve on it going forward.
It is something he and the other instructors keep an eye on throughout the Basics Course (six classes, which focus on teaching you the correct way to do the exercises that feature in group classes), reminding me when I slip back into old habits and continuously encouraging me to improve. They do this for all new members.
By the time I get to my first class, I feel like I have made pretty significant improvements and can’t wait to get started.
That’s going to hurt
Variety is the spice of life, they say, and that is something CrossFit definitely promotes. No workout is ever the same. The day’s workout is posted on the website at 12am every day, but I do like a surprise, so I have yet to check up on that before heading through to class.
It has landed me in trouble more than once already, with some pretty mean workouts hitting me hard. My first class was the tail-end of one of the gym’s challenges, which in a nutshell consisted of ‘thrusters’ and pull-ups in sets of 21-15-9. Needless to say, the next three days were tough, as my broken arms struggled with everything from driving to brushing my teeth.
The great thing about the variety of workouts means that you are unlikely to follow a heavy shoulder workout with another one, meaning your shoulders will get a break. The flipside is that by the end of the week, pretty much my whole body is in pain. Good pain, but pain nonetheless.
Despite the agony, I keep going back, knowing that benefits will far outweigh my current discomfort in the long run, because although I have been doing it for just two weeks, I can already feel an improvement, both in strength and form.
Rob Peters will blog his CrossFit experience over the next three months, keeping a weekly log of how it improves/hinders his running. From October he will also be taking on the “Paleo diet” and nutrition challenge at the gym as he puts the CrossFit way to the ultimate test.